Busch Gardens, Tampa, Fla.- On June 16, 1998, Busch Entertainment (owner of Busch Gardens Tampa Bay) filed a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the name “Gwazi. The coaster was constructed on a portion of the land that was formerly occupied by the Busch Brewery which had closed in 1995 and was subsequently demolished, freeing up land in the middle of the park.
On June 18, 1999 Busch Gardens opened their Dueling wooden roller coaster (Universal Studios Dueling Dragons opened May 28). Constructed by Great Coasters International, Inc. (GCII) and sporting Toboggan style coaster trains, guest would choose between the Lion side or the Tiger side. With theories why they picked the track they did.
As with any wooden structure, proper maintenance is required. Being in a humid and tropical climate like Florida can only add to the on-going issues. Despite continued maintenance, Gwazi developed a reputation by park goers as “a really rough ride”. That is never good.
So, in 2009 The Lion side of the ride was retracked and then in 2010 the Tiger side was also retracked. Looking for anything to give riders a better experience, both sides received new 12-car GCII designed Millennium Flyer trains to replace the rides original toboggans.
With a full overhaul of the track and coaster cars executives were hopeful this would change the perception and ease the rough ride guest had complained about. Unfortunately that was not the case.
We Are Down To One
At the end of 2012, and after a large decrease in ridership and continued issues with maintaining the wooden beast, the Tiger side of Gwazi was shut down. The coaster would operate on and off for the next two years using just the one track until 2015, when the park announced it would be shutting down the ride completely.
On February 1 2015, after 15 years of operation, the fable beast closed indefinitely.
As with anything that has to do with theme parks you will get tons of “confirmed rumors”. And as a local I can tell you, boy did we hear it.
At one point it was going to be turned into a brewery again. Another was they were going to use the wood for another ride at the park. But really all anyone knew was it was there, it wasn’t going to disappear on its own, and no one was saying a thing about it.
As the festivals started to become a larger focus for the park, the new “Gwazi plaza” would be used for concerts and food vending. It would even start being used for Howl-o-scream. It was pretty scary.
Now let’s fast forward to 2018. A big year for the theme park with announcements of a new Brew Club, another food festival focusing on beir, and of course the announcement of Tigris, a prefabricated launch coaster. Coaster fans will recognize the Premier Rides Sky Rocket II. Some similar coasters are Tempesto at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, also owned by SeaWorld, Superman Ultimate Flight at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Sky Scream at Holiday Park, Zombie Ride at Bosque Magico, Hype at Sarkanniemi, and Sky Rocket at Chimelong Paradise. So although the excitement for a new coaster was awesome, the real elephant in the room (no real elephant although it is BG so they could do it) “what’s going on with Gwazi”.
Well, the executives at Busch Gardens Tampa gave guest of the Tigris media event a tease, “Gwazi a new hybrid will be coming in 2020”. That was it.
In the months that followed Busch Gardens announced that Rocky Mountain Construction (RMC) was in fact ready and will be starting construction on the wooden coaster. And that is were we are at, until today.
The Celebration Of 60 Years
With a celebration of this magnitude comes a large announcement. As guest start to enter Gwazi field to listen to the sounds of the Florida Orchestra and enjoy evening ending fireworks, executives are just a few hundred feet away releasing details on Gwazi.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay President, Stuart Clark, talked to an excited Friday night media crowd about the theme parks past and it’s future. That future includes Gwazi, which has been referred to as #BGTproject2020.
Clark did talk about Gwazi a little bit. Talking about the coaster as being “the tallest Hybrid Coaster in North America”, and the steepest and fastest hybrid in the world. If those aren’t magic words to a roller coaster enthusiast, I am not sure what is.
My friends at Touring Central Florida tweeted a great pic to show how high the new “Unnamed” coaster will be. I keep singing “99 red balloons” in my head…..
With events Like Food & WIne and the grand opening of #Tigris still to come, the celebration at Busch Gardens will continue all year long. And with the “Tallest and Fastest coaster” opening up to riders in 2020 the party will continue for years to come!
And the excitement and suspense continues.