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Taking the Coaster Insider Tour at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

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Published: June 26, 2014 at 3:18 PM

Busch Gardens Williamsburg has quite possibly developed the ultimate experience for any roller coaster aficionado. The Coaster Insider Tour at the Virginia park gives coaster fanatics the chance to see the park’s signature steel coasters from a unique vantage point that most people can only dream about. For an $80 add-on to a standard park admission (with season pass holders getting a small discount), tour participants go into backstage, maintenance, and cast member control areas along with a vertigo-inducing trip to the top of Griffon’s lift hill that will satisfy virtually any adrenaline junkie. As a contributor to Theme Park Insider and Busch Gardens Ambassador Blogger, I was given the opportunity to enjoy this amazing experience for no cost, but the opinions offered here are my own.

The Coaster Insiders Tour currently is offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and starts at 8:00 AM, so non-morning people might need a few extra cups of coffee to make it on time. Tour guests meet up just outside the park, and once through the turnstiles, it’s on to the park’s oldest coaster, Loch Ness Monster. Since the park is not yet open when the tour starts, guests get a close up view of maintenance getting the famed ACE Coaster Landmark ready for the day. Anyone who has taken a peek at some other parks’ coaster maintenance bays will be instantly struck by the cleanliness and organization of the facility. Even at 37 years old, the Loch Ness Monster's maintenance bay is cleaner than some coasters less than a year old. The knowledgeable tour guide walks guests through the rigors of coaster maintenance, and throughout the tour, provide ample time to ask questions.

Maintenance bay

After a quick walk through of Nessie’s workshop, it’s on to the real highlight of the tour. With a quick shortcut through the center of the park (under the railroad trestle), guests are soon at the base of Griffon’s massive, 210-foot lift hill. Tour guests are then loaded onto the dive coaster’s evacuation carriage, and lifted to the top for a walk around.

View from the top

Guests are limited as to where they are permitted to walk, but it’s more than sufficient to enjoy the amazing view and impressive technology at the top of the massive coaster.

On top of Griffon

After enjoying the view, a quick ride back down brings us onto a tour of Griffon’s maintenance facility, including a close up view of the massive trains and wheels.

Train wheel

Our tour guide, JP, was full of interesting stories and was obviously as excited to be giving the tour as the guests were to be taking it. One interesting story that he told regarded the origins of the floorless trains on Griffon. Contrary to public belief, the coaster is not floorless because the park wanted to differentiate the coaster from SheiKra at Busch Gardens Tampa, but instead because the park had approached Bolliger and Mabillard to develop a dive machine that was 10 seats across to increase capacity. B&M determined that the only way such a coaster could work would be to take out the train’s floor to decrease the weight. What resulted was the first floorless dive machine, and Busch Gardens liked it so much that they eventually chose to make SheiKra floorless as well. Shortly after getting a close-up look underneath Griffon’s trains, the tour then lets guests get the first official ride of the day on Griffon.

After two incredible rides on Griffon, the tour then leads guests over to Alpengeist. This B&M invert has been thrilling guests for 16 years, and tour guests get a view of another maintenance area followed with two quick rides on one of the best inverted roller coasters in the world.

Inside Alpengeist

Next up was front-of-the-line access to the park’s newest roller coaster, Verbolten, followed by a behind the scenes look at the intricate machine’s control room. The Verbolten control room shows guests how modern roller coasters operate, and how complex they’ve become. Many cameras along the course can be viewed from the control room, which offers operators to see even what happens in the complete darkness of the show building. In fact, the night vision cameras viewing the coaster’s unique drop track show tour guests precisely how the hidden element works, as the magnetic brake fins glow bright white on the screens as the track descends. Tour guests are also given a unique look at Verbolten from inside the show building. The only drawback is that since the coaster is in full operation during this portion of the tour, guests are not permitted to take pictures inside. However, standing inside a building with a major roller coaster zipping by is certainly a neat experience. Also, by watching the coaster cycle trains through the building allows tour guests to get a better feel for how the coaster works. One thing that I noticed was that the many props in the show building are actually fabric, not plywood or other rigid material. Because the trains speed by the props so quickly, guests are oblivious to the fact that the fabric moves subtly as the wind from the train causes the props to flutter slightly. Also, an interesting tidbit that our tour guide mentioned was that all of the props inside the show building were painted onsite by Busch Gardens employees, instead of subcontracted to outside artisans.

Verbolten

Next up is Apollo’s Chariot, and two front-of-the-line rides on one of the best airtime coasters in the world. The stop at Apollo’s Chariot did not include a backstage or maintenance tour because of the tight space around the maintenance bay, and the fact that it is very similar to Alpengeist and Griffon. The tour then ends with two front-of-the-line rides on Loch Ness Monster to bring guests full circle.

