Hey there! First off, your writing style is informative and hilarious! I was laughing out loud for half of the California trip report and nodding in agreement with a lot of your first impressions of Williamsburg. I was born and raised just outside of Washington, DC so have been to BGW and Williamsburg many times.
Jumping back to comments on your first TR on California and then on to your next report: Way back in the 1940's my grandparents lived in Medford, OR for a couple years when my grandfather was in the army so it was kind of cool to see you passed through there. The various mountains, trees, and waterfalls you saw all look neat and I appreciate your "ok we saw it, something about a tour guide, there is a historical sign, ok good enough" learning style when traveling to old sight-seeing places. But, I do really love your details when writing about it!
It's nice to meet another non-drinker and you did the right thing getting some grape juice for your co-workers from the (really cool looking) castle winery. Truthfully, I am not sure which is more useless to sit in the break room: saltwater taffy or fancy grape juice? It's a close call. Luckily I do most of my work remotely so I don't have to deal with bringing home crappy souvenirs for people.
The only thing I like about Colonial Williamsburg is that it's located near Sno 2 Go which is this awesome little snowcone stand that hopefully still exists on the side of the main road, and Busch Gardens is nearby. Great Wolf Lodge is nice as well. Other than that I find it all hot and boring but other people sure seem to love it there with the shopping outlets and all that history. If you had to cut out one thing from your trip I think you made the right choice to nix a full day of colonial stuff.
Rides: Finally there is someone else who agrees with me - Verbolten sucks. There, I said it! People probably want to put me in the zoo and throw rocks at me for saying it in public but I really don't care. I find the drop over the ravine to be boring AF and not exciting in the least. As of late last summer more than half the effects in the show building weren't working, although when they are all on it is impressive to see the details. The drop track does nothing for me. Anyone who has ridden Big Bad Wolf and then tries to defend Verbolten saying it is just as good or better needs their head examined. It's a downgrade for sure. I also don't care for Invadr. (God I am feeling nasty today!) Curse of DarKastle was awesome and I'm very sorry you missed it. Can you tell I'm a bit bitter about the ride changes BGW has made in the last 10 years? Not all is lost though... thankfully Apollo's Chariot still kicks tons of ass and Griffon is reliably fun, Le Scoot and Pompeii rock and they have a fantastic three-station skyride with beautiful views of the park. Looking forward to your next installment!
Oops, I guess people were actually commenting on my report, and I didn't even notice.
I think I am going to start posting the pictures and then filling out the written report later as a means to motivate myself better to actually finish these gosh darn reports (I am now several trip reports behind). Hopefully that is not going to cause too much of a problem.
Anyhow, please take my exaggerated negativity with a grain of salt. I assure you that it is just part of my garbage personality.
pfalcioni wrote: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.
I wouldn't necessarily recommend the Kinetic Grand Championship unless you want to get into the local culture aspect of it. However, definitely check out McArthur Burney falls. It's a small park, but it was the highlight of that particular trip.
TBpony414 wrote:Jumping back to comments on your first TR on California and then on to your next report: Way back in the 1940's my grandparents lived in Medford, OR for a couple years when my grandfather was in the army so it was kind of cool to see you passed through there. The various mountains, trees, and waterfalls you saw all look neat and I appreciate your "ok we saw it, something about a tour guide, there is a historical sign, ok good enough" learning style when traveling to old sight-seeing places. But, I do really love your details when writing about it!
Part of my antipathy demonstrated in some of the descriptions is the fact that I tend to schedule a lot of "fillers" on my vacation (this also helps add variety to my travels). Another part is that I am extremely forgetful and probably have forgotten why I took many of the photos in the first place (which is another reason why I need to get a move-on on writing these trip reports).
TBpony414 wrote:It's nice to meet another non-drinker and you did the right thing getting some grape juice for your co-workers from the (really cool looking) castle winery. Truthfully, I am not sure which is more useless to sit in the break room: saltwater taffy or fancy grape juice? It's a close call. Luckily I do most of my work remotely so I don't have to deal with bringing home crappy souvenirs for people.
Non drinkers of the world unite! Don't worry: I never fail to spare every expense when getting my coworkers vacation gifts.
