During the amusement park summer season last year, I had my head down with no time to do anything besides fail spectacularly at job-hunting. That was not a problem this year (hooray!), and I have a large slate of amusement parks that I will be visiting over the next few months to make up for the prior year(s) that I missed. I definitely am not going overboard.
I plan to take a sufficient number of photos (assuming I don't rage at my phone and throw it on the ground), and I will update this thread periodically with photo trip reports.
Warning: This trip report does not feature any amusement parks or roller coasters.
The first vacation that I planned to take this year is a quick roadtrip through Northern California during the Memorial Day weekend. The general idea was to drive up through California on the scenic redwood highway visiting a handful of roadside attractions. After reaching Oregon, I would turn around and drive down the I5 highway making stops at McArthur-Burney Falls and Lassen National Park before visiting the Napa wine country.
I'm not sure that it is fair for me to call this a roadtrip given how relatively little ground I am actually covering, but here is the general route for this vacation.
This vacation does not particularly align with my interests as it has no amusement parks and way too much nature. This vacation was instead planned around "The Kinetic Grand Championship" with nearby attractions included to fill it out into a more legitimate trip.
Northern California Roadtrip Day 0, May 25th, Friday
I don't remember how I heard of "The Kinetic Grand Championship" several years ago, but it sounded tacky and worthless, and therefore potentially perfect for me. It is an annual festival held during the Memorial Day weekend in Eureka, California where participants build and race petal-powered sculptures over land and sea. However, traveling the 5 hours between Oakland and Eureka seemed poorly justified by a goofy festival that I already had several misgivings about. I therefore had no choice but to supplement my plan to visit the festival with other attractions in the area. This was the impetus of this whole Memorial Day weekend vacation.
The general route for this leg of the road trip.
Given that the festival started early on Saturday morning, the sole goal on the Friday before the weekend was just to make it from my office in Oakland up to check in to the "Edgewood Motel" in Willits. This would put me in a better position to reach Eureka, California in time for the opening of the festival, and it would help break up the long drive into more manageable pieces.
I checked into the Edgewood Motel in Willits around 9:30pm. Although a bit rundown, it was chosen for its price and its location at a halfway point between Oakland and Eureka Ca.
A few quick notes about the pre-kickoff travel day:
Because my car's charger does not work, by the time I reached Willits at 9:30pm my phone was already almost halfway dead after 3 hours of heavy GPS use. This made me anxious about the subsequent full days of sightseeing.
I was disappointed that I was unable to rope in any friends or coworkers into this trip. Solo roadtrips are not very efficient, and traveling by myself can get dull.
Although I had canceled one of the two rooms that I had reserved at the "Edgewood Motel" several days earlier due to the aforementioned travel-buddy disappointment, my cancellation did not propagate to the hotel's system. Luckily, this did not cause any real issues.
I was extremely anxious about how early I needed to wake up the following morning, and this made me kind of glad that I did not have a travel buddy to subject my ridiculously tight itineraries to.
Northern California Roadtrip Day 1, May 26th, Saturday - The Redwood Highway
Today's general plan was to drive up to Eureka, California for the opening of "The Kinetic Grand Championship." After spending a few hours there, I would continue up the California coast through the scenic Redwood Highway into Oregon, stopping at tourist attractions along the way. After cutting into Oregon for seemingly no reason, I would take the I5 back down into California before checking in at the Rodeway Inn in Yreka, California.
The general route for this leg of the road trip.
Initially, I had planned around getting to Eureka, California before 10:00am for the start of "The Kinetic Grand Championship." I would need to wake up and check out of Edgewood Motel in Willits, California sometime before 7:00am to leave time for traveling (and breakfast), and this was fine. However, "The Kinetic Grand Championship" had record participation this year (probably because it was the 50th anniversary of the festival). For this reason, they bumped the start of the festival to 9:00am in order to give all of the teams time to get registered and have their vehicles tested, which pushed forward my morning schedule by an hour.
I had to check out of The Edgewood Motel in Willits well before 6:00am due to my plans to attend the opening of "The Kinetic Grand Championship." I am not a morning person, so I felt like death.
Although I whine about the early morning, there were benefits for leaving before 6:00am: Traffic was basically nonexistant for many of the early drives that I would take for this trip. For this leg of the trip, driving at dawn through the redwoods was particularly beautiful as the morning mists layered between rows of redwood trees. Unfortunately, I was just driving by myself, and I could not take photos and drive safely at the same time, so I could not document any of these scenic drives for this trip report.
I arrived at the Arcata Plaza (where the "Kinetic Grand Championship" was scheduled to start) a bit early at around 8:40am. Although the event extended through the entire weekend, I had other activities scheduled for the later two days. My plan was to fully spend the 2-3 hours for the opening until the actual noon start of the race, taking pictures and looking at the sculptures. Given how silly the entire festival is, I expected to be completely done with "The Kinetic Grand Championship" at that time, and I did not anticipate having any further desire to attend the other legs of the race.
Silly people in silly costumes sometimes with silly dance routines.
The larger sculptures were basically amateur parade floats.
Near the entrance of the plaza teams would check in and organize. This team's float featured a spinning top hat.
On the far side of the plaza, the organizers performed a break test to make sure that the kinetic machines could stop quickly on a whistle. This racing machine was powered by jumping to drive the offset back wheel.
After the break test, the participants would have to demonstrate an emergency evacuation. This machine is themed to a unicorn and breathes fire!
It turns out that I overestimated my tolerance for lame. I only ended up only lasting for a bit more than an hour before calling it quits a bit past 10:00am. I opted not to stay for the noon start of the race and started heading north up the 101 immediately. The upside to this exceptional disappointment is that I would have enough time to visit some of the other optional tourist attractions that I had earmarked earlier. In particular, I had singled out the Trees of Mystery and the Battery Point Lighthouse as potential stops during the drive.
By the time I got to the Trees of Mystery at around 11:30am my phone was starting to get low on battery, and I could not recharge it due to my old car not having a functioning outlet or cigarette lighter. And I had forgotten to pack an external phone battery because I am dumb. Given how reliant I was on my phone for this road trip, I was in something of a precarious scenario. I began to manage my phone's battery by using airplane mode when not using GPS explicitly, or outright turning off my phone during short lulls.
The entrance to the Trees of Mystery is well marked by an "oversized" effigy of Paul Bunyan. It was equip with a speaker that would strike up conversations with kids and encourage families to take pictures with him.
The Trees of Mystery has an 18 dollars admission fee for adults. Although I have seen plenty of redwoods (my mother drags me with her to visit Muir Woods on a seemingly endless loop), the Trees of Mystery is rated highly on TripAdvisor, and I had time to kill, and I needed to stretch my legs. It was time to examine trees.
The Trees of Mystery features a "Sky Trail" gondola lift that takes you up through the canopy to a scenic overlook. There are long waits to ride the gondola lift in both directions.
While I decided to take the lift up, I took the steep and slippery Wilderness Trail down, which was a great way to get away from the crowds for a bit. I only slipped and fell twice. It was at this point that I realized that I had forgotten to pack bugspray because I am dumb.
Much of the attraction consisted of small signs labeling trees with unusual growths or features.
oh look a rollercoaster... jk just trees
One of the sections of the park was called the "Trail of Tall Tails" and featured carvings depicting the various stories of Paul Bunyan. There were speakers where you could listen to narration, but it didn't seem like any tourists were particularly interested in stopping to listen.
