Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia, USA
That is where it all began,
We all go back to where we belong – Michael Stipe
In 2004, a couple of crazy kids got married. OK, they were in their late 20’s, but at this point in life that sure feels like (late) childhood. With no budget for a honeymoon in Paris, they decided to take a road-trip to the east coast, and at one point found themselves at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. For two Cedar Point lifers, this experience was an awakening; there was more to a park than world records and 420-foot launches! As it turns out, there was a balance between Disney and Cedar Fair, and this park was it. Long story short, they fell in love with Busch Gardens Williamsburg. They would visit again in 2013 with two tiny people they created that were too young to have established long-term memory.
(you can't tell from the pic, but as cute as they are, the brains of each kid in this pic is clearly under-developed. The brains of the adults in the picture have their own issues)
With early-childhood in the rearview mirror, this June they decided to revisit this gem of a park as part of a larger getaway to the ocean in an almost-post-pandemic-reality. Those kids were now 9 and 13, so it was the perfect time to go back to where it all began.
The Bigger Picture: Wednesday, June 9th, 2021
The day-trip to BGW was just one day in a week-long adventure to the east coast that has become a tradition for our family. Typically platinum pass holders, this trip has included a day (or two) at Kings Dominion as we make our way back up to Ohio, but having taken advantage of the too-good-to-pass-up deal of $99 Gold Passes back in 2020, we had our sights set on taking the girls to BGW.
Just to get this out of the way, the park 1) required reservations, 2) masks were optional, and 3) there was no social distancing to speak of in queue lines. Myself, my wife, and my 13-year-old daughter are all vaccinated, and our nine-year old is a nine-year old, so she is fine. Plenty of shops and rides were closed, but this was all layed out on the park’s website, so the only surprises (keep reading in part 2) were positive ones. Specifically, Finnegan's Flyer, all water rides (Le Scoot, Roman Rapids, and Escape from Pompeii), and Battle for Eire were not to be open due to staffing issues.
It’s all new to us
For our two girls, every coaster was a new experience, at least in terms of what they will remember. We started the day by hitting the park in a clockwise-manner at Apollo’s Chariot, and worked our way around the park from there. If you don't know your way around BGW, it's Italy (Apollo's Chariot and Tempesto), followed by Germany (Verbolten), followed by France/New France (Alpengeist, Ivadr, and Griffon), then Ireland and back to Scotland and England (where you started). The girls clearly loved Apollo's Chariot from the beginning (this will come full circle in part 2), but what a great way to start riding coasters again since last July at Cedar Point. It was a complete walk-on, as was it's newish neighbor, Tempesto (below).
Tempesto was fun. I was probably the biggest fan of the ride, but overall the whole family liked this ride. We all agreed that the ride would be improved by taking the roll at the peak of the ride just a tad faster, as it literally crawls through the inversion at an almost uncomfortable pace, but it was a new ride experience for all four of us, which made it fun in its own right. I can imagine capacity being a bit of a problem on busy days, but this was not one of them. A fun, nicely-themed addition to the park.
(see? Time really does fly. They can both stand without our help!)
You all know the details, I just wanted to show off another cute pic here of one of the kids. The ride was as fun/smooth as ever. Complete walk-on for the first row.
The New France area at BGW is beautiful. Even the bathrooms are inviting. Little surprise, then, that the Invadr queue is equally inviting. That said, this ride was the low point of the entire trip. I should have known better when I saw many people leaving what looked to be a partially filled queue, but having never been on the ride we were willing to wait it out. The park was running only one train on this ride, and if you don’t know for some reason this ride only has 8 2-person cars per train (for a wopping 16 riders per train). To make matters worse, there were times when the dispatch times between trains was 7 minutes. Seven minutes. Just take a moment to reflect on that; a ride that lasts about 60 seconds with a train that has no restraints aside from a lap-bar coming down dispatching a train every 6-7 minutes. Now, if the ride was spectacular this would be no problem, as the experience would erase all the bad emotions that encompass your brain after waiting over an hour to ride a 60-second ride, but no.
