A roller coaster is a short story. A very short one. Some of them lasting less than 90 seconds. But still a story. I wrote last year, after going to Kings Dominion, that the Intimidator 305 was a disappointing story. It wasn’t a bad ride or not fun but it crested the hill and went right into the 305 foot drop. That would be like Star Wars beginning with the Death Star getting blown up. Roller coasters are stories and stories rely on anticipation. They need to build to the moment.
Pantheon does that better than any ride I have been on. I don’t think anything will ever top my first experience of Verbolten but this comes close. While Verbolten’s story relies on a shocking twist in the middle of its tale Pantheon is the story of overcoming adversity. The ride starts out with a launch that looks slow from the line but feels fast while on the ride and is nothing compared to what is to come.
That first launch is just one of many. Pantheon is unlike other launch coasters I have risen. Those coasters launch then send you off and down a hill or around a bend and the ride begins. Pantheon doesn’t begin with the first launch or the second or the third. It lets its story simmer.
Pantheon is a slow burn that feels fast. After that first launch there are a couple more before the train approaches the rise of the hill. There is one final launch and it looks like the ride is going to crest the hill, plummet to earth, and go around a couple bends like a standard coaster, but the train fails. It doesn’t make it up the hill.
That is the adversity I am talking about. Pantheon is unable to make it over the hill on its first attempt. Then the train races backwards over a couple more launches before launching up a spire to gather strength. There it hangs, suspended in the air, for a couple of seconds before hitting a series of launches on the way back down to earth and up over the hill.
On this, the second attempt, Pantheon makes it over the hill and the standard roller coaster stuff happens. There are hairpin turns and a fun upside down section and then the train pulls back into the station where the automated, disembodied voice tells you to enjoy the rest of your day at Busch Gardens.
It is the first half of the ride that makes Pantheon great. It doesn’t launch you up and over the hill right away. It has a bit of a false start. It launches and launches and launches and fails to crest the hill before sending riders hurtling backwards up a spire and then back through several launches and up over the hill. It is good story telling. It is good anticipation. It lets the suspense build before giving the payoff.