It’s the middle of quarantine. What else is there to say?
With all the new free time we have on account of that, let’s pass the time with a deep dive on one of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s queen of screams. I wish that’d be by riding Verbolten, but we can’t do that at the moment so now we’re here. Whatever here is…
Verbolten Origins: Birth of the Black Forest
Verbolten is my spirit coaster.
I knew my adrenaline addiction long before I realized that I’m equally in love with story worlds and thematics. And, Verbolten is what brought about that realization.
Naturally, there’s no talk of Verbolten without mentioning its predecessor Big Bad Wolf.
When the Wolf closed in 2009, I was a wee lass of 11 years. I can still recall the old station’s various shades of brown woods, the red overhead track of the Wolf, and its golf club looking cars swinging about its path. I can also still remember my 11 years old self leading the pack on my own in the front row for my last ride in 2009.
It was another two years before Verbolten was announced. And when it was, you bet I was sitting in the Festhaus hyped up as all get out.
At the time, Busch Gardens Williamsburg would hold an annual passholder meeting where they’d recap the season, promote the upcoming season of Howl O Scream, and tease at what was in store for the next year.
Thusly, Verbolten’s logo descended the old Oktoberfest stage in a swirl of fog with confetti and storm sound effects to boot. Come May 2012, a new multi-launch coaster with an indoor section and an outdoor section was going to be taking park guests on a car ride in the German countryside… and into the dark Black Forest.
The indoor-outdoor roller coaster would be the centerpiece of the Busch Gardens’ Oktoberfest village transformation, which brought about a new pretzel restaurant and the park’s 240-foot drop tower (RIP too, Mach Tower).
When Busch was sifting through names for it, I had no doubt Verbolten would win out. It just fit. Other name potentials included: Revenge of the Black Forest, Black Forest Turbo, and Uberbahn. These names were disclosed in a survey the park sent.
Verbolten itself is a play on the German word verboten, which means forbidden, and bolt, which refers to the Lightning Storm entity we’ll learn more about later.
I kept track of the coaster’s progress, re-watched the teaser countless times, memorized the color of each car with its corresponding license plate… And while I remember when Griffon was in the works, Verbolten was something I grew up with from teaser to hard hat tour to pre-opening celebrations, opening day and now present day. So for this one, it holds greater sentiment.
Brothers Grimm: The Storm, The Wolves, & The Spirit
Back when Busch regularly blogged, they posted a contest to enter. Verbolten’s track had been completed, they had begun working on scenery, and you could now enter for a chance to tour the construction site.
Surprise, surprise, I entered… and won. I really didn’t expect to get it (I didn’t know if being only 14 would hinder my chances), but nevertheless, my name made it on the list of winners. I subsequently missed school that Thursday to go on the Hard Hat Tour with zero regrets then and now.
It kickstarted with taking a tram back to the parking lot behind DarKastle (RIP). They had a line of tables in front of the Festhaus with Verbolten themed hard hats, laminated passes, and Black Forest themed lunches for everyone in the tour. These lunches consisted of Black Forest ham sandwiches, an apple, a pickle, chips, and a cookie.
We first went to the entrance, where the hotel facade hadn’t been painted yet, and went over the theme of the ride.
German brother Gunter and sister Gerta ran the Black Forest Motor Tours, renting out European roadsters to tourists. Tourists who had been warned to not approach the edge of the Black Forest, because people were disappearing without a trace and mysterious paranormal activity was rampant.
These same tourists who’d stumbled upon Gunter’s office where luggage of the missing folks, forest cams of eerie activity, and distress call voicemails were kept. And, tourists who would then end up in the Black Forest anyways to no great surprise. At which point, one of three sequences would play out.
In one, the Lightning Storm terrorizes the roadster. If a roadster doesn’t enter the dark forest on its own accord, the Storm is shown in media to do a lightning strike in front of the car to cause it to swerve astray into the woods. In the second, the Big Bad Wolves hunt the roadster. In the third, the Spirit of the Forest haunts the roadster. Like the Storm, if the car is merely passing the Forest, the Spirit will lure the roadster in by manifesting as an apparition of a woman who initially seems peaceful before turning on the car of tourists once they’re inside.
Media has also revealed that the roadsters can be possessed and suddenly careen into the woods without warning if they stray too close–a capability that would likely be exclusive to the Spirit. This latter manner of entering the Black Forest is what’s depicted in the ride in its first launch.
As per the second launch, after facing a direct attack from one of the three entities that resulted in the free-fall drop, the roadster manages a quick escape before running off of an old covered bridge. Recovering from the plunge to the Rhine River, the tourists return back to the Black Forest Motor Tours and likely want a refund.
Busch Gardens’ Vice President of Engineering, Larry Giles, (who was leading the tour) said from queue to exit, the ride featured over 50 different scenes depicting the story. Afterwards, we went through the queue that was only partially done by that point, going over which room would be the tourist agency’s check in and the other that is now Gunter’s office.
They also gave us fact sheets with the ride’s stats and the backstories about the ride’s characters.
The next stop was the ride’s gutted and not yet painted station, where they went over how it’d look when finished and how the dual loading system would work. My favorite part was getting to go inside the event building. The only condition was we couldn’t take any pictures in there. Apparently the three entities are camera shy. But we were still able to take pictures of everything else outside of the show building.
None of the theming was up yet, but it was neat getting to see the drop track and touch the coaster’s support columns. It’s not a tall ride, but when you’re standing at its footer, you definitely feel small.
That all concluded with heading to the Oktoberfest bridge and seeing the final drop. The frame at the top of the hill was there without its roof.
The park president and the president of engineering fielded questions about the ride. And then, we were free to leave or linger around Oktoberfest for more pictures or talk with anyone from the ride’s development team.
