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 décor.

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.

Friday, October 6, 2017

HowlOScream 2017 The Evil Encore Continues but with NEW Features

Fall comes creeping in rather slowly in most of Virginia, the trees change as well as the temperatures lowering. Most of October is nice and warm with highs during the day in the 70's and low 80's, and the lows generally are in the 60’s with some in the 50’s. This provides ideal weather for visiting. The creeping in of fall is also similar to the creeping in of HowlOScream over at Busch Gardens. You will start noticing little decorations, signs on pathways, and fall food will make its way into all the eateries. Yay for Monster Cake, Pumpkin Cheese Cake, and Apple Cobbler. Plus all the fun goodies now with orange coloring.

                                            Orange is the new Dessert

This year you can visit HowlOScream Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from September 23- October 29th as well as two Thursday nights. Thursdays are new this year, as well as extending a few Saturday nights to a midnight closing. So you can get your scare on also October 19th, and 26th from 5-11pm. May be a good time to schedule a trip with the extra day both those weeks.

                                                          My boy is taller than me. 

New This Year

A New Escape Room has been added. Last season was the first time an Escape Room was part of the Busch Gardens entertainment line up.  The Escape Room is an add-on/upcharge; prices vary depending on the date. Each escape room session allows 6 people 30 minutes to “escape” the room. It runs the same way escape rooms run, teams need to find clues to figure out how to exit the room. Busch Gardens increases the entertainment factor with the addition of actors in the room. This year you can solve the Case of the Haunted Hotel. And returning is the Case of Mr. Carver, new last year, with those creepy dolls. 

Which is still the theme for HowlOscream this year, the Evil Encore is having an encore.

For 2017 the long standing indoor haunted house Bitten has been retired. It was located behind Fest Haus in the Dark Forest, (back of Oktoberfest). The new thrill is not in the same area, however the park created a brand new scare.  Frostbite will now give you both chills from the temperature and from the scares as you wander through the maze inside Dark Castle. The story goes there was once a fire breathing dragon, but something even more evil and more powerful killed it and now that "bone-chilling" resident has taken over the castle. The maze is long, full of evidence of this and begins with a story from the "evil doer" where the Dark Castle queue story is always shown. The 3D technology from the ride is also utilized as part of the Frostbite story, which really makes this haunted house very cool. The line will likely be long on this one, but so is the experience. There are many times you think this maze is over, but nope, more scares to come!

                                                    Dark Castle location of Frostbite.

                            Lumberhacked is still a favorite maze/outdoor house. 
                              And has returned for the 2017 season.

Other Houses Returning
Deadline (Italy/Pompeii - indoor)
Circo Sinistro (Fiesta Italy)
Cornered (Germany- outdoor)
Unearthed (Ireland -indoor)
Catacombs (France -indoor)

As far as Territories go, the Wendigo Woods theme has been retired and now a newly created Viking theme (inspired by the new coaster InvadR) has taken its place. So now the Norseman have invaded New France with terrible and terrifying results. The spirits seem to be "under control of madness". So be careful in Axe Alley. This area is themed well, and that old scary "Wendigo" that would come alive every now and again, is there to scare the pants off of you.

This guy has received a makeover, but good to see they are still utilizing him.

                                                     Axe Alley at Night

Territories Returning
Demon Street (France)
Vampire Point (Germany)
Side Show Square (Fiesta)
Ripper Row (England)

                                                 Demon Street France

There are open areas in the park where there are no actors around to scare you. This is good for those who don't care for the jump scares and disappointing for those who really do love them and have been used to that from year's past. So if you want to be terrified then you want to hang out in Germany and then hit all of France. You can dance in France, with the Demon DJ that is on top of this skull posted above.  

After that you can then take the train over to Italy where there are plenty of macabre characters in Fiesta (but not in the other Italy, nor along the pathway back to England) And in England you will get a good show with the Jack the Ripper theme.
There are many areas in the park where it is very enjoyable to sit back and watch the show.

                                                        Side Show Fiesta Italy
                                                     Ripper Row England
                           Plenty of benches in Vampire Point to watch the scares

Spirit Bars

NEW- Frost Drinks (the Witche's brew is delicious. It is vodka based, its green, frozen and tastes like melon and mint. Did I mention its delicious, cause it is.)

Plus all your returning favorites, each has its own special themed drink for the area.
Demon Street- France (plus bacon on a stick!)
Inoculation Station- Ireland
Pirate Baaargh- Italy
Open Casket- Oktoberfest
Fuzzy Hats- England



All your favorite shows from last season are returning. Some may have new material, new actors and some changes but the primary show is the same.  Show times are posted on the website, they vary.

Monster Stomp (Globe, England) PG-13
Fiends (Abby stone in Ireland) For Mature Audiences
Night Beats (Fest Haus, Oktoberfest) PG
The Star fright Orchestra (Italy) PG

For the Kids
So during the day as always, the park is mostly PG and in the evening as the sun sets and the clock ticks to 6pm  it is not. The place is both literally and figuratively darker, full of fog, and spooky creatures in many areas of the park.  We brought Noah here since he was 8, it was terrifying the first year (since with his autism he is a little younger and had a lot of anxiety). We typically did most of our visiting during the day, and he would do one new haunted house each year. 

Keep in mind much more alcohol is served this time of year, and a much larger party atmosphere as well as security presence is apparent in the evenings.

But they haven’t forgotten the children. For the Kids October 7-29 10-5pm (sat & sun) is The Counts Spooktacular. This event within the event is ideally for kids 9 and under. Kids are welcomed to come dressed in their favorite costume. (no props or masks)In the Forest of Fun there is a Halloween themed show with the Count, and at 4:45 the day concludes with a parade from the Forest of Fun to England. There is trick or treating available in five places throughout the park.

Trick or Treat Spots
Photo in England
Shamrock Store in Ireland
Tweedside Gifts in Scotland
Caribou Pottery- New France
Ring toss- Oktoberfest

Adults and kids who are 10 or older still cannot wear costumes. This is for safety since there are costumed characters in the park. Keep in mind if there is heavy rain or lighting the outdoor mazes close. Usually not for the whole evening unless its close to closing or the weather never lets up.

If you have yet to go to a HowlOScream, check out these reviews from the past which will give you more details. 2015  Unearthed.  2014 Cursed. I was fortunate to work at HowlOScream last year, so I don't have a review. But I got to know these guys pretty well...

Go before time runs out!

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!