So, this is it. The final theme park of the road trip, and what has been consistently voted America’s prettiest park. Busch Gardens Williamsburg – used to be known as Busch Gardens Europe.
Somehow we’ve managed to get up slightly late but, a quick drive later, make it to the park for not much after opening time. This way, as before, we don’t have to endure the national anthem. We arrive in one of a few quite large car parks and have to get a tram from there to the gate.
This is the only park we’ve encountered on this trip where you’ve got to get a tram. True, some of the parks in Florida do this as well, but none of the Six Flags parks we’ve come across, nor Cedar Point, had this.
Whilst we’re a captive audience in the tram, the recording tries to enthuse us all about “Illuminights!” (exclamation point included for the sheer enthusiasm of the voice), where Busch Gardens comes alive at night with dragons and princess and lights and such around every corner, apparently from about 5pm. All sorts of things happen, with… erm… princess to seek and dragons to… also seek? I don’t know. But, from what I can gather, they turn on the fancy lights and a bunch of animatronic puppets start up. Fine and dandy.
Once we get to the tram’s drop-off point, we’ve still got a fairly lengthy walk into the park itself. Well, not fairly lengthy, but certainly a few minutes. Perhaps they’re deliberately trying to hide the park in order to maintain the amount of theming.
Finally we manage to get into the park itself! And… well… we’re in England. Or at least a pretty representation of an old English town, with Victorian houses, nice shrubbery (presumably planted by the Knights Who Say Ni) and a red telephone box which, in true form, is missing a side or two. If only they had put a cardboard box inside it full of empty bottles of Stella to increase the authenticity. It’s all very nice and everything.
Next, we go from England to Ireland. A very pleasant land, I can’t say how accurate it is as I’ve never been to Ireland myself. It’s like England, apparently, but greener and more twee, with more colour. Nice enough, and there’s a restaurant here selling probably the weirdest food I’ve come across at a theme park in America – Irish stew. Go figure.
From Ireland, a meander down into Wolf Valley. Not sure where this is in Europe, but it’s a nice valley, with wolves in. There’s plenty to see, including the wolf habitats themselves.
From there, it’s a short hop, skip and a jump to France. France, so far, takes the biscuit in looking nice-ness, with colourful promenades, chalets and all sorts. And signs, in French. I have trouble translating them, mainly because I haven’t had to do anything involving the French language for fifteen years.
We haven’t been on any rides yet.
This is partly because, whilst we have seen a small amount of rides, they just haven’t been what we’re interested in. I think there’s been a simulator ride and that’s it.
But aha! We spot the Griffin! Let us ride it!
The Griffin is a vertical drop coaster, pretty similar to Sheikra, it’s sister coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa. It’s a nice blue colour. You go up the lift hill, before getting to the edge and being held for a few brief seconds facing downwards at a 200ft vertical drop. A quick drop later, you circle round before another drop comes along before skimming the surface of the water.
It’s not a bad ride – but we’ve done it before. And better.
And this is true. Sheikra is somehow miles better, which I believe manages to pull an inversion and seem more immersive because of it’s surroundings.
Which gives me a curious dilemma – I’m on a roller coaster, should the surroundings matter, or should I just be paying attention to what the coaster does? In this case, both. On Sheikra, the surroundings are part of the coaster experience. You drop vertically through a tunnel. The track and the surrounding area are more colourful. Compared to that, Griffin is a pale imitation. They have taken the basics of Sheikra, and forgotten everything else.
But even so, it’s not a bad coaster. So, with queues failing to fill up for it, at least for the time being, we have about five re-rides in quick succession before moving on.
Reasonably nearby, we find the Alpengeist coaster – a suspended looping coaster that goes through a mock icy hillside. Sadly it’s closed, so we vow to come back later.
Circling back towards Scotland, we come across our second ride of the day, the Loch Ness Monster.
The Loch Ness Monster is a curious beast to behold, at least in the roller coaster world (in real life it’s probably just a discarded sock or something) – the main talking point of the ride being it’s chain link loop, where one loop interlocks with another. Apparently it is the only one left in the world and, at it’s opening in 1978, was the world’s tallest roller coaster.
Time has not been that kind to the Loch Ness Monster – it has been surpassed many times over by even the most trivial coasters that it is standard. The chain link is not something that you notice when riding it. It looks cool from the outside but, when you’re on it, it makes no difference whatsoever. Still, it is good that it has that chain link loop, and to say that we’ve been on the only roller coaster still standing that has one.