About a month after it ended, everyone from the tour was invited to go to the coaster’s VIP party the night before it’s opening. They laid out a red carpet, gave out free Verbolten shirts, had all sorts characters out from the ride (Gerta, Gunter, townspeople/tourists), a live band, various foods and drinks themed to Verbolten by the gift shop, and the coaster was open to ride as many times you’d like with no line.
(Can’t continue without throwing this out here. The only Verbolten themed recipe I managed to memorize was the Verboltini: cranberry juice, triple sec, and vodka. You can find more theme park recipes here.)
The ride opened the next day, May 18th, to all sorts of Oktoberfest festivities.
I’ve always been a fan of German folklore. My inner horror fanatic also loves how twisted and offbeat some of the Brothers Grimm tales can be. So, the spooky, mysterious lore of the ride’s theme in the Black Forest had me suckered from the moment of its inception.
Braving the Black Forest
Verbolten is a multi-launch, indoor/outdoor family coaster featuring special effects and a free fall drop. Its top speed is 53 mph, drop is 88 feet, and spans a fair 2,835 feet in length. It has five ride vehicles with unique paint jobs and license plates for each, two LSM launches, a freefall drop section, and three scenarios in the event building (Spirit of the Forest, Lightning Storm, & Big Bad Wolves).
The short version of the ride’s story line: you’re renting a car from a German tourist agency and get lured into the Black Forest before encountering one of the three forest entities just to escape in the nick of time. The regular version is a tad longer. One of the ride’s creative designers said there’s about 54 scenes from beginning to end in its story board.
Out front, you come across the Inn of the Black Forest Motor Tours where a wrecked roadster sits out front with vines from the Black Forest overtaking it. You enter through the gardens outside the agency before coming to the check in center where you meet Gerta.
Gerta is the bubbly, wired one of the duo. Always bouncing excitedly, twirling a blonde braid, and knows no stranger. Gunter is the more relaxed, laid back one. A bit aloof, he’s obsessed with studying the Black Forest, taking samples, searching for lost guests, and is in charge of renting out the roadsters.
After checking in with Gerta, you head to the garage. On the way, you pass all sorts of trinkets, luggage, posters, and other artifacts that are actual German souvenirs the ride designers got from their field trip to Germany. The same goes for the decor in the next room, Gunter’s office.
I forgot the exact number, but there’s over 100 authentic vintage suitcases and luggage throughout the queue. His office also has a meter for the paranormal activity occurring in the Black Forest, security cameras set up in the woods, and a loop of voicemails left by lost tourists seeking help. From there, you enter the garage where the roadsters await.
Gerta offers one last travel tip, “Don’t look back as you brave the Black Forest.” And, everyone who’s ever ridden Verbolten has Gerta’s spiel permanently seared in their brain.
You then start out across the German countryside when you get lured into a right turn into the woods by a peaceful sounding woman.
Said deceivingly innocent woman is actually the Spirit of the Forest who likes to toy with and torment roadsters full of susceptible tourists. Because as it turns out, the Black Forest that’s inspired various macabre fairytale stories is pretty macabre itself/herself. The second entity of the Black Forest is the Lightning Storm; a wicked spectacle of chaotic winds, disorienting strobe lightning lighting up the complete darkness, and deafening thunder.
The last but not least is the tribute to Big Bad Wolf, the Big Bad Wolves; a wolf pack who carries on the legacy of the Wolf and terrorizes any tourists who wandered into the wrong parts of Germany. Their glowing red eyes and haunting howls stalk the themed trains.
Each of the three entities alternate and feature their own special effects in the event building. So, odds are if you ride Verbolten multiple times, you’ll eventually experience all three.
The mid course brake run is when the entities special effects sequence begins. You’ll either hear thunder (Storm), howling (Wolves), or eerie music (Spirit) as you slow down halfway through the indoor segment.
Regardless of which entity you face, they launch their respective attack in which you experience the free fall drop before catching a second wind and entering the second launch out of the Forest. In a panic, you drive up on and off a bridge that was blocked off, leading to the final section–a huge drop down to the Rhine and several high-speed turns.
Fortunately, you’re able to get the roadster back under control and rush back to the safety of the tourist agency, the final brake run.
Gunter’s Note Log
The German autobahn themed cars used to film your ride through an on-board video system that isn’t utilized anymore. But the still operational photo op for Verbolten is located just before the last turn back into the station.
At night, the lights on the cars light up to resemble their real life counterparts, the Mini Cooper.
And while I don’t recall the exact price numbers of different elements of the ride, there was a time where I’d heard that the rear-view mirrors that used to be on the trains were roughly $300 each. Those have since disappeared as people kept popping them off and stealing them, because we can’t have nice things.
I’d also heard that each of the authentic car tires on the trains were in the thousands of dollars price range, but that may not be exact. It’s been a hot minute since 2012 and at one point, the Hard Hat/VIP folks had access to a website that had a lot of ride stats and fun facts on it, but that site’s since bit the dust.
One final honorable mention is that the ride did cost the park a total of $53 million and therefore wears the crown of Busch’s most expensive new roller coaster.
Gerta’s Parting Word
Verbolten is a great ride, one of the best coasters, and the best family coaster you could ask for. It combines the fun ride of launch coasters and strengths of a dark ride to create an all around amazing ride that’s, needless to say, my personal favorite at Busch and tied overall with Flight of Fear at Kings Dominion.
If you ever visit Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the entities will haunt you if you don’t ride Verbolten. I don’t make the rules.
So, hop in a roadster and brave the Black Forest!
Fix From Home
There’s a ton of Verbolten related material on the web. But here’s a little directory to some of those sources; just remember, don’t look back~