Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food & Wine Festival 2017

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food & Wine 2017. Its the most delicious time of the year where you can eat and drink your way around the park. You can also take a short cruise down the Rhine River, while delighting in some jazz music and savoring some fancy cheese and chocolate.  The park goes all out for this event with additional decorations, country flags, lights and informational boards giving interesting tid bits from the countries represented. Truly a feast for the eyes and you can fill up on knowledge.

This will mark the 5th annual Food & Wine Festival for Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. Food and Wine began in 2013 and is extended this year for the first time running from May 26-July 2. I have personally enjoyed this event for 4 out of the past 5 years. The quality of the food is amazing. Every year there are typically 2 new kiosks to replace lesser performing ones. This year however we are only losing one, and gaining 2 new ones.  But I have it under good authority they are reaching capacity on kiosks.

What is New.

The Greece Kiosk is a revamp, as Mediterranean to cover mover of the regions food. So you will find a few familiar Greece dishes and 2 new dishes. Some additional changes on the rest of the countries menus did happen but not too many.  The American Southwest kiosk moved to Scotland outside Loch Ness because of InvadR and has a ghost pepper guacamole replacing the Chicken adobo with mole sauce. The dips were removed from Hawaii and Virginia but otherwise the rest of the menu is the same. No France this year either (bye yummy Steak with Brandy sauce). However the French Quarter is still serving up that delicious Muffaletta Sandwich and Bananas Foster Cheesecake.

The new kiosks are India (in Oktoberfest near Dark Castle) and Island Freeze a frozen drink stand near the Mach Tower. Island Freeze is serving a variety of frozen drinks including Rum Runner, Frozen Mojito, Pina Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri and a Frozen Bellini as well as a few others. You can even get a drink in a festive Pineapple, which is a symbol of prosperity here in Williamsburg. India is serving Chicken Tandoori, (a tandoori is a type of oven, so its oven roasted chicken with Garam Masala spices and yogurt); Samosas (pastry with lentils, potatoes, peas in a curry sauce), Potato Curry and Mango Burfi (Mango and Coconut Snowballs) for dessert.

                          Extra Whimsy for Indian Kiosk just outside Dark Castle in Oktoberfest

Also this year there are 6 vegan dishes. (Spain, Asia, Mediterranean, India, and American Southwest). Vegan dishes are noted with a green leaf on the kiosk menus.

                                                 Vegan Lettuce Wrap in Asia

As far as the Wine part goes there are French Wine tastings, Niagara Region, German, Argentina(near Fest Haus), and Italian, as well as a Scotch tasting in Scotland.

NEW Feature Event Pairings of Note
 (additional charge)

Another new feature for 2017 is the Pairings of Note held in the back of Ireland at Castle O’Sullivan. Wine ambassadors will offer up 6 delicious samples of different wines with different foods. (e.g. Pinot Noir and Mushroom Ravioli, Cabernet Sauvignon and pepper crusted Roast Beef).There is a live band playing in this known dinner theater atmosphere.  This event is just over an hour.

Previous years have had different entertainment in the form of Chef demos, but this year they will be making some of the food from the festival in kiosks about every hour to hour and half. You will also get to try bite size samples for free.

I will be adding to this article again after another visit. We attended the Media Event June 2 and still have to see the chef demos in action as well as try a few more delicious items. Every year we make a list of the Best Of, so that may not be fully complete until another visit.

