Rollercoaster Ranking – Busch Gardens Williamsburg (2022)
I was impressed with how solid the rollercoaster selection is at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. A common trend among larger amusement parks is having a glaringly disparate gap in quality between the one or two headline attractions and the large quantities of what I would call ‘filler’ for an enthusiast. You’re more than likely in this hobby to come across a lot of clones and experiences that aren’t unique to a park, so it’s refreshing to experience a lineup such as the following.
#9 Grover’s Alpine Express
Due to its location, the smallest coaster in this park is often the first ride to open for the day, making it easy pickings for adding +1 to the count. While it is twinned with a ride at the other Busch Gardens park, at least the Zierer Force 190 is reasonably hard to come by.
The number of Premier Sky Rocket IIs in the world is growing at quite a rate and this is one of the newer installations, so it was a little disappointing to see it built here. It filled a very limited niche in the lineup when it was built, now nullified, by having both forwards and backwards direction of travel, and now multiple launches are already covered better multiple times elsewhere in the park. The main reason it’s a popular ride type to buy is most likely the tiny footprint and compact layout that still provides a high thrill level to the average guest.
Sadly Tempesto has the worst restraints available for this model of ride the form of ‘comfort collars’. The restricting nature of these shoulder straps make the experience more of a chore, rather than something to enjoy.
#7 Loch Ness Monster
Though it has somewhat legendary status as a classic ride of an earlier era, in todays terms Nessie isn’t a coaster I would describe as exciting.
Arrow loopers can often lean towards being rough and ready due to their interestingly shaped track transitions and older technology, but this particular installation posed no issues to me whatsoever. In fact it was a rather amusing experience with a big square helix in a shed and a smaller second lift that seemed rather out of place.
The interlocking loops are a great off-ride spectacle, it’s just that the layout itself has very little to offer.
The other clone in the park comes in the form of this B&M dive coaster. It isn’t Busch Gardens fault however, as the other version arrived much later at a park in Korea, nor is it their fault that I happened to ride that version first.
These are always solid fun, with a ride experience that generally centres around their one or two massive vertical drops. The drops themselves provide a well sustained out of the seat moment but due to the sheer size of the track and trains the remainder of the layout can often feel a little slow and meandering.
Griffon is no exception to this, but it is a good looking ride – the well positioned splashdown section provides an impressive off-ride experience as well.
I’ve found that GCI are at their best when their rides are huge so that they can really make the most of the relentless sensations they are capable of creating. Invadr is small for its type and yet still manages to pack a certain punch, though perhaps nothing on the scale of an equivalent sized Gravity Group, but it still means that Invadr is worth several laps of good fun.
One of the features I enjoy most about these rides is the unpredictable forces that come out of their unusually shaped corner transitions. On certain GCIs these have been nowhere to be found, but they were back and in plentiful supply within the layout here.
The ride looks great from outside the entrance, but leaves a little to be desired in the barren landscape that surrounds the majority of the track.
B&M inverts used to be one of my favourite ride types. The first few that I encountered were all smooth, stupidly intense and offered well varied layouts so I was firmly of the belief that you could’t go wrong with one of these.
I did eventually stumble upon a few that didn’t meet any of the above criteria. It turns out it is possible for some to ride rather poorly, lack intensity or have the monotony of repeating the same elements, in order. Alpengeist suffered mainly from the first of these.
On the day I experienced it, this did ride poorly, particularly towards the back of the train and in the outside seats (usually the most enjoyable positions) with an unpleasant rattle that, although perfectly tolerable, detracted from the performance somewhat.
The layout is very refreshing, with the huge swooping downwards spiral that turns far more than your average first drop and the following unique inversion sequence. After the mid course brake run however, the ride ran out of steam to the point of hilarity. We couldn’t help but laugh when Alpengeist was almost travelling at a walking pace through the final turns that dangle your feet over the fake snow trenches carved into the landscape.
Speaking of the landscape, the attention to detail in the theming of this ride is wonderful and I really did appreciate the overall aesthetic it provides. It’s a shame the hardware couldn’t match that standard on this occasion.
#3 Apollo’s Chariot
The main aim of most hyper coasters is to provide you with a plentiful supply of large hills and a great deal of speed with which to experience them. In an ideal world, these hills will be trying to kick you up out of your seat and the B&M train design for these rides has an almost unrivalled sense of openness and freedom which can only enhance that sensation.
