Happy Friday: The Enchanted Laboratory At Busch Gardens Williamsburg

One of the many nice things about being a big fan of Disney parks is that they give you a greater appreciation for and interest in theme parks in general. Liking more things means there are more things we like, if you know what I mean.

With that in mind, follow me now on a brief journey into my childhood, a fixture of which was Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Sure, Six Flags America and Kings Dominion were closer to where I lived, but Busch Gardens was worth that extra hour’s drive.

Just like Walt Disney World, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has grown and changed a lot over the ensuing decades, and while we’ve gained some nifty new rides and attractions, we’ve also lost some of my nostalgic favorites. One such ride was my very first roller coaster ever, Big Bad Wolf, which while sorely missed thankfully found a worthy successor in Verbolten.

Alas, another lost attraction now has no successor at all: The Enchanted Laboratory of Nostramos the Magnificent, which ran from 1986 to 2000. Located in what is now the Ireland section of the park and ostensibly a magic show for children, The Enchanted Laboratory rose above its humble concept with a truly entertaining performance for all ages. 

Oh, sure, you think. When you were seven you thought that. But how about revisiting it as an adult?

Guys, this show is AWESOME.

I mean, sure, nostalgia may be coloring some of my opinion, but I stand by it – the magic tricks, while not mind-blowing for the most part, were performed with aplomb, the script was good, the songs were catchy, the animatronics were fun, and the actors were talented. You needn’t trust me; somebody even built a fansite for the show

Need a break from your Friday workday? Take 24 minutes and check it out below. And if you like it, definitely take a look at that fansite I linked above – it’s super comprehensive! (One of its fun facts: several former Imagineers were part of the project.)

P.S. SPOILER: One time, even though I’d already seen the show several times, the monster It that tries to escape at the end scared me. I asked my dad if we could leave and he said no. The show finished up and I was fine. ๐Ÿ˜†Having read on the fansite that Northrup had to actively wrestle with It, perhaps this was one of the times It rose a little higher than intended?

Don’t forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall. It would thrill me extremely if you would leave a comment with any questions or thoughtsSee 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!  ๐Ÿ™‚

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! ๐Ÿ˜€

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!

In Which Jenn Chooses Her Very Favorite Thing at WDW

It’s unthinkable. To name a favorite attraction at Walt Disney World is to name your favorite child. You’re not supposed to play favorites! It’s supposed to be an impossible choice!

But I can. If asked, I can name my favorite thing at WDW. Go on, guess. Of all the rides, shows, and characters, what is my very favorite thing?

I’ll give you a hint: if it had been discontinued in favor of the questionable Avatar land, it would have meant the end of true happiness as I understand it.

Here, I’ll give you a bigger hint:

Yes. It’s the Festival of the Lion King. Of all the things, I love it most. In fact, I often see it twice in a given trip! Let me explain.

I’m not going to go into a long explanation of what it is, exactly, since the information as readily available and I think most readers are avid WDW fans anyway. Suffice it to say, FotLK uses the music and characters of Disney’s The Lion King to form the skeleton of a performance. It is NOT, as so many other shows are, a retelling. The loose storyline is that Simba and his friends are holding a festival of sorts, and as such there is much singing and dancing.

Here are some of the reasons I think FotLK is so great:

  1. First things first: what’s the ROI on this baby? I think of attraction ROI in terms of wait time vs. experience time. While it’s certainly better to get to the theater early so as to claim your preferred seat, audience seating in the theater is HUGE, and since the show is in the round, there aren’t really any bad seats. Under all but the most extreme crowd circumstances, if you show up five minutes before the show starts, you’ll see it. And that show is a good, solid 35 minutes long.
  2. Since it’s not, as I said, a retelling, it’s not rushed. Voyage of the Little Mermaid, the Beauty and the Beast stage show, Finding Nemo: The Musical – they’re all well done (especially the latter!), but because they’re doing 90 minutes of movie in 30 minutes or less, plot points naturally get a bit crunched together. FotLK skips right over the exposition and just does the awesome songs you love with great choreography. It is its own perfect whole.
  3. Which brings us to point three: the FotLK music comes straight from the movie. And, um, if you don’t love The Lion King soundtrack I’m going to need you to go to sit in a corner and think about where you’re going wrong with your life. Oh, and in my experience the lead singers are always excellent.
  4. The choreography is wonderful too! The dancers are seriously talented and the dancing is a wonderful mix of African tribal dance and more traditional modern technique. There’s even some whimsy thrown in, plus some aerial work (which frankly I find to be the most boring part of an otherwise enthralling show, but most people seem to like it) and more atypical performances such as gymnastics and a fire… guy. Twirler? You know the guy I mean.
  5. The performers have great charisma, and many of them go out of their way to interact with you! I mean this is beyond stuff like making eye contact. I was once at a late performance and a girl behind me was sitting alone. When he wasn’t performing, the lead singer wandered into the bleachers, sat down next to her, and chatted with her a bit. I’ve seen dancers make funny faces for cameras, bump fists with audience members, the works. And of course there’s the singing along, the hand jive, and the parade of kids. 
  6. Therein lies the repeatability of the show. Because of the freedom the performers have to interact with the audience, it is never the same twice. I spend most of my time watching the backup dancers instead of the main characters for this reason.

My FAVORITE incident happened when Moon and I were there in February. We were sitting in My Spot, which is the right hand side of the lion section, on the edge and up a couple rows. One of the Tumble Monkey acrobats came up to the section and started high-fiving the little kids in front of us. We figured he’d stop before he got to us because, well, we’re not kids, so who cares about us? Yet he came up to us and high-fived us both – then turned to me, grinned, KNOCKED ON MY FOREHEAD LIKE YOU WOULD A DOOR, and scampered off. It was HILARIOUS. Thinking of it still makes me laugh. And that’s the sort of thing that makes WDW for me.

Not convinced? Here are bunch o’ photos I’ve taken over Lord knows how many years and performances. Apologies for the varying quality; I’ve had a lot of phone cameras in my time. Experience the glory!

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!