There was a gift shop at the end of the attraction where they offered samples of their homemade fudge (what is it with the tourist industry and fudge anyway?), which I gladly used as a sugary panacea for my sore legs and exhaustion. There was also a small museum in the back with Native American artifacts, but I did not really spend any time there, so I do not have any pictures.
Although I was not impressed by what the Trees of Mystery had to offer, I was satisfied. It is more crowded and touristy than other comparable redwood forests, which suited me just fine. Although it might not be worth the price for those that have already frequented way too many redwood forests, the attraction killed well over two hours of time, which is obviously everything that I could ever hope for and more.
My phone was almost dead at this point, which would have spelt doom for my little road trip: I'm not sure that I could have made it to my next motel all the way in Yreka, California without the crutch of GPS. I originally had had high hopes that my new phone would have a battery that could withstand at least a day's worth of heavy use, but obviously that was not the case. It was a relief when I was able to recharge my phone at the Mexican restaurant (Perlita's Authentic Mexican) in Crecent City, California where I took a late lunch. It was enough to make it through the rest of the day as long as I kept to a policy of extreme phone-battery conservation, but the entire phone debacle made this vacation much more stressful than it needed to be.
After the combo lunch / emergency phone recharge, it was 3:00pm, and I decided that I had enough time to visit the Battery Point Lighthouse, which was not even a mile away and would only take an hour to experience.
Battery Point Lighthouse is just off of the coast of Crescent City and is separated by a low sandbar. The internet warns that when tides are high, the place becomes inaccessible, but I did not run into that problem.
Battery Point Lighthouse is surrounded by a springtime bloom of flowers so vivid, that they look fake and plastic.
I opted to join one of the docent led tours into the lighthouse. The docents spoke about the different lighthouse keepers and their lifestyles, and some of the disasters and incidents that have befallen the lighthouse and its neighboring city. Both the docents and the visitors seem to skew a bit older in age, but this is a good cheap attraction to do in general.
Photos are not permitted when touring the interior of the Battery Point Lighthouse due to the landmark falling under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense. So here is a picture of a random lighthouse-y thing instead.
I completed touring the Battery Point Lighthouse at around 4:00pm. I started driving up the scenic Redwood Highway on the 199 into Oregon after filling my car's empty gas tank. Searching for a Yelp-approved diner for supper proved a bit difficult given that I could only make limited use of my phone by then.
I drove through the town of Grants Pass, Oregon to look for a cheap meal (where they were holding a "Boatnik" festival for the Memorial Day weekend which was not of particular interest to me) before settling on Hawaiian food at a well-reviewed restaurant called the Grass Shack in Medford, Oregon. Since I had a very late lunch and was not hungry, I opted to get it to go with the idea that I would eat it later. I continued south towards Yreka, California on the I5.
As I crested down the hills from Oregon down to California, Mount Shasta came into full view. I stopped at a vista point off of the road to better appreciate it.
The vista point seemed like a nice location to have my dinner, so I ate my take-out Hawaiian food in my parked car.
At a bit past 9:00pm, I arrived at the Rodeway Inn in Yreka, California. It was a relief to finally be able to rest and charge my phone. I knew I could relax a little, as my schedule for the following day was flexible.
I had no memory of reserving an accessible handicap room at the when I was planning this vacation at the beginning of this year. I definitely didn't intend to take a handicap room for myself, and I ended up feeling appropriately guilty that night.
Notes for the first day of the roadtrip:
The "road" part of the roadtrip was great. I covered a wide range of biospheres from redwoods to beaches to open views straight to Mount Shasta - all of them very beautiful.
Between the issues with my phone and a lack of a travel buddy to take pictures for me while driving, I have fewer photos than desirable for the purposes of writing up a photo trip report.
I am also disappointed that my new phone started baking like an oven while I was using GPS. I was hoping that newer models would no longer do that. The upside is that the phone never turned off due to overheating (I've had problems with this in the past).
I had forgotten to pack several things with me the day before. Along with forgetting to bring an external battery for the phone and bugspray, I also forgot to pack sunscreen because I am dumb. I really started feeling it as the sun started to sear my left side as I approached Crescent City, California.
The Rodeway Inn in Yreka was the only hotel that was close to being full. The other budget motels that I stayed at during this rode trip were almost totally vacant. Given that this was a three day weekend, I expected all of the motels to be completely booked by weekend travelers.
Given that I could not truly consistently use my cell phone's GPS out of fear of it draining completely, I had somewhat failed in my efforts to keep this vacation from becoming ridiculous and stressful.
Northern California Roadtrip Day 2, May 27th, Sunday - Natural Parks
Today's general plan was to continue down the I5 south until I reached the town of McCloud. There, I would be able to visit some waterfalls before taking Highway 89 east for another hour where I would stop at the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. Lassen National Volcanic Park was only another hour down, and I planned to spend the majority of Sunday taking in the various hydrothermal features there. After that, I would spend the night at a cheap motel in Redding. All in all, this is what counts as a light, relaxing day for me.
Here is the general route for this leg of the road trip. I decided to backtrack from Red Bluff to Redding California and added an extra 30 minutes one way to my itinerary to claim a night at a cheap, TripAdvisor-approved motel. Of course, I'd find out later why that particular lodging was cheap.
Although I did not have any hard deadlines for tour reservations or festivals, I checked out of the hotel a bit after 7:00am to better make the most of my day. My first priority was to stock up on the supplies that I had forgotten to pack at the start of the trip. I stopped at "McCloud Outdoors and Gear" in McCloud, California to buy the bug spray and the sunscreen. They have an adjoining cafe where I ordered a breakfast burrito to-go, which was probably the best food on the trip.
The next point of interest was the McCloud Falls which was a set of three different falls in the Shasta Trinity National Forest just south of the Route 89 Highway. They are free to visit, and were not busy on that Sunday morning. I basically only spent enough time at each of these places to take some pictures. They aren't particularly impressive (especially given that I was going to be visiting the McArthur-Burney falls in a few hours). If you are in the area, free to skip the McCloud Falls if you are strapped for time (I am always strapped for time), but it might befit a more relaxed vacation.
The lower McCloud falls.
The middle McCloud falls.
The upper McCloud falls.
The next point of interest was only a few miles down Route 89. I stopped at another vista point where I could see Mount Shasta. Although it was closer to Mount Shasta than the vista point that I rolled into the previous evening, the view of this vista point was partially obstructed by heavy foliage. I still managed to take some photos before moving on.
Vista Point off of Route 89. In the absence of a vacation buddy, I am consigned to use my car as the photo subject (im so lonely you guys).
The next stop was only 30 minutes continuing down Route 89. The McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park was one of the stops that I was most excited about, as the photos of it on the internet were amazing. The park did not disappoint. The falls are ridiculously photogenic. Visiting the falls and walking around on the various short trails were probably the highlight of the roadtrip.
I kind of think that the McArthur-Burney Falls are prettier than Niagra Falls (although not nearly as impressive). I took a look at my older photos of Niagra, and I kind of like this set of photos more.
I started acquainting myself with the panorama mode of my phone's camera while visiting the McArthur-Burney Falls.
