Thursday, May 24, 2007

Busch Gardens - The Rides, Part 2

Got your beverage of choice? Hit the bathroom before you settled down to read this long, long post? Informed your friends and relatives where you will be in case they think you've gone missing?


When last we left, we were heading towards the Desert Grill Restaurant and Theater for lunch.

It was a lengthy walk with little to see but an overhead skyride and a wall where a future attraction was going in. I've no clue what it is yet. Peeks through the slatted fence and underbrush showed only a cleared, sandy field and piles of unidentifiable construction materials.

Oh, and one hard-hatted fellow scratching his behind.

Little did I know that small visual would signify a trend in many of my animal shots ... coming soon in another post!

I'll also talk about the Desert Grill in detail in a different post, but for now, it has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants. You can see a show, listen to music, and eat great food at a reasonable price. Sure beats fried junk on a stick from the various kiosks, or the more expensive Crown Colony House Restaurant.

Anyhow ... after eating, relaxing, cooling off, and drying out, we once again went in search of the elusive train ride for my mother. This time, the closest station was the Nairobi station. Not too far away, but between us and it was Rhino Rally.

Rhino Rally is a part safari, part adventure, part water ride. I'd never been on it, and it was one of two things I absolutely wanted to do while at Busch Gardens. (The other was Katonga, which we missed ... because of the train, but I'll talk about that later. If I remember. hehe)

The line for Rhino Rally was very short, and Mom decided to give it try. How bad could a ride in a truck be, after all?

Rhino Rally's EntranceBefore we threaded our way through the turnstiles, a congenial staff member intercepted us and very politely, very tactfully, and very trepiditiously informed us that "large sized" park patrons often had trouble fitting in the smallish seat or using the seat belts. He offered to allow us a private "seat fitting" on a recently returned vehicle that had unloaded. This way no one but we and staff would see if there was a size-fit problem, thus sparing us any embarrassment in front of other park goers. Plus, I think it also helped them as we would not hold up the loading line trying to wriggle into the cramped seating.

The poor guy was nervous (and was as big as us), but we laughed and said sure. His relief was palpable, and we followed, cracking size jokes and laughing, as he led us to our fateful butt test.

The seats were pretty small. I expected bench seats with seat belts, like the Safari ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom has. But while the seat was technically a bench seat, it was broken into 4 separate seats by a 2 inch wide, foot or so tall, barrier. The actual seating areas were maybe 16 inches wide. Likely less.

The first and third row, left side seats next to the entry doors, were equipped with extendable seat belts. So we tried those. I had a harder time squeezing into the truck and seat due to the confinement of the roof and cramped leg area more than my blubber butt squishing down into the seat. The seat belt also was a non-issue.

They had us get out and led us to the front of the line, where we caught the next truck and had to redo the contortion act to squish in again. Then we were off!

The truck was an actual gas vehicle, with a live driver; not on a track. The road was bumpy, jarring, and made taking good pictures difficult. Even at the stately 7 miles per hour we were traveling. Had I not been on an end seat, I don't think I'd have gotten shots of any use. As it was, out of the 20 or so I took, very few were usable.

We first rumbled through the elephant and rhino enclosures. I'm sure there were safety features in place other than the thin wooden fences, but I couldn't see them. The ride designers did a great job at hiding and obscuring them from view. Err, the safety stuff, not the animals. Though most of them were hiding in the shade and difficult to see.

The crocodile enclosure was a little more obvious in its safety features. The truck drove through a few feet of water with the crocs only a yard or so away (presumably, I saw none from my side of the truck), a steel mesh fence, angled away from the vehicle, kept the scaly predators from deciding the fleshy meat bags in the metal tin were tasty treats.

Shortly after, disaster struck.

We were crossing a pontoon bridge when a flash flood rampaged down the small river and ripped the bridge apart. Our poor truck was stuck on a small span of the pontoons as we swirled away down the river!

Rhino Rally's Pontoon Bridge/RaftOf course it was a carefully designed scenario, and not very exciting as it occurred. I think a glitch happened and the water that was supposed to rush out at us never did. We sort of sat there on the bridge as the previously glib driver-guide faltered through the spiel about the raging river, flash floods, and the previously lost Rally truck before us.

Eventually our little raft separated from the bridge and we gently floated away. We did swirl, however, as this part of the ride was on a track, but the effect was diminished by the rather placid waters.

We floated along, listening to the patter of the driver, watching the peaceful foliage and artfully designed rock gorges, spinning gently along the semi-hidden track.

Rafting in a Rhino Rally TruckAt one point, a small waterfall loomed in our path. It seemed certain we would be inundated by the quickly falling stream. But, at the last moment, the raft spun and we slipped around behind the miniature torrent, sparing us from the once certain deluge.

