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The approach

Image: Martin Lewison, Flickr (license)

The experience of the Big Bad Wolf begins before you’ve even set foot on the roller coaster itself. After all, your first encounter with it is likely as you approach the park’s Oktoberfest hamlet from the Italian village of San Marco. It’s then that you’ll see the deep red track of Big Bad Wolf emerging from the woods at the top of a steep hill and diving toward the Rhine River below. The track curves out just above the water’s surface and tears across the waterway before disappearing back into the forest at the water’s edge. This terrain-hugging fall looks impressive enough, but to see a train roaring through it helps make sense of Big Bad Wolf’s name.

The unassuming suspended coaster ride system adds extra oomph to the already-astounding maneuver. The train growls down this epic hillside and, at the last second before splashing into the water, it swings out to the side like a serpent.

This signature moment is certainly the most picturesque element of Big Bad Wolf. Of course, that’s by default, because it’s the only moment of the coaster’s 2,800 foot-long circuit that you can see from the park’s pathways. The rest is concealed deep in the forests of Oktoberfest. That's just how designers wanted it. What awaits aboard the mysterious coaster? 

Aboard the beast

Image: Patrick McGarvey, Flickr (license)

Seated aboard the black and yellow trains hanging beneath the striking red coaster track, the Big Bad Wolf begins simply enough: with an recorded spiel inviting you to “enjoy traveling at the speed of fright.” A small, harmless dip out of the station and a turn to the left serve to remove Big Bad Wolf from the hustle and bustle of Oktoberfest, isolating the train among the endless forests.

Once sufficiently out of the sight of park guests, the train reaches the ride’s lift hill: 50 feet tall. The click-click-click sound of anti-rollbacks builds anticipation on a ride that, for many, served as their first ever adult roller coaster. The train crests the lift hill and dips down just a bit. Those expecting a white-knuckle thrill and a record-breaking first drop will be surprised. Instead, this dip leads only to a banked turn.

This, though, is where the suspended coaster really gets to show off. As the train swiftly glides through the banked turn, the train swings up to the side in an extreme bank. Just ahead, a wooden building appears. As the train sways wildly, it appears you’re heading right for it! At the last second, you swing away – and right toward a Bavarian stone bridge! Likewise, you narrowly escape.

These are Big Bad Wolf’s starring moments: an entire Bavarian village is set among the hilly, forested terrain of the woods. Quaint German shops and Tudor-style homes all covered in crawling vines and flowering ivy. This is when you as the rider begin to realize, you are the antagonist in an age-old fable: you are the Big Bad Wolf, terrorizing this storybook town as you roar along its streets, doors and windows sealed with terrified residents no doubt cowering inside. The fully built village offers one near miss after another as you slalom and swing through the town, narrowly missing trees, fences, doorways, and rooftops.

The village recedes as the coaster gets its first view of an open hillside laced with interlocking roller coaster track – a relentless swaying helix you’re about to race through.

Then, the train enters the midcourse brakes and slows for a breath. Don’t get used to it! This is the prelude to one of the most explosive finales on any family coaster; a moment that looks much different on-board than it does from the safety of the bridge you stood on a moment ago.

The train crawls up a second lift hill buried among the trees. This one is twice as tall as the first: 100 feet up. At the top, the coaster teases for a moment, slowly circling among the canopies. Then, it turns to reveal the moment you knew was coming: a view out across the endless green of Virginia’s forests… and the Rhine River 100 feet below. It could be that the Big Bad Wolf has saved the best for last.

Teetering on the edge for just a moment, the train bends down and races along its biggest drop yet: 80 feet straight down. The train barrels down the drop at 48 miles per hour – its highest speed yet – and races toward the water below. Just before it skims the river, it pulls up and swings wildly out in its most aggressive move yet, absolutely rocketing as it sways up to one side, then the other.

