Yikes. That’s a good way to summarize the current situation surrounding Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 1988 Intamin rapids ride, Roman Rapids.
For anyone who hasn’t kept up with the attraction lately, Roman Rapids hasn’t operated since Labor Day 2019. The capacity limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 simply made spinning up a staff-hungry attraction with a very limited operating season impossible to justify. Despite new rafts arriving from Intamin ahead of the 2021 season, the same reasoning for avoiding investing in reopening the ride in 2020 continued to justify inaction in 2021.
That said, after more than two years of dormancy, this year, 2022, was finally going to be Roman Rapids’ time to shine. Its new neighbor, Pantheon, would finally debut, bringing its hamlet, Festa Italia, an enormous increase in foot traffic and attention. Better yet, Roman Rapids had been getting some work done. Its gift shop’s roof was refurbished, it had a freshly-redecked turntable (pictured below), and, of course, it would debut with that previously mentioned fleet of shiny, new rafts.
These new boats weren’t just a cosmetic upgrade—these next-generation Intamin rapids ride rafts also brought a 50% increase in rider capacity per boat (upgrading from six guests per raft to nine). It really looked like the stars were all aligning to finally bring some new life to this often-criticized, over-30-year-old, Festa Italia staple.
Unfortunately, as you’ve seen if you’ve visited Busch Gardens Williamsburg this summer, those plans have failed to materialize. In fact, what looked like a dream for Roman Rapids heading into 2022 has turned into something far more akin to a nightmare over the last few months.
Back in mid-April, Busch Gardens Williamsburg announced on their website that Roman Rapids would finally reopen on May 28th, 2022. As the planned reintroduction date neared, guests began seeing consistent Roman Rapids testing utilizing the ride’s new fleet of boats. American Coaster Enthusiasts even planned a Roman Rapids meetup for their ACE Dives event at the start of June.
Unfortunately, by May 26th, Busch Gardens Williamsburg had retracted their May 28th date and pushed Rapids’ reopening back to “Early June.” That timeline quickly slid again back to “Mid-June.” By the time mid-June rolled around, Roman Rapids still wasn’t open. The park was still consistently testing Roman Rapids during park operating hours, but that had been the steady state for nearly two months by that point.
As June turned to July, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, once again, updated the official reopening timeline shifting the official position on the ride’s status to “Coming Soon.” That cryptic message remained throughout the entire month of July as we slowly observed raft testing become less and less frequent.
Now, here, at the beginning of August—more than two months after the originally planned opening and nearly three months since new raft testing began at scale—Busch Gardens Williamsburg has issued another Roman Rapids status update. This time, Roman Rapids has been officially deemed “Temporarily Closed“—a phrase recently made infamous for its usage in regards to both Da Vinci’s Cradle and Battle for Eire prior to their deaths.
Fortunately, according to everyone we’ve spoken to, Roman Rapids’ “Temporarily Closed” status is unlikely to be a death sentence. Instead, this new designation seems to represent Busch Gardens Williamsburg calling it quits on their rapids ride for 2022. From what we can gather, at this point, there’s essentially no chance that the ride will reopen this season.
To be clear, throwing in the towel on Roman Rapids’ 2022 season is a totally reasonable call in our opinion. The ride traditionally closes Labor Day weekend so, even if the attraction were to somehow be ready to reopen today, by the time a crew is trained to run it, the park would only be looking at a miniscule operating window.
That said, we really, probably don’t even need to consider that scenario because, from every indicator we’ve seen, Roman Rapids is very much not ready to reopen. From what we’ve gathered, the same issue that originally delayed the ride’s originally-planned May reopening is still plaguing the attraction to this day. The problem? According to internal contacts we’ve spoken with, Roman Rapids’ newly purchased fleet of Intamin rafts simply do not work on the attraction as it currently exists.
From what we’ve been told, following months of testing and adjusting, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has been unable to get these new rafts to reliably and consistently traverse Roman Rapids course without incident. The feeling inside the park at this point seems to be that, in order for Roman Rapids to operate with its new fleet of boats, more substantial alterations (read: beyond water flow and rapids positioning) will likely be required.
That, I suppose, is the silver lining here. Yes, Roman Rapids is currently inoperable, but there’s a real chance that even more significant change could come to the attraction as a result of all of this trouble. If you’ve ever found yourself on the “Roman Rapids is a bland and boring rapids ride” bandwagon, there’s a real chance that tweaks to fundamental aspects of the attraction could result in a noticeably altered ride experience come—hopefully—2023.
Before we close, we want to take a moment to commend Busch Gardens Williamsburg here. From what we can tell, they’re very much the victims in this story. The park attempted to reinvest in a popular, but dated, attraction to increase its capacity. Those planned upgrades only actually served to disable the ride for an entire season though.
Additionally, throughout all of this Roman Rapids turmoil, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has continued to post status updates on the ride to their official website—something that was notably absent last year with the Pantheon situation. Yes, many of those updates ended up being wrong, but the park was still providing the best information they had throughout the summer and they deserve quite a bit of credit for that increase in transparency.
We just hope that the park doesn’t feel too burned by their attempt to reinvest in an old attraction or their effort to communicate the status of a closed attraction. Both of these measures are very much appreciated by the park’s fans and we hope to see similar moves continue in the future.
Thanks for reading! If you missed yesterday’s article about the first signs of Howl-O-Scream 2022 progress, be sure to check out that piece! Oh, and consider following us on Twitter & Facebook as well! We’ll have more to share very soon…