I've been trying to upload my photos to Instagram for fun (and to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming Instagram famous), and I am disappointed that the app isn't really designed around extreme aspect ratios. I think that this panorama picture is one of my best photos from the trip, and the app severely cropped it.
One last photo of the McArthur-Burney falls. I am still getting used to my camera, and I still haven't figured out how to do macro photography and depth of field yet (not that I've tried very hard).
Next on the agenda was to drive through Lassen National Volcanic Park. Due to how high up the mountain the main road through the Lassen National Park goes, it is usually closed until late spring or early spring as the park plows the snow from the roads. I knew when planning this vacation that I would be cutting it close. Although I could technically visit the park if the main road was not entirely opened, this would require me to go around the entire park if I wanted to visit different sections of the park, which would have been an inconvenience and potentially untenable given my tight vacation schedules. Because of this, I dogged the spring clearing page on the Lassen National Park website for the month leading up to the trip. As luck would have it, the roads would finally be open for the summer season on the day of my visit.
I arrived at the north entrance of Lassen National Park at around 11:30am to be greeted with a hour long wait in the car to the entrance (I suspect the south entrance is better equip to handle summer crowds). Between the small entrance on the north side, and the street-side parking mostly being on the northbound side of the main road, I suspect that the park was somewhat designed with a south to north itinerary in mind. I'm not being fair, but the entire experience of visiting Lassen National Volcanic Park annoyed.
Since I live in California, snow is a bit of a unicorn for me, and I enjoyed walking a little through the snow, despite having a deep seated fear of the cold.
Another panorama camera shot. Given the spring road clearing / snow situation, I was on high alert, and I had packed several jackets in anticipation of Lassen National park being freezing cold. This concern ended up being fairly unwarranted. It was pleasantly cool.
There is a large parking lot at the Lassen Peak trailhead. It looks like it was still early enough in the season for people to be skiing, but I doubt that anyone would opt to travel to the peak with the trails being snowed out.
This photo was taken at the parking lot for the trailhead for Bumpass Hell. It was the main hydrothermal feature of the park that I was looking forward to, and unfortunately, it is closed for the 2018 season for refurbishment.
Given that the Bumpass Hell trail was closed, the only hydrothermal feature that was really accessible for me for this trip were the Sulphur Works, which was a bubbling mud pots near the sidewalk along the side of the road. You can see the steam rising from the mud pots to the right. Unfortunately, I took only videos without photos of the actual hydrothermal activity in closeup. Oops.
I think that I spent a bit more than 3 hours in the park, which was actually way less than I had originally projected. I was not particularly impressed by Lassen National Volcanic Park, but I don't think that this was the best case scenario for visiting Lassen National Park. It was the wrong season (although the main road was open, many of the parking lots and trails were still snowed in), and the wrong year (the Bumpass Hell Trail trail is arguably their headlining hydrothermal site, and it was closed for the year for refurbishment). However, the way that the park is laid out makes reaching many of the interesting hydrothermal areas inconvenient.
After being thoroughly disappointed by Lassen National Park I continued down Highway 36 through Red Bluff and headed up north on the I5 to Redding. It was during this drive that I had forgotten how hot much of California got in late spring. I guess living in the Sanfransisco Bay Area for almost a full decade has made me soft. Given that I had not spent nearly as much time at the Lassen National Volcanic Park, I got to Redding a bit earlier than expected at 6:00pm.
Given that I had not spent nearly as much time at the Lassen National Volcanic Park, I got to Redding a bit earlier than expected at 6:00pm. When I pulled up to the Economy Inn in Redding for the night, I immediately had misgivings. The exterior was extremely old fashioned and run down, and it looked a bit like the type of hotel that you see in slasher films. It had gotten decent reviews on the internet, so I did a double take on my phone to check if there was a different Economy Inn in the area that I had got confused with.
I don't think this photo properly captures how dilapidated the premises are. I am just glad that I had no need to check in after dark.
Compare with this nice, clean room. It's hard not to judge books by their cover, and I am sure that the dingy exterior is hurting their business.
Although the run-down exterior was quite alarming, the employee at the front desk was friendly, and (to my great relief) the room itself was actually the nicest that I stayed during the trip. After having a quick dinner at the pizza place across the street, I set my alarm to 6:30am for the following day; I would have a bit of driving that next morning.
Some extra notes about the trip so far:
I apologize for not properly photoshopping my pictures. I usually put a concerted effort to make my trip report look better than it actually is, but I simply don't have time to sift through every photo this month. Ugly will have to do.
I still have the bad habit of not wanting to "waste" film on things that I am sure will be ugly. The downside of this is that I do not have many of the establishing shots that would help introduce locations or activities on this trip report. Of course, this is somewhat motivated by phone power management, though.
I did end up loosing phone reception somewhere leading up to the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. My phone had enough cached so I could generally look at the map, and my route was simple enough that this wasn't a problem in this case. I do forsee this being a larger problem during some later vacations, and I should strive to do print outs for future trips.
The main south side visitor center in Lassen National Volcanic was a circus. It was already crowded, and unattended children seemed to have the run of the place.
Northern California Roadtrip Day 3, May 28th, Monday, Memorial Day - Wine Country
I don't particularly like wine, so I knew that would be out of my element for the entire day. Napa seems to be packed to the brim with things that I am not interested in, but I figured that I should visit wine country once in my life. I tried to dilute wine related activities with other stuff to avoid getting drunk / bored / tired / headache / disappointed / annoyed.
The plan was to drive check out of the Economy Inn in Redding, California, drive south on the I5 that morning then turn right on the 20 towards Clearlake before taking Highway 29 south towards Calistoga. If there was time, the first attraction of the day would be the Petrified Forest. After spending around an hour there, I would be heading to Castello di Amorosa and taking a tour and tasting there at 12:00 noon. The last stop would be Fairfield where there I could try some olive oil tasting.
The general route for the last leg of the road trip.
Time was tight in the morning due to the tour time for Castello di Amorosa. Similarly to previous days, I checked out of my room at the Economy Inn in Redding and be on the road again a bit before 7:00am. I was targeting getting to The Petrified Forest at around 10:30am which left three and a half hours for driving. I did waste some time finding a breakfast place (I should have figured that places would be closed for the holiday and called ahead).
The road that cuts across from the I5 into Napa Valley is windy and steep enough for me to be nervous of my older (relatively speaking) car. It struggled a bit to reach the posted speed limit. All the while, I watched drivers in expensive sports cars pass me at seemingly double my car's speed. Sports cars and boats seemed to be a common sight on the roads throughout the day. I think the people around here are extremely wealthy and like their recreation. All of this annoyed me because I don't like seeing people with things that I cannot have.
I reached the Petrified Forest at 11:00am, which is a bit later than I had originally planned. The Petrified Forest is a small attraction consisting of a trail that goes in a small half mile loop with various excavated trees set in narrow ditches in the ground. Upon entry, guests are given a laminated map with descriptions of each point of interest. There was also a docent led tour of the premises that started a bit after I arrived, but I was on a high-stakes, time-sensitive mission called "vacation," and there was no way I would let an enriching good time threaten my schedule. I ended up just walking around for 40 minutes or so looking at various trees.
Not to be confused with the more famous Petrified Forest National Forest in Arizona, this one was a modest attraction.