  • No additional Ticket, part of your admission. Buy what you want
  • All normal attractions are running (minus Europe in the Air, now defunct and being replaced in 2018)
  • Tastings range from $2-$3 for desserts and about $4-$5 for entrées, a few are more.
  • To make your day a bit easier, you can purchase cashless wristbands.
  • Wristbands are available in several areas of the park, 2 different spots before you even get to food (Booth before the turnstiles and guest relations after you enter), plus several other locations in the park.
  • Food & Wine is Friday, Saturdays and Sundays from May 26-July 2. 
  • Kiosks open around 11 am and serve until park close.
  • Chef Demos run once and hour in Germany, Oktoberfest, Italy, Ireland but feature food from other kiosks such as Potato curry from India, Ham pate from Virginia and Lettuce wraps from Asia
  • Sampler Tickets allow you a preset amount of samples for one price and include most beer and wine at the kiosk. (a few are not included and are marked). You can get 10 for $45 or 15 for $60. As part of the media event we were given the standard sampler. 10 is a good amount for 2 people to share as far as food goes for the day. If you're making a weekend of it you may wish to purchase more than one, and if you are drinking as well, you should consider the upgrade.
  • Wine Tasting Trio allows you 3 different wine kiosk experiences for just over $30.

Here are Kiosks of the Countries & regions represented

  • ·         American Southwest (moved to Scotland near Loch Ness Monster)
  • ·         Asia
  • ·         Canada
  • ·         Caribbean
  • ·         Coffee & Crêpes (part of France all year, but with different options for F&W)
  • ·         French Quarter
  • ·         Germany
  • ·         Greece/ Mediterranean NEW but in same location few changes
  • ·         Hawaii
  • ·         India (NEW)
  • ·         Ireland
  • ·         Italy
  • ·         Island Freeze Drinks (NEW)
  • ·         Spain
  • ·         Virginia

Favorite Samples

Favorite Dish : It truly is too hard to choose. My husband and Dad always get the Ham sampler in Virginia no matter how many times we go, and the Venison Sausage with Polenta from Canada is still a reigning champ.In fact the Canada Kiosk is our favorite, we walked over to it through a thunderstorm and waited for them to serve again.

This is why I have a list below rather than just one.

Best SandwichSpam Slider from Hawaii - Fried Spam and Sriracha Mayo with a grilled pineapple on a slider bun. Served with tropical pineapple coconut Cole slaw. Nice portion. Noah the fussy eater even ate this sandwich.

Easiest to Eat while walking in the ParkBacon & Cheddar Hush Puppies from Virginia & Gamba Fritters from Caribbean. Both are good food on the go! You can walk and eat these if you like. No muss or fuss.

Bacon & Cheddar Hush Puppies- Really these need to get on the regular menu (perhaps at Trappers, I need to talk to someone ). These are cornmeal fritters with locally made honey butter.

Gamba Fritters -Fried shrimp dumpling with pickapea dip.

German Chocolate Cake- In Germany, this cake is in a cup. The coconut is fresh and its the best version of a German Chocolate Cake that I have ever had.

                                             Gamba Fritters Caribbean

                                      Hush Puppies (don't miss out on the local butter, yum!)

                                                          German Chocolate Cake

Best Value :  Jamaican Jerk Chicken in Caribbean and Smithfield Ham tasting in Virginia.
Both are terrific portions to help fill you up or even share with someone.

The Jamaican Jerk is served as 2 drumsticks seasoned with jerk spices, guava barbecue sauce and a grilled pineapple salsa. 

The Smithfield Ham tasting has 3 types of ham with matching dips and a biscuit. (Red Eye Country Ham, Applewood Carved and Ham Pate). You can sample with Apple Butter, Whole Grain Mustard and Honey Mustard. The biscuit is excellent.

                                                    Jamaican Jerk Chicken

                                                            Smithfield Ham Tasting 

Best Vegetarian dish: Tuna Poke Hawaii - Sushi Tuna with soy and sesame in a beautiful wonton flower and dressed with a wasabi aioli. Wakame Seaweed salad served on the side. Not too salty, very tender.

Carnivore’s Delight Venison Sausage in Canada & Lamb Burger Slider in Mediterranean

The Venison Sausage is wood fired and served with a creamy polenta that is cooked in an apple cider and caramelized onions. Smoky and a little sweet. Nice portion.