TBpony414 wrote:The only thing I like about Colonial Williamsburg is that it's located near Sno 2 Go which is this awesome little snowcone stand that hopefully still exists on the side of the main road, and Busch Gardens is nearby. Great Wolf Lodge is nice as well. Other than that I find it all hot and boring but other people sure seem to love it there with the shopping outlets and all that history. If you had to cut out one thing from your trip I think you made the right choice to nix a full day of colonial stuff.
Yeah, that was just a bad situation with my parents' flights, but Williamsburg was basically just another "filler" activity (none of us were actively interested in it). I did get some decent photos from it, and I was actively interested in the Folk Art Museum (without realizing that I could visit that separately) so it wasn't a total bust, I guess.
TBpony414 wrote:Finally there is someone else who agrees with me - Verbolten sucks. There, I said it! People probably want to put me in the zoo and throw rocks at me for saying it in public but I really don't care. I find the drop over the ravine to be boring AF and not exciting in the least. As of late last summer more than half the effects in the show building weren't working, although when they are all on it is impressive to see the details. The drop track does nothing for me. Anyone who has ridden Big Bad Wolf and then tries to defend Verbolten saying it is just as good or better needs their head examined. It's a downgrade for sure. I also don't care for Invadr. (God I am feeling nasty today!) Curse of DarKastle was awesome and I'm very sorry you missed it. Can you tell I'm a bit bitter about the ride changes BGW has made in the last 10 years?
Verbolten misses the mark for me too. Don't get me wrong, it sure made a great first impression on me. But even then, I thought DarKastle looked better inside - and that was DarKastle's final year. And, after travels gave me new points of reference, I now feel that Verbolten is BGW's weakest link coaster-wise, and that they should seriously consider replacing it some time next decade. It just comes off as awkward - weak by "multi-launch" standards, overkill by "mellow family coaster" standards. Yes, it's unique, but soon, will become "was" unique, as Universal's 2019 Harry Potter addition will feature rich theming, launches, and a drop track.
InvadR is weak compared to most GCIs - but every park needs that one first big coaster that will get even the most timid non-rider pumped up and not overwhelmed. Verbolten was not that ride, and InvadR is.
But in the end, I still applaud Verbolten for its ambition, attempting to unite both theming and thrills at a non-Universal park.
Top steel: Millennium Force / Steel Vengeance / Intimidator 305 / Maverick / Fury 325 Top wood: El Toro / Phoenix / GhostRider / Renegade / Flying Turns
Virginia Vacation Day 2, June 9th, Saturday, Shenandoah National Park and Luray Caverns
Today's itinerary was to visit Shenandoah National Park and drive up the Skyline Drive. We would stop at various points along the way to take easy walks. After driving north through much of the park, I would be taking a left and heading west on the 211 to drop into the Route 11 Potato Chip factory briefly. Finally, in the afternoon, we would backtrack a bit and visit Luray Caverns. Finally, we would travel to Fredericksburg to checkin to the Candlewood Suites late that night.
I had to be a bit flexibility with my plans. For one, I had no idea how many trails my mother felt like doing and how slowly she intended to do them. Furthermore, the weatherman predicted thunderstorms for the rest of the week which could curtail our Shenandoah National Park visit short at any moment.
Here is the first part of the route for today. Unfortunately, for this trip, I did not plan on driving all the way to the northern end of Shenandoah National Park. Instead, I would be driving up to the Thornton Gap Entrance gate before heading west to Luray.
This route was for the end of the day when I would need to travel from Luray caverns to our hotel in Fredericksburg. Given my experiences on previous trips, I expected to lose cell phone signal somewhere around this point.
As always, this would be a long day and a late night, but this was little trouble for my mom and dad who were fortunately still recovering from jetlag from an earlier vacation to Europe (I deeply question their [meaning my mom, who strong-armed her husband] decision to travel with me). I ended up checking out of Airport Inn Motel and leaving at around 7:00am.
My parents eat so little for meals at their age that eating out when traveling can be awkward. Part of the challenge eating out with my parents is to mask the fact that they aren't actually eating anything. Sometimes it feels like they would prefer to subsist on a diet of free motel continental breakfasts and granola bars stuffed in the trunk of the car. However, I had no intention of humoring their weird little hunger strikes as I had a plan to stick to: I had looked up a restaurant on Yelp ahead of time, and we stopped at a taco place in Charlottesville, Virginia called Brazos Tacos at around 8:30am for breakfast. This helped break up the drive from our hotel to the entrance to Shenandoah National Park.
