#20. Apollo’s Chariot – Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, VA
Apollo’s Chariot is named after the Greek god of sun and light, who drives a golden chariot to move the sun across the sky daily. Who says theme parks are devoid of any cultural or educational benefit?
Apollo’s Chariot is the first hypercoaster from the Swiss coaster gods at Bolliger & Mabillard and in my humble opinion, it is a quintessential steel coaster. It is glass-smooth, as smooth as a baby’s behind, as smooth as — well, you get the picture. Despite its considerable height and speed, Apollo’s Chariot is, dare I say, smooth.
The out-and-back layout is deceptively simple. Besides one small helix before the turnaround, it’s simply a series of glorious hills and drops. No punishing double or triple helixes, no inversions, no trim brakes — just rib-crushing positive G-forces (up to 4.1 Gs) followed by the sweet release of floating airtime.
Fun Fact: Busch Gardens was introducing their new roller coaster, Apollo’s Chariot. The concept of the ride borrowed from mythology, so to introduce it the park brought in the closest thing we had at the time to a Greek god – the supermodel Fabio.
He would take the first public ride on Apollo’s Chariot in full view of the assembled media. Cameras rolled as the train pulled out of the station, but two minutes later when it rolled back in, something was wrong.
It seems that the ride crossed paths with a goose, and let’s just say the result wasn’t good for the goose. After getting struck by the coaster, the lifeless bird flew right into Fabio’s chiseled face covering him with blood.
The story, which started out as a perfunctory theme park photo op, suddenly turned into a national headline which provided Busch Gardens tons of free publicity. I don’t know about you, but I believe Busch Gardens owes the success of Apollo’s Chariot to that damn goose and its inability to get out of the way of a speeding roller coaster. Just sayin’…
#19. Goliath – Six Flags Over Georgia, Austell, GA
As far as roller coasters go, there are beasts, there are giants, and then there is Goliath. Riders will learn first hand why bigger is better on this intense 70 mile-per-hour body-blaster that is not for the timid.
Goliath is a classified as a hyper coaster, a title that is given to any coaster that reaches 200 feet in the sky. The steel track of Goliath is approximately 4,480 feet (1,370 m) long and covers an area of about 8.5 acres. The roller coaster has no inversions, though it does feature six camelback hills and a 540-degree helix.
Goliath operates with two steel and fiberglass trains. Each train has nine cars which can seat four riders in a single row, for a total of 36 riders per train. This configuration allows the ride to theoretically achieve a capacity of 1,220 riders per hour.
In Goliath’s opening year, it earned the first of its many, Golden Ticket Awards as it was voted as the fourth best new ride for 2006. All things considered, Goliath is just a great coaster. It is smooth throughout, yet offers enough intensity to satisfy even the most hard-core enthusiast.
#18. Thunderhead – Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, TN
Thunderhead is a wooden roller coaster located at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. First of all, Thunderhead just looks absolutely spectacular in front of a backdrop of forested hills. More importantly, though, it provides an outstanding ride, delivering all the goods of a usual GCI woodie, only delivering them better.
The first drop sets the pace for the coaster, providing everything this ride is about all in a single maneuver–speed, curves, drops, airtime. Every single curve and drop that follows, be it huge or subtle, is executed perfectly, and the transitions between elements are flawless.
The turns and dips all flow so well. What sets Thunderhead apart from other wooden coasters is the extreme smoothness of the track and the comfort of the trains. Thunderhead is almost un-wooden-like in its smoothness.
However, it punches up the standard fare with several notable instances of floater air and a bit of shake, rattle, and roll to remind you that, Millenium Flyers notwithstanding, you’re still on a bona fide wooden coaster, by God.
Since it opened in 2004, Thunderhead has found itself among the Golden Ticket Awards Top-10 Wooden Coasters every year, two of those years (2005,2006) being at number one.