America’s new, most terrifying roller coaster is in Tampa

The nation’s most anticipated and terrifying new roller coaster is finally making its debut this week at Busch Gardens Tampa. The Post got an exclusive first look and ride on the 206-foot beast known as the Iron Gwazi.

So how was it? In a word (uttered in a full-throated scream): YEEEEE-AHHHHH! It is among the best — if not the best — coaster in Florida, aka the theme park capital of the world. It is also unlike any other coaster in the state.

Known as an “IBox” wooden-steel hybrid coaster, the ride is actually a makeover. Opened in 1999, it was originally known as Gwazi.

As with many wooden coasters, it had become excessively rough over time, and Busch Gardens closed it in 2015.

Riders upside down on the new Iron Gwazi in Tampa, Fla.
You’ll be visiting the Upside Down quite a bit on Busch Gardens Tampa’s Iron Gwazi.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Enter Rocky Mountain Construction, an innovative ride manufacturer. It specializes in rehabbing past-their-prime “woodies” by replacing their wooden tracks with specially designed “IBox” steel tracks (so named because they resemble the letter “I”). The Florida ride sports snazzy purple tracks.

The reborn Iron Gwazi was set to debut in March 2020, but instead went into pandemic-induced hibernation. Finally ready to roll some two years later, the coaster is now glass-smooth (like RMC’s other hybrid coasters), which is even more remarkable considering how jarring the original Gwazi’s ride had become.

A shot of the roller coaster's arching drop.
The ride features a 206-foot drop.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

t’s a good thing it’s smooth, because the forces the ride exerts are quite potent.

While Iron Gwazi retains about 40% of its original wooden structure, RMC rejiggered it considerably. The ride climbs nearly twice as high as before. That makes it the tallest coaster in Florida as well as the tallest RMC hybrid in North America. At the top of its long lift hill, the train slows to a crawl, building anticipation and letting passengers stew over the 91-degree (that’s beyond vertical, dear readers), 206-foot drop.

A photo of two passengers on the roller coaster.
The park’s president and the author took the 76-mph coaster out for a spin.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Revving up to 76 mph, Iron Gwazi clocks in as the fastest coaster in Florida and the fastest RMC hybrid in the world. With all that energy, the ride then delivers a furious onslaught of elements including a “zero-G stall” that turns passengers upside down and lets them hang there for a few agonizing moments.

There are 12 tushy-lifting airtime moments, some of which are wildly intense. It is coaster heaven.

“We couldn’t be more excited to bring the first RMC coaster to Florida,” said Neal Thurman, park president. “Iron Gwazi really raises the bar.”

Exterior shot of the entire roller coaster.
The first wooden iteration of Gwazi opened in 1999 — now it’s been upgraded with steel.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Incredibly, the ride has a 48-inch minimum height limit, which will allow young children to board it. A word of warning to parents: To tackle Iron Gwazi, your kids (and you for that matter) had better be mighty brave. The ride opens for previews starting Feb. 11 and officially opens March 11.

Sister park SeaWorld Orlando recently opened Ice Breaker, another ride that had been shelved by the pandemic, for previews. The airtime-filled, launched coaster sends passengers racing forward and backward to experience a 93-foot spike at 100 degrees and an 80-foot top hat-shaped tower. It’s plenty thrilling, but with no inversions and a top speed of 52 mph, the SeaWorld ride is less intense.