Written by Russell Meyer
Published: July 31, 2005 at 8:38 PM
In my last column, I reported about Busch’s decision to end the runs of two of its most popular live shows before the end of the season, Imaginque and Irish Thunder. After taking a weekend visit to the park, I was able to find out some more changes to the park, and discover a big change coming to every Busch park in the country. Every Busch park currently has a Budweiser Beer School, and all but one of the parks, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, has a hospitality house. It appears that every Busch park will also be getting yet another beer-themed attraction. The recently debuted Anheuser-Busch Brewmasters Room, which was first started at Sea World Orlando, takes the idea of a beer tasting to a new level. The A-B Hospitality areas offer guests a chance to sample two 8-oz beverages, which run the gamut of Busch brands. In the Budweiser Beer School, guests sample a predetermined set (4-6) of smaller samples (1-2 ounces) of A-B products always including a fresh Budweiser, a not-so-fresh Budweiser, and Bud Light. This new beer experience is more like a wine tasting than anything else. Guests are asked to select from four different “flights” of beer covering just about every type of beer that is served on tap at Busch Gardens.
Progressive Tasting—this was the one my wife and I tried, and includes the largest number of beers to try. The flight begins with the 3 primary Budweiser beers (Bud Light, Budweiser, and Budweiser Select), continues with Michelob Amber Bock, and concludes with Bare Knuckle Stout.
Gourmet Tasting—my friend went with this one, and features A-B’s European-style beers. The flight begins with the 3 main Michelob beers (Michelob Ultra, Michelob Light, and Michelob) and concludes with World “Lager.” (The “select” has been changed to avoid confusion with the new Budweiser Select)
Family Tasting—This flight includes the entire Budweiser family with Bud Light, Budweiser Select, Budweiser, and B to the E.
Full-Bodied Tasting—This flight had the fewest number of samples, with just Michelob Amber Bock and Bare Knuckle Stout tastes.
Not only does this new beer experience offer guests a wide variety of options, it also had a classiness that one would not expect from a beer tasting. The Brewmasters Room is located in the Festhaus in what used to be the “tap room,” which was only used on high capacity days for speedy beer service. Each group is situated at tables of 3-6 with a cast member assigned to each table. The cast member acts as your “sommelier,” for lack of a better term, as you progress through your flight. Guests are told a little bit about each beer, which is somewhat repetitive from the Beer School script, but are told to treat the beer like a fine wine by swirling, smelling, and tasting. Guests are also offered different foods for pairing with their beers, which are brought to the group on small plates. Each plate included: grapes, strawberries, wheat crackers, rye crackers, dark chocolate, and Swiss and cheddar cheeses. The one-on-one time with the highly trained cast member made the tasting a first-class experience. Our cast member told us that she had to travel to St. Louis for training a pass a comprehensive 200 question test in order to work in the Brewmasters Room. Not only did you receive individual attention, but I also felt like I could ask the cast member any question and get an intelligent response. From what our cast member told us, Sea World Orlando has been offering this high-class experience for a couple of months, and August Busch, after a visit to the park a few months ago, asked the Williamsburg park to add a similar experience. After the boss’s visit on a Monday, the Brewmasters Room was open for guests that Friday. Now that’s what I call a rapid response. It seems that this trend is sweeping the country, as every Busch park will be offering this new experience in the next month. The seating in the Brewmasters Room is extremely limited, about 15-20 per seating, and early reservations are required.
On this visit to Busch Gardens, we also took advantage of some of the new platinum passholder perks. Platinum members are now permitted to enter the park an extra 30 minutes before everyone else at 9:00 AM to ride Loch Ness Monster. There’s not much else to do for those 30 minutes, but it was nice to ride Nessie a few times and grab a nice breakfast at Squires Galley before the other countries opened at 10:00. Platinum passholders are also offered early seating for Imaginique, and enter the theater at the same time as those who purchased the Imaginique Dinner.
We also took our first opportunity to try the LeMans Bistro. This new restaurant is Busch Gardens’ first attempt at a table service restaurant. The menu features a number of appetizers, salads, entrees, sandwiches, and desserts. The food is of slightly higher quality than the normal counter-service restaurants, but the prices are reasonable. Most of the main menu items varied from $7-$10 with our final bill, including an appetizer of onion petals, a chicken salad croissant, and a tomato tortilla chicken Caesar salad wrap, coming in at just under $20. Also, as per the bill, it is their pleasure to serve us, and no tipping is required. The restaurant has an open-air location, which was not very advantageous with today’s rain, but the staff was making the best of it, offering prompt service with a smile. The restaurant seats guests until 4:00 PM, which may change after Imginique is done in August (the restaurant serves as the Imginique Dinner venue in the evenings). While it’s not anywhere close to a table-service restaurant at a Disney park, it does offer a nice experience at reasonable prices. It seems that Busch is trying hard to do the “little things” to give park guests a more personal experience, and we may see some more of these perks and “individual” additions in the near future.
In another bit of BGW news, the new park maps are advertising Howl-O-Scream as running from September 16 through October 30 this year.
While it didn’t debut at number one at the box office this weekend, Disney’s newest movie, Sky High, did exceed analysts expectation by earning $14.6 million. I’ve read some great reviews of this movie, and I’m still kicking myself for sitting through a screening of the pitiful Must Love Dogs in lieu of the kiddie super hero flick. The Disney movie was topped this weekend by the surprising and hilarious Wedding Crashers and the just-plain-weird Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but performed admirably as the highest-ranking new release. While Disney will probably not have another Pacifier on their hands, Sky High is giving Disney a legitimate theater presence in a month where just about every film performs lower than expected (Stealth joins The Island as yet another $100+ million action flop). Sky High is probably not going to be Disney’s box office savior, but it does make up for some disappointment from Herbie: Fully Loaded. It looks like Disney will probably not increase its revenues over last year, especially without a Pixar release on the schedule, but its movie revenues should outpace losses for the year.