Brazos Tacos offers traditional, breakfast, and nonstandard gourmet tacos. For instance, one of the tacos I ordered was a yam and pepino taco.
Tacos! Easy to split, and my parents could eat as little as they want without causing issues. But it feels like we ordered nothing, and still ended up with leftovers.
We got to the entrance of Shenandoah National Park at around 9:30am and started driving north. Spring / early summer is not the correct season to visit Shenandoah National Park: According to my mother, who has a great affection for our national and state parks systems and the slow dawdling along the trails therein, Shenandoah National Park is much more pretty in the fall. We made stops at the Loft Mountain loop, the Harry F Byrd Sr Visitor Center, the Dark Hollow Falls trail, and Little Stony Man trail to walk around.
Shenandoah National Park has many vista points just off of the road where you can take pictures. These are also useful for letting cars behind you pass by.
The Stony Mountain Trail is a short mile and fairly easy, and the route passes some impressive rock structures and vista points at its peak.
This is my dad. He is pointing out some fungus on a tree. He will continue to point out the fungus on this tree until you stop ignoring him.
I was nodding off again by the time we reached the Harry F Byrd Sr Visitor Center, so while my parents watched some of the informational movies and saw some of the exhibits, I took a quick nap in the car. The Visitor Center is full of information about the park's inception and how the administrations at the various times of the park's development changed the charter that guided the operations of the park. (todo: shorten this caption)
Dark Hollow Falls is probably the longest of the trails that we did that day, and probably the most beautiful. It goes along a creekside for 0.7 miles (one way) before reaching the overlook at the top of the falls and a bit further to the bottom of the falls.
There was some confusion between the navigators (my mother and myself) for where the Stony Man Mountain Hike Trail began. My notes, which indicated that the Stony Mountain Trailhead started near the Skyland Lodge off of the main Skyland Drive, ended up being correct. Because of the confusion, we ended up walking a mile around Little Stony Man Trailhead instead.
Even though we saved time by not stopping for lunch (my parents had packed snacks that they had purchased from the day before [I complain, but my parents' weird eating habits do make it easier to travel quickly]), by the time we finished walking the various trails in Shenandoah National Park, it was already 4:30pm. This did not leave enough time to visit the Route 11 Potato Chip factory, so we skipped that and moved on to Luray Caverns.
I was interested in visiting Luray Caverns mostly because a "Stalagpipe Organ" that I had read about through the website Atlas Obscura (I have a strange passion for weird instruments). The location of the attraction was also near Shenandoah National Park, which made it easy to slot into the iterary. The tickets to the attraction are a bit pricy, but there are two (annoying) ways to get discount tickets for Luray Caverns: Buying one from in advance through AAA or a buy one get one half off if you have a Bonus Card from the regional Giant or Martin’s Supermarkets. I opted for the former, but, as I mentioned on the previous trip report, that ended up not working out. We ended up paying retail, much to the abundant dismay of the wallet.
<todo: think of caption>
Luray Caverns also has several small museums that supplement their offerings. We quickly visited this one room "Toy Town" museum while waiting for our tour times. There was also a museum featuring classic cars called " Car & Carriage Caravan Museum" and one that was about the history and culture of the region called the "Luray Valley Museum."
The Toy Town museum closes at 6:00pm, while the other museums close a bit later at around 7:30pm.
The Toy Town museum is tiny, and I think we only spent around 20 minutes there.
While we probably still had enough time to see the museums as most of them are open late to accommodate the hours of the main cave tour attraction, we opted not to really spend time in any of them as it had already been kind of a long day.
The tours at Luray Caverns are probably the best cave tours that I have taken in recent memory. Although the tour guide himself was just an ordinary teenager, the features and sights there were more interesting than usual.
Stalactites. Every cavern tour gives the same mnemonic device to remember how to differentiate between stalactites and stalagmite.
Early in the tour, we passed by "Dream Lake." In actuality, it is a very shallow pond, but casts a otherworldly reflection of the ceiling, and the deep shade of the water makes it seem much deeper than it actually is.
The Luray Caverns tour winds and doubles back on itself several times. The way the tour is laid out works well.
