Day 20 – Williamsburg to… home (sigh)

It’s been nearly a year and a half since we did this road trip. I’ll admit that I’ve been extremely lax in writing it up, though I did start with the best intentions and would like to see it through. And this, unfortunately, is the day I’ve been dreading. The final day.

Final days are awful. What do you do? Try and get in some last-minute attractions, whilst being ever-conscious about the time and any luggage left in your car? Head straight to the airport?

Well, the latter is what we did. It’s about an hour’s drive from the hotel in Williamsburg to the airport in Norfolk where we are to depart and, with a heavy heart, we head off in order to ensure we get through rush hour traffic and make our flight with plenty of time to spare. Bessie the GPS pointed us in the right direction as usual, and we hopped on the freeways and road networks, keeping our eye on the petrol needle. We’ve got the car under the proviso that we can bring it back with as much petrol as we like (as we paid for a full tank when we got it) so we’ve been running it down as much as possible, buying more only sparingly. And now it’s hovering at just over empty. We make it to the airport – just.

Norfolk airport is pretty much deserted. It’s not big – there’s a handful of shops selling mostly nothing. We do grab a quick breakfast/lunch substitute and wait around before boarding. Then, once we’ve boarded, wait around even longer as there’s apparently bad weather in Atlanta, where we’re changing over.

We finally make it to Atlanta and, like Amsterdam, have very little time. And Atlanta is huge. We grab the tram system to hop between terminals and, on our way through, stop off very quickly (like, really quickly, technically we should have been at the gate) to get something quick to eat to keep us going. We nearly eat at a McDonalds (dear God, the horror) but instead just get some fries from Arby’s, which do have some very good fries and is better than McDonalds (though just about anything is better than McDonalds to us).

We get to our next plane and get underway. It’s Delta. So was the one getting to Atlanta. On the way out of the UK it was KLM all the way, though Delta do own KLM. On these planes, the short-haul ones had no entertainment but the long-hall KLM had full, interactive, choose-what-to-watch screens. This time, it’s just a single screen per few rows showing period dramas. We can’t be bothered watching them, so on the odd occasion that we do notice them we make up our own scripts, which normally were along the lines of:

“It’s all dark here in the woods. We must make love.”

“But what if my father catches us?”

“I. Am. Your. Father.”

And so on.

I will say this – I absolutely HATE flying back into the UK. There are a few reasons behind this. Okay, flying out from the UK isn’t that good but certainly better than flying back. You’re flying out during the day, when people are expected to be awake. Flying back, it’s usually night and, unless your body can get some decent rest (which is normally quite impossible on a plane) it doesn’t know what’s going on. Entertainment is usually a lot better – or seems a lot better – on the plane leaving the UK, and let’s face it – you know your holiday is over.

Yes, the final day is the only day on holiday that you want to pass faster. Fortunately it does pass, and we arrive back in the UK safe and sound. Back to the grindstone, back to work, back to the foul weather.

So, this seems a good enough place to ruminate – to let final thoughts run free, giving a rundown of what we did, and what I thought. Non-theme-park stuff first, in order to group things together.

Chicago was a very nice city. Often overlooked by many who still think it’s a crime-ridden, second-tier city, what we did there and where we went surprised us. There was lots to see and do – we would have loved to spend a few more days looking round the city itself. The general positive attitude of the area we visited late in the evening and at night, when seeing the Blue Man Group (who were also impressive, given the small venue) is a stark contrast to the general attitude of people in our local city centre, even during the day. I would have liked to spend some more time at Navy Pier, and there’s a few other attractions we didn’t have time for. I would have been interested to find anything relating to the World’s Fair that was held there.

Sandusky is an odd one, as we didn’t really see Sandusky itself much, so I can’t comment. The islands, however, I think are a place my wife and I have decided we’d love to live, one day, though it is most likely a pipe dream. Both are stuck in a simpler time, cut off from any high-tech trappings by decades (and a few miles of water). Only problems would be the lake (how would you get to work?), the isolation and the winters. Yes, they’re all major problems, but they’re so nice that the trade-off could seem worth it.

