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New thrills, huge spills: Nearby theme parks introducing new rollercoasters in quest to attract visitors

An unidentified worker pieces together the track for the new Verbolten roller coaster scheduled to open this year at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. It is one of three new roller coasters opening in the region.
An unidentified worker pieces together the track for the new Verbolten roller coaster scheduled to open this year at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. It is one of three new roller coasters opening in the region. (Submitted Photo , Carroll County Times)

The Busch Gardens Williamsburg train slowly chugged past a construction site at the theme park last summer.

It was a not-so-subtle signal that the ever-changing theme park was about to add a new ride.

Later this spring, Verbolten, a launch coaster with an 88-foot final drop, is expected to open at the theme park. The multi-launch coaster will replace The Big Bad Wolf, a popular ride that was retired three years ago after its 25th season of service.

In a competitive market, theme parks must do everything they can to entice patrons, said Pete Trabucco, a roller coaster enthusiast and the author of "America's Top Roller Coasters and Amusement Parks."

It requires adding new thrill-seeking, state-of-the-art roller coasters often. This year, three theme parks in the region are adding new ones.

Verbolten, which reaches a maximum speed of 53 mph, will debut at Busch Gardens May 18.

Skyrush will open as the first 200-foot roller coaster at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa., this summer.

Apocalypse, which reaches 55 mph during its two-minute journey, debuts May 25 at Six Flags America near Largo.

New attractions are just as commonplace as gift shops, long lines and stage shows at theme parks.

"It's a business," Trabucco said. "In order to keep up with the Joneses, you need something new and improved. It's like anything else in life: People are looking to go bigger, better and faster. They want more fun and more thrills."

He offered four reasons why million-dollar roller coaster projects continue to pop up year after year at parks throughout the country.

Visitors want new thrills: For roller coaster enthusiasts like Trabucco, the excitement of getting to experience a new attraction leads them back to theme parks.

Without new rides, attractions can become stale. The larger and the faster the ride, the more excitement it generates, Trabucco said.

Quotable: "There's got to be a reason to go to that park," he said. "It has to be an attraction that is different. It's one of the reasons [operators] are willing to invest the money."

The sky line changes: Skyrush, Hersheypark's 12th roller coaster, will allow riders to soar 20 stories to the top before plunging at a top speed of 75 mph.

In addition to being the fastest and longest coaster in the park's history, it's also the tallest.

The coaster will redefine how the park looks to visitors both inside and outside the area, Trabucco said.

All visitors will have to do is look up, see the new ride and the excitement will build. The 250-foot Kissing Tower now has company above Hersheypark.

Quotable: "It's going to be tall enough that you are going to be able to notice it," Trabucco said. "They've come to the next level. They've definitely gotten a coaster that everybody wants to come to. Even though the others are great, this one is, by far, one of the biggest endeavors they have taken on."

Older rides are no longer worth maintaining: At some point, every ride reaches a point where it becomes too expensive to maintain and not as popular as it once was.

The Big Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens qualified, Trabucco said. It had a long run at the theme park and was popular with younger riders, he said. It's been replaced in the park's Oktoberfest Village by Verbolten, which has two launches, sound and light effects, high speed turns and an 88-foot final drop.

Quotable: "Big Bad Wolf was a fantastic ride and it was one we all loved," he said. "They decided to go and put another ride in. They want to improve these rides and get more people in. It's an investment."

Name recognition: The competition to build the sleekest, fastest coasters that stretch the capabilities of technology is constant, Trabucco said.

Thus, amusement park owners are always looking to add rides that people remember, either for the clever story being told or for the spine-tingling excitement of the breakneck speeds and steep descents.

The cost of creating a roller coaster can reach $20 million or more, Trabucco said. But owners are willing to absorb the up-front costs to get a ride people will talk about and visit for years to come.

Quotable: "Each park now seems to have a signature ride that maybe not separates them from the others but includes them as a destination park," he said.

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