So, two coasters down and we decide to have a slighly early lunch, involving the stew place in Ireland that we saw earlier – my meal being a bread bowl full of stew. I remember having a bread bowl full of ghoulash at a wedding in Prague which was exceddingly nice. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as good but, fortunately, was a damn sight smaller. I think that, if it had been the size of the dish in Prague, I wouldn’t have been able to do much during the rest of the day and there probably would have been an unfortunate accident on one of the coasters.
Back to the rides! And to Alpengeist, which has now opened. This proved a reasonable coaster but, again, it’s nothing really compared to many of the other coasters we’ve ridden on this holiday. I actually now only rate two SLCs as “good” coasters, I think, those being Montu at Busch Gardens Tampa, and Infusion at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Everything else just seems quite standard, though I haven’t been on Nemesis at Alton Towers enough times to rate it.
A bit more of a walk around the park brings us to the Italy area. This area seems split into different sub-areas, with my favourite being what I think was called the Garden Of Invention, with rides themed to various concepts by Leonardo DaVinci and others. Some small rides, nothing fantastic.
However, also in Italy was the park’s fourth roller coaster – Apollo’s Chariot. And good it is too. I believe it’s classed as a hyper coaster, it climbs it’s hill then negotiates a complex track around various woodland areas. No inversions but a great speed and air on the hills. Definitely the best coaster in the park, and possibly even one of the better coasters on the road trip.
Alas, that is it for roller coasters. It seems absurd that such a major park would only have four coasters, but then I recall the parks in Florida. Even Busch Gardens Tampa had, until the recent Cheetah Hunt, four major coasters. But, somehow, they seemed better (with the exception of Gwazi). And the other Florida parks tend to have even less, seemingly catering more towards families.
There are lots of other rides, but they’re small, fairground-style rides. Some very nice teacups over there, a galleon there, a troika… nothing to write home about. The only exceptions seem to be the Curse Of DarKastle (a 3D ghost train simulator amalgram similar to Islands Of Adventure’s Spiderman, but not as good), Pompeii (a water ride that tried to lure us in with special effects until we realised it was a standard in-drop-out, and we didn’t want to get wet) and a large simulator ride in Ireland that took us all over Europe, and was about as good as these things can get, though I don’t think much of them.
And we’re at a loss. We’ve done everything, and Apollo’s Chariot, the only coaster we’re bothered about, seems to be working only sporadically. We’ve done a few rides on Griffin, a ride on Loch Ness Monster, a few turns on Alpengeist and Apollo’s Chariot, Curse Of DarKastle, the simulator thingy and even a few small rides. Hell, we even go to the petting area to pet a few rabbits (which our rabbit would have crushed), a pet show (that’s identical to the one at SeaWorld, even down to the set) and a film starring Leslie Nielsen involving pirates. It’s early afternoon, the park’s now quite full and we don’t think we’d get back on anything without a hefty wait, though Apollo’s Chariot is the only thing we want to go on.
We ponder this over ice cream, whilst also watching people try their luck at a basketball shoot game. You can win some serious prizes on those things, with the grand prize (which nobody we saw managed to get) being a PS3. This contrasts quite a fair bit with the ones over here, where the best prize at the Pleasure Beach seems to be an Angry Bird stuffed toy.
In the end, it gets to about 3/4-ish and we’ve decided that we’ve had enough. We don’t want to wait around for Illuminights to start. And so, this becomes the only theme park on our road trip where we decide to leave early (not counting the second day at Cedar Point). The park has little to keep us. It probably has better rides than Six Flags America, but no queues developed for that park.
Leaving, we head back to the hotel for a rest, then to Friendly’s for dinner.
Sadly, we start making sure everything is ready to go. Is it a shame that our final park was the only park that was disappointing? Yes. It’s a shame any of them are disappointing. But Williamsburg is also home to “Colonial Williamsburg”, another popular tourist attraction. Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens and Water Country USA make the Williamsburg area into a sort of mini-Florida when it comes to tourists – and there are a lot of them. Us included. As such, compared to parks like Six Flags, it seems Busch Gardens Williamsburg, like it’s Tampa counterpart but moreso, gears itself towards more tame offerings for families.
Trouble is, it’s also the most expensive park by far. And, definitely, the best looking. Each part looks exactly as it’s supposed to and it would be nice to stroll around on a quiet day. Though I’ve no idea where the “New France” area, a woodland area with restaurants smoking their food, is meant to represent. It looks nice, but I think it’s supposed to be Canada. In which case, shouldn’t someone tell them Canada isn’t in Europe, where the park is supposed to be themed around?