Overall, the tour takes about four hours from beginning to end, but 90 minutes is before the park is fully open. As part of the tour, guests get two rides on each of the park’s five roller coasters along with a Quick Queue to ride them once again. Guests also receive a photo CD from their experience with pictures taken by one of the employees accompanying the tour. Any roller coaster enthusiast will simply love the experience, and it is well worth what at first glance seems like a high price. Just the front of the line access and Quick Queues would be extremely valuable on a busy Saturday, and the behind the scenes access is like icing on the cake. Any theme park fan interested in a unique look at some of the most exciting steel roller coasters in the country should definitely give Busch Gardens Williamsburg Coaster Insiders Tour a try.

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Readers' Opinions

From Tim Odom on June 26, 2014 at 3:34 PM
I did this tour a couple years back, right after Big Bad Wolf closed, and it was awesome then. They, obviously, changed it from what I encountered, one of the changes is actually disappointing.

When I did this, not only did I get to see Apollo's Chariot's maintenance bay, but after our last ride in the tour, they gave us cards for 1 more front of the line rides on the 4 coasters, which brought in a lot of confusion at Loch Ness Monster.

Still, this is an amazing tour, well worth the money.

From Tracy Bates on June 26, 2014 at 4:58 PM
I did that a couple of years back and it was cool. It got screwed up because the elevator broke leaving half the group stuck at the top of griffon for an hour or so.

They really went out of their way to make it up to everyone and let us see verbolten with the lights on before it was officialy on the tour. Even gave everyone tickets to come back and redo the tour, plus front of ride passes for everything in the park and a free meal.

Never did make it back, but I will. It was a lot of fun and well worth it.

From Russell Meyer on June 26, 2014 at 5:40 PM
@Tim - You do still get a Quick Queue card for front of the line access to all of the coasters again later in the day.
From 173.189.11.224 on June 26, 2014 at 6:05 PM
This is awesome. Great article. I wish they offered a tour like this for some of the less thrill seeker rides.... I'd enjoy a tour of the rapids and the log flume..... but it probably would not be as big of a draw. Maybe they should call it the family friendly, you're never going to get on Griffon tour.
From Robert Niles on June 26, 2014 at 9:10 PM
So, a total of 15 front-of-line passes (two for each coaster during the tour, and one for each after), the backstage tour, and the photo CD of you on the tour? For 80 bucks? I know how I'm visiting BGW next time I'm in Williamsburg.
From Gabriel Schroll on June 26, 2014 at 9:25 PM
I didn't know something like this existed. But now that I do, I'll need a dark roast Red Eye and then I'm there!

Definitely an amazing deal! $80 for all of that front of the line and behind the scenes action? Wow! I'm drooling.

From Tim Hillman on June 27, 2014 at 5:24 AM
Great article, Russell! I wish I had known about this tour on my last visit to BGW, but I'll be sure to book it the next time I get a chance to do a DC area theme park jaunt.
From Russell Meyer on June 27, 2014 at 6:52 AM
That's $80 plus park admission Robert, just to be clear. If you're a season passholder, obviously you don't need to pay for park admission, plus you receive a discount on the tour. However, if you're not, the Coaster Insider Tour cost is in addition to a standard park admission. Tour guests also receive upgraded parking (in the England parking lot) for the day they've booked their tour.

BGW also offers an "observer" option, which includes everything I described except the ride up to the top of Griffon for $60.

Also, guests are required to book in groups of 2 or larger. The BGW team allowed me to book as a single guest as a special courtesy. Under normal circumstances I would never had been able to do this because my son is not old enough to do the tour yet (8 years old for observers and 14 years old for participants), and I couldn't do it with my wife, since someone would need to watch him. I sincerely appreciate the BGW team for allowing me to do the tour as a single guest, because they certainly didn't have to bend the rules for me.

So if you are considering the tour, make sure you have a buddy or significant other willing to book with you. If they're afraid of heights or between 8 and 14, they can simply do the observer option instead.

From James Rao on June 27, 2014 at 8:39 AM
Very cool tour option.... one that I might actually consider buying. If they included DarKastle in the tour, it would be perfect!

Thanks for another great article, Russell.

From 97.100.98.68 on June 27, 2014 at 11:39 AM
Are Busch Gardens employees also called "Cast Members", or was that a slip?
From Scottland Jacobson on June 28, 2014 at 4:16 PM
This is awesome that they do this! And $80 seems very reasonable - thanks for all the great info and pics! I'll definitely be trying that next time I'm there!

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