In Which Jenn Goes Back To Busch Gardens Williamsburg

This blog assumes two items:

  1. All amusement parks are, to varying degrees but with utmost certainty, inferior to Disney parks.
  2. They are still fun.

Therefore when a Groupon popped up for Busch Gardens Williamsburg about three hours south of us, Pat and I jumped at the chance. We’ve been there before and nothing has changed since then, but I thought a recap would still be fun.

Quick background for those who aren’t familiar: Busch Gardens is mostly themed to western Europe, with the park divided into France, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and, for some inexplicable reason, New France aka Canada. (Plus a couple kids areas but I haven’t checked those out in several decades, so.) It’s a giant step up from your average Six Flags in quality but the majority of the rides do tend to be more thrill-based than story-based.

First, two things we did NOT do that may surprise you: the roller coasters Alpengeist and Loch Ness Monster. Alpengeist is only okay; Loch Ness Monster is a jolty ’70s coaster that does not rise above its age. If you’ve never ridden either, by all means do, as roller coasters can be very personal. But since we’ve done both we elected to skip them in favor of more rides on the coasters we LOVE.

And what coasters do we love? APOLLO’S CHARIOT! Swoopy, swoopy, swoopy, with a satisfyingly long track. The name of the game here is airtime, with some fun bunny hops at the end. Also, this is the coaster on which Fabio was hit in the face with a goose, so enjoy that.

GRIFFON! If you’ve ridden Sheikra at Busch Gardens Tampa, I understand you’ve ridden the same ride: the first drop is 205 and VERTICAL. We waited the extra time each ride to in the very front row because this is a rare case where ride experience is definitely affected by position. When they hang you over the edge of the first drop and make you think about it, looking straight down the track is absolutely glorious. The drop is smooth and fast and awesome. Don’t be afraid!

VERBOLTEN! Okay, I love this one more than Pat does, but he still enjoys it. The track itself has two fun slingshot accelerations and the surprise in the middle, and everyone loves a roller coaster in the dark, but it’s the themeing that really does it for me. I love that the designers took the time to tell a story, beginning with the car rental and botany lab of the queue, all the way through the blacklit show building and sound effects. This to me is the most Disneyesque thing in the park.

Only bad thing about this coaster: because of all the programming involved in the show building’s effects, it has a tendency to go down a lot. We had to come back three times to ride it successfully. At one point we were in the loading area when it broke down. Luckily we hadn’t been waiting too long, but it’s something to keep in mind when planning your day. Try to get this one in as early as possible.

You could argue that Curse of Darkastle, being a dark ride, is pretty Disney-ish too. I would liken it more to Universal’s Spiderman ride, myself, although frankly not as well executed. It’s got the whole dark ride sets plus 3D effects going on, but the story of Mad King Ludwig and his victims isn’t cohesive. Mind you, I remember riding this back in 2005 when it opened and they used to hold you in a room before you hit the load area to watch an explanatory backstory video. They now just have those doors open, and if you happen to walk through while the video is playing, you see it – if not, you don’t. I’m sure line flow is helped by this decision, but I’m not sure the audience gets the full experience without the video.

We also rode one more coaster, Tempesto: it is short and suffers for it. What ride time you get is fun but it’s basically over before it starts: forward, back, forward, up, over, done. Pat pointed out the entire experience would be improved if you repeated those motions but backwards. As it is I wouldn’t wait more than 5 minutes for it.

I think the only other thing we rode is the skyride, which isn’t going to blow any minds but it’s a fun throwback.

Then of course there is the predator show (ME: “Can we see the predator show?” PAT: “Do they own that franchise?”). There’s some hokey acting but the animals are ADORABLE. The fox might be my favorite.

We were there for Howl-O-Scream, Busch Gardens’ Halloween event, but did not tour any haunted houses as Pat much prefers roller coasters and I much prefer not having a nervous breakdown. We did walk through a couple scare zones; these I tend to enjoy as the scares are less direct and the open spaces keep me from feeling trapped.

