Secrets of the Coaster

An insider’s tour of Busch Gardens’ famous roller coasters reveals the complex engineering behind the thrill.

Would you recognize a chain dog if you saw one? What about a light curtain? Coaster enthusiasts can see firsthand how these components, and hundreds of others, help to make their stomachs drop this summer on Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Roller Coaster Insider Tour.

Adrenaline hounds can pay extra, about $65, for behind-the-scenes access to three coasters before the park—long regarded as a mecca for thrill ride junkies—opens each morning.

The tour includes exclusive ride time on two of the park’s six coasters and entry into otherwise restricted areas: cramped control rooms with flashing buttons and video monitors, and spotless maintenance sheds where technicians conduct coaster inspections each day beginning at 3 a.m.

The dealmaker on the tour, however, is the view. Tour guides shuttle participants to the top of Griffon, a 205-foot-tall floorless dive coaster, via a trackside maintenance trolley. It’s an ascent some 300 people experience each year, according to Kevin Crossett, Busch Gardens spokesperson. After the ascent, tourgoers learn some coaster trivia. The great sheets of water Griffon’s trains spray skyward after swooping through a pool near the end of the three-minute ride? Not just for show. The water actually acts as a brake.

The popularity of the three-year-old coaster tour helped spur park officials to add a daily tour of their newest roller coaster, Verbolten, which follows a country-drive-gone-wrong theme, zipping riders through a building that’s a simulated Black Forest.

Here, in a darkened maze of twisting track and pulsing light, with coaster trains flashing past, it’s possible to get a good sense for all the complex engineering that has landed Busch Gardens’ marquee rides on so many people’s bucket list. Says Kraegel: “Most people don’t think about all that goes into this. They just get on a roller coaster and it works. This tour is an eye-opener for how much effort it takes to make that experience possible.”

BuschGardens.com

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