Busch Gardens Roller Coaster Tour Part 1

Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Roller Coaster Tour
Part 1: Loch Ness Monster & How Coasters Work 101

If you’re a roller coaster geek like myself, or just curious about how roller coasters work, Busch Gardens Roller Coaster Tour is for you. It gives unparalleled access to the these modern thrill machines as well as a ton of Roller Coaster Tour Groupinteresting tidbits of knowledge about Busch’s own collection of roller coasters. While I’m a long time roller coaster fan, I can say I learned a lot that I didn’t know about roller coaster operations. Read more about the Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s tours here and Busch Gardens Tampa’s tours here.

I arrived at the park around 8AM and joined the rest of the tour group. Groups can be no larger than 15 people and for that morning there were five in our group. We entered the empty, quiet park and headed immediately to the park’s oldest roller coaster, the Loch Ness Monster. Zach Gray was our tour guide for the day and he did a great job. I wouldn’t want to face him on Roller Coaster Jeopardy.

Loch Ness Monster – A Behind the Scenes Look
Tour Group in front of AlpengeistThe tour began as Zach led us down to the banks of the Rhine River. Here, you can stand under Loch Ness’ interlocking loops and also see Alpengeist and Griffon nearby.  The Loch Ness Monster was built in a different era of steel roller coaster construction. In 1978, Arrow Dynamics, didn’t have the computer technology that today’s designers use to design roller coasters. Back in those days, design as best they could, but then the builders would hand weld and work with the track on site. This impreciseness is similar to the the way wooden roller coasters are hand-Coming Out of Loch Ness Monster's Final Loopbuilt on-site. Zach pointed out the weld marks on Nessie’s supports and tracks. Today, builders like Bolliger & Mabillard design steel roller coasters on computers, manufacture the pieces to exact specifications, and bolt them together on-site like LEGO pieces.

To illustrate how imperfect a science roller coaster design was 30 years ago, Zach shared that the final piece of Loch Ness was way off. It was meant to take the train to the right and into the station, but instead it was angled to the left. He said that if they would’ve welded on the last piece as it arrived at the park, the train would’ve flew off the track and into the river. This was an interesting look into one reason why older steel coasters are as rough as they are.

The Belly of the Beast – Nessie’s Maintenance Area
The Chain Dog & Anti-Roll BackZach Shows the Group the Chain Dog & an Anti-Roll Back Ratchets Dog
Zach went over the chain and the anti-roll back dogs. Loch Ness had two sets of these racheting devices along the bottom of each train. The chain dog helps the trains engage the chain lift. And the anti-rollback dog keeps the trains from rolling backwards when they’re on the lift hill. The anti-rollback dog is responsible that metallic clickety-clack sound you always hear as you climb lifts. The maintenance manager showed us the hatch used to inspect Nessie’s trains. Via a ladder and a hatch, the maintenance workers inspect the underside of the Loch Ness Monster’s trains every 4 hours while they’re in the station above.

Where the Polyurethane Meets the Steel (or Doesn’t)
Checking Roller Coaster WheelsZach and the maintenance manager discussed wheel replacement. Loch Ness’ wheels have a steel hub surrounded by a layer of polyurethane. Each wheel is checked every morning for cracks in the polyurethane. Interestingly, there’s no set lifespan for the wheels. There were some wheels that had been on Nessie for a few years and others that had to be replaced after months.  They let us hold the wheels and even pose with them.

Zach shared that newer B&M coasters are designed with less than an inch of space between the wheels and the track. Neighboring rides Alpengeist and Griffon ride 1/8th and 1/16th of an inch off of their tracks respectively. This contrasts greatly with Loch Ness’ wheel-to-track spacing. This was very apparent when An Arrow Coaster's Wheels Not Touching the Track we got to the maintenance area below Loch Ness Monster’s station. There was the frame of a train from the defunct Python from sister park Busch Gardens Tampa. You can see from the picture to the right just how far some of the wheels are from the track. Zach also shared that not all three of the trains wheels are always touching the track at the same time. Again, it was great to finally know why Arrow coasters aren’t as smooth as other newer steel coasters. The three types of wheels that standard roller coasters have are the: upstop (the wheel below the track, not present in the picture), the running wheels (on top of the track), and the side friction wheels (inside the track).

Exclusive Ride Time on Loch Ness Monster
Me on Loch Ness MonsterAfter the in-depth tour, we made our way to the station for to take old Nessie for a spin. It was a completely different kind of experience after just learning all that went into its creation and what’s being done to keep going 30 years later. The five of us had a whole train to ourselves. I sat in the middle on the first ride and then in the front seat for the first time ever on the second ride. It was great. Nessie still provides a fun ride!

Read my complete review of Loch Ness Monster. Also, check out photos on my Facebook page from this part of the tour. The photos include pictures I took of some cool blueprints that were posted on the wall of the maintenance area. Just a note. You can take as many pictures as you want AND members of the tour staff take a ton of pictures of you on the tour.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Busch Gardens Roller Tour where I’ll share the Griffon portion of the tour including a trip to the ride’s 200-plus foot tall peak. Even though I’m no stranger to high altitudes, it was pretty scary.

What’s Your Take?
What did you think of Part 1 of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s roller coaster tour? Leave a comment below.