One of the perks of a SeaWorld Platinum Pass is extremely close-up parking at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and this is a significant boon to enthusiasts on a tight schedule. I slept a little later than intended, arriving at the park just ten minutes before opening, but despite this I was able to snag a spot that Google Earth suggests was just 200 metres from the entrance turnstiles. The furthest spaces in the main lot are more than a kilometre away and require a shuttle tram – those on a tight schedule should plan accordingly.
My first port of call was Tempesto (#2952), which had been closed for the day on my last visit to the park back in 2016. There’s a famous phrase about good things coming to those who wait, and I can say with conviction that it did not apply here. The Premier Sky Rocket II is a superb ride when operated with lap bars as the manufacturer intended – such at at Holiday Park and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Unfortunately, as with the other SeaWorld parks this installation has been thoroughly eviscerated with the addition of hideous discomfort collars. I took a back seat ride and got a series of blows to my neck for my trouble, and for what? Once was more than enough.
In an ideal world my next ride would have been on Pantheon, a new coaster from Intamin that was originally supposed to make its debut in 2020, but as with many things the planned launch (pun absolutely intended) was delayed by the pandemic. Though the ride tested extensively in March 2021 management elected to keep it closed for the year presumably in the hope of getting a marketing bounce from a new attraction in 2022. (Readers who have to travel from a distance to get to the park might want to read the recent stories about DarKoaster before scheduling their next visit. Personally I'm in no particular rush.)
Instead I found my way to the original B&M hyper coaster. Apollo’s Chariot is now well into its twenty-third season, yet it continues to deliver a top notch crowd-pleasing ride, if one that is perhaps a little sedate by modern standards. Most of the hills deliver gentle floating, with only one real pop of airtime immediately prior to the on-ride photo. Two trains were in use today, and the operators were keeping them moving; I was able to walk straight into a back seat with no wait. During my lap I found myself wondering what it would take to upgrade the overall intensity; could it be done with a few booster wheels, or would the hills need to be materially reshaped?
One of the challenges impacting all parks in America this year has been staffing, and this was clear to see on Verbolten, a ride explicitly designed to load two trains at a time for capacity reasons. Today the operators were doing one train at a time; the first was loaded and locked, then left to sit there for a minute or so while they worked on the second one. I found myself wondering why the software hadn’t been set up with an optional single-station mode for quiet days; if anyone from Zierer is reading this I’d love to add an explanation to this report!
The ride is possibly best described as a hybrid between a roller coaster, a giant drop, and a ghost train. The train dispatches into a brief and not terribly memorable outdoor section, which is followed by a high speed launch into a dark building filled with light and sound effects. After about thirty seconds in here the train comes to a halt on a flat piece of track, which drops vertically to connect with another segment below. An outdoor section and second launch prefix a sharp drop and curve that harkens back to the late (and much lamented) Big Bad Wolf that stood on the same spot until the end of 2009. The experience today was great; I very much enjoyed my lap.
My tour of the park continued with a walk-on ride on Alpengeist, a ride that has been the world’s tallest full-circuit inverted coaster for an incredible twenty-four years. I was joined in the back row by a child who could not have been more than ten years old. He studiously informed me that the back seat was the place to be, and that he was on his ninth lap of the day – a definite sign of a coaster enthusiast in the making. The ride experience today was perfect, without even the vaguest hint of jarring – a testament to the calibre of the engineering, and indeed of the team that put the ride together.
The main ride on my to-do list today was InvadR (#2953), a bizarrely-named wood coaster that was under construction during my last visit to the park back in 2016. Though the ride itself was built new, the park was able to save money by repurposing a pair of Millennium Flyer trains that operated on Gwazi between 2011 and 2015. Only one of these was in use today, and it had a row out of service due to a restraint issue. As if that were not enough, operations were distinctly unhurried; I timed a few dispatches and came up with an average of around five minutes, equating to less than two hundred guests per hour – a poor showing in any park, and a positively woeful one in a major chain. The wait looked to be the better part of an hour, though I can report that it ended up being a bit less than that as quite a few guests ahead of me decided to abort.
The ride is a perfectly respectable family coaster, if not one likely to rewrite any top ten lists. The lift hill leads to a ninety degree turnaround at the apex, followed by a slight climb ahead of a partially enclosed drop of 74 feet. This is the best feature of the layout for those sitting at the front of the train, not least because it bottoms out in a tunnel underneath a walkway. This spot would be absolutely fantastic for taking photographs if it was possible for guests to get there, though as of this writing the path is only accessible to maintenance personnel.
The climb that follows prefixes a fairly typical mix of turns and hills, though sadly they don’t really have any airtime to speak of as the top speed just isn’t fast enough for that. I found the back seat to be better, but still tame, to the point that I’d suggest that the only less forceful coaster at the park as of this writing is Grover’s Alpine Express. It’s entirely possible that I caught the ride on a bad day, or that the experience is better when trains don’t spend three minutes parked in the station between cycles; perhaps I’ll find out next time I’m in the area.
There was a two train wait for the back seat on Griffon, and given that I figured it would be unconscionably rude not to do at least one lap. I noticed something new while waiting in the holding brake on the initial drop: a painted 40 foot high Coca-Cola bottle on the path with the caption “say ahh”. Google Earth imagery suggests that this creative sponsorship was added at the start of the 2018 season, perhaps inspired by the “Don’t Look Down” messaging on Oblivion.
My plan to do a sweep of the park’s adult coasters fell by the wayside when I arrived at Loch Ness Monster and found a queue stretching beyond the designated area and out into the midway. It was moving, but not quickly, and after a few minutes in situ I decided to return to my car a little ahead of schedule so as to give myself more time at King’s Dominion.