It slaloms back and forth, burning up the tremendous energy of the plunge as it gradually weaves up the hillside and through the forest, darting alongside the bridge and over a gushing waterfall. Somehow, that single dive provided enough momentum to return the Big Bad Wolf back to the top of the hill with the safety of the station just ahead.

As always, we have to include a video that gives you a very real idea of the magnitude and power of Big Bad Wolf. Check it out below:

Legacy

Big Bad Wolf wasn’t Arrow’s first suspended coaster, but it was among the first to stick around. The ride was, by all accounts, a family ride – the kind that could serve as the first “big” coaster for generations of guests. It was thrilling but fun in the kind of balance that’s not easy to strike outside of Big Thunder Mountain style mine trains.

Speaking of which, Big Bad Wolf helped to signal that Arrow’s suspended coaster could become a new standard; the kind of customizable, family-oriented, first-step coaster role that had been filled almost exclusively by mine train rides through the 70s and 80s. And Arrow did go on to build suspended coasters at many major parks from Six Flags Magic Mountain to Chessington World of Adventures. But none were quite as clever or thrilling as Big Bad Wolf, which showcased the power and intensity that the suspended coaster could have compared to more idling, calm iterations like Cedar Point’s Iron Dragon.

Image: Patrick McGarvey, Flickr (license)

For 25 years, Big Bad Wolf raced through the forests of Oktoberfest and dove toward the Rhine River below, delighting generations. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t stay around much longer. Busch Gardens had plans for Oktoberfest, including a brand-new, 21st century coaster that would build on Big Bad Wolf’s legacy… and its land. What replaced this storied ride? Read on…

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Comments

My best memory of the Big Bad Wolf is actually my last ride on it. The ride was getting ready to close for the night and I was in line for the front row. As train after train filled up suddenly I was the only person left standing in line. Finally it came to be my turn and I got into the first car and pulled down my harness it took me a second to realize that I really was the only person on the ride. The silence except the sounds of the wind rushing by and the sounds of the roller coaster flying at the speed of fright are something I'll never forget it was something I'd never experienced because I was so used to being on a packed train. When the train pulled back into the station tears flooded my face as I realized that the ride I had spent my childhood riding was going to be gone when we came back a few weeks later for Howl-o-scream. The big bad wolf was one of my first roller coasters and was the first for both my brothers. It will always hold a special place in our hearts. We quite frequently walk by Verbolton and say do you remember that time when we stood in line for the big bad wolf for two hours during the thunderstorm and the entire line was singing songs. Or some other memory we have of the big bad wolf.

I had the great privilege of being on the last run ever of the Big Bad Wolf. Busch Gardens "sold" each seat for the last run with all the proceeds going to benefit their wildlife fund. We had to wait for over an hour after the park had closed because the line to ride was so long. But we got to spend time with the park general manager and so many other HUGE BBW fans that it was a great time. Best money spent ever. It was my first "big" coaster. Verbolten is a great replacement but there will always be a soft spot in my heart for BBW.

In reply to by Vickie (not verified)

What an awesome experience!!

I worked at Busch as a performer in 1989 and 1990, then again in 1992. LOVED the Big Bad Wolf! Early in the summer we'd go ride the Wolf over and over again at the end of the day when the crowds were light and the air was cool. Best suspended coaster ever (I rode Cedar Point's Iron Dragon in 1994. No comparison. Not even close). Sad to hear that it is no more.

I remember riding this when I was 7 years old, the year it opened. It was not my first roller coaster, but it was one of my favorites. My first coaster was the Super Duper Looper at Hershey Park when I was 3 years old - I'm not kidding, back in the 80's there was no height restrictions.

It was the first of its kind and my dad went and bought me a t-shirt that was all "ripped" at the bottom and on the sleeves that said, "I survived the Big Bad Wolf". I wore that shirt forever.

I'm sad that it's gone. And I haven't been back to the park since it's been removed, but my sister and my niece were there last year and they said the new coaster is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. ... I really like how they included the hill at the end - you know - so we will never forget the Big Bad Wolf!!!!

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