The first thing you hear on Vanish Point is a heartbeat, not your own.
As you step into Adventure Island’s new waterslide attraction, the mood is set by the piped-in soundtrack of a heartbeat. It’s fake, but it does the trick of increasing anxiety as you wait for the countdown before the floor loudly collapses under you.
There’s about a 20-foot free fall drop, said ride designer Andrew Schaffer, and then a 425-foot slick tube delivers riders to a shallow pool at the end. The Vanish Point attraction is three slides in total: two drop-bottom capsules and one slide that you can just sit and choose when to hurl your body into a plastic tube that circles 455 feet before depositing into a shallow bath after a high-speed finale.
The Tampa Bay Times got an exclusive first look at the new slides Monday as more than half a dozen workers gave them a whirl just before the water park opens for the season on Friday. This is the first new attraction at the park since 2015’s Colossal Curl, a 622-foot-long slide with a "weightless wave wall."
Chris Montanez, 24, was one of the first riders, stepping onto the floor of the capsule, which is a see-through window into the tube of rushing water below. He crossed his arms over his chest, crossed his ankles and closed his eyes.
"They do a countdown and the rush came to me," Montanez, who works as Busch Gardens, said afterward. "I was free falling straight down, and you don’t know where you are going to land. I was ready to scream, but then I wanted to make sure where I was going first."
The three Vanish Point slides snake around Colossal Curl, the tallest ride in the park. Colossal Curl is a bit more family friendly with two to four riders on a raft taking on a steep banked wall.
For Vanish Point, it’s an individual gut check. There are two capsules for the freefall drop, one pink and one green. A third conventional slide — dubbed the "bail-out slide" by the riders testing the new attraction Monday — doesn’t have a freefall, instead letting riders push off into a 455-slide that sends them swirling down a blue tube built like a tornado pattern.
"The pink one is the most intense, the green one is smooth, but the blue slide is fast, so they each have their own qualities," said Timyah Bronkington, 24, after several spins.
"I swear the wait was longer the second time around." Brockington said of drop slide. (Nearby, ride designer Schaffer said, no, there’s no difference in wait time.) "They said ‘3, 2, 1’ and I was like let’s go. I know it’s totally in my head but this felt like it was 100 times longer."
Chris Ackerson, 26, said he got a little water up his nose in what felt like a really long ride on the "bail-out slide."
"That was really fast, I felt like I was in there a long time."
The ground-level queue for the attraction is a new shady area that sends riders to the left side for Colossal Curl and to the right for the Vanish Point slides. The entrance also includes a live feed of cameras catching the riders’ expressions as the floor opens up on them in the ride capsules 70 feet above the queue line.
This is the second drop slide in Florida for SeaWorld Entertainment, the parent company of SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Adventure Island. Aquatica, SeaWorld’s water park, opened Ihu’s Breakaway Falls in 2014, the tallest, steepest and only multi-drop tower slide of its kind in the Southeast. The 80-foot high attraction was featured on Xtreme Waterparks on the Travel Channel.
The name Vanish Point was inspired by the point on a wave where water and gravity form a perfect partnership, Schaffer said. The whole compound that opens Friday was part of the original plan when Colossal Curl was designed in 2015.
Schaffer said the Vanish Point material is lighter than most dark tube rides, "so you get a sense of where the sun is, to help get your bearings of which way is up." And it allows onlookers to see the general outline of the riders, like a ball passing through a child’s tunnel toy set.
"Colossal Curl is by far our most popular ride, so by adding these slides it keeps people together in what is now the most happening area of the park," said Brian Kilpatrick, vice president of Adventure Island.
Vanish Point is limited to riders 48 inches tall and less than 300 pounds. Riders must be in bathing suits or in shirts or shorts made of water-wicking material. No jeans, cotton or clothes with buckles or buttons.
Busch Gardens has a deal right now that includes a free Adventure Island pass with the purchase of a Busch Gardens Fun Card for $104.99. The offer expires March 25.
Adventure Island admission starts at $59.99. Quick Que passes to skip lines are $11.99-$34.99 depending on the day and type of pass. There are also waterproof wristbands available that can be linked to a credit card.