The Wendigo Woods scare zone took over New France, the idea being that some military science department had, I don’t know, built a wendigo? Trapped one? It wasn’t clear. Mostly there was an audio-animatronic “wendigo” animal in a cage with piped in screams (why? It’s caged…). The real “scares” came from guys in blue camo outfits and helmets, who would do things like shout in a bullhorn, snap a clipboard at you, or drag some sort of load metal something at your feet. More startling than anything.

On our last Griffon ride we could see a winged, demonic DJ (whom we affectionately referred to as “DJ Satan”) from the top of the first hill, but he had vanished by the time we hit the demon scare zone. I hope he’s okay.

I would’ve liked to walk through a few more but Pat’s been having recurring hip trouble and it was bothering him, so we headed out instead. On our way we walked through the Jack the Ripper scare zone at the entrance to the park. I’m not clear if Jack himself ever shows up; mostly it seems to be zombie Victorians. One nifty trick I hadn’t noticed during previous trips: headless Victorian ladies. I tried to take a pic but it was dark and I was walking which is why it sucks.

A couple notes on food and drink: food is only okay, with most of it being kinda heavy; BGW has not caught up to WDW for options. France does have crepes, which is nice, and Festhaus has sausage. Trappers Smokehouse has the same kids meals as everybody else BUT they also have waffle fries. The turkey leg place right outside Trappers yields Pat’s favorite turkey legs OF ALL TIME, and he fancies himself quite the connoisseur.

In addition to mazes, BGW offered some escape room experiences, which were intriguing but we never got around to it/didn’t want to pay extra. Right next to it, however, was a bar, which had some good fruity mixed drinks. We also had some hurricanes at the pirate bar in Italy. Both places served our drinks in souvenir light up glasses, but as we had nowhere to store them and didn’t feel like walking them back to the car we ended up chucking them.

Speaking of not having anywhere to store stuff: like Universal Studios, BGW will no longer allow you to bring any kind of bag with you through the line. You have to store things in a locker, which, unlike Universal, is not free. You can rent a locker individually, or you can get a $5 transferable locker pass. Unlike Universal, at no point does BGW require you to go through a metal detector halfway through the line, so I elected to use my tried and true Sports Bra Storage method. More on this in a later post.

Advice if you live in the BGW area but far enough away that it’s a bit of a haul: don’t get up early and drive in the morning of. Get a hotel. There are lots of cheap ones in the area, and you do NOT want to deal with DC-VA traffic, especially if it’s a workday. That’s what we did, and we awoke rested and ready to roll. Totally worth the money.

I hope to be back next year – they’re building a new wooden coaster! (Maybe even during the regular operating season; I haven’t seen that German Festhaus show in forever and I miss it.)

Have you been to Busch Gardens Williamsburg? If you go, can you confirm the health of DJ Satan?

Don’t forget, you can follow us on Twitter @fairestrunofall. To see how our training is going, check out Jenn’s dailymile here and Moon’s dailymile here. If you have any questions for us, leave a comment or email us at fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

In Which Jenn & Elizabeth Go to Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Hooray! Elizabeth is here again to help me with another review!

JENN: A round of applause for my faithful guest judge, Interplanetary Explorer Extraordinaire Elizabeth!

ELIZABETH: I dunno about interplanetary: after watching Gravity I don’t think I ever want to go out there.

JENN: Haha, good call.

ELIZABETH: I have my moments.

JENN: So, a few weeks ago Elizabeth and I got a great deal on Busch Gardens Williamsburg tickets. This was the good news. The bad news was that the only remaining days of the season were all Howl-o-Scream days. O.o

Busch Gardens does not do Halloween Disney-style. It does Halloween SCARY-style.

ELIZABETH: It’s what the people want, apparently. I thought it was pretty clever how they had the park separated into different themes. How many were there? Four?

JENN: Four or five, I believe.

ELIZABETH: Yeah. They had vampires, demons, pirates… Victorian zombies… you know, the usual. I think there may have been a few vampires.

JENN: The scare zones were very impressively rendered, especially, to my mind, the demon zone in France.

ELIZABETH: Yeah, that was pretty cool. They pretty much had a rave going. If your timing was right/wrong you couldn’t see ANYTHING.

JENN: The demon actors even got a few people with the help of the fog machines. By “get” I of course mean “startle,” not actually steal anyone’s soul.

