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These coasters get medieval
Primordial, Loch Ness Monster, and Phoenix Rising will bring out the animal in you
IAAPA Expo Legends Panel
Many About Theme Parks subscribers (like you?) are folks who work in the industry and will be heading to the annual IAAPA Expo, which will be held November 13 to 17 in Orlando. Before we get to coaster news, I want to encourage attendees to join me at one of the Expo’s highlights, the Legends Panel, which is scheduled for November 15. Organized and hosted by the inimitable Bob Rogers, BRC Imagination Arts founder and chairman, the presentation features elite movers and shakers from the attractions industry who share their fascinating experiences and keen insights.
This year, Rogers will welcome three legends who helped open the gates of Universal Beijing Resort despite considerable challenges–not the least of which was the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruptions. The panelists will include: Mike Hightower, the now-retired Universal Creative president, who oversaw the creation of Universal Beijing; Tom Mehrmann, president and COO of Universal Destinations and Experiences, Pacific Rim, who was the president and GM for Universal Beijing during its development; and Sylvia Hase, president of Hasbas Entertainment, who produced the park’s Untrainable–The How to Train Your Dragon Stage Spectacular as well as the procession, Universal on Parade.
I hope to see you in Orlando.
It’s been some seven years in the making, and it was supposed to have opened earlier. But, with a few weeks remaining in the 2023 operating season, Lagoon in Utah finally debuted Primordial. Shrouded in mystery–park fans have been wondering what the heck has been going on inside the enormous, mountain-themed show building that’s been looming on the midway for some time–it turns out that the attraction is actually a hybrid dark ride/coaster and is surprisingly sophisticated, especially for a seasonal, regional park. Featuring media displayed on large screens and alternate endings, the interactive ride inserts passengers into a story that takes them back to the Dark Ages.
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The iconic Loch Ness Monster coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which is themed to the Scottish creature of lore that dates back to the seventh century AD, is getting a much-needed makeover in the offseason. Nessie will reemerge from its lair adjacent to the park’s Rhine River next year with nearly a third of its track replaced. It will also incorporate new show elements, although they likely will not be as complex as the ones used in Lagoon’s new attraction. Sister park Busch Gardens Tampa, meanwhile, will welcome a new family coaster next year, Phoenix Rising.
With input from the folks at Lagoon, Primordial was designed by Germany’s ART Engineering, which also built the park’s Cannibal. Triotech handled the interactive dark ride component of the attraction. The two companies partnered on a similar ride, Wonder Mountain’s Guardian at Canada’s Wonderland.
With a height of 85 feet and a top speed of 40 mph, the coaster is firmly in the mid-thrill, “family” category. That’s not to say Primordial doesn’t deliver some yowsa moments. Its cars spin, although they are more controlled turns to position passengers for the show scenes rather than the free spins that can give some passengers more than just butterflies in their stomachs (if you know what I mean). There are no inversions, but–spoiler alert–there are alternate finales that either feature a freefall drop track or a slide track in which the cars might face backwards or forwards. Some of the nearly five-minute ride is outside, but most of it is indoors. Freefalling in the darkened show building, especially when passengers don’t know what ending they will experience, must be disorienting and amp up the thrills.
Riders are issued 3D glasses and blasters and are sent back in time with the charge to free either a dragon or an owl, depending on the luck of the draw, that have been imprisoned in the ancient kingdom. The coaster cars travel at a mostly slow pace through the eight media-based scenes.
“Primordial is pushing the boundaries of the dark coaster concept,” says Ernest Yale, Triotech’s president and CEO. “We’ve included alternate paths as well as multiple different story twists. These different endings will keep guests guessing.”
Built by the defunct Arrow Dynamics and opened in 1978, Loch Ness Monster is as legendary as the creature for which it is named. The mighty beast hits 60 mph and takes passengers through two interlocking loops, which was a first for coasters when it debuted and remains a stunning sight to this day. Largely beloved by fans, the 45-year-old coaster has become excessively rough through the years.
That’s why it’s great to hear that the park will trade out more than 900 feet of track and presumably return the ride to its glory. It’s heartening to learn that Busch Gardens is giving the coaster some TLC rather than abandoning it, like it did with another adored Arrow ride, Big Bad Wolf.
The park says that it will also make storyline enhancements to the coaster’s queue, develop a new soundtrack for the lift hill, add a Nessie sighting in the Rhine River, and breathe some new life into the dragon-like monster that passengers encounter as they make their way through a darkened helix.
The Wild Mouse coaster, SandSerpent, closed earlier this season, but Busch Gardens Tampa will return its coaster count to ten by replacing it with Phoenix Rising in 2024. A family ride from Bolliger & Mabillard, it will hit a top speed of 44 mph and travel a fairly compact 1,831 feet. The new attraction will be an inverted coaster, in which the cars will hang suspended from the track, and passengers’ legs will dangle, ski lift-style. Phoenix Rising will not include any inversions, although judging by the concept art (see above), it appears that at least one of the turns will be severely banked. It will be the first BGT coaster to feature onboard audio, but the park has not revealed what the content would be.
Have you experienced Loch Ness Monster? Are you excited about its makeover? Are you as surprised as I am about the extent of Primoridial’s dark ride features?