These pieces of wood demonstrate how the petrified trees would appear after excavation and before being realigned. In some cases it wasn't quite clear what the tour map referred to. I think some more simple signage on some of the less obvious points of interest would have helped.
The ash fall here is an example of the material that was expunged by Mount St Helena millions of years ago. It was that same ash that petrified the trees.
The back of the park featured several ditches with the petrified trees arranged lengthwise. These are the titular petrified trees.
The Petrified Forest was non essential, and I never expected it to be, but I wanted to visit as the place had just reopened after recovering from the 2017 Tubbs Fire, and it was in the general route of my vacation plans.
My next attraction on this trip was the obligatory winery, and as I mentioned before, I do not drink alcohol. Therefore, when I was originally planning, I searched for something tacky and touristy to better suit my trashy needs. Castello di Amorosa with its replica castle and dungeon seemed like a decent fit. You can either purchase a general admission or a (rather expensive) short tour, both of which include wine tastings. In order to get more out of my visit, I opted to fork over the extra dough for the latter option.
Castello di Amorosa is located at a replica of an Italian castle. It gives people like me something to do besides drink wine.
Castello di Amorosa is a tourist trap, which means that it is perfect for me.
Still having fun with the panorama option on my camera. I took this while waiting for (pushed back) tour time after checking in. The waiting area was outside in the direct sun which was torture in the early summer heat.
I figured that wine and Napa were for sophisticated adults, so I did try to dress up (given that this is me, I still looked shabby). I was too much of a dolt to realize that normal men dressed casually for wine country. I arrived to Castello di Amorosa at a bit before 11:55am which was cutting it extremely close due to their slow parking processes, and I still needing to check in after that.
Checking in took longer than it probably should have. It was Memorial Day, and I overheard that they were understaffed to manage the large crowds for the holiday. I also get the feeling that I was sent to the wrong place to check in for my tour reservation in the first place. The whole slow process of waiting as I watched my tour time gleefully slip past gave me bad anxiety, and I ended up checking in well after my posted tour time (which my ticket warned that it would mean that I would miss out entirely). Luckily, the staff happily rescheduled me for a tour departing at 12:30pm.
The tour itself was very brief. It went over the history of the winery, some information of the architectural styles referenced in the construction of the castle, and some descriptions of some of the processes of wine making. And finally some information about the wine. Ended with an attempt at a hard sell based on increasing prices on various vintages and their wine club. I assume that all wineries are like this when it comes to the upsell.
The tour briefly discussed the high fidelity at which Dario Sattui built his castle. Each section of the castle took a different part of Italian medieval architecture as its inspiration.
The Castello di Amorosa winery focuses on relatively small lots and only sells directly to consumers.
The hurried tour left little time to process some of the information that was around. Instead, our tour guide focused more on converting tourists into wine club members via upselling, which naturally is an authentic part of the touristy-winery-at-a-fake-castle experience.
Given how hot it was outside, going down into the basement "dungeons" was a relief.
We got some information about how wine is maintained when being subjected to the aging process. For instance, in order to combat the natural "Angel's Share" of the wine in the barrels, wine is periodically taken from the higher barrels and distributed to the lower ones to prevent exposure to air and oxidation within the barrels.
Unfortunately, I did not take any photos during the wine tasting itself. We were each given a pamflet with various descriptions of wines that they had on tap. These were divided into five categories: White, red, reserve (extra charge), and dessert. The tour guide also highlighted certain wines as well. I spent too long choosing my poison, but I ended up getting one from the list of reds, one from the list of whites, two from the list of desserts, and the grape juice they had on tap. I was a good wine novice, and I wafted the smells and swished the wine in my mouth as instructed, and I still don't understand wine. I did like the grapejuice and the sweeter dessert wines because they tasted like sugar. Anyhow my life certainly seems that much richer now that I can say that I have done a wine tasting in Napa Valley, and I am a better person for it. Definitely.
The dungeons had weapons and torture devices, but most of them were replicas.
Although I probably don't sound super keen on Castello di Amorosa, it was still probably the best case scenario winery for me.
The tour and premium wine tasting dumped us into the giftshop in the "basement" of the castle. It was at this point that I realized how crowded and touristy Castello di Amorosa is. Normally I would immediately flee such a packed giftshop, but I had a mission: Manners dictate that I bring something back for my coworkers from my vacations, so I bought a bottle of high end grape juice out of pure obligation (no way was I shelling out for real wine for them!). Anyhow, I don't think any of them were interested in my grapejuice, so I eventually ended up drinking all of the bottle in the office myself. But it is the thought that counts, I think you'll agree.
The last of my points of interest for this vacation before returning to Oakland was in Fairfield. As I was driving down, I started to worry about the inland California summer heat. Normally I wouldn't mind, but I was on vacation so I had two concerns: Firstly, I was a bit worried that my bottle of grape juice as it was premium and therefore assuredly overly delicate. Secondly, using the GPS on my phone in the sun was causing my phone to bake. My phone overheating and up and dying would be bad (it has happened in the past with my old phone). I couldn't exactly do anything about the former, but for the latter I started adopting a defensive driving posture: Left hand firmly on the wheel with my right hand holding my cell phone directly up against the air conditioning vents on the car's dashboard.
Anyhow, I am going to make the remainder of this trip report a bit brief. This is about where I stopped taking photos again (due to a volatile mix of phone issues, exhaustion, and mounting disappointment), and I wimped out on some of the activities that I had planned (like an olive oil tasting) anyways (the call that I had made to Il Fiorello Olive Oil Company the prior week to confirm holiday hours made me anticipate that a visit would just be another awkward mess that I did not feel particularly up for). Instead, in my boredom and disappointment I ended up just buying a Strawberry flavored vinegar at a random specialty shop and some Jelly Bellys at the factory in Fairfield. Normally, I am not the type for souvenirs, but I've started to realize why tourists waste time just shopping too much: Our vacations are just unfulfilling and sad, and spending money on useless baubles fills a hole.
This probably was not my best trip. From the start, it did not really cover any sights that I have a high general affinity for. No theme parks, for instance (which is a bit unusual for me). Moreover, issues with my phone made this relatively lightweight vacation far more stressful than I wanted. With lessons learned and better planning, I fully expect my next vacation will be totally stress free.
(Who am I kidding? Spoiler alert: my next vacation was certainly not stress free.)
General takeaways from vacation:
I potentially need to find alternatives for charging cell phones in route (probably not necessary due to rent a cars being full featured with USB chargers and everything).
However, I do need to print out maps for when I visit parks as they are far enough away from any city centers to lose phone reception. This is true even in a state like California.
I am not a major foodie, and anytime spent eating is time not vacationing. I should opt for fast food rather than yelp-approved sit-down restaurants.
Even though I did not have a strong latent interest in any of the sights on this vacation, it had to be done. My curiosity has been satisfied.
I feel like the start of every vacation season, I somehow totally forget how to pack. I left both sunscreen and insect repellant at home this time which is the basics of the basics of traveling.
The end of this trip report has been a long time coming. I did not intent do leave this trip report hanging for an entire month, but I've been tending to these reports too closely and too carefully in a futile effort to make them coherent and pleasing. In order to facilitate my writing, for the next trip report I will be using curse words every alternating sentence to make my travels seem more hardcore and interesting.
