Busch Gardens' Gwazi roller coaster's clickety-clack goes silent (w/video)

Gwazi, Busch Gardens' wooden roller coaster, finally clatters back to Earth and is silenced.

Published February 2 2015
Updated February 2 2015

TAMPA — Katrina Devane walked around the rolling tracks, taking photos, as guests waited in line to ride the coaster one last time on Sunday.

Devane, 36, of Seffner said she was Gwazi's longest-serving employee, working there for 14 years and through life events, including meeting her boyfriend there.

"It's just so sad to see it go," she said. "I've spent my whole adult life here."

Screams, whooshes and that distinctive rattle rolled off of Busch Gardens' wooden coaster for the final time on Sunday. The theme park's dueling wooden roller coaster thrilled passengers until its last trip, around 6 p.m., ending a more than 15-year run.

Gwazi opened in June 1999 and was significant for its wooden, interwoven two-track structure, said Mark Rose, Busch Gardens' vice president of park services, who spent three years designing the ride. The wooden coaster created a trifecta of trademark roller coasters at Busch Gardens, Rose said, following the openings of Kumba in 1993 and Montu in 1996.

"If you wanted to come to Florida and get a really good roller coaster experience, you had to come to Busch Gardens," he said.

But in the years that followed, the theme park expanded with sleeker, steel roller coasters like Cheetah Hunt and SheiKra, and Gwazi dwindled in popularity. Some customers complained about its rough rattling; one side of the coaster was closed in 2012. The coaster became Busch Gardens' lowest-rated ride, Rose said, and its unpopularity, combined with its cost, resulted in the decision to close it.

Rose said there is still no decision on what the site will be used for, though they have come up with some potential ideas for attractions. For now, the roller coaster will stay where it is, although it is now closed.

Gwazi still had its fans even in its later years, several of whom came out Sunday for a final ride — including Rose.

"I will be the last person in the last row on the right seat so when it comes into the station, I'll be the last one into the station," he said.

Jacob Perez, 19, of Lake Wales came to Busch Gardens on Sunday thinking it would be less crowded during the Super Bowl. He took a ride on Gwazi, which had wait times of 10 to 20 minutes during the day.

Perez, who now works at Legoland, said he has visited Busch Gardens since field trips in grade school and Gwazi was the first wooden coaster he ever rode. He said he prefers wooden to steel coasters because they're more exciting, with the shakiness factoring into that.

"The shakier, the better, as far as wooden is concerned," Perez said.

There were even international guests who made a stop to visit Gwazi on its last day. One Brit, Dave Bull, 70, traveled from Looe, in Cornwall, to Busch Gardens, where he has an annual pass. Bull said he had heard about Gwazi's closing and decided to ride it on its last day, though he prefers the park's other coasters, such as Cheetah Hunt.

"It's too rattly," he said of Gwazi.

Hans Tavares, 21, was also traveling abroad from Fortaleza, Brazil, visiting Busch Gardens and Gwazi for the first time. He said he liked the shakiness of the wooden roller coaster.

"That's like the fun part of it," he said.

Devane, who no longer works on the Gwazi ride, returned to say farewell Sunday. She took up her old position, securing coaster people in their cars.

She said she was not planning a final ride for herself. She's afraid of roller coasters.

Contact Jimmy Geurts at [email protected] or (813) 226-3402. Follow @JimmyGeurts.