North America's first diving coaster and the world's first floorless diving coaster, SheiKra and Griffon, respectively, take riders to the precipice in single, precariously open cars, dangle them for a few heart-skipping seconds, then drop them straight down 200-foot hills. And that's only the beginning of these wild rides.
- SheiKra is at Busch Gardens Tampa. Griffon is at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Both rides are essentially similar.
- Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 8
- Diving features; open, floorless car; aggressive speed; height over 200 feet; multiple inversions
- Coaster type: Floorless diving coaster
- Top speed: 71 mph (Griffon); 70 mph (SheiKra)
- Height restriction: 54 inches
- Angle of descent: 90 degrees
- Drop: 205 feet (Griffon); 200 feet (SheiKra)
- Ride time: 3 minutes
- Manufacturer: Bolliger & Mabillard
Minimal Cars. Maximum Shiekras, er, Shrieks.
SheiKra opened in 2005 in the Stanleyville section of Busch Gardens Tampa. It was a huge hit. It was followed in 2007 by Griffon, a similar coaster, at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The Virginia ride debuted with floorless cars. Busch Gardens modified the cars on the Tampa coaster to make them floorless as well in 2007.
Nearly everything about Griffon and SheiKra sets them apart from typical coasters. Instead of a train of cars, the rides uses single cars that contain three extra-wide rows of seats. To accommodate the wide cars, the tubular steel tracks are also unusually wide. The "floorless" cars have no floors -- or sides or backs. The cars are essentially seats bolted to chassis. The open designs leave riders especially vulnerable for the ensuing dives.
The six end seats offer the most open and unique rides. Because they extend beyond the track, passengers have nothing above, below, or to one side of them. The outermost seats in the front rows are the primo riding positions.
As with other floorless coasters, once passengers are secured and the ride is cleared for takeoff, the loading platforms drop away, and gates in front of the cars swing open with dramatic flourishes. The cars aren't completely floorless, however. Riders can let their feet dangle or rest them on small bars under each row.
Enjoy the View
Griffon and SheiKra round a bend, latch on to chain lifts, and chug up their lift hills at surprisingly fast ten-feet-per-second clips. The lifts are high enough to provide spectacular views of both parks and beyond their gates. After climbing the lift hills, they both slowly navigate 180-degree "carousels" and slowly approach the first drops. There are slight jerks as the cars momentarily stop, followed by false starts as they crest the top and hang perilously over the edge for an agonizing few seconds.
Then, eeeeeaaaahhhhh! The 90-degree drops reach a bone-rattling 70 mph (71 mph for Griffon) that feel all the more bracing with the open, floorless cars. Griffon and SheiKra soar into huge "Immelman" loops (a diving loop named for a German army pilot who performed acrobatic maneuvers). They then slow as they approach a second 90-degree dive. The second dive is 138 feet for SheiKra and 130 feet for Griffon. Instead of hanging over the edges, however, the cars drop without hesitation. Griffon enters into a second Immelman loop, while SheiKra roars into a disorienting, fog-filled tunnel.
Both rides skid over pools of water and send huge plumes of spray into the sky before they race back to the station.
Sorry, no Wimps Allowed
Like Busch Gardens Williamsburg's super-smooth and exhilarating hypercoaster, Apollo's Chariot, and the Tampa park's inverted coaster, Montu (both of which, along with Griffon and SheiKra, are among the top picks for best coasters), the diving coasters were manufactured by the Swiss ride wizards, Bolliger & Mabillard (also known as B&M). While they are not as smooth as Apollo's Chariot, Griffon and SheiKra are remarkably smooth rides -- especially given the cars' considerable size and heft.
There's really no wiggle room for wimps to gather up the courage and tackle these coasters. They are unapologetic thrill rides that coaster lovers will love and coaster wimps will avoid. Hanging... and hanging, and hanging 200 feet in the air certainly adds to the ride's drama. (That's why I include them among my picks for the 11 scariest coasters.) But, with their unusual cars, thrilling dives, and water-shooting finales, they provide quite a spectacle for non-riders to behold.
The two coasters were upstaged in 2016 by Ohio's Cedar Point, which introduced its own diving coaster, Valravn. It climbs 223 feet, drops 214 feet, and hits 75 mph. It is essentially the same ride as Griffon and SheiKra, just a bit taller and faster.
Busch Gardens says that a Griffon is a mythical beast that's half lion and half eagle. It's also a gargoyle that adorns some buildings in France. SheiKra is an African hawk that dives down for its prey. There are no gargoyles or hawks on the ride's cars, tracks, or stations, however. Neither ride attempts to incorporate or convey any kind of stories; they are essentially just thrilling coasters. But oh, what thrills.