Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What’s new in 2018 at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Another season has begun at America’s Most Beautiful theme park, Busch Gardens Williamsburg. We can expect the usual fun from  the rides in all of the European themed villages which are surrounded by trees, flowers and beautiful landscapes. All of the main rides are open as refurbishments happen during the off-season. Busch Gardens is also a haven for some animals, and foodies with their delicious food options. Entertainment lovers enjoy shows in many of the villages, including longtime favorites Celtic Fyre and Pet Shenanigans in Ireland. 

Every year (for at least the past 8 years I can attest) the park has opened up either a new ride, event, or show is on the schedule for something new for park goers to delight. For the 2018 season there are several new things to enjoy including a new ride, new show, some new animals and a brand new membership program.


The Highland Stables also received 2 new editions this year. 2 baby Clydesdales, Axel and Ludo. You can visit them most days. If they aren't in the stables they are usually viewable from the train out in the pastures. Ludo always seems to come over when i say hi to him, he must like the sound of my voice. 


The brand new Virtual Reality ride (also known as Action VR ride) is finally open after a long intriguing wait. Fans have been following the progress of this 360 degree action adventure ride in the Ireland village, which replaced Europe in the Air. Since it’s in the same building  Battle for Eire is using some of the same equipment.  This combines the 360 virtual reality with a motion simulator makes it a unique ride in the amusement park, thrill industry (one of a kind).

Busch Gardens Engineers created one of a kind headsets which include a helmet and personalized attachable piece. They have been described as easy to maintain and convenient to use. The head mount is adjustable and you can fit it before you ride. This still needs some tweaking for some. My son and Step mother Ginger both rode a week after the ride opened and enjoyed the ride overall but did notice there were some issues with the headsets. Hers wasn’t secured properly, her hair got in the headset and she experienced some fogging, not sure if this was just an error on the ride operator, or the headset itself. Noah received a few errors. But overall they found it interesting. As with all new ride openings things can be alittle buggy, but the later you wait to ride the better your experience should be. I personally cannot ride because of my heart condition, on a good day I would consider but I am very prone to motion sickness so as more people I know ride it I may decide to give it a whirl.

The story behind Battle for Eire tells the tale of the last fairy Addie and her dragon friend Ollie in Ireland. The two fight dark forces, soar above lush landscapes and ultimately take on a battle with the evil dark lord Balor. The goal is to recover the sacred heart of Eire.

Battle for Eire is a family ride, with the height requirement being 42 inches and up, and is described as a moderate thrill.  We can’t wait to share this ride with our guests. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind attraction with so many features and surprises, you’ll want to experience it again and again,” said Kevin Lembke, park president at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA. 

FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL Begins late May through July 1

Food and Wine opens soon and I will have a separate review on the the Food & Wine event, we will be visiting May 25th but here are some new highlights that I am aware of already. Food & Wine festival operates on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays plus Memorial Day from May 25-July 1, 2018. Kiosks are found throughout the park, in their previous locations. Maps are provided. Each area also has additional multi-cultural experiences. This year new cuisine is being presented from Brazil, Cuba, South Korea and Japan. Selected weekends will also have additional concerts. On June 9 you can see Country Music sensation Scotty McCreery and on June 30 pop music star Andy Grammer.  All concerts are included with park admission.

In July there will be a brand new Laser light pyrotechnic show in the Royal Palace Theater in France village at the Royal Palace outdoor amphitheater. I have to say I am looking forward to this as I remember seeing a few laser light shows back when I was a youngling.  Busch Gardens describes the show as being full of Lots of lights and pyrotechnics to wow guests. And is full of High Energy. The show will be available every evening from July 6 through August 12.  This will be updated after we get to view it.


New memberships are part of the park now eventually replacing the Season Pass program. A  membership is a “season pass” but it’s designed to me more like family, include more time in the park and all of the previous perks that the old program contained (10% discount, free tickets, discounts, free parking *) There is a calendar of new Member perks, including Member only times, where the park is open early or late just for members, free items and even additional discount days on top of the 10% discount. The decision to switch from your current program is going to vary. People who are new pass holders will benefit from switching as they will experience a savings on the tickets since they will no longer need to buy a Christmas Town pass for starters. Others who have been paying for passes for years (such as us) can’t really afford the new program prices. The new prices might be a large increase. (ours would go from $37 a month for 3 of us to $60 for example, we have had them 8 years). But also keep in mind this will include Christmas Town, which typically was another $50 per person for a funcard for the year. (plus parking for non-passholders) So with the new membership program you have both the free parking and Christmas Town.

