Finally got to ride Iron Gwazi and VelociCoaster this week!
Iron Gwazi (#196)
The prelift section has a dose of speed (and laterals) before engaging the lift. The first drop is easily one of my favorites - in the back, there’s standing ejector air all the way down. Unlike a typical RMC, the pullout is shockingly intense - I started to see black on the climb up the outer banked hill. The outer banked hill itself doesn’t deliver the goods until the crest, where an abrupt transition from laterals and some positives to strong, banked ejector air occurs. But the airtime is sustained the entire way down, even as the track adjusts itself back to zero degrees roll, and there’s strong positive Gs going into the death roll.
The rise into the death roll is one of two breather moments in Iron Gwazi’s otherwise rampant layout, with light positives and not terribly noticeable laterals - though the front row has ejector airtime going into the roll. But unlike the slower, much more gradual barrel roll downdrop on Twisted Timbers, this inversion whips riders to the left, pins riders to the side and throws them out the entire way down. Sustained laterals plus ejector-like hangtime makes for a truly unhinged and iconic element. The overbanked inversion (“Reverse Stengel cutback”?) happens quickly, with crazy visuals and headchoppers within the wood supports, though it doesn’t have as much punch as the rest of the layout. This is the only moment I found to be better in the front, delivering a burst of standing ejector air on the drop, while the back just gets whipped into and out of the overbank.
Thankfully though, the outer banked wave turn (“Twist and Shout”) over the station picks up the pace again, with strong whip immediately followed by an unexpectedly sustained moment of sideways, standing ejector airtime - it’s a shockingly good element. The step up delivers more ejector, while the wave turn feels like a less sustained but much stronger version of Lightning Rod’s. Following that, the stall is solid (though less of a standout moment than Pantheon’s and Jersey Devil’s), it’s a short breather before the insane, ejector-loaded finale. The off-axis hill delivers a burst of ejector air, followed by whip into and strong positive Gs on the turnaround. The “Asian Camelback” has two more strong bursts of ejector, with stronger whip into the final turnaround. Then the last hill, which was higher off the ground than expected, delivers one last moment of ejector air sustained all the way down. The turn into the brake run offers one last dose of whip, and the brakes come all too soon - they’re just as strong and sudden as expected.
As soon as I got off my first lap on Iron Gwazi, I was immediately blown away. It went from top 10 in the morning to top 3 in the afternoon - Iron Gwazi runs even faster later in the day, with the final few hills delivering violent ejector airtime. For me, the highlights on Iron Gwazi are the death roll and outer banked wave turn, but the first drop, outer banked hill and final 4 hills were phenomenal too. While it doesn’t have the most elements or the longest duration, every single element on Iron Gwazi counts, packing in significant amounts of ejector airtime, ridiculous speed and/or whip every time. This makes Iron Gwazi feel short but pretty satisfying after every single ride, enough to entice me back in line again and again. Iron Gwazi feels like RMC’s take on Skyrush - tall in height, short in length but absurdly fast-paced the entire time - but even better than Skyrush. I prefer the back due to the stronger, more sustained and comfortable airtime, along with the increased whip.
The first launch is pretty forceful, while the Immelmann gives a solid pop of airtime on the descent. In the front, the dive loop delivers sustained flojector airtime while rolling, an odd but amazing sensation to me. Following that, the first overbank is decent, while the twisted hill delivers a pop of ejector air. Then, the second overbank and downward S-curves are light on the forces but still fun, while the third overbank is also decent. The mini-Stengel dive is a nice change of pace, with solid whip on the left side of the train. Then, the off-axis hill into the second launch has light floater air.
Fortunately though, the second launch is strong and forceful. VelociCoaster’s top hat, highlight number one, rides similarly to Storm Runner’s: front row gets an ejector pop on the ascent and sustained floater the entire way down, while back row gets strong ejector on the drop. The following stall is interesting - it’s a lot less fluid and faster than Pantheon’s - starting with a whippy transition in, then what feels like straight track upside down (not as much of an arch shape as the stalls on Pantheon/Jersey Devil), followed by another whippy transition out. Though there isn’t as much hangtime as Pantheon’s stall, VelociCoaster’s stall has more than I expected. The wave turn provides a pop of sideways flojector air, and the larger off-axis hill gives decently sustained flojector air coupled with side-to-side whip. The final overbank has cool visuals with the bridge below, and the speed bump gives some floater air in the front. Then, the Mosasaurus roll is the other highlight of VelociCoaster for me. Like the death roll on Iron Gwazi, riders are pinned to the side of their seats while being thrown out violently. Plus, the setting over water causes a feeling of danger. It’s a highly unforgettable and fantastic moment, and the other highlight of VelociCoaster for me. Finally, the twisted double up into the brakes gives two last pops of ejector air.
Besides the drop off the top hat, every element on VelociCoaster is significantly better in the front, delivering stronger and/or more sustained airtime. The theming and setting were excellent, though during the ride itself, I didn’t notice them as much as expected.
Now... for some controversy, here are my opinions on VelociCoaster compared to other, highly rated coasters that opened this year:
Velocicoaster vs Pantheon:
I prefer Pantheon… by a bit. I’m surprised too - I expected to like VelociCoaster more than Pantheon, especially after hearing reviews and comparing the two coasters extensively. Both are extremely good rides - I am not insinuating that VelociCoaster is “bad” at all here. From the storytelling, theming and “full package” perspectives, VelociCoaster is certainly superior to Pantheon. I simply found Pantheon to have stronger, more and longer-lasting airtime moments than VelociCoaster, along with a more intense ride experience overall. I’m able to look past minimal theming if a ride is fantastic by itself, and Pantheon really is that good in my opinion.
Velocicoaster vs Iron Gwazi:
Having ridden them two days apart, I prefer Iron Gwazi. As said before, I prefer thrills over theming - and I especially love aggressive, crazy rides. Every single element on Iron Gwazi delivers powerful airtime, laterals and/or whip with no dead space. Meanwhile, VelociCoaster’s elements aren’t as strong or sustained (besides the Mosasaurus roll and drop off the top hat), with a series of “just fine” elements in between the twisted hill and second launch. Both of them are very good rides, but each one appeals to a different type of thrillseeker.
Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure (#199)
It doesn’t have much in the way of forces or airtime, but Hagrids is just plain old fun - it’s a long, scenic and well-paced ride that’s constantly moving, from the first launch to the final brake run. The highlights for me are the backwards section, drop track and finale. The backwards section is surprisingly whippy and intense, while the drop track, though not as crazy as Verbolten’s, is still very cool. The finale picks up the pace with pure speed and a substantial increase in intensity, though I wish that last coaster section was 10-15 seconds longer to really utilize that final 50mph launch. The launches are pretty zippy and fairly forceful, on par with Verbolten’s, and surprisingly, the double down has a hint of floater air. Hagrids is my 4th favorite ride at Islands of Adventure, behind Forbidden Journey, Spider-Man and VelociCoaster.