ELIZABETH:  At least, we didn’t SEE any soul-stealing. But they didn’t start sending people out to actually scare you until 6PM.

JENN: The pirate scare zone was my favorite.

ELIZABETH:
Where was it we saw the guy with the bungee-chord thing? That would bungee out into the path from behind a tree? Was he one of the pirates?

JENN: Yes!

ELIZABETH: That was pure genius.  I wish I had that job.

JENN: They were also some of the most confrontational even while, to me, being the least scary.

ELIZABETH: Yeah, they stopped us a couple of times going over the bridge.  I don’t think we got the one guy to ever say anything.

JENN: Unlike your Victorian zombie friend!

ELIZABETH: That poor guy. He seemed to be a good sport about it, though.

JENN: A scare actor in the Jack the Ripper scare zone in the England part of the park started stalking Elizabeth, so we just chattered at him until he eventually broke character. By the end he was trying on my sunglasses to see if he could perfect Elizabeth’s over-the-glasses stare. Which he couldn’t, of course. Ya gotta be part of her family to nail it.

ELIZABETH: It was a pretty good imitation, but the fact that they were sunglasses detracted a bit, I think. Especially since they clashed with the rest of his costume.

JENN: I fear I came unprepared.

ELIZABETH: FOR SHAME!

JENN: ALWAYS BRING REGULAR GLASSES FOR THE VICTORIAN ZOMBIES. Write that down, everyone.

ELIZABETH: It’s important!

JENN: We caught all the Howl-o-Scream shows, which thankfully were completely harmless. Das Festhaus in the Germany portion of the park featured a sort of cabaret song-and-dance show populated by undead performers.

ELIZABETH:  I liked the announcer at the Festhaus. But the adult-themed one in the Abbey Stone Theater in Ireland was pretty cheesy.

JENN: Yeah, I think that’s the same show from BG Tampa. Fiends got too cheesy for me.

ELIZABETH: It was a little much.  I mostly enjoyed your reactions to their antics.

JENN: SPEEDOS ARE FOR OLYMPIC SWIMMERS. If you are NOT swimming in a competitive sport, DO NOT WEAR A SPEEDO. And above all, DO NOT WEAR ONE ON STAGE IN A CROWDED THEATER.

[To clarify: The
Fiends show ends with a “monster” played by a hot guy who ends up ripping off all his clothes except a speedo. Which proves that Jenn will complain about anything. Now get off her lawn!]

ELIZABETH: Well I mean, clearly he was meant to be eye candy.  You gotta show off the goods.

JENN: I don’t care how hot you are; if you’re out in public PUT ON SOME BOXERS AT LEAST, JEEZ. Harrumph. Harrumph, I say!

ELIZABETH: Ha!

JENN: I think I liked Dig It Up the best of all the shows; it was performed in the amphitheater in the Italy section of the park. There were a couple dancers, but mostly the musicians in this one took center stage, dressed as museum denizens. I don’t mean the musicians were dressed like workers – rather, they were dressed like Egyptians and gladiators and cavemen.

Mind you, that was cheesy too, but the musicians were all really good! (Plus one of the trumpeters was both pretty AND decently clothed.) And it did spark one of my favorite games, Guess Which Members of the Band are Local Music Teachers.

ELIZABETH: My money’s still on the tuba player. The ending was weird though.  I still think it looked like they were depicting an alien ship crashing into earth, which, at that scale, would obliterate all life. I thought it was rather dark, personally.

JENN: You know I like it cynical.

Did we see another show? I feel like we saw another show.

ELIZABETH: Hmmmmm.

JENN: Oh, I think I’m thinking of the predator show!

ELIZABETH: Oh yeah!

JENN: Busch Gardens has a kind of mini wildlife preserve, and they do a predator show with adorable animals!

ELIZABETH: Even the rats were cute!

JENN: Foxes, wolves, a falcon, and the cutest barn owl in the whole entire world. His name is Cupid and he is stupid. I’m not saying it just because it rhymes; it’s also true!

ELIZABETH: You can’t have everything. He did his trick, though!

JENN: He did! Last time we went to BG, about two years ago, he was still in training, so we watched him get confused and lost when attempting to fly around the area. Now he does it like a pro! I wish I’d thought to grab a picture of him.

