By ATD’s Florida Experts Susan & Simon Veness
It looks like a beast; it feels like a beast; and it even SOUNDS like a beast. And Busch Gardens’ new ride, Falcon’s Fury, is every bit of the above – and more besides. In fact, as Florida attractions go, this could be the ultimate for adrenaline junkies.
We got our first chance to test the park’s all-new monster this week, at a one-off media event when riders were hooked up to a special ‘Dive Cam’ so everyone could see the fun – and the terror! – involved in ascending up to 335ft, being tilted face down, and then dropped at 60mph.
Scary? Not many, Bennie! But, as the video hopefully also shows, it is an immense engineering achievement, as well as a truly exhilarating experience. Short, but very, very exciting.
Susan was actually declared hors de combat by her doctor, hence it was left to Simon to brave the full Fury, but not only did he manage to do the ride in best Dive Cam mode, he also went back for a second go, just to make sure it really was as thrilling as he thought without a camera in his face.
Regular ATD readers and Forum members will already know Falcon’s Fury is the centre-piece of the new Pantopia area at Busch Gardens, a complete makeover for the former Timbuktu section, given vivid new life by creative painting, landscaping and artwork, as well as additional dining options (like the delicious Twisted Tails Pretzels – don’t miss the Bacon Pretzel Fury with beer mustard sauce!) and the Opening Night Critters show, which replaces the old 3-D cinema.
But, while the full Pantopia creation is vividly eye-catching, there is no mistaking the gigantic multi-coloured tower in the middle of it all, an unfeasibly tall but mesmerising structure that seems to go up forever into the Florida sky.
It is ‘only’ 33 storeys high, but that’s like adding suspended coaster Montu to the top of dive-coaster SheiKra, only this isn’t a rollercoaster of any kind; it’s a drop-tower ride with an evil, first-of-its-kind twist.
But don’t take our word for it. Here’s Mark Rose, the Vice-President of Design and Engineering for Busch Gardens, who has been over-seeing the project for several years. He told us: “Falcon’s Fury is one of a kind. If you want a thrill, you’ve got to ride it – it might just be the most exciting ride in the industry.
“When you look up the 335ft and you’re taking that 58-second ascent to the top, you’ve got to be thinking, ‘What have I got into?’ But then, when you’re pulled back, now it’s pretty serious. Then when you drop, you’re going, ‘Oh-my-god, oh-my-god, oh-my-god!’ And then you go ‘Oh my god that was the most awesome thing I’ve ever been on!”
So where did the idea for the ride come from? Rose explained: “I think sky-diving inspired us. We thought ‘How can we take a drop tower and make it a better drop tower? What about re-positioning the angle people are dropped in?’ If we could pull you back and drop you that way, wouldn’t that be something? We also wanted to do something in the old Timbuktu area and re-launch it as a new village, Pantopia, so it had to be something that would fit this footprint. So this was the perfect ride for it.”
Falcon’s Fury clearly is a major engineering feat, but it has been quite a while in the design and testing phase, and there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. Rose said: “The prototypical part of the ride was the part where you got pulled back so you are facing straight down. That we actually developed a year ago, and we made a prototype of it in Europe and spent a year perfecting it so that the swing forward and all the forces on the body would be smooth. All of that was perfected long before we ever assembled it here in Tampa.”
Were they worried about making it TOO scary? “What I have witnessed is that people say ‘I will ride it once just so I can say I have done it.’ But then they get off and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to ride it again,’ and that’s what we have here at Falcon’s Fury. We’re always looking five years out and always want to add something to our park that fits all our demographics, be they family, thrill-seekers or animal lovers, so we’re always looking at that. This fits perfectly for thrill-seekers, but this is also hard not to watch. If you’re in Pantopia, all eyes go up when that ride goes up.”
Rose is also delighted with the initial public response to the new ride, and he concluded: “I think the repeatability and smoothness of it is the thing that will endure. People will be riding this five years from now, 10 years from now, 15 years from now, and they’ll still be saying ‘This is awesome!’ That’s the thing that pleases me most.”
So, after the interview, it was finally time to ride the ride, test our nerve and see if Falcon’s Fury really delivered the outrageous thrills that it promised. It did – and how!
The first thing you need to know is that the queuing area is well organised. Even with a lot of people in line, it took barely 15 minutes to reach one of the four loading points at the foot of the tower. Riders are sorted into groups of four and there are then eight sets of seats ready to welcome 32 brave souls at a time.
Everyone is meticulously strapped into the seats, which feature a reassuringly heavy shoulder restraint that comes over your head and is then buckled in place. With nothing left to do, it’s time to take that oh-so-long 58-second rise to the top, with the vast landscape of Busch Gardens spreading out before you, all the way to downtown Tampa (and beyond) in one direction, and over the sprawling campus of South Florida University in the other.
This is also where the ride’s repeatability factor comes into play, as keen riders will definitely want to experience it from at least two aspects, and possibly all four. Each view is slightly different but equally spectacular.
As Rose suggested, the smoothness of the ride is astonishing – although not nearly so breathtaking as the moment you are gently tipped face-forward at the top! There is a second or two of real eye-popping adrenaline as you contemplate the view below, then WHOOOOOSHHHH! here comes the drop.
Two thirds of the way down, the brakes kick in, the seats swing back to their normal position – and you can breathe again. It’s barely 90 seconds from beginning to end but it is a trip you will NEVER forget.
Now see Simon’s special Dive-Cam video of the experience here!
All aboard now…!