Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip: Busch Gardens Williamsburg

July 30, 2009, 9:17 PM · Theme 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.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg

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.

Loch Ness Monster roller coaster

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.

Apollo' Chariot at Busch Gardens

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.

Big Bad Wold roller coaster

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.

Griffon at Busch Gardens

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.

Grover's roller coaster

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...

Bald Eagles

...and live shows, too. Give Busch big points for the live music at Das Festhaus...

German brass band

...for a meal-time show that got visitors up and dancing along.

Folk dancing

The most impressive dancing in the park, of course, was to be found in the Emerald Beat show.

Emerald Beat dancers

Lead dancers

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...

Breakfast combo at Busch Gardens

...Das Festhaus...

German combo at Das Festhaus

...and Trapper's Smokehouse.

Smokehouse Sampler at Busch Gardens

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:

Replies (28)

July 31, 2009 at 3:10 AM · I really want to go. Does anyone know how to get to Busch Gardens Williamsburg from Washington DC on public transport?
July 31, 2009 at 4:05 AM · Great report! You'll get no debate from me today. You and I are in total agreement on this one. The rides, shows, food, and lush beauty of BGW make for one of the best non-Orlando theme park visits my family has ever had.

Your thoughts on Curse of the DarKastle & Corkscrew Hill?

And tell Natalie: Great Job!

July 31, 2009 at 4:51 AM · I've noticed that when I went a couple of weeks ago they had made a change in the Curse of DarKastle line since May. They have added a single rider option on the ride. The only bad thing is that you have to stand in the normal line and when you get up to the attendent that is stationed in the castle area where they let the people with Quick Queue into the line. The attendent will send you thru the door on your left for the ride, so you don't wait in the rest of the line.
July 31, 2009 at 5:21 AM · It's been quite a few years since I've been to BGW, I think probably around 20. But what I do remember is that Lock Ness Monster scared the crap out of me! And enough so that I think I avoided coasters for a few years after that! But I would love to see what I think of it now! :)

Oh, and Robert, do you get funny looks from people when you get those perfect shots of your food? just saying... :)

July 31, 2009 at 5:32 AM · Thanks for the good report, I hope to make it up to BGE later this summer. Have fun at Dollywood, home of what I think is one of the better rides out there in Mystery Mine (still mad that it didn't do better in the year end awards :)

I also appreciate you taking pics of the food in the various places you go, its good to know what you're getting for your money.

July 31, 2009 at 6:06 AM · Excellent Pictures!

I wonder how it compares to Busch Gardens in Tampa. Is there that big of a difference? I know the overall theming is different, but just wondering.

Now that I know what the Big Bad Wolf is, I am really disappointed to see it leave. I am a big fan of the game Roller Coaster Tycoon (yes the first one) and they had this "hanging car" roller coaster and I wondered if any of these really exsisted. Now I know. I also was integued by the "flying" roller coaster, but thats Superman and Manta.

I am a bit suprised that Alpenguiest was not higher in your book. While I have not been to BGW/E, I have been on plenty of inverted and seen Alp on the travel channel. Is your complaint about being in a blender the same on all inverted roller coasters if you sit in the middle? Just curious especially compared to Dueling Dragons and Batman the Ride

July 31, 2009 at 6:17 AM · I'm afraid there's really no public transport from DC to Williamsburg. The best thing to do is rent a car and drive there. I love BGW and am really sorry to hear Big Bad Wolf is closing Labor Day as we won't be able to go until fall!!! I hope they put in something good in its place! It's too bad because its height requirement of 42" meant that lots of kids could ride it.

You are right about the food. Like all theme park food, it is overpriced. However, unlike much theme park food, it is actually good.

July 31, 2009 at 7:10 AM · Robert, please tell me didn't skip riding "The Curse of Darkastle"! That would've been my sole reason for visiting there, but dark rides are my thing. As fate would have it, my mom and aunt have decided to take a trip to Gatlinburg, TN next week and my 12 year old niece and I are going along. There are lots of haunted attractions there, including "The Mysterious Mansion" and "Ripley's Haunted Adventure," but I'll be within a quick trip's distance to Dollywood. I've only been there once about 20 years ago. This is my oportunity to experience the "Mystery Mine." I hope I get the chance.
July 31, 2009 at 7:31 AM · Dollywood! That is a pretty good park! In fact Ian there now! They are always packed. The forecast calls for
rain about everyday though.

I am a big fan of the Busch parks. They always have good themeing and good rides.

July 31, 2009 at 7:34 AM · Also curious to see how it compares to BG Tampa.


Good report, BTW.

July 31, 2009 at 8:35 AM · Thanks for the complements and visiting our park. I work here at BGW and I love what our parks have to offer both us as employees and our guests. Truly, Busch knows how to treat its team members from top-bottom in the line of duty. One of the many reasons I come back year after year is the team that we have here. The guests always leave a complement of how team members made a bad time into a better one by showing them the other options we have for their families, even if they had one bad experience that day they leave knowing we are there for them. We strive to offer the best in family entertainment, even if "the others" try to do the same thing. I feel we know our public and do our best to serve their needs. I know we can't make everyone happy, but by God, we are going to do our best.
July 31, 2009 at 10:23 AM · I'll be there in two weeks for the first time. I've been trying to go since last year (since I saw it won Best Theme Park at the Insider Awards..) but couldn't make it out.

I'll be riding Big Bad Wolf too and will probably join the other supporters in picketing its closing.. lol But really, I can't wait. It looks like an awesome park.

