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Road ends for Busch Gardens monorail

Published May 14, 1999|Updated Sep. 29, 2005

Park officials say the coolest ride in the park must go to make way for improvements.

For 33 years, it has been the slow and steady.

While roller coasters boasted thrills and heart-palpitating dips, the monorail at Busch Gardens crawled along, providing safe and serene views of the park's wildlife.

On Thursday, the oldest ride at Busch Gardens slowed to a permanent halt.

"Our future plans, which we won't share with anyone, require some space that currently is taken up by monorail," said Robin Carson, Busch Garden's executive vice president and general manager. "This is our way of making us more competitive."

As Florida amusement parks spent billions on flashy and breathtaking new rides, the monorail remained a stalwart of times past, when merry-go-rounds still got kids wide-eyed and inverted roller-coasters had not yet reached the drawing board.

For Busch Garden aficionados, the closing marked a sad passage.

"It's really too bad," lamented Elf Pessagno, a season-pass holder who was visiting the park Thursday with her boyfriend. "That was one of the best features. You could see everything from above."

Officials said the ride's closure had nothing to do with economics. While not the most popular ride in recent years, it had enjoyed steady ridership.

The decision also had nothing to do with the wear and tear of time, they said.

"The monorail has been maintained very well," said Will Darnell, a park spokesman.

In recent years, it suffered some mishaps.

In May 1994, one train rear-ended another, forcing one slightly off track. In April, a school bus hit a monorail support beam, causing little damage to the monorail system but injuring 11 middle school students and a chaperone from Jacksonville.

Last month, the ride was taken out of service for annual maintenance. Before it was given the once over, park officials decided it should be put out of service for good.

The monorail, which cost $1.3-million to construct in 1966, shuttled millions of park visitors through the 70-acre Serengeti Plain, providing a close-up of the animals and a 20-minute break for visitors looking to rest weary feet and enjoy a blast of air conditioning.

"'It was a nice way to get a tour of everything while you got to cool down," said Dennis Andersen, 48.

For others, the ride offered a glimpse of the park's attractions, and a chance to plot a course.

"It was always one of the first rides we checked out. It gave you a chance to see everything and then decide what to do," said Kenneth Case, 44, as he shepherded a throng of students through the park.

Without the monorail system, visitors still will have transportation options within the park.

The Skyride, a gondola ride, and the Trans-Veldt Railway, which chugs along the periphery of the park, will remain in operation. In addition, the Serengeti Safari truck tours will offer viewing opportunities of the Serengeti Plain, for an added cost.

Visitors, officials said, will soon forget the monorail ever existed. "It's nothing new in the theme park industry," Darnell said. "Rides come and go."


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