Nice theming, and I get why they added a wooden coaster to the lineup, but for us this was a strikeout of a ride. I was expecting a Mystic Timbers type of ride, or at least something in the ballpark, but was mistaken. Even the kids were not happy after waiting over an hour. Won't waste any time on this ride again on this trip, and now I understand why so many people were leaving the queue while we waited. And waited. But hey, credit earned.
Thankfully Griffon awaited and was a walk-on, offering us two quick rides to wash away the bad taste (and headaches) that Invadr induced. We all agreed that this B & M drop machine is superior to Valravn (sorry, Cedar Point). The pacing is much better, and I realized I spent much more time flying out my seat than on Cedar Point's taller/longer version. Not to mention the splash-down, which adds to the already overall better experience. Better air time and better theming = a better overall experience.
Then, it started raining.
But have no fear, there is more to come after the skies (and what remained of a crowd) cleared in Part 2....
Promoter of fog.
Great report! I completely agree on the comparison between Griffon and Valravn.
I'm sorry you had a bad experience with Invadr. It sounds like operations really killed the experience. When we were there in early April they were running two trains and dispatches were pretty quick. We waited about 40 minutes for our lap but relative to the 30 minute wait for food stands at the food festival that wasn't so bad. I ended up enjoying the ride, but I'm sure if I had the same experience you did that wouldn't be the case.
For all the grief I give Busch Tampa, I absolutely love the Williamsburg park. I’m glad you had such a good time.
When I was there a few years ago, Invadr was running both trains and was only a 10-20 minute wait throughout the day. I liked it. I remember hoping for Mystic Timbers and having it fall short from that expectation, but it wasn’t bad on its own. But not worth an hour wait through bad one train ops.
The 2 or 3 laps I took on Alpengeist on that same trip were definitely not the glass smooth ride I remembered from the early 2000s. I’m glad to hear that wasn’t the case for you. Maybe they were able to use last year to get some refurb work done.
And I’m hoping some of the good surprises include open water rides, because I do love me some Le Scoot. I get just as excited for trips to Virginia for Le Scoot and Shenendoah at Kings Dominion as I do for Apollo’s Chariot, Loch Ness Monster, Twisted Timbers and I-305.
The operations on Invadr definitely put a dark cloud on the experience. With everything else a walk-on, we were not scared of a partially filled queue, but the wait was just one of those soul-sucking experiences. There were only two staff working the ride, and to make it worse every other train would dispatch with the dedicated quick-queue seats empty, meaning only 14 guests would be on the single train. But what was so mysterious was the agonizing wait between dispatches. Seven minutes? It was the only ride in the park with single-train operation. Well, except Tempesto. ;)
All told, about a 70 minute wait, but it was one of those "well, we have never ridden and who knows when we will be back" situations. And the only line of the day. I'm also sure that if it was a quick wait it would have just been "well that was OK". Alpengeist was definitely running smooth.
Promoter of fog.
That is where it all began,
We all go back to where we belong – Michael Stipe
“Alexa, what’s the forecast for today?”
“High of 90 with a Thunderstorm likely in the afternoon. Storms could be severe with damaging winds and hail.”
We knew at some point the skies were going to open up, and the destination was obvious: Festhaus. Mother Nature had perfect timing, as the show was about to start at 3:00. Maybe it’s my German heritage (the relatives on my mother’s side actually had their own Polka band in the 1970’s and I grew up going to summerfests in NW Ohio), but I love me some Festhaus. In fact, something like this is exactly what Cedar Point is missing. I keep mentioning it on their customer feedback surveys, so I’m clearly being ignored.
The AC was refreshing, there were some great local Virginia beers on tap, and the food was as excellent as ever. The show was great to, especially considering there were only four performers.
