I've been interested in theme parks and roller coasters for as long as I can remember. I have drawings of traveling fun fairs dating back to 1994 or 1995 and probably still have the Discovery Channel documentaries from the late 90's on video. The internet gave my hobby a huge boost around 2004-05 as I discovered the communities out there, and I was able to fit all the bits and pieces I knew from news papers and documentaries in a complete world view. I broadened my horizons over the years by visiting a couple of really cool theme parks in Europe. A large coaster-rich trip to the US became an ambition. After a few years, I discovered that I enjoy visiting theme parks in a casual way with non-enthusiasts much more than credit-whoring with other nerds, and that lead to my hobby faded to the background a little bit. I'd still stay up to date, and visit a theme park every now and then (mostly the Efteling), but nothing overly exciting.
Then I met my girlfriend last year. She really enjoys theme parks and lives in the right area, and suddenly it became an option to dig up that old dream of doing a US coaster trip and doing that in a casual way, thus combining my old and new way of experiencing my hobby. Admittedly the outlook of going to these parks did give my hobby a significant boost and I've been very enthusiastic lately. The schedule was a big puzzle, but the trip was happening and I couldn't be more happy. Busch Gardens, King's Dominion, Hershey Park and Six Flags America. Finally I would get to experience what I had seen on the Discovery Channel documentaries two decades ago. Very exciting and almost surreal.
So here we are. As I write this, I'm halfway through the trip, reflecting on the great times we had in Busch Gardens and King's Dominion. Reflecting meaning: sorting through the way too many pictures and writing down my experiences. I guess the best way to do that is to start at the beginning, which involved a four hour drive from Baltimore to Busch Gardens. We arrived around 12:30, much later than I had hoped. My life has been very stressful lately and what I wanted from this trip was stress-free fun, and being able to do everything that I wanted to do. Losing 2,5 hours was not a great start in that sense. Luckily, it turned out that we picked the right days to visit as the queues were very managable.
Apollo's Chariot teasingly runs along the parking lot.
Even past noon, there were still buses full of people being transported from the parking to the entrance. Made me nervous. The less people, the better. I really liked this bus system by the way, although not having these shuttle buses would've helped reducing obesity, of which there was plenty in Busch Gardens.
First thing we did was heading for the Italian area, with Apollo's Chariot and Tempesto. Apparantly the biggest crowds were still stuck elsewhere in the park, as we could get onto the coasters almost instantly.#92: Apollo's Chariot
- We were told that this one was best ridden in the back row. And so we did, and what we got was a great ride. The layout consists of mostly hills in a very nice landscape, with a big helix halfway through and a sudden s-bend towards the end. The bigger drops are quite powerful, the final drop being a surprise: it looks like you're entering the brakes already, but instead you're pulled into the deep one last time. For the rest it's just a very comfortable, friendly and pleasant ride - exactly how I like it. Nothing but love for Apollo's Chariot!#93: Tempesto
- Tempesto did not appeal to me at all. It's hideous and its design not very inspired, other than the triple launch. The triple launch was indeed the most fun part of the ride, especially the second, backwards launch. After that it's just going up and down a few times; the first drop from the top being very abrupt in a good way. Tempesto is fun for sure, but it has no place in a park like Busch Gardens.
Busch Gardens has some very pleasant theming at times. Sadly the theming usually involve shops and restaurants, while the actual rides remain quite bare.
Even then, the landscape made things pretty and interesting enough. In this setting the coasters don't need much theming. As we moved from Italy to Germany, we passed a bridge that offers an amazing view of all the coasters that lie ahead.
We skipped Verbolten for now because there was a decent queue, and swiftly got on Alpengeist. The one I remembered seeing on TV as a kid, and still a record breaking coaster after all this time. Truly a (personal) monument.#94: Alpengeist
- I've heard great stories about Alpengeist. The statistics are impressive. The setting is beautiful. The on-ride videos on youtube show an extremely fast paced ride. Can't go wrong, huh? It did not go wrong, but frankly I expected it to be better. Or rather, I guess that this style of ride is just not my cup of tea. The harsh transitions in the cobra roll, into the mid-course brake run and the corkscrew gave me a headache. On the other hand, having your feet dangle above 60 metres of nothing and then diving into a gorge with 110 km/h is just fantastic. I can see why people list Alpengeist as one of their favourites, but I had mixed feelings. The insane speed both makes and breaks the ride. Overall I really liked it though, of course. I'd happily replace any coaster in The Netherlands with Alpengeist (bar Goliath).
Between Germany and New France, there was yet another bridge with yet another great view of mostly Alpengeist.
In the background of the above picture you can see the latest addition to the park's line-up: InvadR. A family sized GCI wooden coaster that interestingly uses steel supports. Being the newest ride, this is where the queue was the longest. We waited about 45 minutes. As we had been spoiled with the queues so far, and knowing that this ride was the exception, we did not mind the wait.#95: InvadR
- Didn't blow me away, but it's only a small GCI anyway. The first drop was good.
Before doing InvadR we got food, and we hit another relatively long queue. I'd also never seen a queue area like this for a restaurant.
Food was being prepared before you, and it looked good and definitely above the average quality of theme park food.