The Lamb burger is new this year.  It is properly seasoned and cooked (not gamy at all) served on pita bread with a Feta cheese spread, cucumbers, tomato and an olive. It is a very meaty portion. I had to eat the slider in 2 sections. 
                                                             Venison Sausage

                                                                 Lamb Slider

Best Vegan Dish : Lettuce Wrap in Asia

Sweet Tooth Lovers : Chocolate pecan bars of Virginia...they are Fantastic!  And they have heavy competition with the Pumpkin Mousse with Real Maple Syrup in Canada, and Ireland's Guiness Mousse.

Whether you love the food, wine, or atmosphere, you can have a great time at the event. Personally I prefer to go when its just a tad rainy. No crowds and they will still serve food as long as their is no lightening near by. (even if there is they resume once the storm has passed).  The weather is cooler to enjoy more of the sweets. If you are there in the heat be sure to get complimentary water as often as possible. 

Below is a video of most of the park to the theme music from Europe in the Air (which is now defunct, but its memories will live on!) It is a walk through photo montage from entrance and going counter clockwise-going right towards Ireland first around in a circle. Finishing with a trip around the train. All seasons. Enjoy!

Friday, April 14, 2017

April Brings Autism Awareness May it bring Acceptance

April Brings Autism Awareness May it bring Acceptance

Autism awareness exists largely because Autism was once a much less common condition, or so it seemed. When my son was diagnosed in 2005, he was 1 of 150; in 2014 he became 1 of 68. So more people are aware for that reason alone. According to the National Institute of Health, back in the 70’s and 80’s autism rates were more like 1 in 5000 and 1 in 2500 respectively. I am not here to discuss the reasons why, no one honestly knows that anyway.  These facts are just mentioned as to why there is such a thing as “Autism Awareness Month”. 

Autism is complex; it takes more than just a short article to explain or bring “awareness”. Autism is an entire way of thinking different. Therefore this yields an entire way of behaving and functioning differently than what is considered “normal” or “typical”. Autistic people have a lot of the same needs and abilities as others, but they also have skill deficits in some areas, and advanced skills in other areas. Such as sensory issues much stronger than what humans usually deal with, their ears and nerves can just hurt much more than yours. But that same person may also have some strong fascination with baking they could teach Betty Crocker a thing or too. Just because people with autism have disabilities and deficits is not a criticism, nor something to feel bad about. It’s just a fact. The negatives of the disorder still yield many positives, culminating people into little puzzle-filled snowflakes.

And I am not talking about the way all people are different, but in some respects it is the same as that. As with many disabilities, people seek to find the balance between being treated the same where applicable and also not punished because of their limitations and needs. They have enormous challenges and live the life of the unexplainable-hence the acceptance part.

Autism in a way gives us all the opportunity every day to work on being accepting.  This is connected to why it’s important to know yourself. Love and respect yourself so you can do this for others, to not bother wasting energy on judging others. For all it does is paint a picture of yourself. That picture can be a nice picture or a nasty one, that choice is always yours.

When you see, hear, read things about anything really, you don’t have to make assumptions and judge if it isn’t being directed at you, or involves you directly. You can actually just accept it. You will never know why something happened, or why someone does what they did, because it isn’t you. Like the beauty of a snow globe, you can shake it up and look at the snow gently falling around in a beautiful setting, but you can never know what it would feel like to be in that globe because you are outside of it. It could be awful in there, or the opposite could be true. You simply cannot know.

Acceptance is not about being in agreement, it isn’t about what you like, love, or hate. 

Acceptance is your chance to be who you are. Acceptance is what gives you the ability and the right to even have an opinion.  You accept your opinion, if you didn’t you wouldn’t have a valid opinion because you didn't accept it. You can accept something and still not agree with or like it.  

Acceptance allows you to try something new, like a new taste, a new experience, or a new friend.
Acceptance allows you more peace; it gives you freedom from worry. Acceptance can free you from arguments.  You accept your friend’s opinions about being vegan, even though you would never ever stop eating bacon. But you accept their beliefs for themselves and appreciate that they won't be eating your meat. Their beliefs actually helps the planet and gives you more of what you want. Everyone gets to be who they are. 

