Busch Gardens Williamsburg Caps Oktoberfest Renovation with Debut of Verbolten
Written by Russell Meyer
In the summer of 2009, fans of Busch Gardens Williamsburg and coaster fans around the country were shocked to hear that the Big Bad Wolf would be removed. Busch Gardens immediately began dropping hints about what would replace a coaster that not only had a custom layout and unusual design, but was many a young theme park fan’s first “real” roller coaster. All that the park was willing to say when the Oktoberfest renovation was announced was that 2012 would bring a new multi-launch roller coaster. The rumors began flying, and many, including myself, were expecting a coaster similar to Cheetah Hunt, which was already under construction at Busch Gardens Tampa. Throughout the past 2 years, Busch Gardens has been slowly revealing details about the new roller coaster that have been keeping theme park and roller coaster fans in suspense, culminating with the official opening of Verbolten this week.Tweet
Verbolten is being billed as a thrilling family roller coaster but is not quite as accessible with a rider height requirement of 48” compared to Big Bad Wolf’s 42”. In my opinion, Busch should have tried to maintain the 42” limit, but I understand the demand for a more thrilling and innovative family coaster likely overruled that possibility. Still, the lack of inversions makes it more accessible to children who may be afraid of going upside-down.
Verbolten is an intricately themed attraction that fits well in the revamped Oktoberfest area. The level of detail is comparable to a ride in a Florida or California park, with trains designed to look like European roadsters, right down to unique license plates. The backstory of the attraction involves siblings Gerta and Gunter Schwartzwald, who own and operate a quaint Bavarian visitor’s center. Gerta is the manager of the establishment, and ensures everything runs as planned. Gunter lacks Gerta’s business acumen, but makes up for it with his curiosity and mechanical aptitude. Both are concerned with the rental cars that continue to disappear, along with their passengers, despite being equipped with GPS and persistent warnings to avoid the Black Forest. Gunter has gathered their personal effects and crumpled vehicle remains along with mysterious vines in his shop, and has even set up video cameras in attempt to solve the ongoing mystery.
The pre-show video is a bit on the corny side, but does a good job of establishing the backstory for the ride, along with the two well-themed rooms along the queue. The queue is actually a bit reminiscent of the Expedition Everest queue, just on a much smaller scale. However, if guests are expecting a full-blown queue experience like the attractions opened within the past 5-10 years at Disney or Universal parks, they’ll probably be a bit disappointed.
Once guests reach the station, they’ll see a double-loading platform that allows the crew to board 32 passengers on two trains simultaneously. The station is a complete renovation of the old Big Bad Wolf station, and appropriately looks like a garage with mufflers marking the rows of the trains, and oil hoses and other vehicle maintenance equipment hanging from the ceiling. The coaster trains are also highly themed to look like European sports cars complete with racing stripes, rear view mirrors, and sporty wheels. The cars have a flat entry, unlike other vehicular-based coaster trains like Stunt Coaster at nearby Kings Dominion or Rock ‘n Rollercoaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There’s nothing for guests to trip on as they make their way to their seats, and this feature makes loading and unloading a much faster and more efficient process. The trains have 8 rows with 2 seats per row, and passengers are secured in their comfortable seats with a simple lapbar restraint. It appears that the seats will accommodate most guests, but those with larger hip measurements might want to check the tester seat at the entrance before waiting in line to ride.
Once secured, the train slowly makes its way out of the garage and on the way to the Black Forest. The first set of linear induction motors (LIMs) launches the train into the show building and the mysteries of the Black Forest. Once inside, guests are subjected to some pretty tight twists and turns along with some surprisingly intense g-forces, particularly for those sitting towards the back of the train. The forest scenery, illuminated primarily with black lighting, zooms by as the train makes its way through a block brake and then a dead end. At that dead end, riders encounter one of three randomly selected experiences: a pack of deadly wolves, a fierce lightning storm, or an encounter with the mysterious spirit of the Black Forest. After that, technology takes over, as the train, along with the track it is sitting on, drops vertically before eventually exiting the building. The drop is not more than 20 or 30 feet, but the unexpectedness and dark environment make it really effective and thrilling. As the train exits the building, another set of LIMs accelerate the train through a couple of upward twists to another set of block brakes overlooking the Rhine River. The remaining track follows the Big Bad Wolf finish with a set of cameras before the final turn back towards the garage.
Verbolten is probably not going to intimidate hard core coaster fans or even the weekend ride warrior. However, that is not what Busch Gardens was shooting for when conceiving this attraction. In fact, extreme coaster aficionados may stick their nose up at this ride as a “Maverick-light” (Cedar Point’s very intense multi-launch coaster) with a clever, but ultimately unsatisfying twist. Compared to other coasters I’ve ridden, Verbolten is most like Universal’s Revenge of the Mummy minus the impressive animatronics. It has enough intense moments to keep adults interested and their kids exhilarated. The real question will be if can the ride operate efficiently and consistently throughout the busy summer months, and keep the flood of guests wanting to experience the park’s newest roller coaster coming back for more.
More than 2 years ago, Busch Gardens Williamsburg looked to transform the most iconic section of their park, Oktoberfest, from an outdated and clichéd theme park land into a lively, whimsical village. Verbolten represents the completion of that face-lift, and while the coaster, along with Mach Tower, are not the biggest, fastest, most intense rides on the planet, they work together to solidify and strengthen the overall theming of the area.
This season the park has also replaced the famous Festhaus show with “Entwined”, bringing Grimm’s Fairy Tales into the beer hall. To those who preferred the direction the park was taking with attractions like Griffon, Alpengeist, and Apollo’s Chariot, this renovation is probably not what they would have preferred. However, many theme park visitors and families will see the commitment of the park to try to be far more than just a regional theme park.
Update: We've just posted Russell's on-ride video of Verbolten!
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