Anyhow, assuming I keep the same pace I should be ready with the first part of the trip report for May 8th through May 10th in a month or so. Please look forward to it, and I will see you again in August!
Surprise! I was joking about the timeline for these trip reports. Although it is true that I am a slow, unmotivated writer, I queued up a few parts ahead to post these trip reports to get to the spicy theme park bits a bit quicker for your viewing pleasure. I figure that people around this forum will be more keen on those segments of my travels.
I had wanted to travel to Busch Gardens Williamsburg for several years now, but I was never able to get around to it (job hunting and apartment hunting and other various yearly distractions). My visit to the park was the cornerstone to my grand plan: I would purchase a premier membership against Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and visit all of the Seaworld and Busch Gardens parks within a year, and strive to get my money's worth (given the cost of parking for a solo travel, this is probably easier than I suspect).
I had invited my two (semi-retired) parents to join me on this trip to spend some quality time with them. This decision was somewhat fraught, as my mother can be stubborn and have little consideration for others, and my father does not particularly enjoy traveling. I do need to keep her in line and be somewhat conscious of his mood. This issue was significantly enhanced for this trip, as my mother had just taken a big trip to both Amsterdam and France about one week prior, and during the interim she had decided last minute to kill time and beat the California heat by traveling to Mammoth Lakes for a few days. My father was none too pleased about my mom's surprise getaway, and I knew I would have to be more careful than usual. Of course given the personalities of both of my parents, I fully recognized that there was little I could do.
Virginia Vacation Day 0, June 7th, Thursday, Outbound flight
Although my parents were coming from a different airport and a different city and generally use different airlines than I do, aligning our scheduled flight times was easy enough (give or take reschedules and other monkey business from the buffoons at American Airlines and United Airlines respectively). The only plans for the day were to travel from California to the Richmond, Virginia airport, get our rent a car, and check in to our hotel rooms (due to our flight times, we expected to check well after midnight). However, we would face major problems on the day of our outbound flight to Richmond, Virginia that butchered my relatively simple plans for the day.
There were major storms all across the United States that entire weekend. For that preliminary travel day, it meant that my parents ended up stranded at their layover at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. They ended up having to make their arrival to the Richmond International Airport to the following day in the afternoon and would arrive at around 7:00pm in Richmond an entire day late.
This caused a couple issues: Firstly, how dare air-travel unhinge my perfect vacation plans! Secondly, the car rental was under my father's name for the Airport Alamo (there was a slight discount through Costco memberships). My father was able to transfer the rental reservation to my name, but we lost out on the Costco discount.
The woman at the car rental counter was generally friendly, but I got the feeling that she was slightly annoyed with my nervous prattle. Given that I am a dull, annoying person to the core, this is fine.
A bigger problem was that my parents were going to miss an entire day out of a three day vacation. This necessitated a significant adjustment in our itinerary. We already had tickets for Busch Gardens Williamsburg, so if my parents could not redeem their tickets on June 8th, they would do it on June 10th. I swapped out the Colonial Williamsburg day on June 10th with a Busch Gardens Williamsburg day. In order for me to retain a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, I squeezed it into June 8th in between morning and evening visits to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Pretending that I have enough time to visit too much is a proud tradition of mine, so this was fine.
I checked in to the Airport Inn Motel, Richmond at around midnight where we planned to stay for two nights. I asked front desk to hold on to keys for one of two rooms until my parents arrived. If this worked, it would give my mom and dad parents the possibility of settling in to the motel room when they arrived at the airport the following day, without requiring me to return to Richmond from Williamsburg immediately. This would give me a bit more flexibility for when to return the following day.
Given my anxiety over the sudden change in plans, I did not expect to sleep well that night.
I arrived at the Airport Inn Motel, Richmond around midnight. I had originally been unhappy that I couldn't find another hotel closer to Shenandoah National Park for the following night, but (given circumstances) this was for the best.
Pretty good given the class of the motel and the price. I've slept in far worse.
Virginia Vacation Adjusted Plans
Here are the new plans in light of the air-travel debacle with my parents. It is similar but different to my original literary.
I promised myself that I would get this out quickly, and it ended up taking a week. The write up for this day of this vacation ended up being far longer than I initially wanted.
Virginia Vacation Day 1, June 8th, Friday, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Colonial Williamsburg
I had originally thought that booking the Airport Inn Motel in Richmond for two consecutive nights was regrettable. The longest day for this trip would be for the visit to Shenandoah National Park and Luray Caverns on the second day of the trip, so I had wanted to spend the night of June 9th closer to the park entrance to facilitate early morning sightseeing. Unfortunately, the basic Airport Inn Motel ended up being too good of a value, and I ended up pulling back and just booking the hotel for two consecutive nights.
Given circumstances, two nights near the airport ended up allowing us to recover more gracefully from my parents' flights' delays and cancellations. Regardless, I had no intention of waiting for my parents to arrive late in the afternoon. This was the one day where there was not a forecast of rain and thunderstorms. I had no choice but to make most out of the day.
Here were my plans for the day: I would travel to Williamsburg and arrive at Busch Gardens before the park opened at 10:00am. I would spend two and a half hours taking advantage of light morning crowds before leaving and getting lunch. Then I would make the short drive to Colonial Williamsburg where I would visit the places from 1:00pm to 5:30pm. After grabbing a nice dinner, I would return to Busch Gardens to visit the park from 6:30pm - 9:00pm for closing. To me this was a very reasonable plan (barring any deficits of willpower to make the jumps work).
Here was the route for today. Just a short 45 minute drive to Williamsburg and then back to Richmond.
I left early from my hotel knowing that I would be making two quick stops before arriving at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Firstly, I got breakfast at a small restaurant called Ma & Pa's Diner which was near the motel. It was a classic greasy food diner with friendly service, but I can't say that I enjoyed the food very much. The second stop was at a AAA location near Tidewater Virginia. I had read online that AAA offers discounts to Luray Caverns, but this required a pre-purchase at a local AAA store (from what I had read, the discount was not available at the Luray Caverns ticket booths). Unfortunately, the AAA representative said that they did not sell Luray Caverns tickets, and suggested that I should just be able to buy discounted tickets at the Luray Caverns ticket booth by presenting my AAA card (this was patently wrong).
Since the quest for discount was fail, I arrived to the park entrance well before I anticipated at around 9:15am. This was a bit too early as the parking lots for Busch Gardens Williamsburg only seemingly open a half hour before the park opened. Further mistakes were made when I tried redeeming my Premier Membership voucher for preferred parking. They handed me the tag for the premier parking instructing me to hang it on my rear view mirror, and I thought that this was for after I parked the car. It turns out that employees also use this to direct guests to the correct lot, so I got routed towards the general parking at the Ireland lot.
The parking lot for the park only opens a half hour before the park's opening. If you arrive too early, you will be waiting in this.
Busch Gardens Willaimsburg! On the left are the kiosks where you can redeem tickets and (as I would later learn) membership perks. As a consequence of this, the season pass is printed on flimsy paper, and is easy to mix up with the other print outs for the perks and such.
