Specific Type: Steel, Out & Back, Terrain, Mega/Hyper-Coaster
Busch Gardens Williamsburg has always been known for unleashing world-class, top-quality rides to the world, and 1999 was the year that history repeated itself again. Bolliger and Mabillard were called in from Switzerland to bring to life their second coaster for the Williamsburg park, following 1997's hit inverted coaster Alpengeist. WithAlpengeist, the Swiss company had created a ride that focused on inversions, twister elements, and height, but for this thrill ride Busch Gardens wanted something that would serve up dramatic plunges and sheer speed to go along with the height. WhileAlpengeist 1997 coaster had been Bolliger and Mabillard's tallest and fastest ride up until that point, the next Williamsburg project would raise the bar once again.
On March 28th, 1999, Apollo's Chariot
© Busch Gardens Williamsburg
saw its inaugural flight as the theme park's first mega-coaster, using an out and back layout of 4,882 track feet to deliver a total of nine high-speed drops, the largest being 210 and 144 feet deep. Upon opening, the coaster grabbed the distinction of being Bolliger and Mabillard's first "Speed Coaster," the company's version of the modern-day mega-coaster, opening two months before sister Speed Coaster Raging Bull at Illinois' Six Flags Great America. Upon opening, it also made international headlines when model Fabio, who had been paid to play Apollo, was struck by a bird in the nose. Along with the unfortunate incident, another uniqueness of Apollo's Chariot upon debut was its raised seating. This means that the coaster, for the first time, used a unique type of seating that elevates riders' feet above the train's floor for a feeling of free-flight, and open-sided trains with single lap restraints to secure thirty-six riders at a time.
To accomplish the first 210-foot plunge, Busch Gardens took advantage of the theme park's terrain as done with the park's previous three major operating coasters, 1978's steel looping Loch Ness Monster, the late suspended coaster Big Bad Wolf, and the aforementioned Alpengeist. The inventive use of the natural Williamsburg topography is demonstrated by a 170-foot lift hill setting the course up for a major sixty-five-degree drop towards the park's river below, and two other plunges using the terrain in a significant fashion. One of those drops is a final five-story plunge and climb into the brakes intended to keep riders on the edge of their seats until the very end of the two-minute, fifteen-second experience.
Boarding in the park's Italy section, guests take their seats in a 4x9 configuration, secured by simple Y-shaped lap restraints, and Apollo begins by heading skyward up the slope of purple track to reach a summit of seventeen stories. Off to the left, the main parking lot. Off to the right, the Italy themed areas far below, with the park's other three major coasters, Loch Ness Monster, Alpengeist, and Griffon off in the distance. High above the lush green forest below, the ride warms up with a dip and Apollo's Chariotstarts off with the 210-foot nosedive from the sky at sixty-five degrees towards a river below.
Riders level out above water and the ride pulls out of the ravine at some seventy-three mph to ascend a second hill. The airtime heats up over the crest, and then the course takes a second downward plunge of 131 feet into a covered section of track. The non-stop action continues with a third hill topping off at fourteen stories, then the track takes on a sharp dive towards the river and into the far turnaround section. Spiraling counterclockwise, Apollo's Chariot winds around a double helix containing a 102-foot fan curve, encircling a natural hill as it goes. Passengers speed out of the helix by banking around to the right and then hopping up into a short run of block brakes.
Off of the brakes, Apollo dives forty-eight feet and flies over a hop before diving eighty-seven feet back into the ravine and paralleling the initial descent. The train navigates its way back up and underneath the yellow support columns for the lift hill in a quick S-curve maneuver ending in a thirty-eight foot left-hand dive. After a small sixteen-foot dip, the coaster takes riders down one last forty-nine-foot plunge and back up onto level track, with one final left U-turn back into the station.
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