You accept the things that can not be changed. 

You must first acknowledge and be aware of what can not be changed, or that is not your business to change. 

This then makes it obvious that you have a choice to be more accepting in life to allow more goodness into it, more peace. You aren't wasting energy and time trying to change anyone.

You choose to accept people or you don't, that is the your decision, the beauty of life.  If you want to have more peace, you accept more and fight less.  Its that simple. You pick your battles.

I often remind my son to not concern himself with the opinions of others that are full of anger, disapproval and basic non-acceptance. For if that is what they think of him, then what they think doesn't matter. Why value the opinion of someone like that? I have told him, not everyone will like you, but the ones with negative things to say only show us who they are, not who we are.

Awareness about Autism or anything really isn't enough. You can be aware the sun is shining, but if you don’t accept that it is a nice day and choose to go out into it, you will miss it.

For more on seeing Autism differently and learning acceptance here's my book!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

What's Happening at Busch Gardens Williamsburg 2017 Season

Busch Gardens Williamsburg, A.K.A America’s Most Beautiful Theme Park, is open once again with another exciting and fun-filled season this year.

Your journey begins with InvadR which is invading Busch Gardens on April 7, 2017. This is the park’s first wooden roller coaster and something thrill seekers have been asking for some time. InvadR has 9 airtime hills, a 74 foot drop and is Viking themed. The speed is considered moderate at just less than 50MPH, and the height requirement is 46 inches so it’s considered Family Friendly. This non-rider is planning on taking a voyage on InvadR shortly after it opens, at least once. 

InvadR is in the New France section (its more or less Canadian) near the Caribou Train Station. The coaster interacts with both the train and the Log Flume Le Scoot 4 different times during your journey.

Some exciting features of this coaster are sound effects being used indoors of the ride and two tunnels, one where the coaster goes underground briefly. InvadR is both wooden and steel so you get the best of both worlds. The feel of a wooden coaster, with the support and lower maintenance of steel. InvadR is brought to you by Great Coasters, they make Coasters great.

We have watched InvadR grow over the past year and it was an exciting time, especially the hard hat tour with previewing the progress and learning about how the coaster was being constructed. More tracks were still to be laid down back in February. This photo below is the stuff of nightmares. Don't worry, the coaster doesn't fly through the air here, they did finish laying the tracks. 

Busch Gardens has been very good over the years at keeping their secrets of any development plans they have. There still is plenty more land and more things in development but we all have to wait. (Psst...there is Virtual Reality coming in 2018 in Ireland). This coaster was announced in 2016 at Member preview day (which is typically the weekend before opening weekend). The ride was also partially designed by fans and guests.

Some examples of guest influence were during the "Decide the Ride Campaign". Fans took part in the naming of the ride, as well as the face of InvadR (a person to portray a Viking for the media aspects).

Busch Gardens is open every day from March 31 to April 23, to accommodate vacationers and spring breakers. Then they will resume a half-time schedule with just being open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday until May 26 (memorial day weekend)then the park is open all week long again. Springtime is always a fun time to visit as the weather is mild to warm, and the park has flowers everywhere you go.

Other Elements in 2017

A new Fry shop has opened in France called Pierre Les Frittes. It features hand cut French fries with numerous toppings such as Canadian themed-gravy and cheese curds, the park's signature Chili, Carnitas Pork, or a combination of other toppings like cheese, bacon and more. Below is a picture of the Gravy and Cheese Curds. Delicious, reasonable priced snack.

Every time a season pass is purchased this April, a day ticket is donated to children who are members of Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula and of South East Virginia. Park President David Cromwell stated “Kids are very special to us, and we couldn’t have found a better partner than Boys & Girls Clubs, We are excited to kick off this unique collaboration between our guests and team members."

There are a few artistic aspects showing this partnership in the park at the back of the Wildlife reserve into France.  (Photo to be added)

Two New Shows.