I used my voucher to print out my platinum pass at the kiosk before entering the park. My main goals for the day were to get my fill of the rollercoasters at the park so that when I visited with my parents two days later, I could focus on things that they might potentially enjoy. As a side objective, I read that my membership qualified me for a free sample of the ongoing Food and Wine Festival, and I was also looking for a good t-shirt as a souvenir to combat my very deliberate under-packing.
This was very definitely my first time visiting this park, and I was excited to get started. Anyhow, I do realize that this is a theme park and roller coaster focused travel forum. I will rate the attractions that I rode at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, as rating attractions seems like the thing that people do on these trip reports.
First I headed off to the left thinking that Tempesto would have the longest line given that it was relatively new and had a significantly lower capacity than all of the other roller coasters. However the Italy side of the park would not be open until a half hour after the park opening, and I could not afford to wait around. The employees there informed me that the two coasters in the Germany section of the park were open. Park opens in sections during the early spring but most are open within an hour of the park opening. However, given that I was only planning to be there for two hours and change for the first visit, tI probably should have researched this ahead of time. I visited the park in I generally explored the park in a counterclockwise manner.
The park opens in sections, and although the child focused Sesame Street is available at park opening, nothing else on the left side of the park was open at 10:00am.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg is probably one of the most attractive amusement parks I have seen in a while. It has a beautiful wooded local, and each of hubs are well themed.
Although the Ireland section of the park was open immediately, I walked past the new VR Simulator Battle for Eire (I figured it was something that I could enjoy with my parents the following day). Instead, I rode Griffon twice in the France section of the park (once in the front seat and once in the back) and Invadr once (in the front row).
I have ridden Griffon's sister Sheikra (had to Google how to spell that one) at Busch Gardens Tampa, but that was long enough ago that I can't really do a good comparison. I do like B&M dive coasters for their impressive freefall drops, but the ones that I have ridden only seem to have a handful of (admittedly huge) elements and end too soon by slamming into the break run. I think that the version in Tampa has better theming, which is important for me. 4/5
All of the major rides had signed at the entrance prohibiting loose articles. The park offers paid fluffy, fluffy bunnies filled with medicine and goo at each of the ride entrances, but I hadn't brought anything besides my wallet and cellphone. Even so, the bag policy at this park was a bit more extreme than I had expected.
Dive coasters are impressive, but can feel like shallow experiences due to how short they feel.
InvadR is the newest of the roller coasters at the park. It is a rather quickly paced mid sized wooden roller coaster. Even though it is one of the smaller coasters at the park, it is too intense to qualify as a family coaster (even if you ignore the height requirement). Although it has interactions with the park's train and the adjacent log flume, I don't think that it was a good fit for the park. Busch Gardens cleared out a substantial parcel of land to accommodate the twisting GCI layout and wide support structure, so the ride does not take advantage of forest landscape and ends up looking very bare. 2/5
Another unstated goal for the day was to vet out potential attractions that my parents could ride. Even though InvadR is one of the least intense roller coasters in the park, I figured that the ride would still be a bit much for them.
I know that Alpengeist is highly regarded amongst the enthusiast community, which is why I should preface this by admitting that I'm not a huge fan of B&M inverted coasters. The train design doesn't offer great visibility unless you sit in the front car, or you look down at the ground. As much as I enjoy staring at my feet (it's how I like to interact with others), I opted for the (minimal) wait for the front car. Since it was still less than an hour after the park opening, I felt like I could afford this. Even with the ability to see in front of me, I am still not too keen on B&M inverted coasters. They have a pretty standardized array of inversions and positive g forces. The theming and interaction with the Le Scoot Log Flume near the end of the ride after the mid course was nice. 3/5
Alpengeist has a goofy ski lift theme.
The back half of the ride has some nice interactions with theming and the nearby Le Scoot Log Flume. It's nice how many of the rides are well incorporated into the park landscape.
More of the well themed sections of the park. Because this was their food and wine festival, there was a lonely looking lady looking for guests to occupy her live demonstrations. It was a little bit awkward, and I ducked around her to avoid provoking her.
I know this will sound lame, but one of the major reasons that I was interested in this park was for its dark ride called the Curse of Darkastle. The ride was retired just this season, and its absence does leave an obvious gap in Busch Gardens Williamsburg's ride lineup.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster. One of the promotions for the month was 40 cent beers at the Festhaus. Because I do not drink, I did not take advantage of this particular promotion on this day, but I took a mental note of this for the sake of my father.
I get the feeling that Busch Gardens put a lot of effort when they designed and built Verbolten. It has a well themed queue line (it was still morning, so the ride was still basically a walk on). The themed indoor section is a nice touch, but it is very brief. And swooping drop near the Rhine River is photogenic. Even though it is one of the more themed coasters in the park, and even though it is probably one of the less intimidating roller coasters in the park, it is still definitely not a family roller coaster (the g forces in the helix in the indoor section were surprisingly intense). I rode this ride once near the front, and once near the middle. 3/5
The park was still pretty empty by the time I reached Verbolten a bit past 11:00am. However, I was starting to notice the school groups that were running around. I decided not to wait for either the front or back seats for rides by this point.
I'm impressed that Busch Gardens even attempted to theme their queue line, even if it isn't quite at the level of a big ticket Disney or Universal attraction.
Although Verbolten's climax looks cool from the bridge, for some strange reason the drop does not feel particularly thrilling when riding.
Another example of the impressive landscaping at Busch Gardens. I took this picture while walking towards the Fiesta Italy portion of the park.
The Fiesta Italy section is probably the ugliest themed zone as they opted for a festival theme which inevitably ends up feeling cheap due to how close it adheres to the aesthetics of an un-themed amusement park or carnival. It has a higher concentration of attractions in comparison to the other parts of the park. The major rides in this section are the B&M Hypercoaster Apollo's Chariot, the Premier Skyrocket II Tempesto, and the Intimin Roman Rapids.
I rode Apollo's Chariot twice near the back both times after one train waits. It has plenty of fun airtime, and not overly intense making it infinitely re-ridable. Makes good use of the natural contours of the park. Apollo's Chariot is my favorite ride in the park and is hovering around the top 3 coasters for me (note: my rankings are random and meaningless). 5/5
I did not ride Tempesto for several reasons. Firstly, I had already ridden the similar Superman at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California. Secondly, the line was very long (and slow moving, I assume) and I was on a tight schedule. Finally, the loose article policy on this ride was very strict and they forbid glasses (at least they provide a fanny pack to hold them) which means I wouldn't be able to see anything anyways. I get why Seaworld and Busch Gardens keep building this model of roller coaster at all of their parks, but I don't think it is really a good fit for these parks given their low capacity.
If you look closely at this photo of the entrance to Tempesto, you can see the small orange fanny packs that the employee is handing out to riders. I decided that this ride was not worth the hassle
The entrance to Apollo's Chariot. Definitely the best ride at the park.
Given how far out the ride goes along the bearer of the park, it is rather difficult to photograph.
By noon, I was feeling the heat, so I joined the line for Roman Rapids which had seemingly just opened for the day. However, although the line wasn't that long, I eventually realized that they were only running 4 or 5 small rafts on the flume, and their loading procedures were extremely slow. They would only load one raft on the loading turntable at a time (likely to cut down on staffing). Even though the line looked short, I cut my losses and ducked out of line (while trying to look as inconspicuous as possible) and headed out of the Fiesta Italy section of the park and towards Escape from Pompei.
