Monday, June 13, 2005

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Trip Report

"Feels like the first time...
Feels like the very first time" - Foreigner

Busch Gardens, Williamsburg

This is the second time we've visited Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA - we all went 3 years ago and loved it, so I was excited about coming back again.

I've become a Theme Park junkie, although I really haven't visited all that many. My summers as a kid were spent, each year, traveling to Atlanta to visit relatives and spending a day at Six Flags Over Georgia. That park will also be special, because I still have a very romanticized view of the experiences, experiences only a child can have. If anyone has visited that park, I'd love to hear some of your memories and can talk about mine here if anyone's interested.

But that's another post.

I also, of course, have a great affection for all the Walt Disney World parks. EPCOT is my favorite down there, and remember being bowled over by the scope of it all the first time I visited there when I was in college. Our family has visited there twice (read about our last trip here) and will probably go again in a couple of years.

Our family usually gets season passes to Dollywood, the theme park in nearby Pigeon Forge. Ok, ok, you in the back. Hush. It's a nice place - be quiet.

In two weeks, I'll be flying back to Orlando to visit Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure with my college roomate, Gary. I've never seen those parks before, so I'm anxious to give them a go - as well as see what kind of trouble Gary and I can get in as a couple of late 30's "Wild and Crazy Guys".

But that, in this case, is a future post.

Busch Gardens is a beautiful park - absolutely stunning. It has consistently won awards for excellence in decoration and beautifications, and it's well deserved. There are flowers everywhere, and the park is immaculate. True, it only opened recently for its summer season and school is not yet out in Virginia but it still is a pleasure to walk around and take in the sights and smells.

The park is themed to different countries, and each section has its own flavor, music, styles and attitude. The countries include England, Scotland, Ireland (my favorite), France, "New France" or Canada, Germany and Italy. The rides and attractions in each land reflect the nationality of its host country and each are distinct from one another.

It has four major roller coasters (and Michael, correct me if I get some facts wrong about these):

1) Loch Ness Monster (Scotland): BGW's first coaster was one of the country's first steel roller coasters. Painted a brilliant yellow, I've ridden this one twice so far. It's pretty good - a couple of interlocking loops make for a fairly intense experience in the middle of the ride. The rest of it is actually fairly pedestrian. Not great, not bad - kind of middle of the road.

2) Alpengeist (France): This is a suspended coaster, themed to simulate a ghost haunting a European mountain ski resort. It's painted blue and white, and is so close to Nessie they almost seem to intersect. I rode this one last visit and almost blacked out - I didn't ride it again this time.

3) Big Bad Wolf (Germany): Another suspended coaster, this one is very, very red and black. It takes you through a recreated Bavarian forest and village and at some parts is very pleasant and pastoral. But then, the turns and dips come hot and heavy - culminating in a plunge and near miss on the Rhine River that runs through the middle of the park. I rode this one three times - I loved it ;) Swinging side to side while hanging underneath the track was a kick. This is my 2nd favorite coaster.

4) Apollo's Chariot (Italy): One of the first Hypercoasters - it lives up to its name. In brilliant purple and gold, it's more of a traditional coaster that climbs to dizzying heights and falls to staggering depths. There's a double helix near the middle and the final plunge will literally lift you off your feet and catch your breath. This is a brilliant ride, and my favorite coaster ever. It's amazing.

BGW has a brand new ride that just opened - a dark ride called "Curse of DarKastle". It's based on the Spiderman ride-type technology that starts off in an extremely detailed recreation of a Slavic forest castle that's been abandoned and haunted for years. The ride vehicles are shaped like sleighs, and the inside is stunning. 3-D glasses enhance the projections of ghosts, wolves and other entities that haunt the castle as your sleigh makes its way throughout the interior and grounds. Crossbows fly at you, the Evil Baron Ludwig hurls dinner knives, skulls and other haunts swoop about in one of the best 3-D projections I've ever seen. All the while the sleighs roll and bump and swirl around. Eventually, the floor drops out beneath you and you plunge down through the floors of the castle and escape through a haunted forest. This is one slick ride, and BrainyBoy ate it up once we finally got him on it. Luckily we caught it at the end of the day on Thursday, and were able to ride it once and walk right back on a ride it again...

A special honor goes to the Irish shows "Castle O'Sullivan" - a live action show with a catchy score, supposedly you are participating in the auction of the contents of an old Irish castle that turns out to contain all manner of beasties...a leprechaun named Clancey and some other folks that are not so nice.

Other attractions include "Escape from Pompeii," an oh-so-brief water ride that travels through the ruins of Pompeii before plunging down a soaking waterfall; "Roman Rapids," a river rampage-type ride that's been done to death in various parks but was still fun and soaking when we really needed some heat relief; "Corkscrew Hill," similar to the DarKastle, this was another 3-D movie but you sit in a moving theatre that rocks and rolls along with your ride across the Irish countryside on the back of a horse or flying in the talons of a griffon.

The food was decent, but very expensive. The four of us ate at a Smokehouse restaurant in New France that smelled heavenly but cost about twice as much as a normal lunch might've cost. We had funnel cake the next time :)

Finally, for the kids is "Land of the Dragons," a play area for kids and near-kids themed to friendly dragons that had a lot of playground space, kiddie rides and a ton of water.

My one real complaint was that several of the rides were not functional - especially some of the children rides, which put a limit of the number of rides Tink could go on. Especially galling was the SkyBuckets which crisscrossed the park on our first visit - they were down this time, and that was disappointing because not only do you get a great view of the park from above, it makes it a lot easier to get from one side of the park to the other.

So if you're even in the area, DO NOT MISS a chance to see Busch Gardens Williamsburg. It's a great place to spend a couple of early summer days, and you'll love it.

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