DarKoaster Thrills at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Busch Gardens Williamsburg visitors are challenged to brave the storm on DarKoaster, the haunting new Intamin straddle coaster that opened to the public on May 19. On May 18, IAAPA News was invited to venture onto the grounds of the ominous Bavarian castle and experience the park’s first all-indoor, family-oriented launch coaster. The attraction replaces the Curse of DarKastle dark ride, expanding upon its predecessor’s storyline and repurposing the building’s space.
Team members at the forefront of the project share with IAAPA the considerations, successes, and challenges they faced while developing the new coaster.
Satisfying Loyal Visitors
The Curse of DarKastle attraction opened in 2005 and accumulated a cult following composed of annual passholders and returning guests. When the attraction was shuttered in September 2017, fans were disappointed to see the experience retire. The sore feelings around the closure remained in team members’ minds as DarKoaster’s development began, and the decision was made to retain elements of the story and theme—a choice that was not only cost-effective, but also delighted longtime park visitors.
“When we took out the Curse of DarKastle attraction, we realized that it was near and dear to a lot of our cast members and our extended Busch Gardens family. So, when we were looking to revitalize and reimagine this attraction space, we really wanted to pay homage to the original Curse of DarKastle attraction and look for new opportunities to tell the second chapter of that story,” shares Jeff Hornick, vice president of attraction design and development for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.
Overcoming Space Constraints
Designing a coaster where guests experience 2,400 feet of track entirely within an existing building was a daunting task. To make matters more complicated, when it was time to report building dimensions to Intamin, the space—which had been used following DarKastle’s closure for Howl-O-Scream, Santa’s Workshop, and other events—was still full of mazes and other obstacles.
The solution? Enlisting a 3D survey company to precisely measure the building’s dimensions with items still inside the building. The survey also allowed Busch Gardens to convey any added fixtures that were not yet installed when the structure was built.
“We had the drawings of the existing building, but there’s also duct work in the building, and fire alarm devices, different things that were added that weren’t just structural,” explains Suzy Cheely, vice president of design and engineering for Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA. “We wanted to make sure that when they designed their track in the building, that they weren’t going to hit any of that. So, we had the survey done, and the company came in and they put these points in the building, and then they used lasers to get the dimensions.”
Facilitating Seamless Operations
Cheely and her team grew accustomed to the intricacies of track switches during the development of Pantheon, a steel coaster that opened at the park in March 2022. However, while Pantheon only has one, DarKoaster features two—and there is a clever strategy behind the decision to implement them.
“There’s really 1,400 feet of track, but you’re experiencing 2,400 feet of track, because you’re going around twice,” reveals Cheely. Addressing the problem of limited space, the track switches allow riders to enjoy a longer and more exciting experience.
“Being in that straddle position as you’re launching four times up to 36 miles per hour in the dark, going through the thrilling series of twists and turns and surprises along the way, makes for a very exciting family thrill experience,” says Hornick.
Safety and operational efficiency are crucial considerations as well. “The track switches, they have to be very precise,” Cheely says. “So, the maintenance guys have worked with Intamin on making sure that they are very precise, and they stay that way.”