It was already 12:15pm, and I knew that I didn't really have time for more rides if I was to keep my schedule. But it was very hot, and I was disappointed by missing out on the Roman Rapids. I decided to ride Escape from Pompeii once before leaving the park for the morning even though the line was reasonably long (I anticipated that the ride had a higher operational capacity than the Roman Rapids). The ride layout is a bit longer than an average Shoot the Chutes ride, and the ride lifts into a building with show scenes that features crowd-pleasing fire effects. The one negative here would probably be that the climax in the show building is bereft of any theming or effects and just an empty room that opens up to the drop. Nevertheless, I think that this is the best family ride at the park. 4/5
I made a really stupid decision at this point. It was already 1:00pm, and I really shouldn't have ridden Loch Ness Monster. Given the midday crowds, I knew that this would put me very behind schedule. But I was still unsatisfied with my 3 hour visit, and I was unable to fathom that this morning visit was only to be a small part of the entire three part visit to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. My willpower was just not high enough to make that savings throw, I guess.
Between the interlocking loops and the multiple lift hills and the enclosed helix, Loch Ness Monster is an iconic ride. All of those signature elements were great: The loops were snappy and smooth, and the helix wasn't jerky or painful at all (yes, we do grade Arrow loopers on a curve). However, the transitions between elements did have minor jolts that would not have been as much of an issue without the hard horse collar restraints. And for the 40th anniversary additions? I think the effects added to the indoor helix for were a strobe light and a loud roar. The audio addition was nice, but the strobe was kind of lame. 3/5
Loch Ness Monster was holding its 40th anniversary. Busch Gardens had reactivated some effects in the indoor helix section of the ride, and various merchandise and food items were on sale across the park.
The interlocking loops are one of a kind currently, and are a ride highlight off-ride and on.
By the time I got off the Loch Ness Monster, it was 1:30pm, and I was behind schedule by an hour (I experienced moderate waits at both Escape from Pompeii and the Loch Ness Monster. And given that I screwed up preferred parking that morning and had to wait for the tram to take me to the distant Ireland parking lot, my effective departure time was actually closer to 2:00pm.
Right about here, I should have a blurb about lunch, but I didn't. Not eating lunch on vacation is a timesaving policy that I recommend to all people.
I stuck with my plan to visit Colonial Williamsburg even knowing that I was very late and that most of the exhibits and activities at Colonial Williamsburg closed early at five. Colonial Williamsburg area is dotted by smaller various demonstration buildings, and historical. For example, I ended up watching a small explanation of colonial shoe-making that was held by two period actors in a small "store" off of the road. While the general premises is accessible by all people, you would get issued a tag when you purchased tickets at the visitor's center, and they would check the tag for admission for any of the demonstration booths or building tours.
The main parking lot, ticket booth, and information center is located rather far from Colonial Williamsburg proper. Depending on your plans, you may want to park in town and buy tickets from one of the satellite ticket booths. Anyhow, I personally opted to start at the main visitor center because Google told me to.
By the time that I arrived at the ticket booth, most of the employees were idly packing up for the day, and only one or two of the ticketing windows was staffed. I had the bad luck to be helped by an elderly gentlemen who was excruciatingly slow. Sometimes I am too patient with others when I am on the clock.
Although Colonial Williamsburg offers a tram that takes you from the visitors center to the exhibits and demonstrations, it really that much of a walk.
To be honest, there was only one thing out of all of the Colonial Williamsburg sights that I was actually interested in seeing. The guided tour of the Governor's Palace was not what I was interested in, but it was at the northern end of the Colonial Williamsburg grounds and consequently the closest major exhibit to the visitor. It was also highly rated on TripAdvisor, and I like it when TripAdvisor plans my vacations for me.
The Governor's Palace does frequent tours until 4:00pm. After that, you can tour the place at your own leisure.
Yes, I am still having fun with the panorama mode.
The foyer and stairwell was lined with an impressive collection of weapons. Although decorative, these were taken down and used during times of great need.
Apparently the historians for this landmark have found evidence that the walls on this stairwell are not historically accurate, so they will be painting them white in the future.
I think the tour guide was explaining how the Governor's house was not really designed for children, but I was too busy taking this photo to listen.
Something something something asian influence aesthetic. I have seen stuff like this in any old rich historic home
I am surprised about the bright colors used for the walls in most of the rooms, but the historians have on good authority that this color is actually accurate.
The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum are part of the same physical building. I think that the distinction between the two helps organize the collection into contrasts of high, proper art, and low, common art. I was interested in some of the exhibits in the latter, so I spent a couple hours exploring the place. I'll admit that I got both the hours and the ticketing of these museums wrong: I had assumed that these museums would close with the rest of the Colonial Williamsburg exhibits, but these museums actually close at 7:00 in the evening, and I didn't realize that it was possible to buy tickets separately for these museums.
The entrance to the art museums is actually located at the exhibit about colonial mental hospitals. There is a stairwell that will take you underground and into the (rather large) two floor building where these collections are held. It sounds like they are planning on building an independent entrance for the art museums themselves in the near future, but for now the entire visitor experience is a bit awkward.
This is the "Public Hospital." It features an exhibit on how mental health was treated in colonial Williamsburg, but it also currently is the only way to access the art museum complex.
The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum had a temporary exhibit about how printed textiles superseded and replaced more expensive and labor intensive woven textiles.
The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum also had a small exhibit on early musical instruments. This record player is in the shape of a hippo.
The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum also had a small exhibit on outdoor folk art. This included everything from the pictured carousel animals to likenesses of Native Americans used to advertise tobacco to whirlygigs.
A small exhibit on German toys which were popular in the United States in the 19th century. These toys were surprisingly cheap, and made available to American customers via long printed catalogs.
It looks like I didn't take many photos of the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts wing of the complex. It featured expensive looking furniture and paintings. This one exhibit about the evolution of early harpsicords to the modern piano was of personal interest to me.
I left the art museum complex at bit before 5:00pm and attended a fife and drum demonstration that marked the end of the day for Colonial Williamsburg. Most of the sights at Colonial Williamsburg are closed for the day at that time. In general, it is hard for me to pass much of a judgement on Colonial Williamsburg (whether it was worth the money; whether it is worth the time). This certainly was not an ideal visit as it was too brief for me to really get a good feel for the place. Moreover, I do not have much of an interest in early American settlements anyways.
At 5:00pm near one of the grass fields, Colonial Williamsburg holds a fife and drum demonstration. I'm not sure that they (can) check for your issued tag for this show.
I left Colonial Williamsburg after the fife and drum demonstration at around 5:30pm and drove to a chintzy restaurant called "Shorty's Diner" to sate my growing hunger. I think it was themed as a 60s diner, and it had a some old memorabilia on shelves near the bathroom. Their business was hectic and busy which made me feel guilty for opting to eat there (I have a complex, you see). Food was okay (I ordered fish and chips, so you can't expect gourmet anyways) but I was hungry, so I would have gorged myself on anything (being hungry helps me eat faster and saves time anyways). I don't know whether the crowds was due to the restaurant's general popularity, or if they had a one off car show at the same time: There were a bunch of classic cars right outside in the parking lot, but maybe that was just more of the theming, because that's just the type of restaurant that this is.