Apollo’s Chariot pulls this off a fair few times, but sadly not quite every hill is a hit. The strongest moment of the ride turned out to be the exit of the mid course brake run which angles back to a steep drop much faster than any of the camelback sections of track and provides a great surprise moment of ejection for riders.
Another challenge in designing rides of this scale is keeping things interesting in between the signature hills, finding a good way to transition from one element to another. Most notable in this layout is the turnaround, which is a very long, flat, banked corner that offers nothing to riders other than a means to get them and the train facing in the right direction to head back to the station. Moments like this always bug me as it feels like wasted potential and one of my most sought after characteristics of a ride is that it doesn’t give you any time to stop and think.
That corner aside, Apollo’s Chariot is one of the better B&Ms hypers that I have ridden and although the frequency is just a little too low for my liking, in the moments it does deliver, it delivers well.
I have to admit that I was surprised to walk away from Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 2019 with Verbolten as my favourite ride in the park. This attraction is usually billed as somewhat more of a family-thrill adventure as opposed to the many taller and faster offerings that surround it, but the ride experience contains a good number of factors that set it apart from the rest of the lineup for me. The queueline, station and overall theming is on the same level as the strongest examples in the park with particular little details like the number plates on the trains all having unique references to elements of the current ride and in one case, the retired ride that once operated where Verbolten stands today.
Beyond the station, the ride has the most extensively themed coaster section of any in the park with a large show building containing the most significant portion of the layout. The train initially takes you wandering into the forest before hitting the first launch, which thrusts you into this building with a surprising amount of gusto. It’s completely dark inside to begin with and you cannot see that the launch track ends in a hill and corner transition that provided me with wickedly fierce and out of control airtime moment before it navigates some tight corners with strong positive forces.
The building begins to light up with various themed effects around you as the train continues its journey into an apparent dead end!? Verbolten is one of few rides in the world with a section of drop track. The train comes to a complete stop and one of (I believe) three sequences begins with the lighting and scenery again, one of which, pays homage to the ride’s predecessor ‘Big Bad Wolf’. The train and track section drop together in unison with a gleefully powerful moment of surprise airtime, usually only enhanced by the anticipation and reaction of unsuspecting riders around you – a real crowd pleasing scare element.
The ride picks up a pace again as you leave the building from here and enter a second launch track. My main gripe with the layout comes here in that it doesn’t use this multi launch aspect (usually one of my absolute favourite elements on any ride) to any significant effect. All the energy is immediately sapped from the train again by a single uphill section into the next trick.
The trick itself involves crossing a bridge that appears to be collapsing beneath you and a significant drop follows, leading you into some final turns back towards the station, unfortunately again with somewhat less vigour than the immensely strong first half of the ride.
Overall I loved Verbolten. It’s a very special attraction and it stands out as the most complete ride experience package in the park and is certainly, so far, the best ride Zierer have ever made.
New for the 2022 season, after a particularly agonising series of delays, Busch Gardens Williamsburg finally opened their Intamin multi-launch coaster. We had known this was coming ever since the previous visit in 2019 and, for various obvious reasons, it took 3 years both for us to visit again and for the park to be able to construct and sign off the attraction.
It was wholly worth the wait as by sheer merit of the ride type alone, Pantheon slots comfortably into position as best coaster in the park, the headliner. The comfort of the trains, the modern quirky elements and the moments of serious airtime all blend together into a world class coaster experience, and one that is exactly the sort of thing that keeps me on my travels.
The ride was full of pleasant surprises, but also had its fair share of minor flaws. The very existence of the initial launch and inversion had managed to escape my knowledge and gave Pantheon a very strong start, reminiscent of another world-beating Intamin. From this moment it does get a little messy and convoluted however, with a very abrupt change of pace followed by the signature triple launch section.
This segment undoubtedly provides some fantastic moments, the bursts of acceleration over what is essentially a speed bump and the weightlessness of that intimidating vertical spike, but I find it’s hard to gel with the flow of the overall experience with all this starting and stopping going on. This also comes at the price that once the ride does get fully going and takes all the biggest, hardest hitting elements, it then hits the final brakes very suddenly.
None of that can take away from the power of the top hat, beyond vertical drop and banked airtime hill however, which all seal the deal on a spectacular package. My surprise favourite moment in fact came from the backwards launch when seated in the front row. The violent nature with which this chucks you over the mid-launch hill is very special and unlike anything else I’ve experienced.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg already had a very impressive lineup, but it just got even better.