Williamsburg Mini-Vacation Aug. 27-29

Saturday, September 1, 2012 3:37 AM

Liz and I took the kids (Jake, age 6 and Katie, age 2) to Williamsburg for a final getaway before Jake starts 1st grade next Tuesday. The itinerary: Busch Gardens on Monday, Great Wolf Lodge Monday night through Wednesday morning/afternoon.

We arrived at Busch Gardens around 11am and met up with our friends in the parking lot. These were folks we met through Jake's kindergarten class: his friend Danielle, her mom, older brother and sister. We trammed it to the front gate and rented a stroller for Katie, as she has the most uncanny ability to sprint away from us at the drop of a hat.

I'll spare the details and get to the highlights. I'll preface the ride & attraction ratings by saying that there is method to them. I absolutely love trip reports with coasters that have numbered ratings, because I think everything should be rated on some number scale. So I decided to make my own scale, which may vary from attraction to attraction. I labored for hours over the calculations, and the results are very telling and should most assuredly clear up any doubt as to my impressions of each ride.

Time in park: ~6 hours

Checked out the clydesdales first; impressive as ever. Katie, always wanting to hug anything with 4 legs, absolutely lit up. (6.5 out of 8.73)

Jake's first ride was on the Li'l Clydes with Danielle. He wanted to go again, but we knew he'd appreciate the better offerings the park had.

Ireland: we walked through without stopping (not too different from what usually happens when we go to Busch Gardens). Of note, Europe in the Air, or whatever it's called, was closed for Howl-O-Scream preparations.

Over in Eagle Ridge and Wolf Haven, we checked out an eagle and some wolves. Beautiful.

We watched Griffon cycle a few times. Jake's eyes popped watching the first drop and the splashdown impressed him even more. Someday, bud.

In New France, Jake and I (along with Danielle's bro and sis) rode Le Scoot, the log flume. For traditional flumes, I'd put it second to Kings Dominion's in overall ride and atmosphere, but It has the better final drop. This was Jake's first non-kiddie ride, which was a huge milestone. I was worried he'd be scared, but he loved it! King's Dominion's flume was my first non-kiddie ride at age 5, so this was a big moment for me. The boy made me proud. (784 out of 812)

Der Autobahn was full of dreadfully slow bumper cars, but Jake had fun making dad chase down and run into his friends. (8,725,091 out of 13,869,403)

Next up was Verbolten, which I rode with Danielle's older bro and sis. It was a 40 minute wait, the longest of the day. While we queued, Liz took Jake on the Roto Baron and Der Werbelwind, and Katie actually rode (and loved) the Werbelwindchen kiddie swings. Verbolten was really, really enjoyable; a worthy replacement for Big Bad Wolf. It's a little reminiscent of the Italian Job coasters, but with less intensity and more comfortable trains. The pitch-dark indoor section was longer than I expected, and the "surprise" was still startling even though I was fully expecting it. The ending was fun, and while I don't really want to compare it to Big Bad Wolf's, it's kind of hard not to since it follows the exact same path. It wasn't nearly as thrilling without the crazy swinging cars, but still a fun little plummet down to the river and back up to the brakes. The overall theme was kind of strange, but very nicely executed, especially throughout the queue. (47.254738 out of 54.217795)

Celebrity sighting: Victoria Justice (from Nickelodeon's "Victorious"). She played a concert there that evening, postponed from Sunday night's concert which was rained out. Many pre-teen girls were hysterically swooning and taking pictures. So was I.

Taking pictures, I mean. I'm sure that appeared creepy enough; had I swooned, hysterically or otherwise, I might have been personally escorted from the park...or at the very least received some odd stares from other parents. And pre-teen girls.

Liz has seen Victorious many times since Nickelodeon is on a lot on any given week. She was jealous that I saw her. (10 out of 10)

We met up with everyone at Das Festhaus for lunch. I was surprised to see that the round elevating stage had been removed in favor of a larger stage that took up more real estate. As we ate, a show began. It was some fairy tale themed musical travesty with awfully written songs and almost-on-key singing. Quite suddenly, I dearly missed the polka band in lederhosen that I had taken for granted for the last 20-some years. The kids liked it, kind of. I think. (0 out of...well, any number really).