Over in England at the Globe you will find Elmo Rocks in the Spring and a New Show in the summer called Britmania. OktoberZest in Das Fest Haus began March 31, and is a German themed show featuring a 4 person band with a violinist. Das Fest Haus is in the Oktoberfest section of Busch Gardens. It’s also a great place to eat when the weather is too hot, too cold or too wet. It is the largest seated area in the park, and the only one indoors. The food is pretty awesome too. Here you can get German sausages and sides, mile high corned beef sandwiches, desserts, and pizza.

Food & Wine

The Food & Wine Festival is extended this year for the first time and is running from May 26-July2. (typically it is just 4 weeks ending the 3rd week of June). This year there are 3 new Kiosks.  We are only losing one from last year. Typically they add 2 new ones each year and replace the lesser performing ones. We got lucky it seems this year, as the event is getting more popular!

The new kiosks are India (in Oktoberfest near Dark Castle), Mediterranean (replaces the Greek stand and also where you normally get pizza cones etc.) and a Frozen Drink stand near the Mach Tower called Island Freeze. Island Freeze will serve a variety of frozen drinks including Rum Runner, Frozen Mojito, Pina Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri and a Frozen Bellini as well as a few more.  This stand if it does well, could possibly stick around like Crepes and Coffee did in France, and the dessert area of Italy near Marco Polo Marketplace.

As usual Busch Gardens will have options for vegetarians. The Mediterranean Kiosk will have some similar food as years past, (Halloumi-the Griddled Greek cheese with honey and pistachios; and Baklava are back) and there is the new addition of a Lamb Burger and Falafel (which is vegetarian). India will have Chicken Tandoori, Samosas (pastry with lentils, potatoes, peas in a curry sauce), and a dessert that is Mango and Coconut Snowballs. 

Some changes this year did happen but so far not too many. (However the menu can still change). In the American Southwest a Ghost Pepper guacamole is replacing the Chicken Adobo with mole sauce.

The dips were removed from Hawaii and Virginia but otherwise the menu is the same. Which means those delicious Spam Sliders are back on the menu this year.

Some new drinks added, such as in Ireland a Specialty drink called a Leprechaun. It sounds like it just might be magically delicious.

Its Food AND wine, so there will be wine tasting areas throughout the park, and the kiosks will have wine, beer and specialty drinks. The day you go, there will be a printed menu with map so you are sure to not miss anything. More details on this later, typically we have a media event the day it opens. Here is last years review.

We have visited for all 5 years of Food & Wine, as it opens around Noah's birthday, and we have celebrated each of them here since 2013.  Video of Busch Gardens and Noah  to Orange Colored Sky.


As summer rolls in you will  find new entertainment, culinary experiences and illuminations for the ”Summer Nights”  which runs from the first of July until the end of August. All for One returns at the end of June (30th) and runs until September 3. Which if you haven’t seen it last year; this swashbuckling adventure is over in France at the Royal Palace Theater. (a.k.a Palladium). It features sword fighting, adventure, a little romance and some pretty cool special effects including some pyrotechnics.  It is a new spin and retelling of part of the Three Musketeers story.

Also on June 30 opens Britmania which will replace London Rocks in the Globe Theater of England.  This is a musical revue type of show (similar to London Rocks). It will feature British hits from the 60’s through current times. The Globe had received a revamping 3 years ago which includes more state of the art-technological equipment and better sound. 2000 speakers were added, giving each seat 2 speakers, and 79 around the stage. Plus visually the ability to project 110,000 lumens of video mapped imagery through 5 projectors (a typical home theater yields 3,000 lumens). If you haven't enjoyed it yet, now may be a good time.

There is also a set schedule of concerts that will be performed every Saturday night at the Royal Palace Theater from July 8th through August 26th. These concerts are free and are included with your ticket/pass. Some bands coming this year are MercyMe, Kool and the Gang and 38 Special.

Fireworks will occur in honor of Independence day on July 3rd and 4th in the evening around 9pm, they can typically be seen almost anywhere in the park.


