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The History Of Busch Gardens Williamsburg
By Chris Posted in Featured on August 22, 2009 0 Comments 21 min read
The Big Bad Wolf, A History Previous Next

[iconbox title=”This Post Is Outdated” icon=”warning”]You can find the updated version on the ParkFans Wiki, here.[/iconbox]

The Virginia Busch Gardens opened on May 16, 1975 in James City County, which encircles the small independent city of Williamsburg. The park is roughly 3 miles from Colonial Williamsburg. The theme of this park is a European one with 10 separate areas (Banbury Cross, Heatherdowns, Killarney, San Marco, Festa Italia, Rhinefield, Oktoberfest, Aquitaine, New France and the new, Sesame Street Forest of Fun).
Like the other parks in the Busch Gardens family, this park is located next to an Anheuser-Busch brewery. The park originally opened as Busch Gardens: The Old Country and operated as such until the early 90’s when the park was renamed Busch Gardens Williamsburg. In 2006 the park took the name Busch Gardens Europe and in 2008 was again renamed Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Like the Tampa park, there was originally a monorail operating to take park guests from the park to the brewery and offered free beer tastings. The monorail was eventually closed and beer tasting was moved inside the park. Currently there are no free beer tastings in the park.
Basic Timeline Of Events:
1975 – Busch Gardens opens with England, Scotland, France and Germany
1976 – Oktoberfest opens
1978 – Loch Ness Monster opens
1980 – Italy opens as the park’s fifth country
1984 – The Big Bad Wolf opens
1987 – Festa Italia area opens
1988 – Roman Rapids opens
1988 – Gladiator’s Gauntlet opens
1990 – Questor is opened
1992 – Drachen Fire opens
1993 – Haunts of the Olde Country premiers at the Globe Theater in Banbury Cross and Gladiator’s Gauntlet is closed.
1994 – Land of Dragons children’s attraction opens
1995 – Escape From Pompeii opens
– Wild Izzy opens in celebration of the Olympic Games in Atlanta. The ride was renamed Wild Maus the following year.
– King Arthur’s Challenge replaces Questor
1997 – Alpengeist opens
– “Pirates” a 4-D show opens at the Globe Theater in England replacing Haunts of the Olde Country.

  • “American Jukebox” opens at the Canadian Palladium

  • Drachen Fire is closed mid-season

– Apollo’s Chariot opens

  • Howl-O-Scream debuts

2000 – Jack Hanna Wild Reserve opens
2001 – Ireland becomes the sixth country in the park, replacing a section formerly called Hastings which was considered part of England. Corkscrew Hill replaces King Arthur’s Challenge.
2002 – Drachen Fire is dismantled and the steel is melted down.
2003 – Haunted Lighthouse replaces Pirates! 4-D in Globe Theater.
2005 – Curse of DarKastle opens in the spot Wild Maus was located
2006 – “Emerald Beat” and “Kinetix” opens
2007 – Griffon opens
– Sesame Street Forest of Fun opens

  • Busch Gardens announces Christmas Town

  • The retirement of The Big Bad Wolf is announced. The ride will cease operation after Labor Day 2009.

  • Busch Gardens Williamsburg as well as all of the other nine parks operated by Busch Entertainment Corporation are sold to the Blackstone Group, a private equity company. The name of the company subsequently changes from Busch Entertainment Corporation to SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

– Corkscrew Hill is replaced by Europe In The Air.

  • IllumiNights premiers as a new event.

  • The park hosts an ASA Action Sports World Tour event.

  • Christmas Town is expanded to include Italy and extended to Dec. 31st.


The Roller Coasters:

The park opened with three roller coasters, none of which are still located in the park.
Die Wildkatze: 1976-1983

Opened: 1976
Closed: 1983
Make: Schwarzkopf
Designer: Ing.-Büro Stengel GmbH
Length: 1509′ 2″
Height: 44′ 3″

Located where the Big Bad Wolf station currently is.

Das Kätzchen: 1976-1984

Opened: 1976
Closed: 1984

Glissade: 1975-1985

Opened: 1975
Closed: 1985
Make: Schwarzkopf
Designer: Ing.-Büro Stengel GmbH

Located where DarKastle is now.

