Saturday, July 20, 2002 1:06 PM
For the third park on our annual Summer Expedition, we stopped at Williamsburg for Busch Gardens. Anyone from far away scheduling a visit here should consider leaving an extra day or so to see Jamestown, Williamsburg, Yorktown, the Norfolk Navy Base and other area attractions. It's an incredibly important corner of the country, and skipping those opportunities would be a shame. However, getting to our usual analysis...
Access. Not as convenient as Carowinds, but only a few miles off I-64.
Lodging. Hotels are not adjacent like CP or across the parking lot like Carowinds, but they're right down the parkway a long baseball throw. I recommend driving a little further and staying adjacent to the Williamsburg Historic District. Then you can walk over there.
Packages. They don't advertise them, but if you call ahead and press the issue, you can get a major hotel to give you a Lodging-Busch Gardens-Williamsburg- Jamestown Settlement package for a significant savings.
The Park. This is an interesting exercise in park design and marketing. They get a lot of credit for great landscaping, but truth is, they use clever landscaping to conceal the fact this is really a small park. Not only do they block your view, they also use the Disney tricks of manipulating your perception so you're not seeing what you think you're seeing. Things are 3/4, 5/8 or 2/3 scale, and are carefully placed in layers one behind the next. Anybody with a good photographer's eye can have a fun day here just studying sight lines.
From a marketing standpoint, this is a shopping mall and food court with a dozen rides thrown in to keep the men and kids happy.
From a rider's perspective, this is four world class coasters surrounded by a very inexpensive mix of traditional flat rides with creative theming.
And newcomers had better realize this is a challenging park to get around. We hike and bicycle so we're in decent shape, but I saw people exhausted from the continual uphill climbs in every direction.
None of these are complaints. BGW is definitely worth an annual stop.
I highly recommend first time visitors get on the Skyride on the hill above England and ride through the stations all the way around the triangle. You might even make the circuit twice. It allows the best photographs, and allows you to get oriented to a very deceptive layout.
Building a coaster here poses unique problems. This is more than a historic district or a national park. It's a shrine. The State of Virginia and the Department of the Interior impose tight noise and sight controls on any development. Wooden coasters are totally impossible until maglev or some other technology is perfected. Steel coasters must run smooth as silk with hushed lift mechanisms and screams absorbed by ravines and trees. Within these confines, BGW has done a tremendous job.
Big Bad Wolf (1984). 2800 ft long, 100 ft drop, 48 mph. A great suspended steeler, racing through buildings, woods and over the river. The second drop is breathtaking, the helix is impressive, and it's especially awesome at night. Riding this coaster makes the trip worthwhile.
Loch Ness Monster (1978). 3240 ft. long, 114 ft. drop, 60 mph. The tunnel and interlocking loops make this worth the ride.
Alpengeist. 3828 ft. long, 170 ft. drop, 67 mph. Whew ! Six inversions including an Immelman, a cobra roll, a loop and a corkscrew. The flat spin at the end is kind of rough, but not enough to detract from a truly great experience.
Apollo's Chariot. 4882 ft. long (yea, really!), 210 ft. drop (yes), 73 mph. The first drop is great and the airtime just keeps on coming. Every hill brings you out of your seat. Just photographing this coaster is worth the trip, although the trees and hills make even that a challenge.
Wilde Maus. Typical rodent coaster. A good version, but not up there with Idlewild's, nor with the newer Ricochets.
Dodgems. Decent version.
Swings. Hilltop location makes this better than average version.
Train. A great train ride. Ranks up there with CP, PKI and Disney.
Boat. A great boat ride. It and Carowinds are the best full sized riverboat rides in the East.
Turnpike. This is good, but it would be the best anywhere if they eliminated the double layout and combined them into one long ride. Winds around down through the woods.
Teacups. This is the best Teacup ride in America. The machinery is about equal to Disney, but the theming, paint and detailing are a work of art. Get to this during the daytime, because it's worth several photos.
Log Flume. Disappointing. The one drop is impressive, but that's all there is. It leaves the station, climbs the hillside, comes down the drop and returns to the station. KW and PKI are far better.
Carousel. Decent. KW and PKI are far better.
Roman Rapids. Decent.
Escape from Pompei. A plunge ride magnificently themed. These rides are all about the same, but this one is the best we've seen anywhere because of the block long themed tunnel, the glassed in observation deck, and other details.
Elephant Run. A slightly geared down circular speed ride. Pretty cool if you have kids.
Battering Ram. The old Pirate Ship rethemed. Decent.
Food. No other park touches the ethnic food here. We recommend FestHaus in the German section for your sit down meal. It's one of the largest restaurants in America, air conditioned, and features various live musical performances during your 30-45 minute stay.
Shows. You can drop in on good performances no matter what part of the park you're in, but you HAVE TO catch the Irish Thunder dance troupe over in the Ireland section.
Animals. The Wolf and Birds of Prey shows are definitely worth a stop.
Conclusion. This is another of those parks which receives little attention on these message boards, and these coasters are often overlooked in national rankings. But it's worth an annual stop, and they're among the best anywhere.