Mach Tower looks great; fits right in with the theme of the area, which was difficult to imagine with a drop tower. Didn't ride it.

We crossed the bridge from Oktoberfest to Italy, and clear through to Sesame Street Forest of Fun, one of the things we were looking forward to most. Danielle's family said their goodbyes and headed back home to Northern VA.

We caught the tail end of a show with the Sesame Street characters, and Katie was beside herself. After the show, we let the kids play in the water area for quite some time; Liz and I took turns chasing Katie absolutely everywhere.

Most amazing proud dad moment of the day: seeing the look on Jake's face after our first lap on Grover's Alpine Express. He'd ridden the kiddie coasters at Kings Dominion and Carowinds when he was much younger, and his only memory of riding a coaster was over a year ago at a local fair with his mom (a Wisdom kiddie model) where he was kind of scared. He loved this one, and he rode it twice more; once with me and once with his mom, who had just come from having Katie take pictures with (and power-hug) Elmo...likely the most amazing moment of her day. (6874 out of 5000)

Just before leaving for the day, we realized Katie had taken her shoes off at some point between the water area and the coaster. We went back to the building where Elmo was and friggin' Elmo himself came out and pointed us to lost and found because he remembered seeing them. I didn't realize how #$&*ing awesome Elmo is. Who the hell's this Victoria Justice kid? (17 out of 17.39)

What a great day. It had been 5 years since Liz and I had been to Busch Gardens, and while you always know it's a wonderful park, 5 years is enough time to forget just how wonderful it is, and you get to soak it all in again. It's easy to see how it gets the "most beautiful park" award every year. It's just immaculate, and it's really nice to see that the change in ownership hasn't meant a change in the level of theme, service, and overall quality of the place. We obviously didn't do any thrill stuff, other than my ride on Verbolten, but today wasn't about that. With that said, though, I do wish there were more family-oriented coasters; something with a thrill level between Grover and Verbolten.

I won't get too detailed with Great Wolf Lodge. It was our first visit there, and had a truly enjoyable stay. The water park is so much fun, and we were glad that Jake was big enough to go on anything except the tornado slide. By the end of our stay, he had worked up the courage to ride nearly all the slides. It helped that he had learned to swim during our beach vacation in June, so I felt much more comfortable letting him do as much as he felt he could handle. We'd like to revisit Great Wolf, but not until both kids are older, as I think all four of us would enjoy it more. Liz and I really couldn't do much together with Katie being so young and Jake conversely being able to take part in so many of the hotel's activities. We spent much of the stay doing separate things: Liz with Katie and I with Jake. I was hopeful that would change when we learned that even Katie could ride the River Canyon slide, which has a circular raft that can fit 4 riders. Unfortunately, she was paralyzed with fear the entire way down and refused to do it again. We felt awful; one of those "we're terrible parents" moments.

In the end, it was a great way to wrap up the summer. We got home Wednesday afternoon, and because I took the entire week off work, I'm enjoying a bit of a staycation as well. I hate that word, but whatever. YOLO.

Last edited by Vater, Saturday, September 1, 2012 9:48 AM
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Saturday, September 1, 2012 7:42 AM

Ah, I see what you did there!

May I have access to your ride-rating algorithm? I feel that it might finally allow me to properly rank my coasters. ;)

In all seriousness, I'm glad you had a great time, and I agree that BGW really is such a great all-around park. I like how the coasters complement the rest of the park as a whole rather than define the park entirely. There's so much to appreciate about the park beyond the rides (like the brisket from that barbecue joint in New France). The awards it wins for its beauty are definitely well-deserved.

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Saturday, September 1, 2012 10:04 AM

Ah yeah, Trapper's Smokehouse. Love that place. We actually wanted to eat there, but we weren't hungry when we passed it and we never got back to that area. I think this was the first time I was at Busch Gardens and didn't eat at either Trapper's or the Italian joint next to the outdoor theater in Italy.