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This is video of Glissade in it’s current location at a park in Mexico
Loch Ness Monster:

Opened: 1978
Make: Arrow
Designer: Ron Toomer
Length: 3240′
Height: 130′
1st Drop: 114′ 2″
Top Speed: 60 mph
Duration: 2:10

Shortly after opening, Busch Gardens had Loch Ness Monster built. The ride began operation in 1978 and at that time was the world’s tallest roller coaster (it kept this title until 1983). Loch Ness is also famous for its interlocking loops. This feature was also a first, adding to the revolutionary aspects of this coaster. Loch Ness is an ACE Coaster Landmark. It’s location in the park, small footprint and reputation mean that it will likely never be removed from the park.

The Loch Ness trains under construction.

Arrow promotional video

This footage is from 1995 & 1996, just prior to the construction of Alpengeist.
Construction Pictures:
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Big Bad Wolf:

Opened: 1984
Closed: 2009
Make: Arrow
Designer: Ron Toomer
Length: 2800′
Height: 100′
2nd Drop: 80′
Top Speed: 48 mph
Duration: 3:00

A new coaster was not added to the park until the 1984 season. That season Big Bad Wolf became an extremely popular attraction and is considered possibly the best suspended roller coaster in the world aided by the theming and its fit into the land.
The ride that existed in the spot the Big Bad Wolf’s station is currently located, Die Wildkatze, was designed by Anton Schwarzkopf. Busch decided to go back to this designer for a new “flying coaster”, something that had never been built in any other theme park. The footings for the ride were laid, but before the ride could be completed the design company went through bankruptcy and the project was given to Arrow Dynamics, who had built the immensely popular Loch Ness Monster almost a decade earlier. Arrow had their own take on the “flying coaster”, which had gone through some revisions prior to being built in Busch.
Big Bad Wolf was yet another win for Busch Gardens as it was a ride completed with great theming and ride aspects that hadn’t been seen before. Originally the final drop over the Rhine was compete with a mist that the train would travel through. In recent years the misting machines have remained inactive.
Busch Gardens has confirmed that Big Bad Wolf will cease operation after Labor Day 2009. The ride will be dismantled during off hours during the remainder of the season. The park has not stated what will be replacing the classic coaster. On a personal note, I was born in 1984, the same year Big Bad Wolf began operation so I have never been to Busch Gardens without this ride there and this was the first roller coaster I ever went on. Visiting the park without BBW will be strange, especially as it’s being dismantled during the fall.
I do believe that the clearing of this ride is likely in order to expand the park with a new section. This removal will create an even larger empty space as it is located next to the empty land where Drachen Fire once stood. Also, the fact that the ride is being taken down during the season rather than after the season indicates management probably has a timeline in place for a new project. There have been significant rumors for at least three years that Busch has been planning to contract two flying coasters for their parks (one in Tampa and one in Williamsburg), this would certainly be a welcome addition for most as it would most likely involve a drop over the Rhine River. Busch Gardens usually doesn’t remove an attraction without having a replacement planned.

Arrow promotional video. Note how quickly the train goes through the brake section and on to the second lift hill.


The Final Day of Operation
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There was again a relatively long period of time before Busch Gardens would throw it’s hat in the ring in the international coaster arms race.
Drachen Fire:

Opened: 1992
Closed: 1998
Dismantled: 2002
Make: Arrow
Designer: Ron Toomer
Length: 3550′
Height: 150′
1st Drop: 145′
Top Speed: 60 mph