There are 3 options a basic membership(completely new option) Unlimited (similar to the 2 park option) and Premier (platinum that gets you into all the Discovery Parks)

The Basic includes both parks but does have black out days which are posted on the website. In short
all Saturdays are black out days (Which is the busiest day anyway, we almost never go). Major holidays are blocked out. Which means the first week of April for Easter is all blocked out, and the first week of July for the 4 th of July. Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day. Once Christmas Town opens (which is open nearly everyday) all Sundays are black out days (but Saturdays are not) and Thanksgiving weekend. The rest of the calendar is open. They do however offer a $25 ticket on a block out date if it is that important. This is ONLY on the basic membership which is pretty inexpensive.  You will also get 50% off of parking, which is better than when you had a funcard which did not give you this, and did not give you Christmas Town or HowlOScream (you had to buy specific card for the season).

 Unlimited membership is as you have always known it, gets free general parking. Preferred/platinum still gets free preferred when available to your home park.

Tickets are still discounted at a $55 ticket for premier/basic and $25 for entrance to water country.
Platinum season passes still have the $50 and $20 tickets (a $40 discount, same day tickets have gone up to $90)

The changes are welcomed by many who took part in a survey and wanted these options, others of course are not. We personally are fine with it for this year as we can keep our current passes. We also get complemetry Unlimited passes or being in the blogger program, so we can still attend any member events and Christmas Town.

More Surprises as the Season Progresses

Besides these new things, this year is the 20 th anniversary of HowlOScream, so we will be expecting to hear more about that later. So far we do know there will be 3 new mazes and 2 to 3 new Terrytories this year (Vampire Point, Axe Alley and Side Show Square are all returning) this means there will be no more Ripper Row, and possibly 2 NEW areas, which means more scares. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Christmas Town Busch Gardens is a Living Christmas Card

Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW) has the distinction of being Americas Most Beautiful Park for some 27 consecutive years and it has deserved that title each and every year.  Once Thanksgiving is over, Christmas Town comes to town with the largest light display in North American with more than 8.3 million lights.

BGW is busting with holiday cheer between the decorations, festive music and peace and love for an additional 6 weeks. Holiday food will also fill your belly as there are desserts, cookies, and cocoa and turkey dinner options available. It’s not just what you see with your eyes at Christmas Town that makes it a Christmas town, it’s this beautifully orchestrated symphony of sounds, smells and good feeling. When it’s all combined you can’t be there and not feel like you just walked into Christmas.
It's very much like a living Christmas card.

The halls here have been decked since 2009 and each year is a little brighter and more exciting than the last.  Christmas Town isn’t about the rides, it’s about spending time, enjoying the lights and the magical feeling of the season.  If you have never been to Christmas Town and need some holiday cheer this should be on your to-do list, especially if you live in the area. If you do not, it may be well worth booking a weekend trip.  Besides Busch Gardens there are plenty of other holiday sights to see in the milder temps of Williamsburg and surrounding areas. We have never found the park to be overstimulating, with the exception of too many people. So I don't recommend visiting on the day after Thanksgiving. I haven't been on Christmas Eve, we have been on New Years Day and it was average attendance. Typically Saturdays are busiest days.

The park does not operate all of the rides, mostly due to weather. However The Mach Tower, Verbolten, InvadR and about 20 more -most flat and kid rides are open.  The Train and Skyride also run during Christmas Town. The park is open from 2-10pm November 24 through January 1, 2018 daily, with the exception of the first two weeks (just after thanksgiving and the first week of December) when its just Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.  After that you have plenty of options to visit. The only exception is Christmas Day when they are closed.

If you have been before don’t forget your cocoa mug for $1.99 refills on Hot cocoa and cider. (less for passmembers). If you don’t have one, then you may want to buy one for $6.

New Magic at Christmas Town This Year.

Speaking of Cocoa, this year to add to the delicious lineup which includes the Park Signature brew and Peppermint they have added Peanut Butter. Which both Noah and I sampled. It’s delicious, like drinking a less sweet Recess cup.

Santa’s Workshop moved to Dark Castle in Oktoberfest to make for a more spacious environment. The queue begins outside the same as if you are riding Dark Castle. However for those with a mobility pass you use the same quick queue area. If the park isn’t crowded you shouldn’t have to worry about the outdoor queue. 

The indoor queue is beautiful and makes the wait more fun and exciting. According to Park President Dave Cromwell “As a father of young children, I understand what a big deal it is to visit Santa,” Cromwell said. “We truly believe our Santa experience is the best anywhere around, and we have made changes this year to make sure families don’t have to wait as long.”

Be sure to use your mobility access pass for this (parents of disabled kids/disabled people). We did feel it was a long wait, but it was an enjoyable wait. Because you were looking and walking through a lot of magic, so the “wait” was truly part of the experience. Much like they say, it’s not the destination, but the journey.  

