Saturday, August 01, 2009

My thoughts on the Wolf....

It's been a few days now since Busch Gardens Williamsburg announced that they are removing The Big Bad Wolf after the 2009 season.

The official word from the park is that the ride has "reached the end of it's service life."

Well, nothing makes me feel older than hearing that a ride I grew up with is too old to run anymore!

You see, I've been to Busch Gardens almost every summer since I was ten years old. On each of those visits, one of the highlights has always been a ride on The Big Bad Wolf. I literally grew up riding it and I feel a sense of ownership with it, as silly as that sounds.

Even though the ride means a lot to me, I won't be signing any petitions to "Save the Wolf." I won't be writing a letter to the park demanding that they keep the ride operational. I won't chain myself to the lift hill in protest.

Theme parks are a business and removing The Big Bad Wolf will obviously help the bottom line. I don't think the park will lose much business from the few uber-zealots who won't buy tickets in protest over an old Arrow coaster.

So instead of making a pitch to save it, let me offer a fitting eulogy.

These days, most parks are content to build a roller coaster on a slab of cement. They don't really care about theming the ride because it's either too much work or it's too expensive. If they do theme the ride, it's mostly in the form of cheap sets and annoying pre-show videos that add little to the experience.

But when The Big Bad Wolf premiered in 1984, it was one of the most mysterious roller coasters ever. Aside from it's iconic 80-foot drop towards the Rhine River, most of the ride was hidden from view.

But when guests did board the ride, they were treated to a manic rush through a highly-themed Bavarian village. The cars swooped and swung, narrowly missing houses and shops. We literally were the Big Bad Wolf and we were traveling "at the speed of fright".

After this memorable section of the ride, we climbed 100 feet and took an amazing 80-foot drop towards the river below. To the uninitiated, it was always surprising how forceful and frightening the drop and ride back to the station was.

A ride on this coaster at night was magic. The village was accented with lighting on the homes and in the streets. It added to the feeling of speed. The only lights you could see during the big drop towards the river was from the Loch Ness Monster off in the distance. It all added to the illusion that the coaster was out of control.

But after Labor Day, it will all be history. I can't really picture what a trip to Busch Gardens will be like now.

Whenever we took a child in my family to Busch Gardens for their first roller coaster ride, it was always on The Big Bad Wolf. It was the perfect introduction to roller coasters because it wasn't too intimidating, wasn't too high and didn't go upside down. Where do you start a kid now?

The Loch Ness Monster has two loops, which makes it too intimidating for kids. Apollo's Chariot is too high and too fast for first timers. Alpengeist is way to intense for a kids' first coaster ride.

I guess we'll have to go to Kings Dominion to ride the Scooby Doo.

But I'm hoping that the masterminds at the park have something up their sleeves. Busch Gardens is the best theme park outside of Orlando or Anaheim and consistently exceeds expectations. They now have a chance to prove it again when designing a new attraction to take the place of The Big Bad Wolf.

If you want to get a last ride on the iconic coaster, you have to get there before Labor Day. As the plan is now, they won't be running the ride during their Howl-O-Scream event. Although I think a fitting way for the ride to go out would be to let it run during the Halloween event.

What better season to "travel at the speed of fright" one last time.

What do you think?

Talk about it in the Fourms.

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