Busch Gardens Roller Coaster Tour Part 2: Griffon After an in-depth look at Loch Ness Monster and two quick rides, the tour group headed over to Busch Gardens Europe’s newest roller coaster, Griffon. There, the behind-the-scenes access was taken to a whole new level. The group split up into two smaller groups. One group went to Griffon’s maintenance area while the other took the twenty story climb to Griffon’s peak. No, we didn’t have to climb stairs. We boarded an elevator that was attached to the ride’s lift hill. It looked like a series of stairs with eight or so seats with belt buckles. It slowly climbed at a the same 45-degree incline that the hill did. It consisted of eight or so seats with belt buckles and a completely open view to the park.
Once we reached the top, we exited onto the platform some 210′ above the ground. The ride itself seemed to sit on one of the highest parts of the park so Griffon’s peak dwarfed the surrounding rides and trees even more than you’d think. While on the platform, we were encourage to stay near the railing which wasn’t a problem for me. I’m used to heights, but usually when I’m up that high I’m strapped in nice and secure. This was a little scary even for a thrill junkie like myself. The Director of Operations, Derek Bowie explained how they’ve practiced evacuating riders with park employees from the platform. There were flat metal pieces that could be used to construct a floor around a train since the trains are floorless.
On Griffon, the wide (three rows of 10), 30 person trains reach the top of the lift at 210′. Then, as the train slowly makes its way to the 90 degree drop, it drops 5′ at a almost imperceptible rate. So while it’s listed at 205′ tall on RCDB, it’s actually a bit taller. Then, right at the crest of the drop brakes hold the train at the edge for five seconds. Bowie explained that the train isn’t really held completely still, it’s actually inching forward. Then the brakes release the train drops down the steep 200 foot drop at a 90-degree angle. At the front end of the lift hill right at the edge, Bowie pointed out Bolliger & Mabillard’s stairs to nowhere (seen left). They added a short set of stairs at the front edge of the hill to catch any workers who fell forward off of the platform near the drop.
The view of the park and the surrounding area was amazing. Out in the James River, I could just make out what the guides described as a ghost fleet of old historic boats (image here). If you’re not familiar with South East Virginia, there’s a lot of history with Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg nearby. If you’re thinking about doing the roller coaster tour and you’re not scared of heights, I’d recommend paying the extra amount for this part of the tour. It’s unforgettable and something that most people never get to do.
Back on the ground, we toured Griffon’s maintenance area. It was cool seeing the differences in technological advancements compared to Loch Ness Monster with almost 30 years between the two rides. Again, we got to check out the ride’s wheels. Griffon’s were much larger and heavier. Griffon rides outside of the track, rather than inside like like Loch Ness Monster.
A little known fact about Griffon: Busch Gardens wanted a dive roller coaster from Bolliger & Mabillard, but they wanted it to have a higher capacity than past dive coasters. For example, sister park Busch Gardens Tampa’s Sheikra holds 24 riders per train. After designing the ride, B&M told Busch that trains would be too heavy. They could either make reduce the number of seats or make the trains floorless. Busch opted for the floorless trains and thus they were able to tout the World’s first floorless dive coaster.
Next it was on to the station. We were able learn a bit about the loading and unloading process from the ride operation booth. The ride operator showed us how he can dispatch a train and slowly bring it back into the station if a rider is having second thoughts (freaking out) and wants to get off. We were then treated to two rides on Griffon. Again, we were able to choose our seats. I rode in the front middle and then in the back right. It’s one of those roller coasters that is much faster than it looks. The ride consists of the first 90-degree drop, a huge immelmann loop, second smaller 90-degree drop at the river, and tighter immelmann loop, and the splash finale.
Notes About Griffon’s Layout – The Second Loop & How the Splash Is Created
The operations manager shared that they wanted to build the second immelmann taller (maybe as tall as the first, I can’t remember), but they were limited by space. I’m actually glad that the second immelann is smaller. It has more of an intense fighter jet like twist to it and in my opinion the two different loops compliment each other.
The awesome splash finale that wows (and at times drenches) spectators is created via sets of scoops on the undersides of the trains. The train is actually making contact with the water and creating the splash unlike the splash created on SeaWorld’s Manta that is done via timed fountains. Lastly, I asked about the steel structure that the train passes through at the end of the ride right before hitting the station brakes. The blue steel beams match the track, but seem incomplete as they aren’t Euro-themed like the station and surrounding village area. Bowie explained that they needed to have something over the track as a safety measure because of the sky ride that passed over that portion of the ride. As a bonus, the structure creates a cool head chopper moment.