Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Florida's various themeparks now have their fair share of roller coasters. It had been a while since I visited amusement parks, so I was quite surprised to see the next generation of roller coasters -- the so-called 'megacoasters.' These things are truly amazing and even awe inspiring.

There were two in particular that stood out in my mind: SheiKra at Busch Gardens and Kraken at Sea World.

SheiKra is what's referred to as a dive coaster (or diving machine coaster) -- essentially a roller coaster that features a fairly lengthy 90-degree vertical drop. In this case, it has an impressive 200 foot vertical drop and a 138 foot 80-degree drop. It also features a 145 foot tall Immelmann loop.

SheiKra is the first vertical-drop roller coaster in the United States, and the first roller coaster of its kind to include an inversion (in this case, an Immelman Loop) and a true 90 degree vertical drop. The other two coasters of its type are Oblivion at Alton Towers theme park in the United Kingdom and G5/Flying Submarine at Janfusun Fancyworld amusement park in Taiwan.

I have to admit, when I first saw SheiKra, I seriously considered not doing it -- it looked that intimidating. I wasn't sure what was worse, the 90-degree drop or the extreme height. By the end of the day, however, I was determined to go on it, convinced that if I did not I would seriously regret it.

As I waited in line, and as I boarded SheiKra, I was overwhelmed with feelings of surrealness. This was the first roller coaster in quite some time that had me this freaked. Once at the top of the 45 degree climb I could see much of Tampa Bay below me. Then the coaster re-adjusted itself as it prepared for the 200 foot drop. I took a deep breath and down we went. Looking straight ahead and going straight down at extreme speed, the experience seemed to last forever. It was as frightening as it was exhilarating.

Once at the bottom, the coaster smoothly re-joined the world of gravity and we were thrust into the Immelmann loop and given yet another drop. At this point during the ride I started to feel the effects of higher than usual G-forces, including blood loss from the head and my extremities (I felt light headed and my hands were tingling). I actually worried for a brief while that I might lose consciousness. After the ride, I had to fight a bit of dizziness and a mild head-ache, both of which quickly subsided.

Awesome. SheiKra was everything you would want in a roller coaster.

The following day I was at Sea World, which features the excellent Kraken roller coaster. This megacoaster was not nearly as daunting as SheiKra, but it was elegant and thrilling.

It was the first floorless coaster in Florida – but it’s not an inverted coaster; there’s nothing above you or under you, just the rail at the center. It has three tunnels, including one in Kraken's lair. Elements within this coaster include a loop, dive loop, zero-G roll, cobra roll, a second loop, and a corkscrew.

Again, like SheiKra, this coaster pushed the limits of my own biology. I probably don't have the 'right stuff' to be a pilot -- this much I'm sure. But I have to wonder, at what point do the megacoasters start to push the limits of human tolerance? I'm sure the developers are aware of these limits. The trick is to keep pushing the envelope and making novel and exciting rides, but ones that are still human ridable.

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