Rhino Rally WaterfallWell, sparing all but those in the rear right of the truck. They do get wet. Muahahahaha!

Waterfall at Rhino RallyPast the waterfall, we spied several indications of damage from our phantom flash flood; broken boats, shattered bridges, and floating wreckage. We even spied the rescue truck sent out to find us. But who was going to save them?

Rescuing the Rescuers on Rhino RallyEventually we fetched up against another shattered bridge, and with a little effort, crawled up the nearby embankment and returned to base camp; safe, sound, and with a new respect for the unpredictable rivers of Africa ... even the invisibly unpredictable rivers.

Back out front of the ride, the kids decided to try their hand at driving one of the Rally trucks.

See What Happens When I Let Them Drive?As you can plainly see, they quickly became mired in some quicksand after narrowly missing the park guests on their left. They leaped to safety before the car sank any further and we dashed away to avoid park security!

At least they didn't kill anyone. ~.^

Finally, we headed toward the train station, and as luck would have it, the Serengeti Railway was rounding the corner and coming into view.

Serengeti RailwayWe hurried to the station gates. Or, we tried to.

People are so oblivious to others, I had to literally body check some of them out of the way so my Mom could ride through the little gate on her mobility cart. Excuse us didn't work. Gently trying to press by didn't work. Even the sad, squeaky little horn on the motorized buggy she rode didn't work. But when someone with fat hips and the will to violently swing them slams into you, you move. *snicker*

The train was just pulling in as mom rolled through the gate.

Serengeti RailwayThe train is pretty standard, as theme park trains go. A small, faux steam engine pulls a line of cars made up of rows of long bench seats, open on either side. But Busch goes the little bit extra for their disabled guests.

The last car has ramps which fold down and lower to the station deck, allowing disabled persons with wheelchairs, or power chairs, to ride onto it and be lifted into the car. A forward and rearward facing bench allow the disabled's companions to ride along with them. The front half of the car has regular seating, as well.

There are three stops on the Serengeti Railway; Nairobi, Congo, and Stanleyville stations. The best route is Nairobi to Congo, as you travel through the Serengeti plains and can view many animals you'd otherwise only see from the skyride, or an extra charge safari ride in large, open bed truck. I shot many pictures of animals, but you'll have to wait to see those in another post! (I'm so mean)

A round trip on the train takes about 35 minutes. The Serengeti portion, as I said, is the most worthwhile. The Congo to Stanleyville, and Stanleyvill to Nairobi allow you to see some rides and other areas of the park, but mostly you wend your way through small spaces of fences and shrubbery that block most of the views of anything. You can catch glimpses of some rides as they tower over you, and you do trundle under a portion of SheiKra. But mostly I contented myself by looking past the bushes and razor wire fences out to the streets of civilization only a score of feet away.

It is pretty amazing how close the park is to apartment buildings, businesses, restaurants, and such. Unless you are on the train, or at the top of one of the rides, you really don't notice it and feel as if you are truly removed from normal life. Busch packs a huge amount of entertainment and attractions in a relatively small, limited space.

While on the Serengeti Railway, I got great shots of two of the parks coasters: ShieKra and Montu.

SheiKra you read about yesterday, but I offered only small glimpses of its total look. Here you can really appreciate the loops and dives, as well as it's towering height. And, you get an added bonus of some giraffes loping around in the foreground! This is one of my favorite shots of the day. (I will admit to adding the blue, cloudy sky into the shot as I cropped and cleaned it up. The greyish white sky it originally had was very boring looking. hehe)

SheiKra as Seen from the Serengeti RailwayMontu is in the Egypt section of Busch Gardens, and is one of my favorite coasters ever. And I've ridden many in my younger days. Montu is an inverted roller coaster. It was once the world's tallest and fastest inverted coaster, but not any longer. The coaster wars can be brutal. Montu still holds the record of the most inversions (loops) on an inverted coaster with seven.

I miss riding it.

Montu as Seen from the Serengeti RailwayYeah, I added sky in this one too. You couldn't really see the coaster as well against the greyish sky that was rapidly rolling in over Tampa that day. I wanted to go the Egypt section where Montu is located, but by Mom was wearing out, and we were trying to make it back to the Nairobi station ni time to get to the last showing of Katonga. We didn't make it. *sigh*

Another day, then.

I also wanted to do a skyride trip, but I had to settle for taking a shot of one of the turning points as we rode the train. *double sigh*

The SkyrideYou can see how grey the sky looks in this shot, and why I slipped a prettier blue one in the others. ~.^

Thus ends my pictorial safari through the Rides of Busch Gardens.

Tomorrow or this weekend, I'll do up a post with pics of all the great animals and other sights. Some pretty cool stuff to see awaits you!

Today's Penny Doubled Daily Cumulative Amount for 144 days is:


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