ELIZABETH: A couple of the kids were asking to pet him at the end.  I can sympathize: he looked so cute!

JENN: We also went through the Lorikeet Glen and looked at the birds there; very very pretty.

Let’s see… we rode Curse of DarKastle, a spookily themed dark ride loosely based off Mad King Ludwig and his Neuschwannstein castle with ghosts and werewolves and such. I had an interesting conversation with one of the ride operators. It went like this:

GUY: [creepy low raspy voice, right in my ear] Imwrngyou.

ME: What?

GUY: [normal voice, smiling] I’m warning you!

ME: Oh, okay!

And then he laughed. I got laughed at a lot that day.

ELIZABETH: You just break the monotony!

JENN: We also rode ALLLL the roller coasters! Because that’s how we do it! Alpengeist and the Loch Ness Monster once each; the former being essentially the Great Bear at Hershey Park (swoopy and twisty) and the latter being old and loopy.

ELIZABETH: And then we went on Verbolten, which I hadn’t ridden yet.

JENN: We rode Verbolten twice and OH MY GOD was the first time satisfying. The very first time I rode it back in December (during their Christmastown event) I immediately thought to myself “Elizabeth must ride this!” I mean, at the one bit I was like, “I didn’t even know they could DO that!!!” And then I rode it a bajillion more times.

ELIZABETH:  Shall we give away what happens? Or just say that there’s a surprise?

JENN: I think I’ll put a link to the Wikipedia article here, and people can spoil it if they want to. But seriously, if there’s ANY chance you’ll be riding Verbolten in the future, don’t do it. It’s SO much better when you don’t know what’s coming.

And it’s almost as good when you don’t tell Elizabeth what’s coming, and then she turns to you right after and yells “You jerk! You didn’t tell me about that!”

And then you bounce right there in your seat and laugh and clap!

ELIZABETH: Yeah… I got over it pretty quickly though, as the ride is pretty awesome. And it was better not knowing! Although I should have ben suspicious of the fact that you didn’t gush about exactly what happens on the ride.

JENN:  Some of the finest self-control I have ever exhibited.

ELIZABETH: You should be proud.

JENN: In terms of thrills, it’s probably the least impressive of all the coasters in the park. But in terms of theme, execution, and FUN, it’s probably the best. Kind of Disney-like that way!

ELIZABETH: I was reminded of the Disney coasters, yeah.

JENN: We rode Apollo’s Chariot three times, because that roller coaster is awesome. It has this very free-flowing, up-and-down track that gives you serious airtime.

ELIZABETH: It’s like going over a really steep hill in your car, except better, and multiple times.

JENN: Sadly we were only able to ride Griffon once, but it was GLORIOUS.

ELIZABETH: We waited in the extra long line to be in the front.

JENN: Indeed! Griffon is a dive coaster with a 90 degree drop. They pause the car right before that drop and let you dangle there for a moment to contemplate your fate. Being in the front row for that reason is imperative.

And may I just mention again how incredibly SAFE I felt that whole time? SO SAFE.

ELIZABETH: Whatever do you mean?  Haunted houses are completely safe!  🙂

JENN: This brings us to our final topic: the haunted house. Howl-o-Scream features five. We did one. Because um.

ELIZABETH: I decided that dragging Jenn in without warning was the best strategy, because she never would have gone otherwise.

JENN: See, we had just come out of the Fiends show, and we were discussing what to do next. The 13: Your Number is Up line was right there and (deceptively) didn’t seem to have much line, and I JOKINGLY said “We could do that haunted house” and then Elizabeth was all “OKAY LET’S DO IT” and I was like “?????!”

ELIZABETH: We’ll get her desensitized yet!

JENN: Because guys, before last Friday I had never been in a haunted house in my LIFE. I mean, unless you count Disney’s Haunted Mansion, but there’s no reason why you would. And I didn’t even ride that until I was eighteen.

ELIZABETH: You were overdue.

JENN: Here’s the thing. Several years ago, a coworker of mine decided it would be funny to jump out from around a corner at me. So I threw him on the floor and punched him in the head.

ELIZABETH: Which is why you don’t do that to Jenn. Or alternatively: why she would survive a horror movie.

