King Ludwig Returns for Busch Gardens' New Coaster

September 6, 2022, 10:19 AM · Busch Gardens Williamsburg is calling back to one of its classic attractions with its new coaster for 2023 - DarKoaster.

The Virginia park announced the new attraction this morning, with a name calling back to the Curse of DarKastle motion base dark ride that it closed after tne 2017 season. [Busch Gardens gives up on its award-winning Curse of DarKastle]

Curse of DarKastle won our 2005 Theme Park Insider Award for Best New Attraction of the Year. However, the maintenance costs on motion base dark rides can be insane (I have heard it can cost in excess of $1 million per ride vehicle per year), so Busch Gardens owner SeaWorld pulled the plug on the ride after just over a decade of operation.

Roller coasters are quite a bit cheaper to build and maintain, especially when you order another installation of a model that you've already bought. Busch Gardens is calling DarKoaster "the world's first all-indoor straddle coaster," which might seem like an odd flex. But the Intamin ride vehicles that SeaWorld themed to the water scooters ("Jet Ski" is a trademarked brand name, in case you didn't know), for Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster at SeaWorld Texas will be themed to snowmobiles here.

Located in the

Curse of DarKastle building, "King Ludwig's abandoned fortress resurfaces as strange weather patterns have been recorded near the cursed castle grounds," Busch Gardens said in its press release. "Only the bravest souls will embark on snowmobiles in this dark expedition to discover the mysterious phenomenon. A supernatural force is imminent as explorers discover that they are evading more than just a raging storm."

DarKoaster will feature four launches with a top speed of 36 miles per hour.

"DarKoaster will be an exciting and unique addition to our world class lineup of coasters," Busch Gardens Williamsburg Park President Kevin Lembke said. "As an indoor attraction, DarKoaster complements our collection of thrill rides and offers a new experience to enjoy throughout the year. Plus, with only a 48-inch height requirement, DarKoaster is a ride for the whole family to conquer together."

Busch Gardens said that DarKoaster will have over 1,400 feet of track but that riders will experience a total of 2,454 feet of track, so that suggests that there is going to be an extra lap of some sort here. (I have not been on Wave Breaker, so I would love to hear in the comments from readers who have and can suggest how that experience might translate here.) DarKoaster will open in 2023.

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Replies (14)

September 6, 2022 at 11:17 AM

Having ridden Wave Breaker earlier this summer, I'm kind of "meh" on this addition. I do think being indoors will give a better sensation of speed than you get on Wave Breaker, which doesn't integrate the lake into its course as it should nor provide great intensity. I'm also not a fan of the seating position on Wave Breaker, where guests are told to sit upright, not leaning forward like you would expect for a straddling experience like on Hagrids (on the bike, not the sidecar), Tron, or Pony Express. The loading for this type of coaster can be really problematic because of the foot positioning and the capacity per train is just 10 (for comparison, Tempesto can hold 18 per train). Given that it sounds like the trains will be traversing parts of the track multiple times (either multiple loops or a backwards launch), this will likely operate like a shuttle coaster where only one train is on course at a time. The lines for this could be MASSIVE and slow moving.

I also get frustrated when parks bill attractions with 48-inch height requirements as "family friendly". Personally, I draw the line at "family friendly" at 42 inches (typical height for 5-7 year olds), not 48 inches (kids probably have to be 7-9 before they reach this threshold). BG/SW already has gotten criticized for this when they had to up the height restriction for Ice Breaker and when they replaced Big Bad Wolf (and its 42" restriction) with Verbolten (48" restriction), billing it as a "family" coaster even though it's more restrictive than the coaster it replaced.

It will be interesting to see how they integrate the original DarKastle theming and perhaps original sets into the experience, but I think given the limited space they have to work with, going with this particular style of roller coaster is going to be problematic in terms of capacity and throughput.

September 6, 2022 at 12:02 PM

Really excited to see how far they go with the theming and special effects on this one. I loved Curse of DarKastle and hope this replacement does it justice. It does seem odd to go indoors to ride a coaster themed to the outdoors, but I'm excited and hopeful.
I do share Russell's concern on capacity and throughput. I'm guessing that during especially busy times of the year it might feel as though the queue remains . . . frozen in time.

September 6, 2022 at 12:20 PM

I agree with Russell that the height requirement is a huge issue for this type of ride. I think if it was lower it would be viewed as a pretty good addition, but 48" is definitely not something you can market towards people with kids. That's the same height requirement as X2 which is one of the most intense coasters in the world. Verbolten having a higher height requirement than BBW, and Darkoaster having a higher height requirement than Darkcastle...they're going in the wrong direction when it comes to making their parks family friendly.

Demon at SFGAm has a 42" requirement and its a pretty good size coaster that goes upside down 4x, I think going with a different type of train or manufacturer would have been a better route for Darkoaster.

September 6, 2022 at 12:16 PM

i love the re-themeing of an old attraction and adding a "family" coaster is a big plus. BGW seems to have a nice mix of family coasters alongside the thrill machines. regarding Russell's comments on WaveBreaker, i somewhat agree that it can be viewed as a "meh" attraction, however, i applaud sea world for a uniquely themed coaster that is family friendly. i enjoyed zig-zagging over the water but did feel it was a bit short.

