TAMPA — Nestled next to what was once the world's tallest and fastest inverted roller coaster, Cobra's Curse will open Friday at Busch Gardens, with its own bragging rights.
Bright orange and green, the new coaster makes its neighbor Montu look a dusty shade of blue. The three and a half minute ride features a 40 mph drop, a 70-foot vertical lift and free-spinning cars that can rotate rapidly, depending on your weight distribution.
Brian Morrow, vice president of theme park designs, said the ride's story is what really drives the experience. Guests play the part of archeologists on a dig site, and learn about Egypt's "Snake King" by shining cell phone lights on hand-painted hieroglyphics. You learn that the Snake King was betrayed by his once-loved servants, and the statue they created in his honor was destroyed.
"Your team is reattaching the snake's head, and at that very moment in time the curse is reignited and your car is cursed," he said.
The coaster starts by lifting your car on an outdoor elevator to bring you "face to fang" with the massive, golden snake statue, a 30,000-pound, 80-foot fiberglass cobra with fangs longer than some riders. The height requirement is only 42 inches with an adult, so that makes this spinning, backwards and forwards coaster a "family ride." That is, if your little one can handle it.
The ride speeds through three sections. The first third of the ride has you facing forward, then you're coasting in reverse until the big finale — free-spinning in circles on the track while also racing toward the finish. Think Disney World's tea cup ride, with way more oomph.
Jeff Hornick, the park's design and engineering director, said most spinning coasters spin the entire time, which can get repetitive and, well, can make you feel sick. But having chapters can amp up the action.
"Forwards is fun, backwards is fun and the end is just crazy," he said.
You might have to ride Cobra's Curse a couple times to master the leaning and spinning, but Hornick said more weight in the front of the car can really whip you around.
Even with the final free spinning segment, Cobra's Curse is smooth and family-friendly. But don't let "family-friendly" fool you. This ride is fit for a 5-year-old, but it definitely packs some punch. It fills the park's need for attractions that parents and kids can experience together.
"We've got some of the best thrill rides, and now we've heard loud and clear that our guests all want to be able to ride together," said Busch Gardens President Jim Dean.
Waiting in line for the ride is an experience of its own. Cobra's Curse is the park's first air-conditioned ride queue, and includes the largest snake habitat for the company. Behind the thick glass is a snake statue water fountain, dimly lit with five live snakes dangling from vines and slithering inside.
Some animal activists had voiced concerns about the safety of the snakes and the level of vibrations the snakes would be subjected to.
Phil Hillary, manager of Zoological operations, said he was pleased with how the snakes have adjusted. The snake's habitat, home to the Rhinoceros Viper, Angolan Python, the two Jameson Mambas and Gaboon Viper, is 800 feet from the coaster in a separate building that doesn't have the coaster fly overhead. The case is surrounded by cement that can even shut out cell reception and the tapping of fingers — but not noses pressed up against the glass.
"We have a zoo team that I'm so impressed with. They are world class and our animals are so well cared for," said Dean. "People can come out and see for themselves."