Busch Gardens Williamsburg: A Theme Park for All Seasons
Busch Gardens Williamsburg—also known as Busch Gardens, The Old Country—is close to the city of Williamsburg, Virginia. The park can be done as a day trip from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, but you will probably spend more time on the road than in the park. If that isn't your style, there are many hotels in the area for overnight or longer stays.
Check the Busch Garden web site for dates and times that it’s open. To give a general idea, here is the schedule for the 2019 season. The park is closed from January 6 and reopens for the weekends and special days in March to mid-May. From mid-May to Labor Day, the park is open every day. After Labor Day until the second week of December, the park is open on the weekends and some weekdays. From the second week of December until 2020, the park is open every day.
There are many package deals on the web site, as well as military specials. There may also be park deals through your company or other places. If you're planning to visit Busch Gardens, it pays to look around for discounts.
I’ve been to Busch Gardens numerous times from the mid-1980s to 2013, and I have enjoyed all my visits there. This article is about those experiences. While much of the park stays the same, there have been expansions and some things change each year.
The Park's Layout
As its name implies “The Old Country” is a theme park based on different European countries.[i] Currently, those countries are England, Scotland, Ireland, France, New France, Germany, and Italy. The parking lots also have country names. This makes it easier to remember where you parked. Separating the park by countries make it easy to find rides and attractions in the park. The Ireland section of the park was originally named Hastings. New France is not a European country but Quebec when it was a French colony.
The rides are consistent with the theme of the country where they are located. There is a log flume, “Le Scoot”, in New France. Germany has “Alpengeist”. Italy has “Apollo’s Charriot”. Scotland has the “Lock Ness Monster”. As with most theme parks, the rides change, though the country theme is unlikely to change.
Busch Gardens used to be owned by owned by the Anheuser-Busch beer company. They have a brewery next to the park. It's currently owned by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc. even though it retains the Busch Gardens name. The Anheuser-Busch souvenirs have been replaced by SeaWorld souvenirs. The park also has live animals exhibits including the Budweiser Clydesdales. In the Anheuser-Busch days there was a monorail that took guests to the adjacent brewery.
There are three ways to get around the park; walking, train, and tramway. The train is the quickest way to get from one section to another. The tramway goes from Scotland to Germany to France and back to Scotland. The tram is a good way to get a bird’s eye view of the park but usually not a good way to get from one section to another. There is usually a long line, so it’s a fun way to get around if you’re not in a hurry to get someplace.
[i] In America, people of European descent sometimes call European countries “The Old Country”.
Busch Gardens Memories: Spring and Summer
In the late 1980s, the Busch Gardens brochure contained distances from Washington, D.C. and other nearby cities. Apparently, to give the European feel, the distances were in miles and kilometers. Cute, but they got the math wrong. They divided the miles by 1.6 instead of multiplying. It was a chuckle for Americans, but for foreigners, it could mean expecting an hour drive instead of the three hours it took to get there.[i]
In the 1980s and 90s, The Big Bad Wolf and The Lock Ness Monster were the park’s big roller coaster rides. The Lock Ness Monster has intertwining loops and part of the ride was spiraling down a dark tunnel. On one visit to the park, my preteen niece rode Apollo’s Chariot alone. Honest, I would have taken the ride with her except I didn’t leave my camera with others in the hurry to find a roller coaster.
Apollo’s Chariot has elevated seating to give a “free-flight” sensation. The coaster’s initial drop is 210 feet (64 meters). It reached speeds of 73 mph (117 kph).[ii] That two-minute, 4,882 feet (1,488 meter) ride was enough roller coaster for her for that visit. Today it would probably just be a warmup for her. Busch Gardens has 8 roller coasters and Mäch Tower. Mäch Tower is a spiraling drop tower that Busch Gardens rates as a “high thrill” ride.[iii] The park also has a wide variety of less intense rides.
In the summer water rides are open and, on some nights, there are fireworks displays. Nearby Water Country USA opens in May. There are multi-day tickets where you can visit Busch Gardens Williamsburg and/or Water Country USA.[iv] It pays to check online to see what is the best deal for your entertainment needs.
