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:Tweet
Your thoughts on Curse of the DarKastle & Corkscrew Hill?
And tell Natalie: Great Job!
Oh, and Robert, do you get funny looks from people when you get those perfect shots of your food? just saying... :)
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.
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
You are right about the food. Like all theme park food, it is overpriced. However, unlike much theme park food, it is actually good.
I am a big fan of the Busch parks. They always have good themeing and good rides.
Good report, BTW.
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.
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.
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.)
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)
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