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Blog #386

Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Roller Coaster Insider Tour - 6/22/2011

Yesterday Sarah and I drove the eight hours to Williamsburg, Virginia.  We camped last night at the KOA and this morning we arrived at Busch Gardens Williamsburg at eight o'clock.

This was our first visit to the park.  We had heard so many good things about the park, so we were really looking forward to it.  For twenty consecutive years, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has been named the Most Beautiful Amusement Park by The National Amusement Park Historical Association.

At 8:15 we checked in for the Roller Coaster Insider Tour and had front row parking.  Nate and his two associates were our tour guides for the day.   During the tour they would take pictures of us along the way which were saved to CD-ROM and given to us at the end of the day for us to keep.   Also during the tour we were permitted to take all the pictures we wanted.  Nothings was off limits - not ever the maintenance areas we were about to tour.

There were a total of eight people on the Roller Coaster Insider Tour.  In additional to Sarah and myself; there were two local teen boys, a couple from Ireland and another couple where the wife had bought the tour for her husband as a birthday gift.

The first stop on the tour was in front of the fountains in the English section of the park for a quick photo.

Sarah and Me

Next we were off to the Scotland area of the park and a tour of Loch Ness Monster.  We walked under the interlocking loops of this coaster, which were the first of their kind in the world and are now the only remaining interlocking loops.  They told us about the other coasters we could see from this area and compaired how construction, design and technology have changed since the opening of Loch Ness Monster in 1978.  Then we were taken into the maintenance area of the coaster.

Team Members Only

In the maintenance area we were shown the coaster chassis, wheels, brakes, air gates and proximity sensors.  We saw the 'go/no go' templates for the wheels of the coaster.  they allowed us to hold the wheels and brake fins.  They also pointed out to up the design of the station as it is a gravity fed loading platform.

Next was the highpoint of the tour, Griffon, in the French section of the park.  Literally.  We rode the elevator to the top of this 205 foot steel monster.  Once at the top we were allowed to walk around the catwalks.  The first section of the catwalk is about six feet wide.  The coaster track makes a large U-turn before it's 90 degree drop.  The catwalk along this portion of track is about 3 feet wide.  My fear of heights was really kicking in and I decided to stay in the larger area of the catwalk.  Sarah didn't hesitate and joined the others as they ventured around the full length of the walkway to the far side where there was a coaster train parked.  I'm so proud of Sarah for not having a fear of heights like me.  We had great views of the entire park, the Anheuser-Busch brewery next to the park and the Virginia countryside.  Walking down the curved platform towards the elevator was a bit of a challenge for me.  As the platform dropped away from me, there was no railing in front of me and all I could see ahead of me was the park hundreds of feet below.  Slowly but surely I made it back to the elevator.

Me and Sarah on top of Griffon

Once we were safely back on the ground, we toured the maintenance area of Griffon.  We were shown how the new B&M designed coaster rest in the maintenance area without sitting on the same rails that they run on while in operation.  Without siting on these rails the wheels are freely suspended in the air for easy access.  Also the brakes and anti-rollback dogs are easier to work on without the rails getting in the way.  I took the opportunity to lift one of griffon's forty pound wheels.


Next we toured the loading station and control room of Griffon.  By this time it was ten o'clock and the park was opening to the general public.   The eight of us in the tour were given two laps on Griffon in any two seat we wished, while the other park guests waited in the queue.

Me and Sarah on Griffon

Alpengeist in the German area was next on the tour.  This B&M is the world's tallest inverted coaster.  We show how the maintenance area was similar to that of Griffon, altough it's inverted.  One interesting extra they showed us was the barrel of oil with a heating unit wrapped around it that's used to boil the bearing out of the wheels.


We then were given two laps on Alpengeist.  As usual I rode in the first and then the last rows.

Sarah and Me on Alpengeist

Our next destination was Apollo's Chariot in the Italian section of the park.  We didn't tour the maintenance area but we were simply given two laps on this B&M hypercoaster.

Sarah and Me on Apollo's Chariot

We were soon off to ride Grover's Alpine Express in the Sesame Street Forest of Fun.  This coaster is only 24 feet high but it still counts as a credit.

Me and Sarah on Grover's Alpine Express

The final stop on our Roller Coaster Insider Tour was Loch Ness Monster, right were we started.  We wrapped up the tour with two laps on the coaster.

Me and Sarah on Loch Ness Monster

Nate and his companions said their farewells and gave each of us Quick Queue passes for one time each front of the line access to the coasters during the remainder of the day.  It was now approaching noon and we were ready for a bite to eat.  On Nate's recomendation we headed to Das Festhaus in the Oktoberfest section.  While we ate we saw the show "This is Oktoberfest".

'This is Oktoberfest'

We spent the rest of the day exploring the park on our own, re-riding the coasters, seeing some live shows and enjoying the other rides.

The second show we saw was "Celtic Fyre" in the Abbey Stone Theatre in the Ireland section.  The show featured Irish singing and dancing.

Later in the day we saw "Mix it Up!" at Il Teatro di San Marco in the Italian area of the park.  We watched this very entertaining, high-energy show while we ate.

'Mix it Up!'

Once ride that really got our attention was The Curse of DarKastle in Oktoberfest.  We really didn't know what to think of this ride when we first got in line.  The hostess at the front of the queue said it was a simulator, which didn't sound very impressive to me.  The queue and entrance into the building were heavily themed.  We put on our 3D glasses and boarded the ride car.  At this point I thought it would be a good ride, but nothing great.  Man, was I wrong!  Once the car turned the first corner the ride came to life and I was blown away.  The car rose up, tilted and spun in every direction.  As the car pivoted and moved along the track we were shown huge screens displaying a fast paced computer generated story.  The special effects included wind, water, fog, and lighting.  Sarah and I instantly fell in love with this thrilling and fun ride.

Another ride that captured our imagination was "Escape from Pompeii" in the Italian area.  This is an Intamin shoot-the-chutes water attraction and so much more.  The elevated portion of this ride is enclosed and heavily themed with music, sounds, water and fire effects.  The fire grows along the side of the boat and climbs to the ceiling.  The coolest part of the fire display is when it flows across the entire ceiling directly above the riders.  The thrills weren't over yet.  There was still an 80 foot drop and the huge slash.

During the day we also rode the steam locomotive, Europe in the Air and Rhine River Cruise.  We also saw the 4-D film "Pirates", starring Eric Idle and Leslie Nielsen in the Globe Theatre in the England section.

Sarah and Me

This possibly the best park we have ever been to.  The addition of the Roller Coaster Insider Tour doubled the cost of our admission to the park, but it was well worth it.  We were given VIP access to areas of the park that we would have never been able to get otherwise and ensured that we were able to get in all the rides that we wanted in just one day.  The food and entertainment was great.  Busch Gardens is truly a beautiful park.

This was truly a great day!

Click here to see all the photos from Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

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