Roller coaster review: Curse is Busch Gardens blessing

New roller coaster at Tampa theme park is snakey and sneaky

Busch Gardens' new coaster is seriously twisted — in a good way.

Cobra's Curse, now open at the Tampa theme park, brings qualities unique in Florida, including an unusual method of motion.

At first you go forward. Then you go backward. Then you go around and around while moving forward. At that point, it's Tilt-A-Whirl meets roller coaster.

From on solid ground, Cobra's Curse doesn't look too complicated. It's a compact footprint and the design reminded me of the Tinkertoy-ish look of sister coaster Cheetah Hunt.

It also sent me back to my childhood to the board game Mouse Trap, possibly because of its distinctive lift hill. The ride's trains go straight up, elevator-style, before beginning a complicated cause-and-effect descent a la Mouse Trap marble.

The winding queue is Egypt excavation-themed and mostly indoors (All hail Willis Carrier, father of the modern air-conditioner). You can't see much of the actual ride from in there, but that's a good thing.

You do see real, live snakes, which weren't as unnerving as I expected. They are confined to one display case, which is built into a wall and striking. One might expect rare jewels or historic documents in there. Instead, you may spy Jameson's mambas, Angolan pythons and rhinoceros and gaboon vipers.

A bigger deal, literally, is the 80-foot-tall snake king, a.k.a. Venymyss. Riders face off with the fangs of Venymyss at the peak of the lift hill. There's no venom or even atmospheric steam up there, but from the ground it can look like the rail goes into the mouth of the big guy.

From there, the ride is straightforward roller-coastering. The vehicles are two cars with two rows of two people apiece, for a total of eight passengers per train. The first leg has standard ups, downs, curves and speed. Then, after a brake, each car slowly rotates 180 degrees. Folks in the second car are now in the lead position — but now the entire train moves backward.

There's an out-of-control feeling to that maneuver. Part of the time, the cars move backwards and downhill, pointing riders toward the sky. It's disorienting, and it gets worse. During the next segment, the cars are unlocked and head into spinning mode. At points, the front car faces the back car, but then spins past to views of the snake king or the concrete or the sky.

The train rights itself before heading back into the station.

The overall experience is not as intense as bigger Busch Gardens coasters. The neighboring Montu, for instance, sports seven inversions and hits 60 mph. Cobra's Curse clocks in at 40 mph and never goes upside down.

Curse fits a nice need, giving thrill seekers a good time without screwing with their equilibrium too much. Anti-spinners, beware, though.

Other Cobra's Curse notes:

•Busch Gardens continues to excel at creating coasters that are fun to watch from the ground. Visitors can walk underneath much of the ride, including a spinning stretch where we observed a spinning car go over while a man screamed "HOOOOOOOOOOOOLY [expletive deleted]!!"

•The views are nice on the way up. To the left is the park's Serengeti Plain. To the right is downtown Tampa.

•Weight distribution in the car affects the speed of its spinning, am told, but we were not advised of that before boarding. To achieve maximum effect, ask a ride operator. or 407-420-5477

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