Five years doesn’t seem like a long time ago in the grand scheme of things. But with all the monumental changes the world has gone through over just the past three years, it’s hard to fathom that the groundbreaking Curse of DarKastle at Busch Gardens Williamsburg has been closed since 2018.
After 13 years of operation, the park decided that it was too onerous and expensive to maintain the dark ride, which was one of the first attraction openings I covered on behalf of Theme Park Insider way back in 2005. [Busch Gardens Williamsburg Sets New Standard with 'Curse of DarKastle'] Indeed, maintaining a world-class dark ride isn’t cheap, and even though it was one of the few regional parks in America that could tout having a destination park caliber attraction, it just didn’t make financial sense. In 2018, the interior of the ride building was mostly gutted, leaving some of the interior and exterior thematic elements. The park utilized the building to house a Howl-O-Scream maze but did not announce any future plans until late last year. In 2022, Busch Gardens revealed that they would build a new attraction inside the DarKastle building, called DarKoaster.
The original Curse of DarKastle revolved around the story of Mad King Ludwig from Bavaria and invited guests to tour his castle in a fleet of golden sleighs. DarKoaster furthers the story from the original attraction, though guests will probably need to make a jump through space/time to connect the original fleet of Victorian-era golden sleighs to the new ride vehicles, which are designed to look like modern snowmobiles. Similarly, a bit of a time jump is necessary to explain the subtle changes of the station from a horse stable to a more modern ski-lodge workshop.
As a massive fan of the original attraction, it’s a bit disappointing that designers were not able to maintain the same setting.
I guess the main reasoning for that is due to the design of the coaster itself, which is an Intamin straddle coaster. SeaWorld has a similar coaster style at its San Antonio park (Wave Breaker), and is poised to debut Arctic Rescue at its San Diego park. Because of the installation inside the DarKastle building, the park is able to market DarKoaster as the North America’s first all-indoor straddle coaster. However, because of the size of the building, there’s not a ton of space to accommodate a massive layout. Designers were able to overcome of the space challenges by creating a layout that guests circumvent twice. As such, the coaster operates with two trains (one on the ride track and a second on the load platform), but each train can only hold a maximum of 10 guests. Given the excitement for this new attraction and the nostalgia for the original Curse of DarKastle, I anticipate long, slow moving lines. However, I predicted a similar situation to occur over at Tempesto, but was proven wrong with pretty steady 30-45 minute waits even on busy Saturdays after its first season.
DarKoaster is a pretty unique experience, especially if you have ridden other coasters with similar riding positions (Pony Express, Tron, Wave Breaker, Hagrid’s, etc.) The seating position is a bit more upright than you might anticipate, but unlike Wave Breaker, guests are not told to sit straight up – so go ahead and grab those motorcycle-style grab bars.
The train exits the station and past a screen showing an intensifying storm outside. Guests are then launched through a stone corridor and into the main course. There are some lighting and sound effects that help intensify the launch, but nothing too scary or inappropriate for more timid riders. After a few tight turns, the train goes through a second, more intense launch. The first time through, I was pretty surprised by the power of this launch and succeeding overbanked right-hand turn.
After a couple more turns, the train goes makes its way back around to the original launch track and runs through the course a second time. There did appear to be some slight changes in the effects the second time through, but nothing truly memorable or unique. However, when you come towards the end of the course the second time, you go beneath a screen where King Ludwig attempts to grab you as he did in the final scene of Curse of DarKastle, though theatrical fog replaces the spritzing of water now.
I do think it’s impressive what the design team was able to do with such a small space inside the DarKastle building. DarKoaster has just enough speed and intensity to satisfy guests without freaking them out, which is what they’re going for by marketing the attraction as a "family-friendly thrill ride." I really enjoyed the nods to the original dark ride, but the 150-year time jump is a bit of a leap. However, I think the biggest hurdle to clear will be maintaining throughput with just 10 riders every two minutes or so, which would be on par with your average flat ride. Given that the park has removed two flat rides in the past couple of years (Mach Tower and Davinci’s Cradle), DarKoaster probably won’t help lessen lines around the park. While I will still miss DarKastle, DarKoaster is a good way for the park to maintain the Ludwig story and allows them to offer a new experience to younger thrill seekers.
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