I got back to Busch Gardens Williamsburg at around 6:30pm. This time I did do my tag for preferred parking correctly, and was directed to the Britain parking lot which was a short walk to the entrance. I had realized earlier that day that my passholder benefits should be redeemed outside the park at the same kiosks where I printed out my Premier Membership card so made sure to check those out. One of the perks was a free sample for the Food and Wine festival per day, and another was a complementary pair of Quick Queues. I also discovered out that one of the perks for the Premier Membership is a complementary ticket (I should really have done some more research about this ahead of time before we bought tickets for my parents).
My goals for the evening visit was to finish getting my fill of the thrill attractions here as well as use up my free Food and Wine sample for the day (I also wanted to get a t-shirt as a souvenir). As I entered the park, I saw the students leaving for their busses to go back home. The lack of school children may have contributed to the lines finally being short that evening. I was able to ride Escape from Pompeii and Loch Ness Monster in fairly quick succession.
The lines for Escape from Pompeii were much shorter now. Although it was already the late afternoon, it was still plenty warm to ride.
The ride that I had not gotten to in the morning was Battle for Eire, which was the new VR simulator attraction for the 2018 season. The ride reuses the old theater for Europe in the Air which was a bad knockoff of the Disney Soarin' attractions. However, instead of watching the large screen at the front of the theater, the ride uses VR headsets to present the film. The setup here is slightly different here than in other VR conversions in that the headsets are modular. They come in two parts: A contour mask that is handed out before the preshow that gets cleaned after every use, and the actual headset at the ride platform that magnetically snaps to the mask. Although this does solve some of the problems that other VR conversions have faced, it does complicate the boarding process. Even without the extra VR procedures, the ride already seems to be a low capacity attraction with only one motion base theater, but because I was in the last couple of hours of the park, there was no line.
I ended up riding Battle for Eire twice. The first time I headed the ride warnings and removed my glasses before putting on the headset. This resulted in a very blurry ride experience. Although the ride discourages glasses during the ride, I think there is just enough room in the fully constructed headset for both my nose and the glasses affixed on top of them (my parents would confirm this a couple days later). For those that are concerned about the glasses safety, the way the headset strongly snaps directly into your face mask was a bit disconcerting though, and you have to be surprisingly forceful to remove the headset from your mask.
Because of the poor experience the first time, I wanted to try riding a second time without the headset to see how well the experience held up as a normal simulator. This was also so I could advise my parents better when we all visited on Sunday. The ride projects the ride film onto the old simulator screen, and this would work in theory. However, the non-VR experience was clearly an afterthought: The video was front projected, and several objects in the theater cast shadows on the simulator screen for the duration of the ride (one looked like a hanging boom mic, and the other was the ride vehicle itself [yes, the projector was partially blocked by the ride vehicle itself]). Obviously, this was not a great viewing experience either.
The ride film itself was a generic fantasy about following a fairy and a dragon in order to defeat a one eyed wizard blah blah blah. It was simple, cartoony, and silly, but I am impressed that the ride video was up to modern regional amusement park standards (which have gotten a fair deal more competitive within the last few years). However, I personally do not think that the song and dance required to make the VR system work for Battle for Eire were really worth the gee-wiz VR fad. However, I think that my disapproval of the ride is not the popular opinion, and I will attempt to rate it along mainstream lines (meaning this rating is basically speculative junk). 4/5
Call me a regressive curmudgeon, but I think that VR is a worthless fad. However, the film for Battle for Eire decent, and VR is marketable. It still does not smooth over my disappointment over loosing Curse from DarKastle.
I still had my voucher for a complementary item for the Food and Wine festival. Although I had eaten plenty at Shorty's Diner a few hours earlier, my parents would surely be deeply disappointed in me if I left free food on the table. Although I was a bit concerned about how late in the evening it was, it looks like the Food and Wine stalls close when the park closes. I used my complimentary sample to get a "She-Crab Soup" at the Virginia stall near the entrance. It was a tiny portion, and it tasted very strongly of sherry, so I wasn't crazy about it.
Given that I vaguely planned the visit to Busch Gardens Williamsburg to coincide with their Food and Wine festival, I did not do much Food and Wine-ing. That said, the food I sampled at this stall was far better than the park food that I would have just two days later at the Festhaus.
Before heading out, I bought a tshirt from the main park gift shop to commemorate my visit and to have something to wear the following day (don't ask). Given that the Lock Ness Monster souvenir shirts were 40% off for the 40th anniversary of the ride, I feel like the universe had already made my choice for me. I got a glittery Loch Ness Monster shirt (not ideal, but the design no the other Loch Ness Monster shirt was ugly, and I figure the glitter will fall off in the wash [right?]). I left the park at around 8:30pm and would arrive back to the Airport Inn in Richmond well past 9:15pm.
And my parents? They got in at 7:00pm at the Richmond Airport and were able to take a Uber to the Airport Inn (which was only a mile and a half away from the Richmond Airport anyways). When I called them to get an update on their arrival, it sounded like they were able to manage themselves perfectly well. They did not ask me to return early. I am not sure if they were just sparing me, but I am glad they did not need me. I was on vacation and had clear priorities. After all, this wasn't a family vacation as much as it was me willfully dragging my parents along for one of my stupid trips.
Anyway, missing a day might have been the best for them really, as it would give them an extra day to rest. They would need as much energy as they could get for the following day.
I will leave my general thoughts on Busch Gardens Williamsburg for later in the trip report as I got a better taste of the family offerings that they have when I visited with my parents.
To reiterate, parking opens a half hour before the posted park opening. If you have preferred parking, make sure to place your tag on your rear-view mirror immediately so that you will be directed to the correct parking lot.
For the first hour, Busch Gardens Williamsburg opens in sections. From what I could tell, it seems that the water rides actually open later at 12:00 noon, though.
Passholder tickets and perks are all redeemed at the kiosks just outside the park. Regardless of what is being redeemed, all of the paper tickets that the kiosks print out look very similar, so it is easy to confuse them.
The stalls for the Food and Wine festival seem to be open until the park closes.
Many of the roller coasters at Busch Gardens Williamsburg accommodate their Quick Queue guests by reserving a row for them. However, if there are no Quick Queue guests, the ride operators will fill with people in line for an adjacent row. This can save you a bit of time during the station waits.
I love it when school groups all wear the same t-shirts. It makes it easier for me to judge them as a collective force of obnoxious inconveniences rather than individuals with thoughts and feelings.
I definitely did not plan Colonial Williamsburg very well. Although I would prefer to blame the website for not providing quite enough information, I think that I should skip early American settlement edutainment in the future as I clearly do not care.
We love Northern California and spend a ton of time riding through there on motorcycles, and I can't believe I've never heard of the Kenetic Grand Championship before, it looks like a fun way to spend a few hours with tons of great photo ops.
We've actually stayed at two of the motels on your first trip, the Edgewood in Willits and the creepy looking Economy Inn in Redding. We had the same misgivings as you did pulling into the Ecomony Inn, especially since we got there after dark when its creep factor was dialed up to 11. Both were comfortable stays and the staff was great.
I can't believe we've ridden right past the entrance to McArthur-Burney falls and have never stopped to see it. It's definitely on my list for our fall trip after seeing your photos, although I'm sure you saw it with more water than it'll have in September.
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