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Busch Gardens has a welcome InvadR

The invasion of the InvadR at Busch Gardens went smoothly and was celebrated with fanfare on its public unveiling Friday.

The new wooden roller coaster debuted following a short ceremony to mark its opening, with a large crowd flocking to a deceptively fast and twisting ride.

InvadR, which weaves through several other park attractions in New France Village near the LeScoot water ride, has a max 48 mph, slow-for-the-highway speed.

However, that doesn't speak to the how quick the ride is when riding, with a 74-foot drop following a tunnel, nine air-time hills and some tight turns, including one at a 45-degree angle.

Early reviews were positive.

"It's that first dip with the tunnel, that one takes your breath away a little bit," said Angela Byrd-Wright, 35, of Newport News, who rode with her 6-year old son Westin Wright in the third seat from the front. "I think this will be a great ride to ride at night, because then you really can't expect the turns or anything. It was really good to get on today."

That deceptive speed is by design.

"It's like riding in your car, or your bicycle, or your motorcycle, going down through a forest," said Clair Hain, president of Great Coasters International, the manufacturer working with Busch Gardens on InvadR. "And when you're going on a road through a forest, and the trees are flying by your head so fast, you think you're going faster than you are. It's the same thing with a wooden coaster, because you can see the legs from the handrails flying by your head as you're going by."

The drops appealed to 15-year old Caroline Lovis of Williamsburg. She was at the park with her mother Kelly Lovis and 9-year old brother Ethan Lovis.

"I think it was really fun, and it was really fast," Caroline said. "I liked the drops and all the turns."

Suzy Cheely, the director of design and engineering for Busch Gardens and the InvadR project manager, said the park has had requests for several years for a wooden roller coaster. North of Richmond, Kings Dominion, has a pair of wooden coasters, the Rebel Yell and the Grizzly, and had others in the past, such as the Hurler and the Scooby Doo children's coaster.

With the Trapper's Village already in the same area as InvadR, it was logical to locate it there, she said.

"We thought about it. We had the Gwazi coaster in Tampa," Cheely said, referring to another Busch Gardens theme park in Florida. "Unfortunately we had to close that ride, but we got the trains from the Gwazi ride here, and we were able to refurbish them, so it's a nice recycling story."

Fitting those drops, turns, tunnels and the rest of Busch Gardens' first wooden coaster into a compact space was more complex, as the park's newest ride is tucked between several attractions and landscapes.

Hain said his company wasn't able to build anything onsite due to the compact space. Rather, everything for the ride was built offsite and then carried into the park.

"Every ride has its own challenges," Hain said. "And with this ride, the challenges you're dealing with here is because you're building it on a corner of the park which was engulfed three-quarters of the way around."

Busch Gardens president David Cromwell said it was fun to start out with a great concept and then see it all come together over the last year.

"We saw it running as we were in the commissioning process, so we had a feeling that it was going to deliver on the speed and the exhilaration of a wood coaster," Cromwell said.

"When you actually ride it, though, the speed over delivers, the air-time over delivers. The drop is exceptional no matter what seat you're in. Seeing it, and riding, I couldn't have asked for a better experience."

Without a Norse-themed area in the European-themed park, Busch Gardens vice president of marketing Dan Dipiazzo said park officials came up with a storyline that had the Vikings invading the New France area.

"The fans have really loved the Viking idea," Dipiazzo said. "I think it's going to be very popular."

Fan input was more prominent than on any previous Busch Gardens attraction. Tens of thousands of fans were involved in choosing the name, InvadR, and the park has created a 'Faces of InvadR' campaign, using fans in ride advertising.

"Really from the beginning, we asked our fans to pick the name, to pick the logo," Dipiazzo said. "They've been involved all along the way. We've involved them in all the behind-the-scenes developments of the ride. It's really a fan celebration for us."

The park wanted to make this ride accessible to everyone, from the wooden coaster enthusiast, to the young child riding a coaster for the first time.

One young child, though not a newbie, said he had been on 60 or 50 roller coasters; that elicited a hearty laugh from his mother before gently correcting the actual number to four.

"I loved it, and I want to do it again," said 6-year-old Westin Wright.

His favorite part?

The drop after the tunnel.

But another go at the InvadR would have to wait.

First, Westin wanted lunch.

LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

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