Which has its truth, but let’s face it, meeting the big guy is important. And Santa did not disappoint, he was awesome! You can also take your own pictures or purchase pictures either with your photokey membership, or as an individual picture (same as ride photos) which have their borders.  More on Photokey below for those who are unfamiliar.

Rudolph Movie Experience

2016 brought in Rudolph experience with Clarisse, Bumble and the loveable Yeti. (Yukon Cornelius, Bumble and Sam the Snowman.) Holiday Hills is an indoor opportunity to meet Rudolph and friends. The queue is mostly indoors, but on very busy days you will still have a line outside. As you walk through the queue you can enjoy scenes from the Rudolph movie and eventually get to meet Rudolph, Clarice, Bumble and Yukon.  Even the floor is sparkly. Out across from this is a shortened 12 minute version of the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer classic TV show. But will also include some special effects, delicious scents and of course lights.

Forest of Fun

The Forest of Fun is open again this year so the little ones will have more rides, and opportunities to meet their favorite Sesame Street characters. Characters will be in and out of the area and offer meet and greets as well as photo opportunities.

Cookies and Cocoa

Germany received a new cookie shop! Includes a heated seating area for cookies and beverages.  Cookies and Coca is over in the Wilkomenia building, where you previously met Santa. Here you can buy cookies freshly made by the pound with a variety of flavors like Double Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Lemon, Red Velvet, Snickerdoodle and more.  You will also be able to decorate a Gingerbread man. Cocoa is of course sold here, have I mentioned how delicious the Peanut Butter Cocoa is, because its ridiculous. 

Highlights of Christmas Town: Info for those who have never been.

Dining Options.

Dining at Busch Gardens is part of the fun for many park goers because the food here isn’t your typical theme park food. For the holiday season there are few options of buffets, and just special options at beloved locations like Fest Haus, and as new kiosks throughout the park. I wish I had more photos of the food, but its so good I usually wind up eating it before I take a picture.

In Fiesta Italy, There is a play and dine in the back of Holiday Hills (what is usually La Cucina) called Dasher’s Diner and here you can enjoy a buffet and meet all the characters. The buffet will have holiday themed foods, such as carved turkey and/or ham, a salad bar and plenty of kid favorites (pizza, chicken nuggets, and fries). Pass members can book this online and receive a discount.

If you prefer to dine with Santa and Mrs. Claus you can also do so!  Santa’s Fireside feast includes a buffet meal, cookies for dessert from Mrs. Claus and the big guy will read you a story. Santa’s Fireside Feast is located in Castle O Sullivan in Ireland and is interactive. You can meet Santa, tell him what you would like for Christmas and get a picture. Part of the show includes elves but you are part of the show.  It was a real delight and a must for kids. You can book this for lunch or dinner; bring your appetite the buffet includes a carving station of turkey or ham, Swedish meatballs, homemade mac-n-cheese, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and Trapper’s Smokehouse Chili. Plus there is plenty of food for kids plus a salad bar and more.

Other dining options include The Tastes of Christmas Town a buffet where you will also get reserved seating for Deck the Halls. (which if you go there on a busy day at the wrong time you certainly need). Both buffets have holiday themed food including roast turkey and ham, chicken alfredo and much more. In Oktoberfest there is Tannenbaum Soups where you can get potato or clam chowder from the kiosk. Most other kiosk locations are cookie and dessert related.

Fest Haus also has a Sirloin sandwich and clam chowder in a bread bowl for the holiday season. Plus you can buy a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. In England Squires Grille is renamed Dickens Tavern, it states it has “Christmas Faire”, but it does not with the exception of desserts. However, for burger lovers you can get a Philly burger, which is a burger topped with cheesesteak and peppers. Very delicious and not too big. But if Christmas Fair is your thing, check out Fest Haus or one of the buffet dining options.

Decor decked out from start to finish.

Besides its beautiful lights, there are also more than 20,000 ornaments and other decorations and displays including 900 window candles, 700 wreathes and 800 lit snowflakes. The smells of pine trees are everywhere as they also ship in over 1500 trees for the event. Holiday music is piped in throughout and in many cases is themed to the area so you will enjoy Irish, French and German holiday music.  The bridge that connects Oktoberfest to Italy plays “Let there be Peace on Earth” and when you are there looking over the water, seeing the display, listening to this choir sing it. You feel it, you believe it, and for that moment, there really is peace.

Each village is beautifully lit and decorated. The area normally known for the Pompeii ride is now the Polar Pathway and has over 1,500,000 lights.  

The largest light display in the park is Oktoberfest with almost 2 million lights itself. There are more than 1,700,000 lights in the main area of Oktoberfest and almost 400,000 at the North Pole.

