The near fiendishly excited look on the face of the retired Air Force pilot strapping passengers in told me this was going to be one heck of a ride.
"Speed, rolls, Gs, this has absolutely everything," Ty Mendelson-Curry said. "It's absolutely phenomenal."
A few seconds later, I was launched 150 feet in the air at 60 mph and I knew exactly what he meant.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay began letting passengers aboard Tigris, its latest roller coaster – and the tallest launch coaster in Florida – this week, ahead of the official opening Friday.
Busch Gardens director of design and engineering Andrew Schaffer said fitting the 1,800 feet of bright orange steel track into the site of the old Taganyika Tidal Wave attraction was a major challenge. But don't let its size fool you, the ride is just as intense and formidable as the revered jungle cat from which it gets its name.
Infamous TV socialite and "Gilmore Girls" matriarch Emily Gilmore said it best:
"When you're tasting anything, the first taste acclimates the palate, the second establishes the foundation, and the third is to make your decision."
So, naturally, I had to ride at least three times. The verdict: Tigris is an intense and worthy ride that catches you by surprise. Thrill seekers, the line starts in Stanleyville.
First, its speed is visually impressive. Cheetah Hunt, another Busch Gardens launch coaster, is a rush of G-force adrenaline and speed off its first launch, but for standers-by it looks docile from the ground. Not so with Tigris. It zooms and roars by you so fast you have no time to think about what you just saw.
Then you step in, secured mostly from the shin and thigh with a "comfort strap" over your shoulders that is more there for something to hold onto than keep you in.
The ride first launches you about halfway up its tower, then there's a gut-ripping reverse launch back through the station and up, before you're dropped back in for the final launch up the tower at 62 mph – the ride's highest speed – through a twist and into a heartline roll.
The ride slows heading into the heartline roll, lulling you into a false sense of security as you slowly rotate, taking in the spinning world and contemplating the decisions that brought you to this point in your life. Then it hurtles you about 90 feet down toward seeming doom and into another twisting loop. And there's more, 45 seconds speed and what-the-heck-just-happened-to-me intensity that leaves you no time to react, just exist in a blissfully terrifying moment of thrill.
The ride is intense from any of the two-person rows, but the experience can vary slightly depending on where you sit. The front offers the best views and is certainly not for don't-look-down types. Mendelson-Curry said the front right seat is his favorite, especially the view going into the heartline roll.
"It's the best view of the park ever," the former aviator said.
Shaffer likes the back, especially on the reverse launch. That's definitely where you feel the ride the most. The launch backward feels like your stomach stayed in the station and you pick it back up when shoot through. The rear seat also gets you in the loop. While other rows might feel somewhat of a pause when entering the loop, passengers in the back are whipped through like the balance point of a deftly stabilizing tail.
The middle sections, which I rode first, are a good intersection of the two, while still providing enough excitement to jellify your legs and have you looking up to see if your heart stayed above that 90-foot drop.
Park representatives said the ride is designed to "mimic the awe-inspiring agility of the world's largest and most powerful cat – the tiger."
Now, I've never been a tiger, so I can't speak to the accuracy there. But as someone who's ridden many a coaster across the country and the world, I can say Tigris offers one heck of a ride.
Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @danuscripts.