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The pantheon of coasters at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Boasting a world-class collection of eight roller coasters (plus the kiddie coaster, Grover’s Alpine Express), Busch Gardens Williamsburg is beloved by both ardent enthusiasts who travel from afar seeking its alluring thrills and more casual fans who live near the regional park. With the addition of Pantheon in 2022, it has only enhanced its reputation. The Intamin multi-launch coaster is its best yet. And that’s saying a lot.
Entertaining folks since 1975 (when it was owned by Anheuser-Busch and offered complimentary brewskies for the asking), the park has hosted some gone-but-not-forgotten rides through the years. Let’s hear it for the beloved Big Bad Wolf, the swinging suspended coaster that raced down towards and scooted along the Rhine River for its finale. And count me among those who loved Drachen Fire, the controversial Arrow Dynamics looping coaster that featured some freaky airtime.
Let’s examine the current Busch Gardens Williamsburg coaster collection and count down the thrill machines. We’ll start with its latest (and IMHO, its greatest).
Pantheon – 4.5 (out of 5)
Good god. What a coaster.
Pantheon makes the most of its compact layout and really delivers the goods. The world’s fastest multi-launch coaster, it hits a potent 73 mph the third time it passes through two magnetic launches on a straightaway section of track. On one end of the straightaway is a 178-foot top hat tower; on the other is a dead-end spike.
The first pass sends the train racing forward. Between the two launches is a bunny hill for some airtime goodness. The train climbs partway up the tower, peters out, and falls backwards through the two launches. That sends the train revving up the spike in reverse accompanied by a delightful dose of floating airtime. The train then rolls forward down the spike and screams through the two launches for a third time, which is the charm that gets it up and over the tower.
Toss in a fourth launch near the start of the layout, two inversions (one of which is a “zero-G stall” that turns passengers upside down and leaves them hanging as the train races forwards), a 95-degree drop down the other side of the tower, scads of airtime, and a rock-solid smooth ride experience despite the shenanigans, and it’s easy to see why Pantheon rises to the top of the Busch Gardens Williamsburg coaster heap.
“Pantheon gives you the thrills, the airtime, the big elements,” says Kevin Lembke, the park’s president. “But it’s new and unique in the ways that it delivers them. It’s very intense, but quite repeatable.”
Located in the Festa Italia section of the lushly landscaped, European-themed park, Pantheon pays homage to Roman gods, including Mercury, the god of speed, and Neptune, whose trident is represented by the ride’s vertical spike.
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Apollo’s Chariot – 4.25 (out of 5)
I am a fiend for B&M hypercoasters (which rise–and/or drop–200 to about 250 feet and are designed for speed and airtime), and Apollo’s Chariot is among my favorites. Although it dates back to 1999 and was the Swiss ride company’s first hypercoaster, it’s held up remarkably well through the years. It was only on my last visit, this past April, that I noticed it beginning to show its age with a bit of shudder and some slightly rough patches. Still, it’s relatively smooth and maintains its gracefulness.
The layout is pretty simple. The out-and-back coaster climbs 170 feet, drops 210 feet into a ravine, heads out deep into the woods, and then turns around and races back to the station. In between are eight more hills that just keep pouring on the airtime. No inversions, no launches, no other coaster craziness; it’s just a high-speed (reaching 73 mph), G-force-filled triumph of design and engineering. The open cars and unobtrusive, comfortable lap bars help make the ride experience all the better.
Griffon – 4 (out of 5)
Another B&M masterpiece, Griffon is one of the manufacturer’s dive coasters. Its ultra-wide, 10-across, floorless train climbs 205 feet, slowly navigates around a carousel turn, teeters over the edge of a 205-foot, 90-degree (as in, you know, straight down) drop and…hangs there. After what seems like forever, the train finally dives down, winds through two Immelmann inversions, dives down a second, shorter 90-degree drop (with no pause on this one), and ends by sending a plume of water cascading in a splashdown pool.
Verbolten – 4 (out of 5)
This is the coaster that replaced Big Bad Wolf. It still features a satisfying plunge down towards the Rhine River, but the rest of the ride has been completely reimagined. Verbolten features two launches, the first of which sends it careening into an effects-filled show building depicting the Black Forest. Shh! Don’t tell anybody, but after the train comes to a halt, a vertical drop track sends it plunging down 18 feet in the dark. A second launch sends the train racing outdoors for the finale drop.
Alpengeist – 4 (out of 5)
Yet another B&M thrill machine, Alpengeist is one of the company’s best inverted coasters (in which the train hangs suspended from the track above, and passengers sit in ski lift-style seats with their feet dangling). Climbing 195 feet and hitting 67 mph, the coaster is packed with potent thrills. Among its six inversions are a 106-foot-tall loop and a zero-g roll.
InvadR – 3.75 (out of 5)
With a 74-foot drop, a top speed of 48 mph, and a fairly low 46-inch height requirement, the Viking-themed InvadR wooden coaster is squarely in the family ride category. But don’t let the stats fool you. The Great Coasters International woodie delivers a surprisingly perky ride with plenty of airtime. InvadR offers the characteristic rough and tumble of a wooden coaster, but its Millennium Flyer trains navigate the course with assured style and aplomb.
Loch Ness Monster – 3.25 (out of 5)
Operating since 1978, Nessie is a Busch Gardens fixture and a classic coaster. Boasting interlocking loops (which at the time of its opening–and really to this day–were something to behold) and nestled in a lush ravine above the Rhine River, it is a picture-perfect ride. But, like most vintage Arrow Dynamics looping coasters, Loch Ness Monster has not aged well and can give jarringly rough rides. Still, it is a beloved attraction and has quite a legacy.
Tempesto – 3 (out of 5)
Busch Gardens’ third launched coaster, Tempesto, is an off-the-shelf Sky Rocket II model from Premier Rides. Among a number of other parks that offer Sky Rocket II coasters are Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California and Lake Compounce in Connecticut. I am not a big fan of the rides. The load/unload process is especially cumbersome. Although I’m an average-sized person, I find it unusually difficult getting in and out of the seats. And the whole ride is over in less than 45 seconds. Because it only has one train, the lines can sometimes get long. Like Pantheon, Tempesto is a multi-pass coaster and uses its LSM launch motors to accelerate both forwards and backwards.
Have you been to Busch Gardens Williamsburg? Share your thoughts about its coasters (and feel free to weigh in on my ratings and commentary).
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