The shows at Busch Gardens take on many forms. In England, they have a theater with a façade that looks like the GlobeTheatre. When my son was two years old, they had a “4-D” show in that theater. The 4th dimension involved air blasts from seats, water trickling from overhead, and other tricks. At one point he tried to climb his way out of his seat as he was screaming. In Italy, there is an open-air theater. In Germany, there is Das Festhaus. The inside is like a German beer hall. There is plenty of seating and they sell food there. It is a good place to eat and watch the show, which features German folk music and dancing. The mural that covers one of the walls resembles a Bavarian scene. In Ireland, they have a show that includes Irish step dancing. The park also has animal shows that are informative and entertaining. At one of these shows, I learned more people are killed each year by herbivores than carnivores.
[i] The speed limits on the highways have since been increased from 55mph (88kph) to up to 70mph (112kph).
[ii] Busch Gardens Official Web Site, last accessed 1/31/19.
[iii] The Busch Gardens web site, rates is rides as high, medium, low thrill, and kid friendly. Site last accessed 2/3/19.
[iv] The Busch Gardens web site, last accessed 2/16/19.
Busch Gardens Memories: Halloween
In October, Busch Gardens switches to a Halloween theme. Most of the seasonal entertainment begins in the evening, and the shows change from year to year. The brochures used pumpkins to indicate how frightening a performance was. Five pumpkins meant a show had the highest scare level.
An example of a one-pumpkin show was a talented family playing instruments and singing classical country and western songs, such as “Tennessee Waltz”. A two-pumpkin show had an orchestra in white face and performers singing and acting to songs such as “Witch Doctor” and “I Put a Spell on You”.
My personal favorite was a three-pumpkin train ride. The ride was based on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. There were invitations to the Van Tassel’s harvest party. As people waited in line performers in period costumes warned the guests to watch their heads. The train ride had a narration of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow as it rode past scenes of the story. The climax was Ichabod Crane being chased by the headless horseman.
The last time we went to Busch Gardens, in October, we watched a four-pumpkin show. It was a song-and-dance routine where the performers wore leather and metal. They performed to songs that had a scary nexus to them such as “Chain Chain Chain” and “One Way or Another”. The show could be scary for a small child in the first couple of rows.
I incorrectly figured a five-pumpkin show wouldn’t be a problem for our group. Three of our group chose discretion. I and my son were in the lead. My spouse and teenage niece were behind us. I knew it was only dangerous if someone loses control. My son was of the size where I could still physically control him, barely. I didn’t know if he was being in character or really scared. As a precaution, I put my arms at his sides and quickly ushered him through the haunted place. My spouse and niece were screaming, but my focus was such I didn’t notice them.
From what I could see, it was really cool. It was made to resemble a Victorian London setting. There was moving shrubbery. One character walked by who looked like one of the spies in the comic strip “spy vs spy”. One corner we rounded had a butcher chopping at a bone. It was done at just the right time and height to give the scare effect. There were other surprising movements and noises.
Busch Gardens Memories: Christmas Time
Busch Gardens Williamsburg first opened for the Christmas Season in 2013. With a “Perks at Work” discount, I bought the tickets for $12. The low price concerned me a bit because I didn’t know if that reflected an open park with little to see and do. This was not the case. At the time, the park opened in the mid-afternoon. The current Christmas time schedule has the park opening at 2pm on most days and noon on Saturdays.
Some of the rides were closed, but many were open. The Escape from Pompeii ride was closed. It was transformed into a magnificent light display. The area of the park with the theme of Marco Polo’s journey was transformed to a theme of Americana. This display had classic American Christmas displays. The park boasts 10 million lights and that it’s the largest light display in North America.[i]
There was also a live penguin exhibit. It was there that I learned most species of penguins don’t live in Antarctica. The line to the exhibit was long. Another long line was to see Santa Claus. Since our group was composed of teenagers and adults, we decided to spend the time seeing other sites and rides. Outside the Festhaus in Germany, there was a magnificent Christmas tree light show. Inside there was a Christmas music show.
On the San Marcos stage, there was a classical music show. It was an outside show and we had snow flurries earlier but we didn’t feel cold. The snow flurries added more to the seasonal mood. Another advantage of Busch Gardens is there are plenty of indoor places so there are nearby places where you could warm up if you feel cold.
No matter the season, Busch Gardens is a fun place to visit., but if you want to get in a holiday mood Busch Gardens does its best to get you there.
[i] The Busch Gardens web site, last accessed 2/16/19.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Robert Sacchi