2012 May 19 – Busch Gardens Williamsburg

On this trip, we took our nephews, Peter and Daniel with us to Busch Gardens Williamsburg to spend some quality roller coaster time and also to do the behind the scenes roller coaster tour they offer at that park.  The following line sums up the experience:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Before I go into the Tolstoy version, let me start off with the simple statement that we had a wonderful time, and while the tour went drastically wrong, it didn’t go wrong in a fashion that they could have avoided, so they did lots of other cool stuff to make it up to us.  While personally disappointed to miss out on something I was really looking forward to, they handled in professionally and went the extra yard to keep everyone on the tour happy.  We will be rescheduling the tour at a later time this season, so we definitely have something to look forward to.

Tolstoy version:  We started off the day by being at the park well ahead of the park opening.  They escorted us to our parking area over by the kennels, and we headed into the park for the tour.  First stop of the day:  Griffon.  They always start with this before the park opens because part of the tour involves taking us up the trolley to the top of the lift hill where they point out some of the engineering design and how things work as well as give you a great view of the park.  Ben (One of the tour guides) took the first group of six up to the top while Melissa (The other guide) stayed on the grount with the rest of us talking about the tour and the park and answered any questions we had.

They took the next group over to the trolley and that’s where the problems started.  It seems the lift had broken and they couldn’t get it to go back up to retrieve the first 6 people.  We waited here while the mechanics worked on the lift because this part of the tour has to be done before the park opens.  After about 45 minutes or so, the take us into the maintenance area for Griffon and show us the various pieces parts that are below track level and make the whole thing work.  This is an interesting part of the tour, and this was the best of the show as far as the maintenance areas go because it was the only one with a train in the shop so it had the most to look at.  After this, we go back outside and wait a while longer.  They finally figured out the problem and got it fixed, but they weren’t 100% convinced it would stay fixed, so they wouldn’t let anyone else go up to the top.  Also, the ride would stay closed for a while that morning while they made sure the lift was working right because that is the primary way they evacuate the ride in an emergency and they won’t run the ride unless that is working.  Because of this, we couldn’t ride it yet either…

At this point, Josh and Georgette told us what they were going to do to make it up to us.  To start with, they were going to take us over to Verbolten to ride it even though it’s not part of the tour yet since it just opened yesterday.  Also, they were going to give us a behind the scenes look at the ride building and the control room.  Furthermore, they were going to reschedule anyone who wanted to come back later for a free tour and if you don’t already have season passes, they would include park admission so you wouldn’t have to pay to come back.  We asked if they would throw in a free T-shirt for people who already had season passes.  They said no to that one.  they took us straight over to Verbolten and took us inside the ‘black forest’ building for a behind the scenes look at what the coaster does when it goes dark, only we got to see if with all the lights on.  The only drawback was we weren’t allowed to take any photos of it…  Bummer.  Essentially, though, they gave us a behind the scenes look at the coaster before they offer behind the scenes looks at the  coaster.  After we left the building, we went around the back side of the ride to see the track from a different perspective.  This we could photograph since it was outside anyway.  They never did let us see the control room, though.  I’m assuming park management wasn’t ready to show that to anyone just yet.  They also pointed out the old loading buildings from Drachen Fire which are now used as a haunted house come Halloween.  After going back around front, they loaded us all on the ride for a run through of it.  We got the lightning ending this time.

After this, we left Verbolten and headed down to Apollo’s Chariot for two rides on it. (This is not part of the normal tour.  After two quick runs on it, I remember why it’s still my Favorite coaster in the park.  After we got off this, they gave us quick queue passes so we could come back and ride the various other rides in the park without waiting in line and for Charlene they gave her a coupon for a free meal.  (She wasn’t participating in the rides, so they wanted to give her something extra.)  They made a big deal out of these because they included every other big ride in the park and not just the coasters.  Certainly, they came in useful later, although the lines for many of the other rides were super short because everyone was waiting in the Verbolten line.

As an extra special bonus, they gave us a ticket to go back and ride verbolten again today.  this easily saved us two hours of sitting in line because the line for that ride as all the way down to the bridge overlooking the last drop on the ride, which makes it a really long wait.  After this, we went back to Griffon, which was now running for our two rides on it.  This is probably my second favorite ride in the park.  Next, we were off to loch ness monster, which is probably my least favorite ride in the park.  There’s not anything wrong with the ride, just the fact that it’s the oldest and roughest leads to it not being a fun ride to me. (the tour didn’t include the ride on this, so this was also an extra.) I did learn that on the tour that the track tolerances for when that ride was built was 6 feet and that when it was constructed the last section didn’t line up for a few feet and they just heated up the track and bent it to make it line up.  (This was in 1978 when it was made.  For alpengeist, that tolerance was down to an 8th of an inch, and by Griffon it was down to a 16th of an inch.)

Then we headed over to alpengeist and got our two rides followed by the behind the scenes visit to the maintenance bay where we interupted the lunch of one of the mechanics since we were so late by this time.  There are many similarities in the mechanical parts of this coaster and Griffon since they are made by the same manufacturer. It’s also one of the two cars in the US to have a zero car, which is a weighted car at the front of the coaster to make sure the train has enough speed to make it through the ride.  (The other being Manta at Seaworld Orlando.) This was the last stop on our tour and Ben told us they would have the photos on disc for us at the desk when we left the park, plus they took our names as ones who wanted to reschedule the tour.

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