From Tame To Thrilling: The Roller Coasters of Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Update: Originally written in 2019, this list has been updated to include DarKoaster, which opened in 2023.
I consider Busch Gardens Williamsburg to be one of my “home away from home” parks. I try to make it to Busch Gardens at least once or twice a season, and have visited countless times since moving to North Carolina in 2000. Though Busch Gardens’ 10 roller coasters aren’t the “most” roller coasters for a park anywhere in the region, their uniqueness ensures that Busch Gardens Williamsburg has one of the most “complete” coaster portfolios at any park on the east coast.
With their uniqueness, the coasters at Busch Gardens Williamsburg provide not only a wide range of experiences, but also a natural progression of sorts that will help those who may be scared of roller coasters ease in to bigger and bigger roller coasters until they can eventually conquer all eight that the park has to offer. That means that for both “thrill junkies” and “thrill seekers in training,” Busch Gardens Williamsburg is the perfect park to visit.
To help potential visitors to Busch Gardens Williamsburg out, I’m going to attempt to create the natural progression of each of the park’s roller coasters, so that even if someone is apprehensive about riding roller coasters, they can eventually work their way up to riding all of the coasters at the park.
This list will be broken into three categories: Thrill Seekers In Training, Thrill Seekers, and Thrill Junkies.
Level I: Thrill Seekers in Training
1) Grover’s Alpine Express
It would make sense that Grover’s Alpine Express, the first coaster on our list, is located in one of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s “Kids” areas, Sesame Street Forest of Fun, because it’s the perfect “starter” coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Riders will “swoosh through snow covered mountains with Grover.” However, these mountains aren’t that tall, as the Zierer 190 coaster only has a maximum height of 24′ and a track length of 600′, making Grover’s Alpine Express a fun “kiddie” coaster. It also has a very reasonable height requirement: Children must be 41″ to ride alone; 38″-41″ must be accompanied by a supervising companion ages 14 or older.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s lone wooden coaster, InvadR is next on our list. Though not quite considered a “family” coaster, InvadR’s relatively short track length, and height of less than 75′ make it a logical step up in Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s coaster progression, and make it a great option for those thrill seekers in training (and at least 46″ tall) who are looking for one of their first “big” coaster rides. For coaster enthusiasts, just because it’s number 2 on our list, doesn’t mean that it’s a sleeper. There are several great air-time moments, and a great first drop that features a unique “head-chopper” element! (Not to mention, Busch Gardens Williamsburg utilized the trains from Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa.)
Opened in 2023, DarKoaster occupies the same building as Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s former “Curse of DarKastle” Dark Ride. Featuring approximately 1,400′ of track (but 2,400′ of total track traversed), North America’s only all-indoor “straddle” coaster provides a great “bridge” between the “thrill seekers in training” and the next level on this list, “thrill seekers.” The coaster itself features two sections of launch track (four total launches) that take riders up to a maximum speed of 36 miles per hour. That may not seem fast, but with those launches, and the entirety of the coaster taking place in the dark, DarKoaster feels faster than it reads statistically. This coaster could very easily slide into the #2 coaster on this list, but its 48″ height requirement means that InvadR is just a little more accessible for “coaster enthusiasts in training.”
Level II: Thrill Seekers
The first coaster in our “thrill seekers” category is the second Zierer coaster on our list, Verbolten. A ride on Verbolten starts innocently enough as riders meander through an S-curve before being launched into the darkness of the Black Forest. While we won’t spoil what’s inside the forest, after you come out, you’re launched again into one of Verbolten’s signature elements, an 88′ drop over Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Rhine River. Verbolten comes in at third on our list because even with it’s fast speeds and launches, it’s an incredibly smooth ride, and great for those wanting a some speed and a little surprise without the fear of going upside down!
5) Loch Ness Monster
The interlocking loops of Loch Ness Monster come in at fourth on our list, just for the sense of being upside down. Celebrating its 41st year of operation in 2019, Loch Ness Monster provides classic roller coaster thrills, but still isn’t too intense for riders who might be a little scared. Though when it opened in 1978, its top speed of 60mph and height of 130′ were record breaking statistics, those records have long since been eclipsed by other roller coasters, including several that rank further down on this list. Even if you’re unsure of your willingness to tame “Nessie,” be sure to head down to the bridge between Heatherdowns and Germany to get a look at it’s interlocking loops up close!
6) Apollo’s Chariot
Apollo’s Chariot could easily fall into the next level of “thrill junkies,” but in order to balance out the list a little better, B&M’s first Hypercoaster also fits well at the top of the “thrill seekers” category. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2019, Apollo’s Chariot remains butter smooth, and if you can get over the height, its a fantastic ride. All in all, there are 9 drops on Apollo’s Chariot, making up 825′ of the nearly 4,900′ feet of track. You’ll reach a top speed of 73mph, but there is so much floater airtime that you will hardly notice the speed! If you can conquer Apollo’s Chariot, you’re probably ready for the remaining coasters on our list, those reserved for “Thrill Junkies!”
Level III: Thrill Junkies
Like Apollo’s Chariot, Busch Gardens’ floorless dive coaster Griffon also reaches heights above 200′ with its 205′ tall drop. Unlike Apollo’s Chariot, Griffon takes that drop at 90º, and launches immediately into the first of two immelman loop inversions. Griffon then repeats these elements again on a smaller scale before a splash down finale. (But don’t worry, you’re not getting wet.) All of this while there’s no floor under your seat, and you’re either looking straight down at the track rushing underneath you, or if you’re on the “wing” seats, there’s nothing below you except the ground (or the sky, in the case of the immelmans.) It’s the perfect way to kick off the “Thrill Junkies” category.
Though not as tall or as fast as Griffon, Tempesto, a “Sky Rocket II” model from Premier Rides takes the intensity of Griffon up a notch. Tempesto launches riders not once, not twice, but three times in total, twice forwards, and once in reverse before climbing straight up 150′ into the sky. Riders then will go through what seems like an impossibly slow roll at the top of the track before diving straight down, into a non-inverting loop, and back through the station. It’s a quick experience, as Tempesto has less than 900′ feet of track, but it can be down right terrifying if you’re not ready for it.
The penultimate coaster on our list is Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s B&M invert, Alpengeist. Translated to “ghost of the alps” in German, Alpengeist has a little bit of everything when it comes to overall roller coaster intensity. It’s 195′ height makes it the tallest “complete circuit” inverted coaster. Its six inversions give it the most on any roller coaster in the entire state of Virginia. All the while, your feet are dangling with nothing between you and the ground. You will truly feel like you’re on a runaway ski lift during the 3:10 ride cycle.
Busch Gardens’ second-newest coaster is definitely its most thrilling. Fueled by the power of five Roman Gods, Pantheon features a wide variety of elements that make it the most terrifying coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. There’s a vertical spike, a beyond-vertical drop, a zero-G stall, a banana roll inversion, and more sideways airtime than nearly any other coaster we’ve ever ridden. The multi-launch coaster will leave you speechless, in a good way.
But once you’ve conquered the Power of Five Roman Gods, you’ll be ready for any ride at Busch Gardens Williamsburg!