It seems that some seasons, the amusement park deities are just angry. Thankfully, the last hold-out in this unofficial Year of the Tower marketing disaster has finally succumbed to the willpower of the various builders, planners, designers, and operators who have fought to keep it alive. After four much-delayed WindSeeker tower swing rides (at Kings Island, Canada’s Wonderland, Cedar Point, and soon, Knott’s Berry Farm) and two StarFlyer swing rides that opened on time, but closed shortly thereafter (at Six Flags St. Louis and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom), Busch Garden's Mäch Tower soft-opened to eager crowds on Thursday, August 18th.
Like the various other tower rides scattered throughout the continent, Mäch Tower’s opening is long overdue. Its original opening was targeted for “late spring", but even before then the tower drew criticism from park enthusiasts who found the Moser tower to be far sub-par compared to Busch Gardens Williamsburg's well-themed, immersive rides.
Take Alpengeist, the park’s 195-foot Bolliger and Mabillard inverted coaster, themed to a runaway ski-ride through the alps (as evidenced by the ski-lodge queue, quirky yodeling music, fiberglass snow canyons, and yes, even the inclusion of skis on the ride’s inverted trains to really knock the experience home). And just up the path from Mäch Tower is The Curse of DarKastle, the much-hyped 21st-century dark ride and technological successor to Universal’s Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.
So half the battle for Mäch Tower is to establish itself as a visually interesting, unique ride experience in a park (and indeed, a park chain) that is known for avoiding the tired, bland, carnival-ride experience completely. And let me be the first to say – it succeeds.
Building for the future
Remember, too, that Mäch Tower is only one piece of a two-year plan to revitalize the park’s Oktoberfest area with live entertainment, new dining options, a new layout, and new unified theme. Tons of new stores, shops, and stands (all unified under the same orange, red, and blue festive flags, sparkling white light bulbs, and green and red wreath decorations) have already opened, and next year when half of the area goes “dark and sinister” with the Gardens’ hinted-at, multi-launch, world’s-first coaster, you better believe people will be flocking towards the bright blue beacon that guides the way.
And Mäch Tower is no carnival ride. It's located immediately off the bridge into Oktoberfest, and is built into an alcove of towering Virginia pines. The main tower structure is encircled by two staggered sets of columns and horizontal bars that hold the lights and flags, and the entire queue (set within an orange, intricately carved patio that encircles the tower) continues the festive theme.
Taking to the skies
Because I visited during the ride’s first day of soft opening, riders were assigned one of four colors (yellow, red, green, or blue), and stood inside of taped-off squares on the ground. After only one day, the colored squares were peeling up from the pavement, so I imagine that the park will opt for a numbered-system more akin to nearby Kings Dominion’s Drop Tower, or establish a better ground-labeling. The gondola itself is large, though not so much as Drop Tower’s, and is adorned by a massive blue casing with images of doves. It’s a simple touch, but it does make the ride more visually appealing.
Once on board the ride, Mäch Tower begins its ascent to the sky. It revolves on the way up (a feature that Kings Dominion’s Drop Tower never had installed, unlike its Kings Island sister), and the ride operators happily announce that "yellow and blue will get a good view of the park, and red and green get a good view of the rivers and forests." No matter where you sit, though, you’ll see it all on the way up.
From the moment the shoulder restraints come down, symphonic, lovely music (which I can’t specifically peg as “German,” but that sounds absolutely in line with the rest of the music in the European themed park) begins to play through a dozen white speakers. The ride revolves relatively quickly and gets in three full rotations before reaching the summit of the 246-foot (75 meter) tall ride. There, it truly is a breathtaking view offered – sitting on the park-facing side, I had a few moments to overlook (as in, look down on) the massive Griffon Dive Machine, and to see backstage areas of DarKastle that, until now, were extraordinarily rare.
After a few seconds at the top, the beautiful, orchestral music cut out very abruptly and with a bit of static. Whether that was a symptom of soft opening or a purposeful dramatic effect, I can’t say. But after a moment, a few deep, menacing chords replaced the gentle music, trailing off almost infinitely with an echo. Still no sign of the drop coming, mind you; just a long, trailing note. It was then that I knew that the simple addition of that musical score alone made Mäch Tower a worthy ride in such a beautiful park. Building an awkward, enclosed structure and having a few strobe lights and fiber optics couldn’t have had the effect that that musical score had.
Once it had faded, we stayed at the top of the tower when, all of the sudden, that dove-adorned, blue shield around the top of the tower let out a deep rumble. It was, at first, frightening, and only as it traveled down the casing, into the back of the seats, under us, and down our legs did I recall that Mäch Tower also had “vibrating effects.” And these are no simple buzzing effects. The entire carriage rumbles, and in a very purposeful movement from top to bottom. Just after it passes through your legs, the carriage releases, falling at 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) down the structure. It stops much more effortlessly than its larger cousin at Kings Dominion, and briskly lowers back into place without missing a beat.
Mäch Tower won’t revolutionize the drop ride, and it alone doesn’t put Busch Gardens on the map. As far as sheer size, it can’t beat Kings Dominion’s Drop Tower, either. But the attention to detail here is what makes it a Busch-worthy ride. Drop Tower is intimidating for sure, but wasn’t it just a little better when it was called Drop Zone, flanked with torches, adorned by that massive, pink-and-yellow spiral icon, and without a cartoon-ish, falling O in its logo? Mäch Tower, in a sense, returns to that more grand, detail-oriented experience that puts you in your place and demands respect.
And as part of the new Oktoberfest, it’s a fantastic centerpiece (even if it’ll only remain so for another few months) that re-invigorates the area, establishes a new atmosphere, and invites thrill seekers to see what it has to offer.
So while people debate and complain about how “out of place” a drop tower is in Busch Gardens Williamsburg, I’d invite them to ride it. There is theming here. It’s placed perfectly, it’s got a few twists on the classic idea, and it’s a fair step in the right direction for the park. Mäch Tower may not be the biggest, tallest, fastest, or flashiest tower ride in the country, but it is stands tall on its own, and really builds excitement for the years to come.
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