JENN: I am not a screamer or a clutcher. I am a flighter and a fighter.  I understand these things are frowned upon in most haunted houses.

ELIZABETH: True, but at least you know the scares are coming.

JENN:  I didn’t know a darn thing! 😀

I went through the haunted house as follows: one hand clamped down on Elizabeth’s shoulder so she could lead me seeing eye dog style, with my eyes trained FIRMLY on the ground. And squinting, for good measure.

ELIZABETH: I tried to keep up a running commentary to keep things light.

JENN: Here is what I remember from the haunted house, which was themed to thirteen phobias:

Caskets. Floor. Corner of a hospital bed? Sheets of tarp you had to push through. Creepy little girl voice. Elizabeth saying “Look, a security guard!” (He was dressed normally and looked bored; I liked that.) A stuffed clown hanging from the ceiling. Mirrors on the ground. Rubber snake curtains. A broken mirror. The end!

So any real description of the house will have to come from Elizabeth because I saw practically nothing. It was GREAT. When we exited she had to tell me I could look up again.

ELIZABETH: And she didn’t believe me at first!  Let’s see, there was: death, claustrophobia, doctors, going to bed, mirrors, snakes, insects, clowns, bad luck. What were the others?  I can’t remember, now.  Oh well, you’ll all have to go and figure out the other fears!

JENN: One guy did come out from a small door near the floor and jumped at me, which I thought was very unsportsmanlike of him. He asked me if I was scared yet, so I said “Yes. Thank you.” And then the people behind me laughed and declared it the best response ever. So there’s that.

ELIZABETH: That was pretty awesome. He didn’t seem to know what to do with that.

JENN: Didn’t he? I didn’t really see him. I’m working off peripherals here.

ELIZABETH: Oh, I forgot to list zombies!  There were zombies!

JENN: In the house? When? Totally missed that. Of course!

ELIZABETH: Yeah, they were one of the fears, one of the ones where stuff was hanging fro the ceiling I think. So I think I’m only missing three now.

JENN: Ohh, I remember pushing through “bodies” hanging from the ceiling.

ELIZABETH: There was a lot of that.

JENN: Y’know, it’s funny – none of the phobias were things that particularly scare me on a conceptual level. It’s the prospect of people jumping out at me that gets me all anxious. I was fine with the scare zones! What I need is an intermediate level. A haunted house where you can just walk through and be atmospherically scared. Or at the very least some sort of high sign that makes the actors leave me, personally, alone.

I want to point out again that I laughed my way down the 205 foot vertical drop of Griffon. And I felt so wonderfully SAFE!

Let’s see, are we missing anything? We got the monster cake at lunch! It was green and purple.

ELIZABETH: Yes! Although it was definitely a yellow cake (a good yellow cake, though).

JENN: Cake is awesome.

ELIZABETH: And the Festhaus Sampler was quite good.

JENN: How was your strawberry wine crepe from France?

ELIZABETH: It was delicious!

JENN: All in all, would you want to do Howl-o-Scream again?

ELIZABETH: I would!  It was fun. I’d even try one of the other haunted houses.

JENN: Maybe we can get one of some of our tall guy friends to go so I can hide behind them. Andrew is 6’3″ and Scott is 6’5″, so I think if I could convince them to surround me I’d be in pretty good shape!

ELIZABETH: Ha!

JENN: If they do a pirate house again I think I could survive that.

ELIZABETH: Pirates aren’t as existentially scary as, say, ghosts.

JENN: Precisely.

ELIZABETH: I think that’s actually the first time I’ve stayed at a park for the full twelve hours it was open!

JENN: Well there ya go! As always, thank you for your fabulous commentary. I hope we meet again on many another roller coaster, and the sooner the better!

ELIZABETH: Yes!

Have you been to Busch Gardens Williamsburg? How about Howl-o-Scream? Or maybe something similar? Are you braver than Jenn about haunted houses? (Answer: yes.)

Don’t forget, you can follow us on Twitter @fairestrunofall. To see how our training is going, check out Jenn’s dailymile here and Moon’s dailymile here. If you have any questions for us, leave a comment or email us at fairestrunofall@gmail.com. See ya real soon!