The hour rain-delay flew by while we took a much-needed break, refueled, and went to the potty (I have kids). As we emerged back into the sun, we knew what was next: the black forest.
Staying spoiler-free in 2021 is harder than it was in 2013, but somehow we managed to raise two daughters who had no idea what Verbolten “does” in the forest. All they knew was that something mysterious awaited them.
Here is also something that I love about this park. All the little themed details were in great working order. The car outside the queue still makes the I’m-trying-to-start-engine-knocking-sounds, and all the goodies (like the radio receiving mysterious calls about the forest) in the queue were ready and waiting. Excellent ride experience, and the girls’ reaction when the train free-falled was priceless. Of course one ride was not enough, so we snagged another quickly before what was left of the park’s crowd converged onto the ride. They were running three trains, and on the first lap we got the “Big Bad Wolf” experience in the forest, with the “Violent Storm” on lap #2. Then it was off to Ireland to see some wildlife…
What about those surprises?
Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time. As we snaked our way through Ireland I heard a distinctive sound; the sound of an Arrow looper making it’s way through a course. But this couldn’t be, because Loch Ness Monster was down all day with no signs of life. That is until the Meyer clan strolled on by. As luck would have it, they opened up the ride (with one-train operation) just as we were peaking into the Land of the Dragons, and the girls picked up a new credit. They loved the tunnel. The ride itself has aged well and was running as smooth as it could; not Tennessee Tornado smooth, but no head-smacking either. With all the excitement we forgot to get a picture, so instead here is a commercial for Loch Ness Monster from 1978.
But wait, there’s more!
That’s right. The park just kept on giving. Brett’s wish (above) came true, and for some unannounced reason the park decided to open the water rides. My only guess is that they took some staff from other rides to accomplish this, which was a welcome gift considering the heat and humidity that we endured. This is a nice place to add a plug to the staff at BGW. They were clearly short-staffed at every turn, but those that were there were really courteous and interactive and at least gave the impression that they liked their job. Most importantly, they were busting their butts, Invadr being the one exception.
We escaped from Pompeii, twice.
Chariots of Fire
So by this time, our time was winding down. The park closed at 7:00, and it was about 6:15. We asked the tiny people what they wanted to close the day out with, and Apollo’s Chariot was the unanimous choice. Still a complete walk-on, the rain started coming down again on our first lap, but it was no match for the Meyer family. Making their papa proud, they wanted to go again. And again. And again.
So we did. Our day at Busch Gardens Williamsburg ended on a great note while we mini-marathoned Apollo’s Chariot four times in a row in the rain before the gates got locked behind us.
BGW will always be a special place for us, so it was awesome to really be able to show it off to our girls and do everything together (RIP, Parent Swap). The park looked as beautiful as it ever has, with all the landscaping and flowers and carefully manicured trees and shrubberies. The theming and little touches (i.e. Verbolten, Escape from Pompeii) were all present, spoken for, and in working order, and with one aforementioned exception the rides were all running multiple trains (or boats) even with such a sparse crowd, which made the day all the better.
Three days later we bid auf wiedersehen to the ocean (we had quite the view from our VRBO property) and headed back up to Ohio. But we will return someday, because this is where it all began, and we all go back to where we belong.
Promoter of fog.
Thanks for this report.
Is that Orson Welles' voice on the Loch Ness Monster commercial, or just someone doing a really good imitation?
EDIT: Google is your friend (maybe). Says here it is not Welles, but others were fooled too.
Excellent report. I love to hear that Busch Gardens is still operating at a high level all around, especially despite being understaffed.
- Loch Ness has never been Tennessee Tornado smooth, but that's probably the only Arrow it doesn't quite match in smoothness. It really has aged well and I don't recall ever having a ride on it that was rougher than my first in 1991.
- I want that 911. I'd forgotten those (aren't there a couple?) were part of Verbolten's theme.
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