September 6, 2022 at 12:35 PM

@the_man - Though I expect the 48" height requirement might help to suppress demand given the limited capacity (definitely disagree with the marketing as a "family" coaster though, especially considering Curse of DarKastle had just a 42" height requirement). I do think this was an odd choice for coaster type given the size limitations of the DarKastle building. These trains carry half as many people as other trains of similar length, and couple that with the probability that the trains traverse parts of the track multiple times, it will further limit throughput. I get that Busch Gardens wanted to market this attraction as a "first of its kind" and something different from the other coasters in the park (they already have an indoor launching coaster in Verbolten), but I think going with this unique train design is going to come back to bite them in the form of frustration from guests waiting in long lines to ride.

When I rode Wave Breaker earlier this summer, that coaster had the longest lines in the park (even though every coaster was in single train operation) primarily because people didn't understand how to get on. Given that guests won't even be able to see the load platform until just before they board, there's going to be a steep learning curve for guests that will undoubtedly slow operations to a crawl.

@NCPete - I see what you did there, but I expect for most readers here, they are beyond your reach ;)

September 6, 2022 at 3:36 PM

This essentially confirms that this will be 2 laps around the same track with a pair of switch tracks. This should allow 1 train to run the track while the other unloads/loads.

The other thing implied in this video is some level of projection mapping on the physical sets. The launch section shown 12 seconds into the video is the same physical set shown 24 seconds in, but with some additional cracks/frost.

This ought to be a relatively highly themed attraction because otherwise the specs aren't much to write home about.

September 6, 2022 at 5:04 PM

Given the lack of theming on most recent SeaWorld projects, I'm pretty skeptical that this will be nearly as good as the promo makes it look. That said, it's an okay fit for the park and a decent use of space. I do think it would have been better if they'd gone with regular trains and a 42" height restriction (or at most 46" like InvadR), but the seating style does make it unique. I'm not sure yet if I'll make it back out to BGW next year, but if I do, I'll be curious to try it.

As for capacity, the ride will run two or three trains (more likely two), so while it will be lower capacity it likely won't be atrocious. You'll essentially go through the layout twice with different scenic elements each time, but there will be a station bypass so trains can return from the brakes to the launch without passing through the station itself.

September 6, 2022 at 5:40 PM

I have missed DarKastle so much

September 6, 2022 at 5:40 PM

^I was thinking the same (station bypass) to avoid the capacity problems that plague many shuttle coasters.

September 6, 2022 at 6:15 PM

Undoubtedly it would operate with a train on the track and another loading (and perhaps a 3rd staged somewhere else - either ready to enter the course or in a pre-load/unload block) similar to how Ice Breaker works, but that's still just 20 guests per cycle (not 36 like Ice Breaker can handle). Unless the experience is super short and ops can turn trains at breakneck pace, I doubt they can get better than 2 minutes/cycle, putting this at best with 600 people per hour. Having been on Wave Breaker, I just don't see them even getting below 3-4 minutes/cycle given the unique riding position and restraints, putting the capacity closer to 300/hour, which is in wild mouse territory.

I'm also with AJ in being skeptical that the park will carry through with the level of theming insinuated in the video. It's possible that some of the old DarKastle scenery is still inside the building, and it's likely that the queue and station would be aligned with the old DarKastle areas. I just don't have faith right now that BGW will step up and provide any major thematic elements along the course. I sure hope BGW can prove me wrong, and reverse the chain's trend of skimping on theming over the past 5-10 years.

September 6, 2022 at 8:48 PM

While I like the idea of a more themed ride experience coming to this overall well-themed park, I don't know why they went with this ride model. Well actually I do (money), but I wish they went with something else. This ride will be pretty restrictive regarding height, especially when compared to the thrill level, have a relatively low capacity, and most importantly in my mind: why are we riding snowmobiles inside of a castle? Maybe the station will be themed to an open-air part of the castle and it's implied that the rest of the ride is in the wilderness? I understand why they removed Darkastle, and I'm not necessarily mad about that, I just think while this attraction will surely be fine, I'm not sure what it's trying to do or say overall. A more generic coaster model or even a small omnimover dark ride would have been a better choice tbh.

September 7, 2022 at 6:31 AM

Going to BGW for the first time next year as part of a theme park road trip. Looking at the video I'm really looking forward to riding this.

September 7, 2022 at 10:28 AM

BGW has been very particular in what elements they show in this video. We're seeing the same elements twice- the first launch under the arches (by the windows) is also the third launch. The dip under the frozen bridge is the same track as the dip into Ludwig's mouth (which according to the leaked layout is likely the last element of each lap).

I don't expect the theming to be that well-executed, but it's clear that there will be cosmetic elements differentiating lap 1 to lap 2; they've explicitly chosen to show the specific elements that will change.

A pair of screen walls, a pair of projection-mapped physical elements, and an audio track would make DarKoaster the most themed coaster in the park, but is very much within BGW's capabilities. DarKoaster is pretty clearly intended to pick up the slack from the simulator and dark rides closed in the last 5 years (Battle for Eire, Curse of DarKastle), so I imagine BGW can justify more theming.

September 8, 2022 at 4:53 PM

After seeing the layout, and with them announcing the speed anticipation, I struggle with the 48" requirement as well. I'm not overly optimistic about BGW and the theming for this for some reason. Maybe I'm still bruised with disappointment with the lack of theming for Pantheon.

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