Bier Fest is back and extended with more opportunities for you to enjoy this year. This will be the third year for this German fest in the Oktoberfest village. Guests get to enjoy German music and dancing as well as beer sampling from around the world. Bier Fest runs select dates from Sept 1-17.(the first 4 days of September plus 2 weekends). Maybe you will learn some German, and dance with this guy. (well I did, Ja..I did)


Some people's most favorite time of the year will also be extended this year to having a few Thursday nights and be open until midnight on select nights. The total amount of days is actually just increased by one. But for locals, the Thursday nights may provide additional enjoyment when the park isn't as crowded. This will most likely be run as an experiment this year. 

For kids this year there will also be a daytime event. For the first time the Count’s Halloween Spooktacular(always at Sesame Place and Seaworld Parks) will be a Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. Children will be allowed to be dressed up for the event, and join in family friendly activities, including a costume parade. This will occur during the day-time hours only on just Saturdays and Sundays October 7-29. After 6pm the park will turn into a more terrifying place. The No Escape Room is back. You didn't get a review from me last year as I had the pleasure of being a Stage Manager for the event! However, here is the review from 2015.

And to wrap up the season Christmas Town will be back November 24 and run until January 1. The Park is open from 2 or 3pm most days until 10pm. Not all rides are operating and this is a separately ticketed event. It is quite reasonable at around $30 (and funcards go on sale early and are cheapest the earlier you buy them).

More exciting events and concerts will also occur and we will update in more detail throughout the season. We always consider Busch Gardens to be an affordable, beautiful place that is full of friendly people. They grow fun there and you can feel it with the customer service you receive and your interactions with team members. We also have been thankful for the options available for those with special needs.

Many people go to a theme park for the rides, but Busch Gardens offers much more than that, so even if riding isn't your thing, you can still have a lot of fun. You feel like you are somewhere else. Plus they have some pretty delicious food.   Here is a video walk through with the music to Europe in the Air (which is now defunct...remember I psst'd you earlier about the Virtual Reality...it’s going to be in there)

If you are an animal lover you can enjoy interactions here between the Pet Shenanigans show, and with the Jack Hanna Wildlife reserve. Who you may also get to meet in the spring with some of his animal friends each year.

 SeaWorld parks puts their money where their mouth is and have spent millions of dollars rehabbing and saving animals, and the planet. You can feel it in every inch of this place and meeting the animals here. There are 4 bald eagles who can not fly (most have broken wings, or were shot) and they live here.

Tickets and Passes 

There are a variety of options of tickets and passes.  The Fun card is $80 and is good until Sept 3, it allows you to enter over and over like a season pass and is cheaper than a season pass, but doesn’t have all the perks. (no free parking or discounts, plus expires by September 3). But is a good choice for anyone wanting to go more than once.  

For people who plan to go  a few times in the year there is the 1-park pass good all year from date of first use, $144 or $12 a month EZ Pay; or the 2-Park pass which includes Water Country- $192 or $16 a month EZ Pay. The Platinum pass is for all the SeaWorld parks except Discovery cove- $228 or $19 a month and is what you may choose if you know you are going to another park, or live near a different park. We had these before I wrote for the park and we lived near Sesame Place. They were a tad cheaper in 2010 ($12.50 a month) and they never went up in price because of the EZ Pay, so that is also something to consider for people who want to go here for years. Since your prices will remain the same. 

EZ Pay can be accessed through the passmember portal and when you sign up for your pass online. You link whatever credit or debit card you like to it. You also have the option to pick the day it draws. 

Other perks for having a season pass are the 10% discount, pass member only days or late nights, free parking (platinum passes have free preferred parking in VA parks, free general in all others) and discounted tickets for friends and family.

For example, pass members will have a late night ride option for InvadR on May 12-14 and a swim night coming up at Water Country on June 16, where the park will be open only for pass members from 7-10pm. Water Country opens on May 20th. It is the most beautiful water park I have ever been to. But more on that later.