In a first for Busch Gardens, the new Cobra's Curse spinning roller coaster will offer 45 minutes of entertainment in an air-conditioned ride queue that includes a collection of live snakes.
In a hard-hat tour of the construction site Wednesday, the Tampa theme park revealed the ride's layout. It will spin riders forward, backward and freely. Riders will hurtle down a twisting track, snaking around existing elements of the park's Egypt section, putting riders close to passers-by on the sidewalk.
There are only a handful of spinning coasters in the world, and Cobra's Curse "is almost like a new category of spinning coasters," said Jeff Hornick, who designs rides for parent company SeaWorld Entertainment. "We are bringing a higher intensity level."
Busch Gardens didn't reveal an opening date, but is on schedule to finish work on the track by early March, said Mark Rose, vice president of design and engineering for Busch Gardens Tampa.
The ride is expected to open for the busy summer season, said park spokeswoman Karen Varga-Sinka, and the park's popular Montu ride will reopen Sunday after more than a month of repainting and maintenance.
Cobra's Curse will be the park's first ride with an elaborate air-conditioned queue, a feature theme parks have been adding lately because of customer demand.
The queue, repurposed from the closed Tut's Tomb attraction, will be stocked with live vipers and pythons in a 400-cubic-foot exhibit. "Pre-shows" will explain the backstory of a snake king that sets the scene for the ride.
Another first for the park will be the ride's vertical lift. Like an outdoor elevator, it will lift the coaster car up until riders are "face to fang" with an 80-foot serpent before launching into the ride, said Brian Morrow, vice president of theme park experience and design for SeaWorld Entertainment.
The first third of the ride will face forward, then it will spin riders around to face backward. And in the finale, the car will spin freely, an experience that will change with each trip depending on the weight of riders, Hornick said.
The snake theme carries over into the rest of the Egypt section, with the track slithering over and under nearby elements such as Montu, the park's railroad and even the sidewalk. Hornick predicted lots of selfies on the sidewalk by Cobra's Curse.
Officials would not reveal what the ride will cost to build. It will be the first new ride at Busch Gardens since Falcon's Fury, a 335-foot-high thrill attraction that drops riders facedown. It opened in 2014, holding the title of North America's tallest freestanding drop tower.
SeaWorld Entertainment is also debuting a new ride at SeaWorld Orlando this year. The roller coaster Mako, opening this summer, will be the fastest, tallest and longest coaster in Orlando.
Industry observers have said that developing rides will be critical to overcoming the company's recent setbacks in attendance.
SeaWorld has struggled in the wake of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which was critical of how SeaWorld handles its killer whales.
"There is no question that both rides are restitution for those parks," Dennis Speigel, president of Cincinnati consulting firm International Theme Park Services, said when the rides were announced. "They know they need to have a broader message than just killer whales and dolphins. This is a way to do that."
It's a big year for Florida theme park fans. In addition to the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens rides, Universal Orlando is opening a huge King Kong attraction this year and Walt Disney World will keep Frozen fever going with the new Frozen Ever After attraction in the former Maelstrom ride at Epcot.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @SharonKWn.