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Saturday, September 1, 2012 10:27 AM

Sounds like you had a wonderful trip. I haven't been here in years and so much has changed. It's nice to hear they opted to keep the Clydesdale horses. Though I have never taken the time to see them since I have the East cost team a half hour from me.

Thanks for sharing.

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Saturday, September 1, 2012 2:43 PM

I was there on Saturday (the day that chick got rained out) with my 16 year old nephew (his first time). Really love that park. Glad it's more convenient for me to get to. Really glad I got that season pass for this year. It made me take a 2nd trip. I like Verbolten a lot, and Apollo is growing on me. Best attraction for me, though is the Festhaus (Sans that AWEFUL show). I always enjoy my ride in there ;).

And I loved standing in line for an hour as it poured rain in the Verbolten station Saturday as my nephew kept trying to use his smart phone to translate Verbolten before I finally told him it wasn't a real word.

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Sunday, September 2, 2012 8:06 AM

I ate at Festhaus when I was there in the spring, and realizing that a show was about to start carried my tray to a table near the front. That show was so awful that once I was done with my plate I got up and left, something I would normally never do to people working hard on stage. In fact I carried my awesome chocolate cake and a fork out with me, that's how badly I needed to leave. I miss the oom-pa-pa too.
But enough about me. Vater, that sounds like an awesome day. Quality family time is a more than a suitable substitute for a day of thrills. And realizing that a child will likely grow to share one of your passions can make your heart swell, for sure.
I rate your mini-vacation 999.999 out of a million.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012 9:18 PM

We checked out the Festhaus show as well, while we were there. It had its moments. You could tell it is geared toward the kids. I wouldn't sit through it again.

Vater - did you get to see the Celtic Fyre show? We loved it! It is a show we could see every day. We saw it twice.

Verbolten, we learned, has 3 programmed themes that play inside forest building: Thunderstorm, Haunted Spirit, and Wolf. After several rides, we still hadn't seen the wolf one.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012 9:46 PM

The only moments I found remotely interesting were the people balancing on those cylinder things. Too bad it wasn't impressive enough to save the show.

We didn't see Celtic Fyre. I'll take your word that it was good, but I'm not much of a show guy. In other news, upon entering the park, I was surprised to find Pirates 4D still playing in the Globe Theater. Is the video still the same one, starring Leslie Nielsen?

I'd heard that about Verbolten as well, although I didn't know what each theme was specifically. And, after hearing you mention all 3, I couldn't even tell you which one I experienced.

I was impressed with Verbolten's capacity. With 4 trains, two loading at a time in the station, it really does speed up the queue. Much more than Big Bad Wolf ever did.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012 12:16 AM

Pirates 4D was the same. Can't believe they hadn't changed it!

Verbolten was running all 5 trains all 3 days we were there.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012 12:21 AM

Hmm...that was a typo. It was running 5 trains last week as well.

Last edited by Vater, Thursday, September 6, 2012 12:21 AM
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Thursday, September 6, 2012 11:06 AM

Great trip report! I'm glad you had such a good time. Honestly, of all of the parks in the east that I'm going to miss, I think BGW hits the highest mark. I didn't get there often or anything, but I have a few great memories there and the park is unlike any other in my experience. (And I'm really bummed I didn't get to ride Verbolten before I moved! :-) ) We have family in Newport News, so maybe we'll get back there at some point to visit.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012 11:46 AM

Where'd you move to, Carrie? If I read correctly, you already have.

Last edited by Mike Gallagher, Thursday, September 6, 2012 11:48 AM
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Thursday, September 6, 2012 12:15 PM

Denver, Colorado. It's been a busy, but exciting summer for us!

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Thursday, September 6, 2012 12:28 PM

Ah, the site of what was probably my first big woodie (yeah, yeah, that's what she said..)

Good luck out there. I assume that means I won't see you at CFK Dorney next year :(

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