Taking the Coaster Insider Tour at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Written by Russell Meyer
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.Tweet
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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