In 2020, SeaWorld parks were set to debut a collection of highly anticipated roller coasters around the country. Texas Stingray was the first to debut, doing so prior to the pandemic in February 2020. However, the rest of the coasters slated for debuts in 2020 have had to wait two full years before being unleashed on thrill seekers.
Iron Gwazi, Emperor, and Ice Breaker already have opened, leaving Pantheon at Busch Gardens Williamsburg as the remaining coaster due to finally give its first rides. In advance of the Media Day and official public opening later this week, we had the opportunity to ride Pantheon as part of their VIP Passholder/Member preview events that have been running over the past two weekends.
Pantheon is billed as the fastest multi-launch coaster in the world. With a top speed of 73.0mph, it tops Phantasialand’s Taron by only 0.3 miles per hour, but Pantheon is far more than speed. The coaster is located in the Festa Italia section of the park, and like nearby Apollo’s Chariot, is themed around Roman Gods. In fact, each of the five main sections of the coaster is designed to represent a different Roman God. Guests pass by columns in the queue that describe each of the gods and the part of ride that represents them.
While the use of five different Roman gods to describe the main elements of the coaster is extremely clever, the most striking design element of Pantheon is the train. The zero-entry trains are easy to get into and have well contoured and cushioned seats.
Guests are secured with lap bars with no seat belts or over-the-shoulder-restraints (OTSRs), which allows for an amazing amount of freedom while riding. However, the restraint design does have a low tolerance for guests with larger midsections and/or thighs, so it is recommended to try a test seat prior to waiting in line. Also, due to the track and support layout along the course, guests taller than 76 inches (6’4”) cannot ride. The minimum height is 52 inches. While a large percentage of park guests wanting to ride Pantheon probably fall inside the rider requirements, the limitations here are probably more restrictive than other roller coasters around the world and might catch some visitors off guard.
Once the restraints are checked and the station is cleared, the train rolls into a tight left turn and approaches the first section of launch track evoking the goddess Minerva.
This relatively mild launch leads into a slow corkscrew followed by a series of quick outward-banked airtime hills. This section is an excellent warm-up for the much more intense sections to come.
The next part of the coaster is designed for Mercury, the God of speed.
This section of track is what makes Pantheon so unique. The train gains speed through an initial set of linear synchronous motors (LSMs) and then over a quick bunny hill before gaining more speed through a second set of LSMs. However, the train purposely doesn’t gain enough speed to clear the top hat and rolls backwards. While the coaster is stalling, a sliding switch track alters the configuration to allow the train to access a vertical spike, representative of Neptune's Trident.
As the coaster rolls backwards, the LSMs accelerate the train backwards, creating a massive jolt of ejector air over the bunny hill and solid positive G's on the lead up to the vertical spike.
I had noted the bunny hill on the launch track of Ice Breaker, and Pantheon’s is similarly surprising, particularly on the backward launch when you can’t see the element coming.
The train then stalls again and starts plummeting back to the Earth, passing through the LSMs a third time, which now provide enough speed to just clear the top hat, the element evoking the king of the gods, Jupiter.
Once the train clears the top hat, it plunges down a 95-degree hill, and into a high-speed right turn. That 95-degree hill is very noticeable as reaching beyond vertical, especially in the back row, and you feel like you’re being yanked out of your seat as the train drop and gains speed.
The next set of elements are designed to represent Pluto, as the train rises up into a sublime outward-banked airtime hill and dives into a hard right turn that pulls some serious positive G’s before what I think is the coaster’s best element - a hanging inversion that puts riders upside-down for what feels like two seconds.
After this surprising inversion, Pantheon finishes with a tight left turn and another outward-banked airtime hill before the brake run.
While Pantheon is billed as a record-breaking coaster, that’s not what makes this coaster so good. The combination of comfortable seats and non-cumbersome restraints give riders a ton of freedom, accentuating all its elements.
Those elements are all well designed and give a great amount of variation over a relatively compact course. There are twists, turns, inversions, launches, and ejector and floating airtime moments paced throughout the 3,328 feet of track. Pantheon never lets up and treats riders to an experience with ebb and flow, without a single dull moment. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden a coaster that has been so well paced as Pantheon. Even a coaster with seemingly relentless intensity like Steel Vengeance has moments near the end where the course gets repetitive or provides a lesser variation of a previous element, but Pantheon keeps throwing curve balls at riders with plenty of variation and intensity.
With all that is great with Pantheon, even the best coaster isn’t quite perfect. This ride is going to have a lot of issues with loose articles falling from people's unsecured pockets – cell phones particularly, so securing those in a locker or zipper pockets is going to be a must if you don't want to lose them. One of the other issues with Pantheon is that it is not currently able to operate when it's windy. We encountered this on Saturday afternoon as winds picked up over 15mph (probably gusting over 20mph), keeping Pantheon closed for nearly six hours. It's possible that the park is taking a cautious approach during this soft opening period, but if the park is unable to operate Pantheon on a slightly windy day, it is going to create a lot of frustration among guests, especially for a coaster many have been waiting two years to experience.
However, those two long, pandemic-filled years definitely were worth the wait. Pantheon is a solid addition to Busch Gardens Williamsburg's already world-class lineup of coasters. It has so many impressive elements that you can’t possibly appreciate it all in a single ride. In fact, each of those elements is better depending on where you’re sitting, though as with many coasters, I found most of the elements better in the back. It’s not the one-trick pony that so many coasters these days have become, and the smooth transitions between each of the iconic elements are nearly flawless.
Pantheon truly calls upon all of the gods to create a ride that keeps riders on the edge of their seats from beginning to end for a divine experience.
For discounted tickets and passes to the park Busch Gardens Williamsburg tickets page.
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