This is their one example of a cave formation that has collapsed. The cave column fell thousands of years ago and became cemented in some underground mud.
This is a decoration from a wedding that they had scheduled for the caverns in the evening. Due to that, we did not get to spend as much time in the "Cathedral" around the Stalacpipe Organ. Moreover, I was kind of disappointed by the demo that they gave of the instrument. The sound produced by the hollow calcium columns was very obviously amplified and had a tinny affect. Turns out I am very particular about the fakery that I indulge in.
The donations that guests toss into the wishing well get collected twice a year. The vibrant turquoise color comes from the metal in the coins.
Guests are forbidden from touching any of the cave features out of fear of the oil in our bodies causing irreversible damage to the rock work. This rock looks like a pearl, and was caused by previous explorers handling the rock many times.
When the tour ended, we finally saw the torrential rains that the weather reports for the day had promised. We were hungry and tired at that point, so we went to a small Italian American restaurant called "Gennaro’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria" 7:00pm. The food there was hearty and good, but because of my parents, we under-ordered and still had leftovers.
The weather got worse as we headed towards our hotel. Apologies for the lack of pictures at this point. I think I was already getting lazy again with my vacations. Please use your imaginations and picture a rain so severe that it was unsafe for a California-raised city boy like me to drive through. The three of us were relieved when we finally reached the Candlewood Suites just south of Fredericksburg at around 10:00pm. I had splurged for that night, and it was nice to check in to a one bedroom suite in a hotel rather than a room in a ratty motel.
Really need to put in more legwork on natural park days as the printed information that they give you at the front of gates has never been useful. Moreover, the official website is a little bare at times.
This is related, but I need to start turning down the printed literature they offer at the entrances of national and state parks. I just end up tossing them anyways so the entire standards is just waste.
I forgot to share my detailed plans with my mom. Given that this section of the trip was mostly for her, and she was my secondary navigators, I should have had her go over the plans before traveling.
Apparently, I should not have been driving at night in that rain, as it was truly dangerous.
Next time: Back to Busch Gardens Williamsburg and a surprise night in the Chicago O'Hare International Airport.
Virginia Vacation Day 3, June 10th, Sunday, Makeup Day at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Today was something of a retread for me, so I think I can keep it mercifully brief (I am being way too long winded anyways). As mentioned earlier, we had originally planned to visit Busch Gardens Williamsburg together on Friday for the first day of the trip, but due to issues with my parents flights we ended up using their tickets on this third day on Sunday. This would be a shorter day by necessity since we had to get back to the Richmond International Airport for the return flight (yes, this means that my parents flew across the country for what was basically a day and a half trip). As with yesterday's visit to Shenandoah National Park, the forecast for the day predicted rain and thunderstorms, but we were hopeful that the weather report would scare away visitors.
Given that our return flights were left Richmond at around 7:00pm, and my parents are very leery about plane travel, we decided that the last thing that we would do that day was the 3:00 Celtic Fyre show.
An easy route in comparison to what we pulled the previous day.
The main goal for the day was to visit the family oriented attractions. I was not sure if either of my parents would be up to any of the rollercoasters that I had had scouted out a couple days before, but I had at least heard very good things about the Celtic Fyre show.
It's nice that they offered the 40 cent beers to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster. Although I do not drink, and my mother rarely drinks, my father enjoys his beer (as much as he enjoys anything anyways).
The second day of Busch Gardens Williamsburg for me, and the first for my parents. It's such a nice looking park.
I kind of followed the same route around the park as I had the previous day, except this time I tried to focus on family attractions rather than hitting all of the roller coasters.
New for 2018. I held my mom's bag and let the two of them ride. They were much more impressed by this than I was.
I rode Invadr twice quickly with each of my parents in the morning. I think it was a bit extreme for both of them. After this, my father called it quits in regards to roller coasters and other rides. I know that enthusiasts consider this mild, but it really isn't a family coaster.
Took this photo from the Busch Gardens Railroad later in the day. I don't remember this being anything special.
Against my better judgement, I rode Verbolten with my mother (this picture is actually from later in the day when we rode the Rhine River Cruise).
Das Festhaus for the noon showing of the Octoberzest show. Dad bought beer (he took advantage of the 40 cent promotional beer for the 40th anniversary of Loch Ness Monster. I got the Sausage Sampler (I wasn't impressed). Mom got the Festhaus Sampler (she liked the ribs from her order).
