Holiday World is a mid-sized, family-owned, family-friendly park in southern Indiana locally famous for their free parking, free soft drinks, free sunscreen, clean grounds, good food, and hyper-friendly employees. In 1995, they hit the radar of coaster enthusiasts with Raven, a small but powerful coaster that ranked #1 in the world for several years. In 2000 they built a bigger coaster called Legend that also hit many folks' top ten lists. For the park's 60th birthday, though (2006), park president Will Koch wanted something extra-special. Coaster engineering firm The Gravity Group were called on for the design and Will provided a lot of ideas himself as well. This thing was going to be an industry game-changer and one that would once again give Holiday World the world's top-ranked wood coaster.

The Voyage would be the anchor attraction in a whole new section of the park, themed after Thanksgiving (all of Holiday World's sections are themed to holidays because of course they are), with the coaster's name referring to the Pilgrim's voyage to the New World. Those Pilgrims didn't have an easy voyage, for sure, but it was absolutely worth the hardships they went through. Come to think of it, that might be the perfect name for this coaster experience.

The Voyage is easy to find, even though it begins deep in a valley at the bottom of the park. The first three hills are huge and can be seen long before you get to it, even before you get to the park. The train looks freakin' TINY by the time it gets to the top of the lift hill. Yes, it's freakishly tall for a wood coaster. It's also freakishly long and fast and has a boatload of airtime and a whole host of other stuff that will all come flying at you in no time. But for right now, as we head up the lift, let's just remember that we're way the hell up in the air and the track going down is looking really steep.

The drop doesn't just look steep, it is steep. Really steep. Front seat riders have an amazing view of the track just curving down into the forest below. Back seat riders get yanked over the top, launched out of their seats, and they stay airborne almost all the way to the bottom. Oh yeah, this is good. This is really good.

The next hill is a huge camelback hump navigated at high speed, so expect to float all the way over it. This is called "airtime" - the moment when you experience zero-G at the top of a hill and float ("floater air") or when you experience negative-G forces that pin you to the underside of the lap bar or catapult you into the bar ("ejector air"). The Voyage was engineered for a ridiculous 24.3 combined seconds of airtime, the most of any wood coater on earth. You eat up a few of those seconds on this first big hump. The back side of it is another steep drop that launches the riders in the back of the train into the lap bars a second time. You might as well get used to it, there's another one coming up next.

The crest of the third hill offers more floaty airtime to the whole train, plus a slight jog to the left in the middle of it, giving you the odd sensation of the car moving under you while you're in the air. Very cool. This is also the last bit of the ride that you can see from anywhere in the park, so what happens from here on is a mystery. Adding to that mystery is that the bottom of this drop goes underground, the first of many tunnels.

Now that we've left the park behind and nobody can see what we're doing back here, stuff gets batshit-crazy. Firstly, the predictable rhythm of the Big Three hills is trashed by the sneak-attack bunny hop right out of the first tunnel. Blasting out of the tunnel into the sunlight, you expect another big hill, but the train barely makes it above ground before jogging to the right and diving right back under the earth, riding the upstops HARD all the way over, never losing speed, pinning the riders to the underside of the lap bars, butts afloat above the seat cushions. This is the kind of wickedness that you get when the guys who designed the ride are coaster enthusiasts as well as engineers.

Another camelback awaits you after the bunny hop, this one also bookended by tunnels. Darkness, sunny airtime, darkness. It almost feels like a pattern in the same way the first three big drops did, but just like that pattern abruptly changed, so will this one. The third tunnel's exit leads to a rising left hand turn that zigzags into a diving right hand turn that goes into a left hand turnaround with heavy laterals and no handrail on the outside of the turn. That's a nice little visual, as you're just about certain that it was purposely omitted so you wouldn't have anything to crash through if the train doesn't make it around this crazy-ass turn. You do make the turn, though, which suddenly throws in a bunny hop banked the same way as the turn, which serves to mess with your head while it messes with gravity.

None of that makes much difference, though, because your eyes haven't yet fully grasped what is right in front of you. Surely that turn coming up isn't real... it just can't be.

It's real and it's amazing. The track curves left and lays all the way over on its side in full 90° banking. That's like taking a piece of track and hanging it on a wall. It's a brief moment, but it's still hard to believe it exists at all. In fact, you could almost convince yourself that it was an optical trick of some kind, that it wasn't REALLY completely sideways. Almost. But then, there's that next turn coming up that bitch-slaps your brain into the realization that not only did you just do a 90° banked turn, you're about to do another one. In the opposite direction. No, really.