Italy is full of almost a million gold lights. France is adorned in beautiful blues and purples, holiday hills is very retro and England is very classic with white lights.

Italy Gold

Scotland Blues

Photo Key
If you want to get some photos done Busch Gardens offers a Photo Key service which costs $35 for the day or $60 for the season. There are 8 locations throughout out the park.  (Includes Verbolten) as well as characters, Santa and other picturesque areas in the park. These are all noted on the Map you can get when you enter. With Photo Key you scan the card with the photographer after you have your picture taken or have ridden a ride. You get unlimited downloads. You can also opt to purchase photo and photo gifts off the website. Which if you opt for the Premium $60 you do get a 50% discount. 

Holiday Shopping

Shopping at Christmas Town can be part of the fun there is plenty of it around. The normal stores will be open selling Busch Gardens merchandise as well as holiday decorations and gifts. As well as fun novelty items like Christmas Tree hats (with or without "snow") and Christmas Bulb lighted necklaces and hats.  In Oktoberfest there is an outdoor market of items (Mistletoe Marketplace) from local artisans, winery and ornaments. With all of the holly jolly around it makes a good time to pick up some special items, or get pictures done for your holiday gift giving, regardless of what you celebrate. Cashless wristbands are offered and can be purchased once you enter the park to make your day a bit easier. You can pre pay a set amount or link to a credit card depending on your preference and needs. If you pay up front with cash and don’t use it all, it is refunded to you at the end of your night. You can use these for all purchases including dining.


There is plenty of entertainment decking the halls of Christmas Town. There are 6 shows you can enjoy throughout the park besides character meet and greets.  Scrooge No More in England, an adaptation of the Charles Dickens Classic A Christmas Carol, takes full advantage of the technological enhancement done on the Globe in 2014. At Fest Haus there is a musical holiday review show about different traditions called Deck the Halls. In Italy at the San Marco Theater is an a cappella musical show called “Gift of Harmony” full of Christmas music both new and old. For Christian traditionalists you can enjoy Gloria, a classic retelling of the Christian “first Christmas” at the Abby Stone theater in Ireland.  But the true crowning gem is T’was the Night, an ice skating show over in France in the Pallidum based on the story T’was the Night before Christmas. For additional entertainment you will also find Carolers in England and outside of the Fest Haus a 50 foot tree that will light up nightly to a musical score, properly named O’TannenbaumVideo here

Final Details

You can visit Christmas Town in all its glory from now through New Year’s Day2018.  The gates typically open before 1pm as do all the villages.  Rides and experiences open at 2pm, and the skyride at 4pm. You have the option to purchase a ticket at the park or online. If you think you will attend more than once you should consider the Fun Card which is $39 for Pass members, or $49 for others, includes discounts and parking. Which is a decent deal for even just a day of magic. Parking for pass members is complimentary and $15 for non-season pass holders. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Christmas Town 2017 Tickets on Sale for $15

Busch Gardens Williamsburg has the distinction of being Americas Most Beautiful Park for some 27 consecutive years and it has deserved that title each and every year.  Once Thanksgiving is over, Christmas Town comes to town. The work behind however has already begun during HowlOScream, many decorations neatly hidden behind the Halloween d├ęcor.

BGW has been able to boost they have the largest light display in North American with more than 8.2 million lights. Decorations, festive music and food fill the park with peace and love for an additional 6 weeks. The halls here have been decked since 2009 and each year is a little brighter and more exciting than the last.

If you have never been to Christmas Town and need some holiday cheer this should be on your to-do list, especially if you live in the area. If you do not, it may be well worth booking a weekend trip.  Besides Busch Gardens there are plenty of other holiday sights to see in the milder temps of Williamsburg and surrounding areas.  

The park does not operate all of the rides, mostly due to weather. However The Mach Tower, Verbolten, InvadR and most flat and kid rides are open.  The Train and Skyride also run during Christmas Town. There will be 6 shows, including an ice skating show, available to enjoy as part of your ticket.

From November 2-November 7 you can purchase select days for Christmas Town (about 15 different ones) for just $15 a ticket. After that they will go up to $25, and a bit higher after depending on when you visit.

This is a separate ticketed event, so passholders have to purchase a funcard for the season. ($39) for unlimited visits. Visitors also have the option to purchase a funcard ($49), or a bounce ticket for $65 which allows visits to Colonial Williamsburg for 3 consecutive days. Christmas Town is open Friday, Saturday and Sundays November 24-January 1st as well as 2 full weeks in mid-December. Operating times are 2-10pm.

More on Christmas Town later, Halloween hasn't fully ended yet.