Attraction of the Week: Holiday World's Thunderbird

February 17, 2021, 5:16 PM · Allow me to drop a canoe into the stream of consciousness for a moment. All this news about cold weather throughout the country got me thinking about the coldest I've felt in various situations, including at theme park press events.

No one opens rides in the truly awful conditions that many Americans have endured this week. But most roller coasters debut when their parks open for the season, which can mean brisk late-winter or early-spring temperatures at their press events. That cold air cuts a bit deeper when you need to show up at dawn for early on-ride camera sessions, too. But if you dress for the weather, a chill in the air is never a problem. Heck, I've been at Walt Disney World when it snowed and made it through that just fine.

But in April six years ago, I made the mistake of looking only at the forecast high the next day in Santa Claus, Indiana when I packed my bag before flying out from Los Angeles, instead of looking at the expected morning low, too. That left me shivering under a far too-thin jacket in the cold, humid midwestern air as I awaited my first run on Thunderbird at Holiday World & Splashin' Safari.

You would think that flying through the air at 60 mph would only make the cold worse, but Thunderbird's 3.5-second launch created enough adrenaline to make me completely forget about the weather. The launched wing coaster from Bolliger & Mabillard - America's first of that model - carries its momentum into a 140-foot-tall Immelmann loop, the first of four inversions on the coaster's 3,035 feet of track.

As I wrote when I reviewed the coaster, "Thunderbird keeps throwing its elements at you without hesitation. After the horseshoe turns, you twist through a zero-G roll and an S-curve before the first of the two 'headchopper' keyholes... With no pause between elements, the thrill factor amplifies throughout the ride, reaching its peak with the second headchopper and the heartline roll that follows. You truly do feel that you're about to fall from your seat as you invert through the heartline, emphasizing the wing coaster's suggestion that you are not bound by a track on your flight."

Named for a bird from Native American mythology - one that would generate thunder by flapping its wings - Thunderbird is a perfect name for a wing coaster in Holiday World's epic Thanksgiving land. It was the park's first steel coaster, following its triumphant trio of The Raven, The Legend, and Thanksgiving neighbor The Voyage - which our readers have ranked among the world's top roller coasters.

Thunderbird was dedicated to the late park president Will Koch, who had passed away five years before the ride opened. (If you notice the "Will Power" painted on the sign of the ride's station building, that's a tribute to Koch... and not the popular IndyCar driver.) The ride signaled that this family-owned park would not be defined by one type of ride - wooden roller coasters - and that it could compete with anyone for diverse world-class attractions.

Today, Holiday World & Splashin' Safari proclaims itself as the "water coaster capital of the world" for its collection of water thrill rides, which complement that impressive roller coaster line-up. When borders are open and travel restrictions not in place, fans from around the world again will find their way to this remote southern Indiana town for that world-class collection of thrill rides, coupled with the value of Holiday World's many freebies, including parking, sunscreen, and soft drinks.

Because no matter what the temperature might read on a chilly spring morning, I always feel the warmth of hospitality at Holiday World.

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For vacation packages that include discounted tickets to Holiday World & Splashin' Safari, please visit our travel partner's Holiday World tickets page.

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Replies (1)

February 18, 2021 at 11:02 AM

This is a fun coaster, and I'm frankly surprised that it's still the only launched B&M wing coaster in the world (and still the only B&M with LIMs that I'm aware of), but the overall ride doesn't quite match Gatekeeper or even X-Flight.

It's a shame that this coaster type is so expensive to build and operate (due to the double loading platform), because I think more parks would build these.

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