In 1992 Busch Gardens opened Drachen Fire in the Oktoberfest section of the park. This ride again featured elements that had never been seen in any coaster before it including the inversion mid-way through the first drop. While this ride seemed to be a revolutionary step forward for roller coasters, it was actually a ride that was built by a designer that wasn’t able to keep up with the advancements happening in the coaster world.
The History:
Busch Gardens normally builds complementing rides in their Tampa and Williamsburg parks (Alpengeist/Montu, Griffon/Sheikra). This was the case with Drachen Fire as well. Busch contacted a new, young company to design two new coasters for their parks, this young company was Bolliger & Mabillard. B&M was unable to complete two coasters for Busch as they were designing two stand up rides as well as about to debut their first inverted coaster, therefore it was decided that Kumba would be built in Tampa by B&M, and the Williamsburg coaster was going to be designed by the creators of the popular Big Bad Wolf and Loch Ness Monster. The results speak for themselves, Kumba is still in operation and very popular, while Drachen Fire closed six years after it opened.
The elements Arrow tried to include in the new ride were far beyond the level of evolution their designs had undergone naturally and lead to poorly executed entries into inversions. It was not possible to pull these elements off smoothly due to the design of the trains and where the center of gravity was placed. B&M designs place the center of gravity at the rider’s heart, while Arrow designs leave the center of gravity at the center of the train. One clear demonstration of this in action is, when riding Loch Ness, if you are in the front car you are pulled forward while going through the loops, in the back car, you are pushed back. On the other hand, you remain stable going through loops on B&M designs. It is possible that if Arrow had not tried to match the design elements B&M was creating, the ride would not have matched the new class of coasters, but would still be in operation.
There are some that do not believe that B&M was the original designer for this ride because there is no absolute evidence acknowledging this is the case. The fact that there are no official documents showing this was the case is not surprising as any documents were likely destroyed along with the agreement for B&M to complete the Williamsburg coaster. However, if more evidence of B&M’s influence on the project is needed, one needs only to compare the design of Drachen Fire to the design of all other Arrow rides. The Arrow “Batwing” appears on no other Arrow designs. It is an element included in many B&M designs including Kumba, but called a Cobra Roll. The interlocking corkscrews are also an element seen on Kumba and missing on other Arrow Designs. The support system is also one that was a change from the standard Arrow system and looked more like a B&M system.
The Failures:
The new trains for the ride went the opposite direction of B&M trains. Instead of allowing for greater freedom of movement, the new designs boxed the riders in. Complaints of roughness plagued the ride from the beginning of its operation. In 1994 the first corkscrew (immediately following the brake section after the Batwing) was removed to reduce the strain on passengers, but it wasn’t enough and the ride close in the middle of the season (July 11) 1998.
The train was running on Opening Day in 2001 but was never reopened. The coaster was finally taken down in 2002 and sold as scrap. The original station still remains and is now used as a scare zone for howl o scream and the land is used to host concerts for the parks Summer Concert Series.
See an in depth history of the coaster HERE


Land usage for Howl O Scream. You can see the old station at 0:23.
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Wild Maus:

Opened: 1996
Closed: 2003 (Moved to Busch Gardens Tampa)
Make: Mack
Designer: Ing.-Büro Stengel GmbH
Length: 1213′ 11″
Height: 45′ 11″
Top Speed: 28 mph
Duration: 1:50

To celebrate the 1996 Olympic Games, Busch built a Wild Mouse ride and named it Wild Izzy after the Olympic mascot for those games. The ride was meant to be a temporary attraction that was to be dismantled after the 1996 season but proved so popular it was left in the park and renamed Wild Maus to fit the theming of the Oktoberfest area it was located in. 2003 was the final season of operation for Wild Maus at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, it was moved to the Tampa park and renamed Cheetah Chase for the 2004 season. Curse of DarKastle is now located in the spot Wild Maus was.

This video is of Cheetah Chase in Tampa.

Opened: 1997
Make: Bolliger & Mabillard
Designer: Ing.-Büro Stengel GmbH
General Contractor: Armada Hoffler, Inc.
Architect: Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets, Inc.
Theming Design: Suzanne Sessions, Inc.
Length: 3828′
Height: 195′
1st Drop: 170′
Top Speed: 67 mph
Duration: 3:10

The year before Drachen Fire was closed Busch added another record breaking roller coaster. Alpengeist was the tallest and fastest inverted coaster in the world; it also had more inversions than any inverted coaster at that time. Once again theming and landscaping made a great ride even better as the coaster winds through the dense trees and through a ravine.


