Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip: Busch Gardens Williamsburg
By Robert NilesTheme Park Insider readers for years have voted Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia as one of their three favorites parks in the country. And for good reason. Busch Gardens deftly blends what might be the nation's most beautiful theme park with an impressive iron park, creating a unique blend of theme and thrills that ought to be drawing more Disney and Universal fans up the Atlantic coast.
Published: July 30, 2009 at 9:17 PM
Let's start with the iron, shall we? Rising above the tree line, Busch Gardens' Big Five coasters don't seem quite as intimidating, set amid the lush forest and gardens, as they would looming over the asphalt found at most other parks featuring coasters in this class.
My "coaster buddy" Natalie was willing to give BGW's finest a go, starting with the first upside-down coaster I ever rode, the Loch Ness Monster.
After walking right on with no wait, shortly after 10am, Natalie confessed surprise with how swiftly Nessie flew through its inversions.
"I thought we'd linger longer at the top," she said.
I made two mental notes. First, I need to start talking about physics with Natalie. Second, now would be a really bad time to describe the first drop on Griffon. So let's move on to Apollo's Chariot.
This Bolliger & Mabillard Mega Coaster is essentially the same ride as Kings Island's Diamondback, but I found myself enjoying it more here. Perhaps it was the more lush setting. But I really think it was simply the name.
"Diamondback" ought to be the name for a rough, western-themed wooden coaster. "Apollo's Chariot" is a far better name for this smooth and majestic ride. When I climbed on Diamondback last week, the name prepared me, subconsciously, for something different, leaving me a bit confused and even, a little disappointed.
But the name Apollo's Chariot prepared me for exactly what I got. Branding is important. When we pulled into the station, Natalie grabbed my hand, and dragged me into the queue for another ride.
Next, it was time for a farewell (and initial) ride on the closing-in-September Big Bad Wolf.
The Suspended coaster appears to be falling from parks' favor, but it offers a unique ride, emphasizing lateral forces with cars flying to the side around each curve.
After lunch, we continued our coaster quest, taking on Alpengeist. Natalie didn't want any part of its Inverted sibling Silver Bullet when we visited Knott's Berry Farm earlier this year, so she impressed me by hanging in and agreeing to try this ski-themed coaster.
Alpengeist provided us with the longest line of the day - 30 minutes. (!) Don't get me wrong, the park was far from a light crowd today, with pathways filled throughout the day. Busch Gardens simply offers enough capacity to handle crowds without having to force visitors into hours-long waits for even moderately popular rides.
That said, unless you're riding in the front row, where you can see the track in front of you, a trip on Alpengeist is like riding in a blender. With the seats in front blocking your view, you've no way to know what's coming. It's like riding a coaster in the dark, in broad daylight.
(FWIW, my Tweet on this elicited a fantastic response from Screamscape: "I recommend night rides on Alpie in the middle or back of the train. It's like being in a blender under strobe lights.")
After Alpie, we took the rest of the afternoon off from the coasters, leaving the Busch Gardens' newest coaster for our final ride of the day - Griffon.
If you've not ridden Griffon, I leave you to watch Russ Meyer's outstanding on-ride video from the ride's opening day. Honestly, this is a pretty simple ride: Dive, Immelmann, Dive, Immelmann, splashdown. That's it. But the elements are superbly executed, as one now expects from Bolliger & Mabillard. And yes, we did linger at the top on this one.
We'd done it. We'd defied the five. Though, actually, Natalie had done me one better. She'd bagged all six of BGW's roller coasters today. We can't forget about Grover's Alpine Express in the Sesame Street Forest of Fun.
While Natalie and I were bagging those other coasters, Brian was on his own quest to experience the park's 3D and 4D attractions, including Lights, Camera, Imagination!, Curse of DarKastle and Corkscrew Hill.
That's the brilliance of Busch Gardens - it's not just top roller coasters, but also those effects shows, animal exhibits...
...and live shows, too. Give Busch big points for the live music at Das Festhaus...
...for a meal-time show that got visitors up and dancing along.
The most impressive dancing in the park, of course, was to be found in the Emerald Beat show.
The only thing keeping this show from a solid 10 was the heavy synth music in lieu of a live band. Yeah, I know they're trying a Riverdance/Lord of the Dance thing here, but a live Irish combo would elevate this show in a unique, noteworthy and refreshingly non-Michael Flatley way.
Finally, the food. Busch parks have always come through for me on food, and today did not disappoint. We ate all three meals in the park, at Squires Grille...
...and Trapper's Smokehouse.
By selecting the combo meal and splitting it, with the kids splitting a kids meal and a side each time, we spent less than $100 total to feed all four of us for the day. And enjoyed every bite.
It's my job to nit-pick, to look at every detail of a theme park to help you decide the best ones to visit with your valuable time and money. With good food, solid entertainment, great thrills and a beautiful setting, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is just a flawless theme park. If you haven't yet been, go.
Next up: Keep reading Theme Park Insider this weekend, when we visit Dollywood.
Previously on the Summer Roadtrip:
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