Busch Gardens to straddle ride genres
Virginia park announces tenth coaster
It’s a dark ride. It’s a coaster. It’s DarKoaster, a new attraction coming to Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 2023.
To be built in the former Curse of DarKastle show building, the indoor coaster will incorporate some of the characters and story beats of the former dark ride. By the way, a “dark ride” is an industry term for an attraction in which ride vehicles travel through an indoor environment. It typically incorporates storytelling elements. While the genre has its roots in classic haunted houses, a dark ride need not be dark in either tone or lighting. So Disney’s Haunted Mansion is a dark ride, but so is “it’s a small world.”
The park is pitching DarKoaster as “the world’s first all-indoor straddle coaster.” The “straddle” modifier refers to the ride’s cars and their seating positions. Also known as motorbike coasters, passengers mount the motorcycle-like seats and hang on to handlebars. Examples of other straddle coasters include TRON Lightcycle Power Run coming to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Coaster at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure. Busch Gardens is themeing the vehicles as snowmobiles.
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There isn’t a heckuva lot of room inside the existing show building, and DarKoaster will only include about 1,400 feet of track. That’s quite short for a coaster. Consider that Busch Garden’s Loch Ness Monster and Alpengeist offer 3,240 and 3,820 feet of track, respectively. Also, the new ride will be a launch coaster, so it won’t spend any time click-clacking up a poky lift hill like traditional coasters. That would seem to indicate that DarKoaster could be a short ride experience.
However, the park says that passengers will experience a total of 2,454 feet of track, or almost double the total length of the track. It’s likely, therefore, that each train will make two laps, perhaps bypassing the loading station between laps. Or maybe DarKoaster will be a multi-pass coaster, with the train going backwards as well as forwards over the same section of track. It’s also possible that the ride will include show scenes in which the train slows to a crawl or comes to a halt.
Because it will be completely indoors, maybe DarKoaster will take its cue from attractions such as Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and incorporate large-format media on wraparound screens along with projection mapping and other effects. That way, riders could experience completely different show elements in the same space if they were to pass through the building during a second lap. That could give the illusion that the show building is twice its actual size and use the relatively compact space to tell a linear story.
DarKoaster will have something to do with King Ludwig and his cursed Bavarian fortress, an original story that was developed for the defunct Curse of DarKastle. That attraction used roving motion base vehicles, a technology first introduced in The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Universal Orlando. It was quite well done and technologically advanced, which was especially notable for a regional park. Apparently, it was quite costly to maintain, and Busch Gardens closed it in 2017. Subtitled “Escape the Storm,” guests will experience extreme weather conditions caused by supernatural forces aboard DarKoaster.
According to rcdb, DarKoaster will reach a top speed of 36 mph. That’s relatively slow (for comparison, the park’s Verbolten hits 53 mph and Griffon accelerates to 71 mph), although the launches–Busch Gardens says there will be four in total–will likely include zippy acceleration that will help augment the ride’s thrill quotient. The height requirement will be a fairly low 48 inches, making it accessible to young children. DarKoaster will be the fourth launched coaster at the Williamsburg park, which I believe could be a record.
Busch Gardens opened Pantheon, which is also a launched coaster, earlier this year (although it was scheduled to open sooner, but delayed because of the pandemic). Other parks in the SeaWorld chain, including SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Diego, also debuted coasters in 2022 and have new thrill machines planned for 2023.
What do you think about DarKoaster? Are you planning to visit Busch Gardens next year to check out the new attraction? What do you think about the park’s number of launched coasters? Did you get to experience Curse of DarKastle?
We just visited Busch Gardens Williamsburg this weekend, so we were able to see some of the preview videos of DarKoaster while in line for various rides. As a fan of Curse of DarKastle, I love that they are paying homage to that beloved ride with this new iteration.
Even with the short length, I think this will be a great addition to the park. I've always felt BGW lacks a few "tween" rides that bridge the gap between Sesame Street Forest of Fun on the toddler end and the bigger coasters. This was particularly evident on this trip with my 10 year old. He did go on InvadR and loved it, but was still a bit too intimidated by the next step up, Verbolten. DarKoaster, like InvadR, may be a good family gateway ride.
As far as launched coasters, I'm a fan. It's a great way to get some thrills in a smaller footprint, and I love all the launched rides at BGW. This trip was my first time on Pantheon, and I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it looked rather boring from the POVs, but I had a blast actually riding it. Has some neat elements that come together in a "more than the sum of its parts" sort of way.
Quick dad brag - my daughter, who just turned 13, went on Apollo's Chariot twice (at night, no less). Not only was this her first hyper coaster, it was her first "big" coaster period. This from a kid who was terrified of the Mummy at Universal Studios just one year ago! I definitely foresee her becoming a future coaster addict.