Congratulations to the winners of Busch Gardens' High School Journalism Day contest! After spending a day behind the scenes at the Tampa park's newest theme area, Pantopia, home to the new drop tower thrill ride, Falcon's Fury, high school journalists wrote stories, took photos and made videos of the experience. tb-two* co-sponsored the contest. Read the first- and second-place stories here; To see the first-place video report from Gaither High click here. and the second-place report from Brandon High click here. First-place winners received four Busch Gardens tickets and four Serengeti Safari passes; second-place winners received four Busch Gardens tickets.
Editor's note: This story has been edited for tb-two*.
It's high enough at its peak for riders to see Tropicana Field, downtown St. Petersburg and Brandon — 335 feet in the air.
As if that were not enough of a thrill, there's that 90-degree tilt that puts them face down during a 60-mph plummet to Earth.
That's what's in store for those brave enough to venture onto Falcon's Fury, Busch Gardens newest attraction in Tampa. The drop tower is the park's tallest ride, standing more than 100 feet taller than SheiKra.
"It's going to be really polarizing," said Director of Design and Engineering Jeff Hornick. "You'll either really want to ride it, or really won't."
Falcon's Fury had been set to open May 1 until construction delays and safety testing caused a postponement. At presstime, no new date had been announced.
Taking Falcon's Fury from concept to reality was a process spanning many years.
Working with what designer Mark Rose describes as "an army of people" from all over the world, including Spain, Slovakia and Hungary, the group was able to build the largest freestanding drop tower in North America.
However, delays are not the only challenge. The engineers and designers had to keep in mind the elements, including lightning, when designing the ride.
"We (in Florida) are the lightning capital, and we basically have the tallest lightning rod in North America," Rose joked.
They also had to keep in mind the sun, which, during hot days, can cause the one million pounds of steel used in the tower to expand, and design a tower that could bend slightly with the wind.
Falcon's Fury ushers in a new face for the area of Busch Gardens previously known as Timbuktu. As guests walk through the newly painted multicolor gates into Pantopia, which is open to guests now, they can look up and see keys hanging down, as well as the different modes of transportation previous travelers have left behind. Inside, they can buy kettle corn, shop for Panotopia merchandise in the gift shop or get a pretzel from Twisted Tails Pretzels.
"Panotopia is a euphoria," Hornick said. "It's going to be a celebration of the animals and the culture."
And, when Falcon's Fury and Panotopia officially open, Hornick and Rose will get to see their years of hard work pay off as guests experience Busch Garden's newest ride.
"(My hope) was to build the biggest, baddest and craziest ride," Hornick said. "It's going to be the closest experience to skydiving without stepping out of a plane."
Rose added his thoughts about the experience of Falcon's Fury.
"In a drop tower, you can close your eyes and forget what's happening," Rose said. "But when that seat rotates you and pulls you down, there's no denying what's going on."
Second place winner
By ALEXANDRA MURPHY
Editor's note: This story has been edited for tb-two.com.
When you approach what used to be Timbuktu at Busch Gardens in Tampa, do not expect to see African styled huts anymore. What was once a vast landscape of sand buildings and African culture has been replaced by a new mysterious world called Pantopia, said to hold the secrets of animals that roam the Earth.
From travelers' first steps into the new land, walls erupt with color, and everyone and everything there has a backstory. Akbar, the merchant who at one point played an important role in the characterization of the Egyptian land, has landed in Pantopia and set up shop. A baker who crashed into Pantopia on a hot air balloon decided to build a pretzel shop inspired by the tails of two lemurs he once saw.
"Pantopia is a celebration of a bunch of different cultures with travelers who have come through this land, and some of them have decided to stay," said Jeff Hornick, Director of Design Engineering for Busch Gardens. "So each one of these buildings has its own little character and its own animal feature."
The main draw of the new world, however, is the new thrill ride called Falcon's Fury.
This soaring drop tower is the tallest ride on the East Coast. The floors are stamped with the tiny steps of prey that dare to loom anywhere near the land of the falcon. On ground level, underneath the 335 foot tall ride, everyone falls victim to the predatory creature. As if its height was not enough, when the ride reaches the top, the seats turn at a 90 degree angle and face the ground. Next, riders free fall at speeds up to 60 mph as they are forced to face their fate. When the ride gets closer to the ground, the seats gradually shift into the upright position, just like a falcon attacking its prey.
"This ride is the closest thing to skydiving without stepping foot in an airplane," Hornick said.
Why should people visit Pantopia and ride Falcon's Fury? So that when someone asks what their favorite ride is, they have the right answer.