I survived the Busch Gardens Williamsburg Coaster Tour, the question is, have you?
For those of you teetering on the fence about whether to purchase a ticket or for those who may not have even known about the coaster tour; don’t hesitate – Get your ticket and head out there! The relatively new Roller Coaster Insider Tour is a must see for any person with a strong passion for either Busch Gardens Williamsburg or World Class Coasters.
My set date was March 27, 2010; a cold March Morning; one that barley passed the temperature restriction for riding the coasters. Arriving at the parking lot, I was personally escorted in by a company vehicle and was given a parking spot in the very first row of the England Parking Area.
OK, for those of you not familiar with this; I have been coming to the park for over 30 years and have NEVER had the good fortune of landing such a parking spot. EVER.
Already, I felt like a VIP.
Ben & Zack, our two designated tour guides, greeted us and took us onward into the park’s main entry way and I immediately noticed something amiss from my normal visits to the park. It was quiet. No music or crowds; just carts being moved around and a spattering ensemble of maintenance work being done. Eerie perhaps, but pretty much just how I envisioned the park to be before the gates officially opened.
Destination number one on the Coaster Tour (besides the bathroom) was The Classic Loch Ness Monster Coaster; an honor well deserved by its legacy. Good ol’ Nessie is an ACE landmark and should always be the anchor of the Park. Testing of the Loch Ness was happening at the moment of approach and while standing underneath the interlocking loops, we were able to see all the coasters in the nearby vicinity being sent out on test runs in the odd quiet. It was definitely intriguing to see maintenance workers hopping across tracks like Kung Fu Movie Stars and hearing secret codes being called out over the announcement speakers.
We were then led underneath into Nessie’s Lair of coaster lore. You know, behind that mysterious door where coaster trains seem to be either magically eaten up or spit back out onto the tracks. Tentatively breaching the door that says “Staff Only”, I had a fleeting vision of security guards grabbing me and giving me a swift inquisition. (After all, this is the area of “Cross this line and you shall swiftly be removed from the park and be allowed to return Nevermore.”) But as my eyes adjusted to the light glaring off hundreds of coaster parts and tracks, my fear was gone and my eyes glistened with coaster nerd joy!
Both Ben, who has only hosted one tour prior to ours, and Zack, who was supervising the tour and overseeing the content, began giving us facts about the ride, the history, and why the Loch is such a landmark coaster. I must tell you here that there is not much about the park that Zack does not know. Even I found it difficult to stump him. No matter what coaster or area we were led to in the park; we were always allowed to stop the tour and spout out a question or two. It is amazing I must say, that even with my bombardment of inquiries, we were still able to finish the tour relatively on time.
And that brings me to the main gist of this review my fellow coaster aficionados; if it is questions you have, it is questions you must ask. This tour encourages the curious mind and allows the average coaster guru to see what it takes to keep maintenance on each of the park’s coasters. At each of the Four Rides you are given a chance to go behind into the maintenance areas, speak directly with people who work on these rides everyday, watch the coaster crews hard at work, and stand behind the controls to see what it is like to operate such machinery safely.
I would also like to mention that you get your own personal ride on each coaster before anyone else in the park is allowed to. As if that is not enough, you are also given a Quick Que pass for one ride on each of the four major coasters after the tour is over. A little inside scoop here; I quickly learned that the coasters feel completely different on the first ride of the day and when I asked about it, Zack explained the answer.
No, I will not tell you what was said. That’s cheating! Take the tour and see for yourself just how different a very early morning, pre-crowd ride is.
Oh and bring your camera!
Have you ever been to an art museum and were watched closely by a guard who shouts “No flash photography” every five seconds? Well, you will have none of that on this tour. I could take pictures of almost anything and everything. It almost felt I was breaking the unspoken coaster law of silence by capturing sacred images of what is normally forbidden to see. It was invigorating to have such freedom.
Let us focus for a moment on the word freedom.
Arriving at the Griffon, we were given the freedom to ride up the service elevator all the way to the very top and walk -YES WALK- to the other side where a stationary coaster car awaits your perusal. Before you worry too much, let me assure you that your tour guide will make sure that you are properly following procedure. Still, let me repeat this: You are allowed to maneuver ON TOP of the Griffon, looking down and walking on the platform all the way around to the other side! I will NEVER look at this coaster the same way again. From now on,every ride I take will have me muttering to my ride companion: ’ “I walked there… and there… oooo.. and right there (pointing to a certain spot) I had my picture taken” speech.
While basking in the joy of unhindered coaster heaven, I must have asked a hundred questions about the lift hill, breaking systems, anything that I could wrap my poor stuttering mouth to spit out. I am still, in shock… speechless over the experience. Right then, looking across the park at 205 feet in the air, I knew that this tour was worth every penny and that I would be taking this tour again and again.
Going on the Roller Coaster Insider Tour was a chance to see all the inner workings of Busch Gardens Coasters that up until now, I could only use my imagination to fill in the blanks. Needless to say, it surpassed all my expectations.
Cost of my ticket (in 2010): $67.46
Value of the Memories gained: Priceless.
Here are all the official details I experienced in the 2010 Tour: (Please note that every year the tour may change and the below only relates to what I experienced in 2010.)
* Tour Loch Ness, Griffon, Alpengeist, Apollo’s Chariot maintenance areas and speak with maintenance personnel on daily maintenance/operation of rides.
* Learn how our coasters are designed, built and constructed from concept to opening.
* Learn cool facts about the construction/operation of our coasters.
* Park History is shared along to tour to include some of the other Sea World Parks & Entertainment Parks.
* Ride to the top of the Griffon lift via the elevator system. At the top, get out of the “cart” and walk around on top.
* Photographer on the tour to take pictures. Photos are taken at the top of Griffon too! All personal cameras are welcome on the tour, but can’t be taken on the coasters themselves.
* Ride all 4 coasters twice without waiting in line. Loch Ness, Griffon and Alpengeist are ridden before the park opens. Front of the line pass is given to all guests on the tour to be able to come back and experience all 4 coasters during park operation without waiting in line.
* Photo CD of tour is included in price.
* Questions are welcome on the tour.
* Be the first guests of the day to enter the park! (You get to be let in at 7:45 am folks!) Groups are limited in size for a smaller more personal experience.