I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Busch Gardens in Tampa actually has a wooden coaster. (Busch Gardens in Williamsburg does not.) In fact, Gwazi turned out to be the one big surprise of my visit to this park. Although I expected the steel coasters to be good because I knew a little about them by reputation, my expectations of this one were low because it clearly wasn’t in the same class as El Toro or The Voyage. However, and this is what was so surprising, it far exceeded my expectations. It contains all the elements of a good wooden coaster. After making a right turn from the loading area, the train drops into a tunnel before ascending the lift hill and dropping 91 feet. Not a big drop but one that can be appreciated for its airtime.
Although the coaster is not particularly fast (51 mph), because of the succession of banked turns and length of the ride (2:30) at a steady clip, my perception was that it was going faster than it actually was. One of the highlights of the ride was a plunge into total darkness. I rode at night and this greatly enhanced the experience. You get a lot of ride on this coaster because of the substantial length of the track. And because the old trains were replaced some time in 2011, the ride is not nearly as rough as it purportedly was with the old trains. I should point out that until recently Gwazi was a duelling coaster, with separate entrances for the Lion and Tiger side. The Tiger side was closed, I gather permanently, so I can’t conceive of what this ride would be like with two trains operating, but the Lion side stands well on its own. Gwazi is a gem of a coaster, in my opinion superior to some that are consistently rated higher, such as Lightning Racer. 4 out of 5 stars. Photograph by Claudia Tampa39, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. For more information about rides at Busch Gardens Tampa, visitseaworldparks.com/buschgardens-tampa/