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).
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.
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.
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
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
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
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 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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
Next time: Nature days with my parents. And I really need to finish these reports before my next vacation in a few days.
- 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.
Last edited by aueft
on Tue Sep 04, 2018 9:27 pm.