Mach Tower opens At Busch Gardens Williamsburg

August 21, 2011, 8:19 PM · 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.

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.

Mach Tower

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.

Mach Tower

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.

Mach Tower

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.

Replies (8)

August 21, 2011 at 8:32 PM · Thanks for the in depth write-up, Russell. But you're right, other than the nice views of an otherwise lovely park, there does not appear to be any reason to ride this attraction. Bummer.
August 22, 2011 at 6:39 AM · I rode it last night and while yes it is a short ride, I really liked the ride. The dropping was kind of a giggle adding experience, so it was fun. I think this is aimed more at the family group rather than the thrill seekers. I also hear that during Christmas Town, it will be just an observation tower...going up and then slowly coming down.
August 22, 2011 at 8:25 AM · Didn't this ride initially have concept art that was much heavier themed, even starting a portion underground with special effects? Or am I thinking of a different park?
August 22, 2011 at 8:50 AM · I actually think the ride looks a lot like the concept art. I took a "blow out" shot of the ride yesterday with my camera, and it looks pretty close to the concept art...

The park only announced that the ride would have "special effects" and "enhanced audio."

August 22, 2011 at 10:34 AM · Wow, that ride seems like quite a letdown. At Six Flags Over Georgia, the drop tower has a very similar design and is only 200 feet high, but the magnetic breaks kick in much later. Acrophobia(SFOG's drop tower) also tilts the seats forward at the top so you are forced to look somewhat down.
August 22, 2011 at 1:43 PM · Nice reporting Russell. I have also ridden the drop towers at Kings Dominion, Kings Island and Acrophobia at our home park of SFOG. They certainly have an intensity factor with the way the brakes kick in so close to the ground. I'm a little disappointed that BGW does not offer a similar experience, but maybe the theming and "uniqueness" of this ride will compensate for its lack of intensity.
August 22, 2011 at 11:35 PM · I remember what attraction I was thinking of now. Mystery Castle at Phantasialand in Germany. The rumors about BGW's drop tower at first were that it would be heavily themed like this.
August 23, 2011 at 7:50 PM · Busch Gardens is so second rate. I know, I used to work there (Tampa).

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