We got barbecue chicken among some other things and my piece had quite a few bones. It's probably my clumsiness but I had a hard time making sense of it. It tasted fine though!
As we were eating the chicken in the shade of Griffon, we noticed that we hadn't seen a train fly by yet. It clearly broke down. Pity, but with still quite a lot of time ahead of us nothing to get overly stressed about. We decided to do InvadR first. This is also when I took my Griffon pictures, hence why there is no train in any of them. The weather did not help making the pictures seem less dead. Sadly, that's how the area felt with Griffon being out of order. None of the alright theming could fix that.
...An hour later, Griffon was up and running again and we got into the queue.#96: Griffon
- What a huge contraption this is. 63 metres up, and 63 metres down, vertically. Through an inversion, up again, and down again, again vertically. Both drops were absolutely great and the rest of the track is very enjoyable thanks to its speed. One downside: the obnoxious and slightly arrogant lady in the station who would not shut up trying to entertain the guests by talking about crap and sometimes herself too. Just shut up. It's surprising that none of her co-workers confiscated the microphone from her. I would not want to work with her for a whole day, a few minutes listening to her screeching was enough for me. If I ever get diagnosed with ear cancer I'll know where I got it.
Moving on, we crossed the river we saw earlier, this time not on the tall bridge with the amazing views, but on the docks underneath our next stop Loch Ness Monster.
That's a lot of steel.#97: Loch Ness Monster
- Once the tallest coaster in the world, now a mediocre coaster that only stands out because of its unique appearance. There's nothing wrong with it though, it's a fun coaster for sure. Halfway through the ride there is an indoor helix that seems to never end - that caught me off guard. Nice I suppose. I hope Busch Gardens continues to preserve this coaster, better than what they did with Big Bad Wolf.
As I said, obesity. There was a lot of that in Busch Gardens. Tons of people in electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters, other people struggling to walk, including children with bouncing manboobs. Boyboobs? It's very sad.
We were almost back at the entrance, and decided to go around the park again, getting some more rides on our favourite coasters and doing all the rides we skipped in our first round, such as...#98: Grover's Alpine Express
- No pictures of this one, but it's not too interesting to look at anyway. It's pink, slightly over 7 metres tall, consists of two helices, and that's pretty much it. Perfectly fine for a kiddy coaster, and very welcome in Busch Gardens amidst all the big coaster violence.
Even though Escape from Pompeii is supposedly not very wet and well themed, we skipped it to leave for time for the coasters. I can say that it's a very pretty ride from the outside, though!
We got some more rides on Apollo. Across from Apollo's Chariot is a basketball court game, in which you get 40 seconds to score as many points as you can. I detest games in theme parks, but this was actually a lot of fun to watch.
We had only a few rides left to do, among which was Verbolten.#99: Verbolten
- As I hinted at before, I'm sad to find Verbolten at a spot where I could've found the iconic Big Bad Wolf a few years ago. Verbolten is not quite as charismatic from the outside and the name annoys me. But how about the ride? I cannot compare Verbolten to its predecessor, but I can judge whether it is a good ride in its own right. And fortunately, it is. Verbolten is a very dynamic ride, with multiple launches, a good mix of drops and turns, an indoor section, and a surprising freefall that was way more fun than I anticipated. Like Apollo's Chariot, 'fun' is the main keyword here. I approve!
We also got to do the Curse of DarKastle, a pretty spectacular dark ride that can be best described as a classic simulator ride, but on wheels, with 3d projections, and real scenes and effects. The rides takes you into a cursed castle where you area attacked by wolves and statues and other scary stuff, as well as the shape-shifting Prince Ludwig who does not quite appreciate your visit. Things escalate and the fight gets taken outside where you fly through and around the castle with towers crashing down around you and all in all it's rather spectacular. Short, but intense. Definitely a must-ride!
We ended the day with some extra rides on Alpengeist and Griffon, again with laughably short queues, actually shorter than ever as people were leaving the park.
I'm somewhere on that front row. This is the only picture that I have where you can actually somewhat see how f**king massive this ride is.
Fulfilled and exhausted, we also started heading for the exit. As the final ride of the day, we got onto the Skyride that did not take us closer to the entrance as I thought. The view was good though, so at least in my experience it was worth the extra long walk.
This is what a Brexit looks like, I guess.
Extremely English! NOT. For a park that pretends to have a Europe theme, the theming is very poorly done. I don't think that anyone who designed for this park actually ever left the country, or had any sense of geography as theme areas include Canada and Sesame Street (??), the latter including a ride that references the Alps. While (pseudo-)Germany sits on the other side of the park with another Alpine-themed ride. At the same time, there were tiny bits of China, India and the Caribbean to be found in the middle of the main areas. Invad(e)R sits in Canada, but has a Viking invasion theme that may have fit better in England than in Canada. 'Verbolten' is gibberish and has a non-sensical horror theme (excellent queue and station though, must be said). The park spends good money on an Italian theme with pretty architecture, but the station sits in a glorified rainbow-coloured tent. Let's not talk about Tempesto at all.
Don't worry, the questionable theming did not actually ruin my day. Not quite. Rides were good, food was good, crowds were good, weather was not rainy, and at the end we were treated with an amazing sunset over the parking lot.
All in all, Busch Gardens is a great park that I highly recommend and would visit again.