You haven't even fully comprehended the first turn when you twist the other way and head into the second one. Keep in mind that you are still going insanely fast at this point and a good bit of this is just a speed blur. It takes several rides to fully comprehend what all is going on back here. From this turn, the train dives back underground, then goes up above ground again into the midcourse brakes. I should mention that these brakes are for safety purposes so the train can be stopped here in case of emergency. If there's no emergency, you won't even realize that there are brakes here at all, because they are wide open and the train just races right through them without even slowing down.

So let's recap:

  1. Bigass drop.
  2. Bigass drop.
  3. Bigass drop.
  4. Tunnel.
  5. Bunnyhop.
  6. Tunnel.
  7. Speed hill.
  8. Tunnel.
  9. Zigzag.
  10. Turnaround.
  11. Leaning bunnyhop.
  12. Vertically-banked turn to the left.
  13. Vertically-banked turn to the right.
  14. Tunnel.
  15. Flat section close to the ground. 

Got it? Good. That's more than most coasters do already and we're only half done. "But we're right here on the ground... what more can there be?" your brain says. It's then that you remember that all those tunnels were necessary because the ride starts in a deep valley and the ground has been rising in elevation all this time. Yes, you're at ground level, but that ground is still a lot higher than the bottom of the valley you have to get back to. Everything is downhill from here and it's going to get crazy fast.

After sliding right though the midcourse brake run, another tunnel awaits. You drop into the darkness and feel the train reach the bottom. Then it drops again. Ooo, nice! That drop bottoms out and jogs a tiny bit to the left, still in the dark, and then the train gets yanked out from under you again. Holy hell! A double-down underground is a nice surprise. A subterranean TRIPLE drop will screw your brain, plain and simple. It's the signature moment in a ride chock full of signature moments. Put that little experience morsel on the back burner for now, though, because we've just blasted out into the sunlight again and it has become obvious that the coaster station is still way down in the valley and everything is getting faster.

The track slaloms back and forth through the structure of the first three hills at breakneck speed, tossing in some wavy track and a few laterals for some variety. Then you see this:

There's a small dip right after a left turn that slams you down into your seat, and then a third 90° banked turn that makes sure you stay firmly planted in that seat. All the while, things are just getting faster and faster. Back through the structure again into a left turn not banked much at all. You're going to get to know your seat-buddy pretty well here, just as they take your picture for the souvenir booth.

No time to even think about how that photo is going to look as you dive down to the left and then up while twisting right into another airtime-filled hill. The change of direction while airborne is wicked fun and the train dives underground again, passing by a large window in the basement of the queue house, giving folks waiting in line something to think about as the trainload of screaming passengers goes roaring past.

If you liked the zigzag bunny hop before the station tunnel, you'll love the one that comes after it. It's in the opposite direction and has even more airtime than the first one, plus the dive on the back end is even better.

Another tunnel takes the train under the walkway that leads to the Thanksgiving section of the park, then a big clockwise circular turn with undulating hills brings the train screaming into the brake run, still going faster than many coasters' top speed.

The Voyage is a coaster full of superlatives. It is one of the tallest, fastest, longest, most airtime-laden, most tunneled, and most relentlessly intense wooden coasters on earth. It is likely to remain so for many, many years, even though new coasters are built by parks every year. Simply put, most of the big chain parks just don't have the balls to build a ride this intense. When The Voyage first opened, the park invited some enthusiasts out for a preview with the media. Word got out quickly: "Ride it now. Ride it right now, because there is NO WAY that the park is going to let it run this wildly for very long. They're bound to tame it down, so get out here ASAP." If it were at a big theme park chain, that might've been the case. Lucky for us, Holiday World isn't run by corporate pencil-pushers who think toning things down will make it appeal to more people. It's run by nice folks who love their park and who understand that sometimes pushing the limits of what people expect is exactly what you need to do. Will Koch loved "his" Voyage just the way it is, thank you very much, and it serves his memory well that Holiday World lets the beast run free and unhindered. (Will died from complications of diabetes in 2010.)

It's not a coaster for everyone. I've got friends who love coasters who think that The Voyage is "too intense" and "exhausting" and "physically demanding." Granted, it is intense and physically demanding and you're tired when you get to the end. But it's a good workout and you're full of adrenaline and endorphins and it's such an incredible rush that it makes it all worth it. So if you're of a delicate nature and like your thrills to come with comfort, smoothness, and ease, then go find yourself a nice steel coaster and have a ball. But if you want to experience the limit-pushing insanity of a coaster that only a park like Holiday World would dare pull off, then head to the cornfields of Indiana and take The Voyage.

The New World awaits.

 

Have a ride, courtesy of Upstop Media