Mach Tower opens At Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Written by Russell Meyer
After months of waiting and controversy, Mach Tower quietly opened this past weekend at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The 240-foot tall drop tower from Moser was originally slated to open just before Memorial Day, but due to delays, the nature of which have yet to be confirmed by the park, the ride’s first day (Friday, August 19, 2011) barely beat the official end of summer, Labor Day.Tweet
The tower represents the initial phase in a revamp of the park’s popular Oktoberfest area, which will feature an as-yet-unnamed multi-launch roller coaster in 2012. Mach Tower literally towers over the park as guests can see the pinnacle of the ride from virtually everywhere inside the park, and just about anywhere within a 1-mile radius of the park.
The tower does indeed look like a giant maypole scraping the sky with riders spinning around the spire before plummeting back to Earth. The park did an excellent job with the themeing, as Busch Parks typically do, with lovely artistry on display around and on the ride itself.
However, was the ride worth the wait? My family and I had already planned a trip to the park before Busch Gardens announced Mach Tower’s opening on Friday, so my presence in the park was mere coincidence, but I was figuring the ride would open soon based on recent reports of testing over the past couple of weeks. We arrived in the park on Saturday night, and as expected, the park was packed. The line for Mach Tower was consistently 1 hour or more all evening, so I was only able to get one ride on the first night. On Sunday, the crowds were far more manageable, with wait times less than 10 minutes through most of the morning and early afternoon.
The loading procedure for the attraction is very organized as guests are prearranged into four groups of seven and given color-coded cards reminding them which of the taped boxes to stand in as they prepare to load. Once split up into groups, riders then are moved into the pre-load area where they are given final instructions before riding. As soon as the previous cycle ends, guests are directed to seats that have color coded symbols above the restraints and after checking restraints, the ride is ready to begin. Guests will find rather uncomfortable molded plastic seats (probably even more uncomfortable than Huss seats) and restraints that I foresee having some serious issues. The over-the-shoulder restraints feature retractable safety belts that are a redundant system to the lock shoulder bars, which are great for accommodating larger guests. However, the retraction system is mounted on the restraint, not on or below the seat, which puts a moving part within arm’s reach of the riders while riding. Hint to Moser: Guests should not be able to touch critical safety devices that contain mechanics or moving parts while riding. It’s inevitable that seats will be taken out of service because guests mess with the belt retractors, so I hope the park bought plenty of spares.
Once everything is ready to go, the carriage starts the slow (and I mean S-L-O-W) and twisting assent up the tower. Guests rotate around the tower two full revolutions before reaching the top, while music that sounds like it was recorded 30 years ago and played on an antique phonograph serenades them. After the carriage reaches the top, it holds there for a few seconds, then “shakes” (more like a heavy vibration) before riders drop back to the ground.
So, after months of waiting, how was the ride? I’d have to say the ride is a bit of a disappointment. As expected, the ride looks great, is well themed, and is well operated to achieve maximum capacity. The turning around the tower on the way up was a cool “twist” to the standard drop ride. However, the long ride up accompanied by the low quality audio is more annoying than tension-building. Also, the vibration at the top hints to riders when the carriage is going to drop, deterring from the anticipation. To top everything off, the magnetic brakes start slowing the ride down less than 2 seconds after the drop begins, negating the massive height of the attraction. I’ve ridden on a number of drop rides from Intamin and S&S not even over 200 feet that were better than the 240-foot tall Mach Tower. It just seemed lame to take such a long time to get to the top of a ride that doesn’t give riders a true freefall for more than a hundred feet before the brakes slow things down. Drop Tower at nearby Kings Dominion (305 feet tall) has a drop that is intense and seems never ending until the brakes kick in at the last possible second to bring the carriage to a halt. Even Tower of Doom at Six Flags America (140 feet tall) seems like it has a longer duration freefall than Mach Tower.
In the end, Busch Gardens did add a much needed flat ride, granted they could have used one with a slightly high capacity. However, for the size and all of the trouble that the park has experienced with the ride to date, it just wasn’t worth the wait. At least a new roller coaster is on the way in 2012, just across the path from Mach Tower. Hopefully that ride will live up to expectations.
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