July 31, 2009 at 11:53 AM · Thanks for the review. I think I've got my next-year's family roadtrip taped out. This is within 1 day's drive of our home, unlike Orlando, and can be combined with visits to places like DC and the DE/MD/VA beaches.
July 31, 2009 at 3:01 PM · Your review was right on. To my mind, Apollo's Chariot and sister Diamondback ARE very similar, but the Chariot has more whoosh while the snake has more air. I'd love to see Chariot and Snake side by side like Duelling Dragons... Busch parks have GREAT food, and the people that work there seem to love the place. I sincerely hope they can make it without the Belgian Beer Company's cash influx.
July 31, 2009 at 6:10 PM · This makes me a little bit sad to read -- I haven't been to Busch Gardens in several years (since before Griffin opened) and I miss it! It carries a heavy dose of nostalgia for me -- my family went to this park frequently when I was a child. Loch Ness Monster was my first looping coaster, too.
July 31, 2009 at 6:17 PM · To the first poster, unfortunately there are no public transportation options to Williamsburg from DC.

We actually just missed you Robert, as we'll be at the park tomorrow (Saturday) to check out Foreigner at the Summer Nights concert series. We haven't been a while on a Saturday, but I'm expecting it to be a mad house.

July 31, 2009 at 6:31 PM · The food at BGE is some of the best. The tip about buying the sampler and sharing it is great. My wife and I live about 3 hrs. from BGE, and have season passes. We always buy a sampler platter and split it. BGE is one of the best theme parks around!!!!!
August 1, 2009 at 8:08 AM · Yes, we all rode DarKastle, which I found very similar to Spider-man (which is a huge compliment, BTW). I'd have liked to ridden it again, to get to know the characters better, but there was only so much time in the day.

The kids did Corkscrew by themselves, and reported that they liked it very much - it had a nice blend of fantasy and gags.

I added up the receipts, and actually we did the three meals and a couple snacks for about $80.

We'll be in Dollywood tomorrow, and you can follow along on the TPI Twitter feed. (Link is in the right nav, toward the bottom.)

August 1, 2009 at 8:58 AM · Great Review Robert! Good Choice on your dinner the bisque is what my wife and I always get. The food is a GREAT part of the experience of Busch. Any ideas on what is going in Big Bad Wolfs place? We are going when the Halloween part starts in Fall. Dark Castle is better on your second or third trip as you learn the story better. On Apollo I think the view is great and helps t he ride so much. Griffon is best in the front so you can hang there almost dropping for the 4 seconds it holds you. Alphine is best in the front for the view but the back is fun also as you don't know where your going but it swings the best.
August 1, 2009 at 9:05 AM · i think this is the most amazing parks ever...but i also think they need more roller coasters like kings dominion
August 1, 2009 at 9:18 AM · I disagree about there being no public transportation options to get from Washington, DC, to Williamsburg. While we drive down when we visit (about 2:40 each way), there is Amtrak service direct from DC (about 3:40 each way). Once in Williamsburg, there is a bus system to get to various places. There are also airports within 50 minutes or less of Williamsburg.
August 1, 2009 at 9:41 AM · As a local resident and frequent visitor to BG, folks like myself notice subtle changes within the park that most occasional tourists do not see.

Since the AB-Inbev merge, the bottom line is the main concern at the park. Staff scheduling is often set well below budgeted attendance projections, resulting in understaffing or the need to place staff in different locations (watch for cast working in areas costumes are not related to).

Mechanical issues have been the norm. Yesterday the wave pool at Water Country USA was not working. Coasters have been down for days at a time. Light bulbs and other detailed items are now for the most part overlooked. Kitchen equipment, freezer units, hvac and other items are constantly down.

Take a real close look at trash cans and restrooms. It's looking more and more like Krap Dominion every day.

I'm still passionate about our local park, and only hope more guests voice their opinion on it's slow and noticable decline. Attendance is not down and revenue is not either, they're just being cheap.

(Factual information provided by reliable sources inside BEC)

August 1, 2009 at 9:58 AM · i go to BGW frequently and everytime i go its always more fun than before BGW changes things often but for the better like there possible replacement from big bad wolf to a laydown flying roller coaster spring of 2010 bgw is the best theme park ive ever been 2 and the food and rides are uncompareable
August 1, 2009 at 2:46 PM · I go to BGW fairly often and haven't really noticed the standards lower or such. The park has been busy from what I see, but if any cut backs have happened they have been minimal and I have to say that most companies have cut back somewhat with this economy. The park seems to be pretty well staffed and the employees very friendly.
August 1, 2009 at 3:00 PM · Another great review!! And I have been in pigeon forge, Tennessee for the past week (today is my last day) and I did not get to go to dollywood!! In fact, our cabin is so close to the park that we can hear the dollywood train whistle from our balcony lol. Hope you have a great time in Tennessee! There's so much to do here, I just hope I can squeeze dollywood in to a future trip here :)
August 3, 2009 at 5:21 AM · I so love this park but I would have to say that I see some areas that have dropped in quality as well over this year. My main notice has been in entertainment. I noticed several shows have been removed this year. The big band evening show is gone as well as the smaller Ireland show that included the Disney types of animatronics and technology has been removed. This one was replaced by an Elmo restaurant. I also noticed the “Emerald Beat” show was much shorter. I am sad to see these changes taking place as I have seen this at many theme parks over the years. Still with these changes I feel the park is one of the best. I just hope that the park does not move more in this direction. The park reaches all age groups and they need to take care to continue to provide a product that all can enjoy. Parks like Kings Dominion use to reach these wide age groups but today with the lack of quality shows has lost most of the older guests.
August 3, 2009 at 6:05 AM · I agree with David Hurst. We have been Platinum Passport holders for more than 8 years. There is a noticeable difference this year. Many amenities that we were use to are gone. IE the Brew Masters club and Hospitality Hoses at BGT and Seaworld. We still love BGW but not on the cheap.
August 3, 2009 at 8:39 AM · Save the Big Bad Wolf!!!

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