JAMES ¿CITY — A little eavesdropping confirmed what Larry Giles suspected. The new roller coaster Verbolten is a winner and should bolster tourism this year.
Giles, the vice president for design and engineering at Busch Gardens, casually stood next to the ride’s exit during a soft opening last weekend. The coaster officially opened Friday.
“To hear what people said,” Giles recounted, “a¿lot of them were saying, ‘It’s the best ride I’ve ever been on.’”
Busch Gardens debuted the coaster for the media on Wednesday, as well as to a more discerning customer base of 75-100 invited members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts.
Their reaction was enthusiastic, as many ended the ride with the beer-drinking cheer long a staple of the stage show at the nearby Festhaus.
In an interview as the coaster sped along the track, Elizabeth Ringas of Richmond called the ride “incredible.” The trip was at least her fourth of the morning. She got back on again, riding alongside her 9-year-old daughter.
Her favorite element? “The launch just before the final drop,” she said. That’s something you don’t see [on other coasters].”
The track spans more than 2,800 feet as faux European sports cars reach a top speed of 53 mph. That’s deceptive, since the launch propels the car from almost zero to top speed in less than three seconds.
“This is the capstone to a two-year rejuvenation project in the Germany section of the park,” park president Carl Lum told the guests. “This represents our largest capital investment ever. It’s not only great for Busch Gardens, it’s great for the Historic Triangle.” The latter comment was a plug for regional cooperation on tourism.
Verbolten had to meet some demands seldom seen for a major attraction in the thrill ride industry. They included lap bars instead of shoulder harnesses, a 48-inch height minimum, and no inversion loops or corkscrews. This way, children can ride.
“Big Bad Wolf was often the ride parents used to introduce their children to coasters,” Giles said of the legacy of Verbolten’s predecessor, retired recently after 25 years. “We want Verbolten to fill the same role.”
One of Verbolten’s biggest bonuses is the speed at which lines will move. Each of the five trains holds 16 people, and two trains can be loaded simultaneously. Over the course of an hour up to 1,400 people can be moved through the ride. To test the theory, staff stood in line with riders during the soft opening, armed with watches to time the queue.
“It has exceeded my expectations,” Giles said of Verbolten, noting that in the months leading up to the opening the ride has been tweaked, including special effects inside a building built for the ride, timing a jaw-dropping free fall during which the coaster drops 16 feet in the dark, and delaying a brake just before the final hill, a 90-foot plunge toward the Rhine River.
“I think it’s pretty close to perfect.”
Verbolten is jaw-dropping
Fastest innovation is the line to wait
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