The water that the Rhine River Cruise is set on keeps the boat relatively cool, but this ride was a bit of a pointless experience. There is no real narration, and the boat doesn't go past anything particularly scenic.
The Rhine River Cruise does get you some views of Apollo's Chariot, which is otherwise difficult to capture within the park's premises.
The triangular layout of the Skyride is interesting, but the ride does not seem very dependable. It was never running when it would have been useful.
More photos of the Loch Ness Monster. I didn't want to have my parents wait, so I skipped this one.
It is still a great photo op.
Given how hot it was, my mom and I rode both of the water rides at the park. The Le Scoot log flume looked to have the longest ride in the park, so I used our two complementary Quick Queues on the log flume. How the Quick Queue worked on this ride was unclear as it looks neither well realized nor well utilized as the Disney version.
We had quite a bit of time to kill before the 3:00pm Celtic Fyre show, so I ended up riding Griffon quickly which is nearby. There was no wait for the ride. Although I had visited previously on Friday, it felt like this Sunday was less crowded. Maybe it was due to the lack of school groups.
The Celtic Fyre show ended up being a great way to finish the (very short) trip on a high note. Unfortunately, due to my father not sleeping the night before, he slept through this. My mother quite enjoyed it though.
I think that I have a fairly positive opinion of Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Although losing the Curse of DarKastle left an obvious darkride shape hole in the park lineup (which is not totally covered by Verbolten, Eire, or Pompeii), the park has a great collection of rollercoasters and shows. In general, it is a beautiful park both because of the forest hilly terrain with plenty of natural features and each of the themed hubs. Needs more major family rides and potentially upgraded (higher capacity) water rides. Given the heavy emphasis on rollercoasters, I do not think that it has enough for all ages.
Below are the rides that I only caught on June 10th. For rides that I caught two days earlier, please look at the corresponding section of this trip report.
OktoberZest - chintzy and tacky. The stage for the Octoberzest show is in the center of the building, and we ended up sitting "behind" the stage. Despite the efforts of the park to make the show cater to both guests on both sides of the stage, the performance is better from the side of the stage near the entrance. It is about as good as you would expect from a decent theme park show. 2/5
Skyride - interesting triangular layout, but this ride was down whenever we checked, so we never got to ride it. That's obviously not stopping me from making a review here. ?/5
Rhine River Cruise - rather pointless but is one of the only ways to see Apollo's Chariot from within the park. 1/5
Busch Gardens Railroad - By the time we rode this, we were just trying to beat the heat. The main station has an adjoining gift shop with air conditioning which you could enjoy as you pretended to shop. Besides that, the train comes infrequently, and offers neither interesting views nor special narration. 1/5
Le Scoot - this was a standard log flume with two drops. It has some attempts at theming before the final drop, and there is some nice interaction here with the nearby B&M inverted coaster Alpengeist. This looked like the longest line of that day, so my mother and I used QuickQueue, and there was much confusion about where to redeem those tickets. That QuickQueue system is not nearly as well thought out as systems in other parks. 3/5
Celtic Fyre - features crowd-pleasing Irish dancing and is probably the highlight of the park. I would personally put it over the roller coasters and thrill rides at the park. 5/5
Flight gets delayed three hours which means that I would certainly miss my connecting flight in the Chicago O'hare airport (although it is disconcerting that the airline left me mostly to my own devices to figure out what was going on [wouldn't it be safer for these businesses to assume that their customers are idiots?]). I decided to at least make it to Chicago, as that would give me more options for the following day, but it also means that I would be stuck there for the night. Interestingly, the city provides cots during massive air traffic outages like this. I got a flight early next morning and arrived back in SFO a day late and a little worse for wear.
Most of the people stuck at the airport seemed to take their circumstances in stride. Groups were taking selfies and making the best of the situation. Not me though: I never miss an opportunity to bask in self dejection and woe.
Between my parents missing an entire day of the planned vacation, driving through a rainstorm through on unfamiliar roads at night, and me getting stuck in an airport overnight, this was not a smooth vacation. But I figure that a stress-free vacation would just be boring, which would be the worst. And I figured that none of my forthcoming vacations could get any worse.
Next time: Fourth of July in Colorado, and it gets worse...
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