I first rode Gwazi at the end of November in 2014, I knew the ride had a reputation for being a bit rough and at this time the the Tiger side had already closed with no indication that it would ever reopen. A bridge had been built across the track in the station and the track was very rusted over, showing that it had been a long time since the side was used. My wife and I were treating our niece to a day in the park and this was her first experience on a wooden roller coaster. Wow big mistake, as soon as we went down the first drop you could feel there was a massive issue. The sensation was that the train was running wheels shaped like octagons, it was beyond rough, it was hard to find any redeemable qualities I went from hands up to holding on for dear life. When we got off the train my niece was visibly shaken, she didn’t even say that she didn’t like it, that was plainly obvious. My niece turned to us and asked, “What happened? Did it break?” Even a kid who had never been on a wooden roller coaster knew this thing was more of an endurance trial than an amusement ride. A few weeks later the park announced that Gwazi’s Lion side would be closing forever and the ride would be giving out it’s last rides the following February. That made sense.
The park did not immediately demolish the coaster and the entire enthusiast community took notice. It was quiet and hopeful at first but the murmur of RMC, RMC, RMC started to be heard across forums, and social media. The thought was sincere, but we all knew the parent company was going through financial difficulties. The conclusion was that the park could not afford to replace or demolish the ride. As time passed and Gwazi stood silent, its fate was unclear, but just like in nature the useful resources started to be consumed. Wood was removed from Gwazi’s queue fencing and was repurposed as signage at Seaworld Orlando. Then we learned that the trains would be sent to Busch Gardens Williamsburg to be rebuilt for InvadR. The brakes and control system was also dismantled and sent to Williamsburg. These cost savings further illustrated the financial difficulties that the chain was enduring, but Gwazi’s structure still stood.
The more time that passed the more hopeful enthusiasts were that the park was saving the structure for a future purpose…. What else would make sense? RMC, RMC, RMC, the volume and tone was starting to change. The future of Gwazi seemed set but the silence was starting to be filled with this ever increasing chant. Then the trademarks started to be filed and even the most jaded enthusiast that can’t be bothered to speculate sat up and took notice. However it turned out that the park had plans to install a Premier Rides Skyrocket II model and the trademarks were for this attraction. The rumors that the area would be repurposed into a new land started up and the possibility the structure could finally be demolished seemed plausible. The chant continued, but the tone changed once more to desperation and pleading, RMC, RMC, RMC.
Then late last summer a leak from inside the Seaworld corporate plans for the whole chain. There it was a slide in a presentation that said a hybrid roller coaster was planned for Busch Gardens Tampa. RMC! RMC! RMC! Enthusiasts rejoiced, and started to speculate what could be done to this once loved ride that fell into disrepair. The possibility of dueling the two seperate sides, or created a mobius loop like Twisted Colossus were the main topics of conversation. However rumors started to rumble that this ride could be bigger than expected, and that the dueling element will be removed. We finally found out on March 1st that it was official, RMC would be converting Gwazi into a hybrid. The park is calling it the tallest and fastest hybrid in North America and it will feature the steepest drop on any hybrid in the world. Even though the details are vague and impressive there are still quite a few question marks.
The conversation quickly shifted to comparing this totally unknown layout to Steel Vengeance. Many seemed ready to declare this yet to be named roller coaster, that will surely mimic that natural motions of the yet to be determined animal from Africa, will best the king of the RMCs Steel Vengeance. We already know that Steel Vengeance was well received in its opening year. It was acknowledged as the best new ride by the Golden Ticket Awards, and conquered Fury 325 in the Ride Warrior Choice Awards and the Thrilling 32. This premature speculation lead to others to boo hoo the ride as trying to show up Steel Vengeance, and caused an odd defensive tone. I found the reaction odd, and I suspect it is fueled by emotions and not rational or objective thought. The success of any ride does not detract from another. To put it plainly if I like one ride more than another it doesn’t change the experience of either. It just offers another point of comparison, and another source of fun and joy. I think this project will offer RMC an unprecedented level of freedom to reimagine Gwazi compared to any other conversion that they have tackled in the past. They have the freedom to use both structures for one layout, with the added height and speed to put it into an elite class of rollercoasters. All of their other conversions had to follow a general path even if the elements and experience were going to be fresh. The amount of structure they can build off of and the amount of footers to build off of are what sets this project apart to me, and has my head spinning with different ideas. So what do I say? RMC, RMC, RMC!