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Attraction of the week: Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Loch Ness Monster

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Published: December 17, 2012 at 3:52 PM

For the past several weeks, I've been directing your attention some great theme park attractions around the world that don't always get the attention they deserve. Today, I hope you'll indulge me as I shine the "Attraction of the Week" spotlight on a ride for purely sentimental reasons.

I suspect that for many of us, there's a ride out there somewhere that you love for reasons that have less to do with the ride itself and more with what that ride has meant to you during special moments in your life. For me, that ride is the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

This Arrow coaster opened in 1978 at what was then called Busch Gardens: The Old Country. Theme parks around the country were adding roller coasters with inversions in the late 1970s, following Magic Mountain's success with Revolution - the first modern vertical loop steel coaster. Busch Gardens raised the stakes, though, as the Loch Ness Monster featured two vertical loops, which interlocked.

Loch Ness Monster

Hey, it was a big, big deal at the time.

I first rode Nessie in October of 1979. That was my very first "upside down" roller coaster, and the only reasons I summoned the courage to try it were (a) I was obsessed with Scotland and the Loch Ness Monster back then, and couldn't stand with myself if I'd skipped a ride with that theme, and (b) the ride's loops were over water, so I figured if I fell out at the top, splashing down into water would better than dying by falling onto hard earth.

Nessie's loops seemed all the more impressive back then. Not only was I bit shorter than I am now, the trees surrounding the rides were quite a bit smaller back then, too.

Trees surround Busch Gardens' Loch Ness Monster
Nessie, 30 years later

Plunging through the first loop surprised me. I never felt like I was "upside down." I stayed exactly where I'd been since leaving the load station - sitting on my seat in the coaster train. The blood didn't rush to my head like it did when I hung upside down from the monkey bars at school. But I was amazed that the water I'd expected to protect me after my inevitable fall was up there in the sky. And that the trees appeared to be growing down, instead of up.

Physics, for the win.

But as much as I loved the loops, Nessie won me over with an unexpected tunnel. I thought I was getting a roller coaster, but here I was enjoying a few seconds of a dark ride as the monster flew by me - bright lights in the pitch-black.

After it was over, I ran around to the entrance to go one more time. But I wouldn't ride Nessie again for another 30 years, on our first big, family cross-country roadtrip. This time, my daughter Natalie joined me, for what would be her very first trip on an "upside down" coaster. Sure, she was a little apprehensive. But I told her about my first trip on Nessie, and she was ready to try.

We didn't see the lights in the tunnel, though. But she loved the loops every bit as much as I did, when I was a kid. As we pulled into the station, she held her hand toward me, and extended her little finger for a pinkie shake.

"Coaster buddies," she said?

"Coaster buddies," I replied. Then we ran around to the entrance to go one more time.

Readers' Opinions

From Jeff Elliott on December 18, 2012 at 9:22 AM
This and Big Bad Wolf were the two coasters that I fell in love with that I was too scared to ride. I still have not made it back to get this credit in.....soon....hopefully....

From Rob Pastor on December 17, 2012 at 4:36 PM
Yes, Nessie is one of my favorite coasters. I rode it in 1978 or 79 and absolutely loved it then & still do. The attraction's queue had, and to a lesser degree now, very good theming, as does the Scotland area it is located in. I also greatly enjoyed the tunnel with the strobe type lights and fog too. It's one of those attractions that is great for re rides. I remember once there in the 80's with my girlfriend at the time. She refused to go on coasters. I talked her into it. Once she rode it she enjoyed it so much, that we rode it over 10 times on that vacation. Busch Gardens is an excellent park, though Blackstone has curtailed the live entertainment, and thus lessened the park's attraction for us. But it does deserve it's awards and reputation as the world's most beautiful theme park, imo. And Nessie's ride through the wooded hills, valleys and lake is as beautiful as a ride can be.
From Jeff Hilger on December 17, 2012 at 4:53 PM
Agreed. BGW is one of the nation's very best parks. I also got to go there around age 10 (in 1980) and didn't get to return for almost 30 years. Loch Ness welcomes you at the beginning, doesn't disappoint with the ride, and gives amazing views of one one of the world's most beautiful parks. The whole place is great and every time I've visited lines have been minimal as it is quite a bit far from the rest of the world.
From Kelly Smith on December 18, 2012 at 2:11 AM
Loch Ness Monster was also my first inverted coaster! And the Big Bad Wolf was the first roller coaster I ever went on. I love BGW.
From James Koehl on December 18, 2012 at 4:12 AM
My wife and I rode Loch Ness Monster in 1983 on our Honeymoon. It was a great ride, especially since it used the natural terrain so much. Being so close to Cedar Point we were used to inversions, and had ridden Corkscrew multiple times (it was the first coaster with three inversions, a loop and two corkscrews)but since Cedar Point is totally flat it was fun to ride a coaster that rode the landscape so close.
From Mike Gallagher on December 18, 2012 at 5:25 AM
My second or third looping coaster, and still a wonderful ride. It remains my favorite coaster at BGE. My first visit was in 1978, the year after my Dad passed away. My Mom took me there on a bus trip. I even had the Loch Ness Monster tank-top!
From Brian Bauer on December 18, 2012 at 7:20 AM
LNM was my first big coaster. I first rode it in the early 80's ('81 or '82 maybe) and didn't get to ride it again until about 5 years ago. It seems a few of us have that same story.
From Ed Newman on December 18, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Wow. Thanks Robert for sharing this with us. I also have fond memories of this classic. I remember riding this 10+ times in 1 day with my sister in 1980. Back when this was THE "big coaster" at BGW. I also recall how two coasters would sometimes hit the loops at the same time when they were running 3 trains. I thought that was so cool. I also remember having a Loch Ness Monster tank top shirt. My parents still have the "I survived the Loch Ness Monster" souvenir beer steins my sister and I purchased for them (I still notice them on a shelf in my parents den)
From 162.119.64.112 on December 19, 2012 at 3:57 PM
I finally got to ride this a year ago on my first visit and was aware of the history this ride had. I agree, while its an old coaster, the first time I rode it I was surprised. I hope they never tear it down.

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