There used to be a photo section directly after the loop housed in the little house the coaster goes through. This was removed from the ride a few years ago. Apparently the reason it was removed was because the pictures of the riders in the middle two seats were never very good quality and no row (other than the first) could be captured in one picture.
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Apollo’s Chariot:

Opened: 1999
Make: Bolliger & Mabillard
Designer: Ing.-Büro Stengel GmbH
Length: 4882′
Height: 170′
1st Drop: 210′
Top Speed: 73 mph
Duration: 2:15

Two years after Alpengeist was built Busch built another record breaking coaster. Apollo’s Chariot opened up in 1999 and featured a first drop of 210 feet as well as 8 more hills and a top speed of 73 mph. The most notable incident involving Apollo’s happened on it’s opening day. As the ride was going down the first drop a goose hit Fabio in his face. Rather than seek monetary damages from the park, he requested only that a net be put over the water at the bottom of the first drop so there would not be a similar incident; Busch Gardens did so and there have been no other bird related incident’s on the ride.
The coaster has been in the top ten of Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards for Best Steel Coaster since it was opened. In fact the rank of Apollo’s has gone up since it opened and remains a very popular attraction in the park.
Video of Fabio’s ride on Apollo’s Chariot

Opened: 2007
Make/Designer: Bolliger & Mabillard
Length: 3108′
Height: 205′
Top Speed: 71 mph
Duration: 3:00

It was nearly a decade after opening Apollo’s Chariot that Busch added a new coaster. Griffon is a floor-less diving machine designed by B&M and has taken the record of being the tallest dive coaster in the world. The former record holder was Griffon’s sister coaster, Sheikra. The first drop is 90°, followed by an Immelmann which leads into a second drop that is 87° and another Immelmann.


Grover’s Alpine Express:

Opened: 2009
Make: Zierer
Length: 600′
Height: 24′

With the addition of a new section in 2009, Busch added a new roller coaster. The junior coaster fit into the theming of the new Sesame Street area of the park.


Additional Attractions:

Escape From Pompeii:

Battering Ram:

Da Vinci’s Cradle:

Le Scoot Log Flume:

Roman Rapids


May have to be removed for a new country to be added to the park.
May have to be removed for a new country to be added to the park.

Curse of DarKastle

Corkscrew Hill

Aeronaut Skyride

Der Werbelwind

Land of the Dragons
The Trade Wind:

The Flying Machine:

The Little Gliders:
The Little Balloons:
Last three pictures copyright
Prince Elmo’s Spire:

Replaced Spider in Oktoberfest, next to the San Marco bridge.
Replaced Spider in Oktoberfest, next to the San Marco bridge.



Current Shows:
Emerald Beat:

Goin’ Country:

More… Pet Shenanigans:

Sunny Days Celebration:

Sesame Street Presents: Lights, Camera, Imagination!:
This Is Oktoberfest:


Shows No Longer Playing:
Ghosts of the Globe:
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Pirates! 4-D:

American Jukebox:

Stage Struck:

This show used to be in the Globe Theater and was moved to a different location in the early 90’s, I’m unsure what the show’s last season was. Don’t let the title of the video confuse you, this is footage of the show.

R.L. Stine’s Haunted Lighthouse:

Misc. Videos:

Show on E! about Busch Gardens and other AB parks.

Some of the street performers and characters that inhabited Busch Gardens in the late 80’s.

Old 8mm footage taken in approx. 1978. No sound

Old 8mm footage of the Busch Clydesdales and an old show. I don’t recognize the theater or where in the park it was. No sound.


Defunct Attractions:

(Excluding Drachen Fire & Big Bad Wolf)
Gladiator’s Gauntlet:

Was located in Festa Italia.
Was located in Festa Italia.


Le Mans Raceway:
Replaced by Griffon
Replaced by Griffon

Der Blitzschneller Trabant:
Was located in Oktoberfest.
Was located in Oktoberfest.

Was located in Oktoberfest, replaced by Katapult.
Was located in Oktoberfest, replaced by Katapult.

Pirates! 4-D:

Stage Struck:

This show used to be in the Globe Theater and was moved to a different location in the early 90’s, I’m unsure what the show’s last season was. Don’t let the title of the video confuse you, this is footage of the show.

Enchanted Laboratory:

Grimm’s Hollow:
Replaced by Land of the Dragons
Replaced by Land of the Dragons

Eagle’s Nest:
There used to be a small playground to the right as you walked down to Le Scoot.
There used to be a small playground to the right as you walked down to Le Scoot.

Thanks to Findley Johnson for the reminder of the name of this playground.
Maps: (Click To Enlarge)
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Brochures: (Click To Enlarge)
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Pictures: (Click To Enlarge)
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