My morning at Busch Gardens Williamsburg began at 9:15am in a completely stopped queue of cars. I was in situ for just over fifteen minutes before everything slowly began to move. Though I’ve no official information on what happened, my guess is that the parking toll booths didn't open until 9:30am; the timing was far too precise for anything else.
My SeaWorld Platinum Pass granted me an up-close space located just feet away from the main entrance, giving me time to stand in two further holding areas – the first in front of the park gate, which opened at 9:45am; the second on the far side of the England area, where barriers were dropped at precisely 10:00am. I'm not entirely convinced of the merits of staggering entry in this fashion, as younger guests in particular tend to launch in all directions at a measurable percentage of the speed of sound. I'd have thought it more sensible to allow patrons to slowly distribute themselves, safe in the knowledge that no rides will be open before a certain time – though what do I know?
I’d originally planned to begin my day with Pantheon, but changed tack on the fly when I spotted a large-format sign directing guests towards DarKoaster (#3078), an Intamin Family Launch Coaster built inside the show building for the late and much-lamented Curse of DarKastle. This proved a lucky decision; as I neared the ride entrance I was overtaken by a number of high-velocity children who'd gone to Pantheon first and found it experiencing a technical delay. Fortunately there were only a dozen or so of the little blighters, so I was still able to claim the front seat for the second train of the day.
The experience of the new ride is extremely similar to the indoor section of Verbolten, albeit without the drop track; riders are launched into a series of direction changes with ghostly illuminations appearing from time to time. The relatively short course is covered twice thanks to a track switch system, which enables two train operation. This works well, though it’d be remiss of me not to note that the active train is braked almost to a standstill between circuits, which is a bit unfortunate; the overall experience would have been much better if the speed could have been maintained (and perhaps increased slightly) for the second pass.
I decided it was worth waiting twenty minutes for a second cycle in the back seat. There was no perceptible difference in forces when compared against the front, though my inner nerd appreciated the fact that I could see the track switch happen directly behind me at the end of the ride. Enthusiasts who appreciate ride technology should definitely look over their shoulders as the train approaches the station. The rest of you are welcome to quietly roll your eyes before moving on to the next paragraph.
I next made my way to Pantheon (#3079), a very different Intamin product targeted at a thrill-seeking audience. As of this writing the ride is operated with a draconian loose item policy; everything must be removed from pockets, whether they be zipped or otherwise. Rather than leave my valuables unattended I put everything into a paid locker ($3 for two hours). The wait time was posted at five minutes, and I figured that even if the queue stretched I should have enough time to get four or five laps in. The astute reader will probably not be surprised to learn that this is exactly what didn’t happen.
The ride starts off with a gentle launch into a “Zero-G Winder”, a combination of a zero gravity roll and sidewinder inversion. Two outwardly banked airtime hills lead to a section of track lined with LSMs and an airtime hill. At this point train launches forward, backward, and then forward again – with a mid-launch airtime hill delivering in abundance on the second and third passes. The rest of the layout comprises a top hat, an outward banked airtime hill, a zero-gravity stall, and some tight turns negotiated at a speed that is definitely not suited to those who've just had their breakfast. My immediate reaction on hitting the brake run was a colourful metaphor. Moments later when my brain caught up with my senses I realised that I’d just enjoyed an absolutely superb coaster.
I decided it was worth waiting half an hour for the front seat, even though the middle seats were walk-on. All went well until we hit the main launch track, when the expected paaaaarp noise from the mechanism was replaced with a gentle sigh as the train slowed to a stop. Moments later a recorded voice announced that it would not be possible to restart our ride. Ten minutes after that I’d experienced the second mid-course evacuation of my coaster enthusiast career, along with a complimentary cup of water. I retrieved items from my locker figuring that whatever happened probably wasn’t going be quick, and indeed it wasn’t; when I returned ten minutes after a consolation ride on Apollo's Chariot the entire area around Pantheon had been cleared with a barrier up at the entrance bridge.
I decided it was worth hanging on for a while to see if I could get another lap in, and headed into the Festhaus for an early lunch. By the time I made it back normal service had been restored. Rather than wait for front again I settled on row nine, which was much more forceful than my first lap in row four had been. I rejoined the queue thinking I’d wait for back, but less than five minutes later the ride broke down again, which I took as my cue to head for the exit. It seemed that the five Roman gods were trying to tell me to relocate to Kings Dominion, and who was I to argue?