When I first saw the announcement for this roller coaster in 2005, I knew it would be special. The ride rendering looked like one of those fantasy roller coasters some crazy enthusiast would dream up in No Limits. Except this one was being built for real…
The late Will Koch, park president at the time and a major coaster nerd himself, came to The Gravity Group design team and asked for an extreme out-and-back coaster, one that would put all others to shame. Make it big, make it long, and pack it with more airtime than any other wood coaster in the entire world. The result is an absolute monster, with a design that more resembles a steel hyper coaster than your average woodie.
We have a lift height of 163 feet with a 154 foot first drop, a top speed of 67.4 mph, and a ride duration of 2 minutes and 45 seconds. At 6,442 feet long, Voyage is the second longest wooden coaster in the world (behind The Beast at Kings Island) and the longest wooden coaster in the world with a single lift hill. On top of all that, Gravity Group squeezed in a total of 24.3 seconds of weightlessness, giving it the current world record for the most seconds of airtime on a wood coaster.
My first ride on Voyage was in July of 2006, its opening season, which also marked my very first visit to Holiday World. To this day, I have never ridden a traditional wood coaster as extreme as this one. What exactly makes it so extreme? Watch this video…
Filmed by Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari.
From this POV video, we learn a few things. First, this thing is FAST. Once it hits that 67.4 mph at the bottom of the first drop, it seems to never slow down even toward the end. Second, the ride is LONG, much longer than the average roller coaster. Finally, we can see that the coaster is split into three distinct sections. Let’s break them down one by one.
The first section is the outbound run. This section is exclusively made of straight camelback hills designed for long moments of floater airtime. The first two hills after the initial drop are giants, with drops of 107 and 100 feet respectively. The next two hills hug the ground and dive in and out of three underground tunnels.
The second section is the turnaround known as the “spaghetti bowl.” This section is made of rapidly-paced hops, twists, and turns that completely change the dynamic of the ride from an out-&-back to a twister. The track hugs the terrain closely, and contains a few surprises including a reverse banked hill and two back-to-back 90-degree turns.
The final section of the ride is the return run, beginning with a totally enclosed triple-down drop (the ride’s signature feature). This section cleverly combines the previous two dynamics (out-&-back and twister) by including straight hills interweaved with tight twists and turns, all while still traveling one general direction. The section has a sense of build-up as the elements gradually get quicker and more twisted until the ride finishes with a series of steeply-banked hills and curves that include two more tunnels before hitting the final brakes.
The true brilliance of the design is the way it uses the terrain to its advantage. It’s really hard to notice when you’re on the ride since everything is a blur, but the ground below you on the outbound run is gradually going uphill. When you get to the turnaround, you reach the top of said hill, so when the ride sets you up for the return run home, it simultaneously sets you up to go back DOWN that same hill. The total elevation difference here is a vertical of 100 feet. This is how Voyage is able to maintain its speed so well all the way to the end, by going uphill one way and downhill the opposite way. This is most evident when you get to the midcourse block, which is only about 10 feet or so off the ground. As you ride through the return run, you can feel the ride slowly picking up speed while staying close to the ground. It’s an amazing sensation and is a masterpiece of roller coaster design.
However, Voyage is, admittedly, a bit of a paradox. This is a ride that focuses on one thing and one thing only: extreme thrills. It charges full-steam from the top of the lift to the brakes, not giving riders a single chance to breathe sans the block brake before the triple-down. It is definitely an exhilarating ride that satisfies any thrill seeker’s craving for an adrenaline rush. On the flip side, though, I wouldn’t call Voyage “fun” in the traditional sense. It’s not a coaster that is designed to make you giggle with delight like a flat ride or smaller coaster might.
Its sheer non-stop intensity combined with its very long length results in a very tough, physical ride. It throws you around and beats you up a bit, challenging your coaster riding endurance almost to its breaking point, so while it’s very exciting, it’s also very exhausting. As a result, opinions on Voyage are quite polarizing. People either love it or hate it, usually for the same reasons.
Voyage’s thrilling, forceful ride also made it very rough and temperamental over time, turning the experience from tough and physical to violent and painful. I won’t be the first person to say that this ride is a thigh-bruiser. The train can shuffle through the course pretty badly and has left me in a bit of pain on more than one occasion.
I’m honestly not sure if Holiday World knew what they were getting themselves into when they decided to build a wood coaster of this caliber using traditional laminated track. Wood coasters are generally pretty expensive to maintain as is, and from what I understand, Voyage is a VERY hard ride to maintain properly. It ran incredibly well its first three or four seasons, but it started to get progressively more and more painful each year following. Thankfully Holiday World’s “coaster cats” (the nickname for the park’s coaster maintenance team) have been on top of things for the most part. They’re having to do major track work just about every off-season to keep this thing running as smoothly as possible, but even then it still runs a little rough today.
One possible long-term solution to Voyage’s roughness is to give it a “GhostRider”-style refurb. Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California has a wood coaster similar to Voyage called GhostRider that has also aged badly over the years, so Knott’s decided to call in Great Coasters International Inc. to come and retrack the ENTIRE ride for the 2016 season. Not only that, but GCI is also reprofiling the highest-stress sections making them more manageable, and replacing the rolling stock with their own Millennium Flyer trains. These are single-axle trailered cars where one car attaches to the next via a trailer arm and hitch with a two-axle car up front. They track MUCH better than Voyage’s two-row PTC cars since the trailered design is able to follow the path of the track more properly with a lot less shuffling. The one-row cars are also much more flexible and don’t pound on the track as hard because the train’s weight is distributed across each car’s single axle. If Holiday World did this, Voyage might be easier to maintain over the long run and be more comfortable to ride.
Despite the fact that Voyage is struggling with age, there’s no denying that it is still an incredible ride. It’s a total package experience, offering three different roller coaster types into one ride: out-&-back, twister, and terrain. Even better is that all of its elements fit seamlessly together to where the ride has a natural flow to it. Not one element feels awkward or out of place. The non-stop speed makes for some ferocious pacing, some of the best I’ve ever experienced on any coaster. The ride also feels like an epic adventure, taking you FAR into the backwoods of the park and back. You really feel like you’ve “gone somewhere” with Voyage, which makes its name very fitting!
One other thing. Voyage really comes into its own at night. Because you’re out in the woods for much of the ride, it is pitch black out there, making it feel so much faster and all the more epic.
I call Voyage the Beast of the millennial generation, because I can’t help but draw some parallels. They’re the top two longest wood coasters in the world, they’re both really ballsy designs for their respective periods, both are revered for their night rides, and both are considered the best wood coaster in the world by many, depending on who you ask. I’ve noticed that most older people who grew up with the Beast consider it to be the best, while the younger crowd (my age) tends to lean more toward Voyage.
I already consider Voyage a classic, as it has cemented itself in history as perhaps the most enduring wood coaster ever built. It takes some serious guts to build a ride like this, so you’ve gotta give props to Holiday World for not only having the guts to build one of the ballsiest roller coasters on the planet, but also caring about it enough to keep it running as good as they can. 2016 will be its 10th anniversary season, to which I say happy early birthday, Voyage. Here’s to many more thrilling years.
Voyage SHOULD be a 10/10 coaster, but as it’s currently running, I have to take off a point for its current rough ride.
VOYAGE RATING (as of 2015): 9 / 10 (Excellent!)
Do you guys agree with my review? Let me know in the comments below what you think of the ride! Until next time, I’ll catch you in the front seat!