Dive Time at Busch Gardens Europe
A ride on Griffon, the world’s tallest, floorless dive coaster at Busch Gardens Europe, Williamsburg, Virginia, is like being pushed off the edge of a cliff. You’re 205 feet in the air. It’s 90 degrees straight down. Paul Ruben was Park World’s guinea pig, or rather lemming.
Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), Griffon is the Swiss supplier’s latest Dive Machine. Located in the France section of the park, the new ride is based on the French legend about the beast with the heart of a lion and the soul of an eagle. Griffon is a creature of fury and flight, taking riders on its adrenaline-pumping vertical drops and high speed. Griffon is the Virginia park’s fifth coaster, and the most expensive construction project in its history.
You may recall that there are three other Dive Machines in the world, Oblivion at Alton Towers in Staffordshire, England, G5 at Janfusun Fancyworld, Taiwan, and SheiKra at Florida’s Busch Gardens Africa. These have proven popular with coaster riders, but Griffon is the first floorless version, and the tallest. No other dive coaster matches the height, speed and intensity of Griffon.
The steel marvel drops its riders 205ft at speeds as fast as 75 mph. Griffon features several one-of-a-kind elements including those floorless trains with stadium-style seating. Each train is composed of three rows of 10 seats, and the outer seats extend away from the track. Griffon’s “divers” also navigate two Immelmann twisted loops.
“It’s the perfect addition to our park,” says Donnie Mills, executive vice-president and general manager of Busch Gardens Europe and the neighbouring Water Country USA waterpark. “Griffon is the rollercoaster on everyone’s list to ride in 2007 and has received rave reviews since its debut.”
Aboard Griffon, riders are completely exposed as they come over the crest of the first 90-degree plunge. With no floor, between each row of seats there is only air. Retractable floors and handrails are located in the loading station. As each floorless car arrives, floor panels raise into position, filling the gaps between the rows so that passengers may board. A pivoting handrail swings into place in front of the first row.
Mills thinks the best part of the ride is the suspended hang time right before you drop 205ft. “Griffon’s steep lift is different than any of our other coasters,” he maintains, “because you’re reclined further back in your seat and the train ascends the lift faster than any of our other coasters. As Griffon crests the top, the view is incredible and then you are literally suspended, floorless, for three to four seconds, before diving straight down. Also, the outermost seats extend away from the track, adding to the exhilaration. It’s an unbelievable and unforgettable thrill and I recommend sitting in the front row in either of the end seats.”
Griffon is expected to be a boon not only to the park, but to the surrounding area. “Busch Gardens Europe and Water Country USA are committed to promoting tourism to Williamsburg,” Mills says. “We invest millions of dollars in new attractions to not only entice first-time visitors, but also repeat visits and longer length-of-stay.”
How rare is it for a new attraction to open before its planned introduction? Construction of Griffon proceeded smoothly and the ride was actually completed ahead of schedule. Although the ride’s grand opening was May 25, the park opened the coaster to guests a week early. “We have an excellent relationship with Bolliger & Mabillard,” acknowledges Mills. “They are continually able to meet our high-quality standards and deliver an excellent, safe product. Other Busch Gardens Europe coasters designed by B&M are Alpengeist, which debuted in 1997, and Apollo’s Chariot, in 1999.”
Griffon is the second dive coaster in the United States. The first, SheiKra, opened two years ago at Busch Gardens Africa in Florida. Mills’ team looked at elevating the thrill level of Griffon by working with B&M to make their Dive Coaster floorless, and extending the seating further out from the track by designing the cars to consist of three ten-person wide rows. The tiered seating provides every rider with a front-row view. Mills is convinced that this was a great decision and the floorless design has now also been introduced for SheiKra. Like SheiKra, Griffon is fitted with the innovative B&M water brakes that send up twin rooster tails of water as it skims over a pool near the ride’s finale. It’s quite a show.