Philadelphia – I’ve mixed feelings about this place. We did do some very good things – I was very impressed by, well, literally everything we did, whether we meant to or not. The Physick House, the old battleship and submarine, seeing the Liberty Bell (admittedly from the outside), the bands, the Chinatown party – all were novel, new, enjoyable and informative (in differing degrees, of course). The highlight would be the 2nd July fireworks, though the 4th July was a let-down, possibly because of how knackered we were and the heat. However, two small things stood out for me – the kids playing in the fountains at Logan Square, and the stalls in the park educating people on the abolition of slavery – in particular the man who had his own stall – simply a few tables and a few old chains and hooks from the days people captured other people and sold them into slavery – which have stood out in my memory, reinforcing the general community “togetherness” of Philadelphia. Though despite these things, Philadelphia didn’t appear to be a very nice place – it did not seem as modern, high-tech or prosperous a city as Chicago, and walking back from Penn Landing didn’t feel awfully safe.

Washington DC – I can’t think of much here. It was certainly impressive seeing all the various buildings, which are larger than you think they are or will be. Pictures truly cannot do them justice. However, I wonder if part of why it didn’t give me much of an impression is because we saw the same monuments over and over as the bus passed them, and the weather wasn’t too accomodating. I do have to say though that the aerospace museum was impressive (though crowded, as everyone tried to escape the rain), as was the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

Williamsburg is pointless to discuss – we stayed outside and merely visited the parks.

And, getting onto the parks…

First off, I am not using any maps or park guides or anything at the moment. This is entirely from my head, in order to make sure everything is, basically, my true feelings. No memory aids, no reminders, nothing.

Six Flags Great America, first of all. A good park, very good. Lots of good rides, though I wouldn’t say any of them were great. It was a great park to start off with – few queues, lots to choose from, and a good layout meaning you could get from one place to another quickly. If I had to ride another ride from this park, right now, I’d choose the Whizzer (I think it was called), the family coaster with the strangest lift hill (goes round in a spiral) and least steep drop in any coaster I’ve been to. The parade just before closing was good, and it generally felt like a nice, feel-good park.

Cedar Point – big and brash. Our first day there was full-on theme park nirvana – I don’t know where everyone else was, but it wasn’t here as we got on everything quite quickly. A simply HUGE selection of rides, but none of them were, in my opinion, absolutely astounding. A lot of them seemed to be there just to be there – Maverick and Millennium Force were the best coasters. The park does have an odd, and probably bad, layout – mostly due to the park’s unique setting on an island. It doesn’t have the space to expand and has to work with what it has, like Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I think my wife and I agree that Cedar Point has a huge variety, but is let down by the overall quality. Even so, a great park – at least on the first day, without the huge queues of the second day which meant we could only get on a tiny amount of rides. You can see why it constantly wins the award of “best theme park in the world” – it looks great and the setting is great.

Six Flags Great Adventure – my wife thinks this is the best park, and I’m slowly agreeing. The park had a decent layout, looked alright and the cable cars genuinely did make life easier. Add into this two GREAT coasters in El Toro and Nitro, and a lot of other rides that aren’t bad, and you’ve got a great day out. I honestly can’t think of anything bad to say about this park.

Six Flags America – you can’t help but think this is a small-budget Six Flags park, like a Lightwater Valley in the Six Flags chain. It does have some decent rides, with a fair bit of space between some of them. It’s a smaller park to be sure, and whilst it did have some oddball contraptions like Joker’s Jinx and Batwing (though these are still good) and the Superman coaster, you can’t help but think that Six Flags haven’t gotten around to modernising it yet, keeping it in line with the other parks (or at least the other two Six Flags parks we can compare it to).

Busch Gardens Williamsburg – definitely our least favourite park, even including Six Flags America. Yes, it’s modern and looks great. Yes, you can see why it’s voted the prettiest park. But the rides are standard at best. Alpengeist doesn’t seem to be in the same league as it’s sister coaster at BGT, Montu. Likewise with Griffin. Apollo’s Chariot was pretty cool, but the Loch Ness Monster, despite the novel chain-link loop, has not aged well. The other rides weren’t worthy of note, except perhaps the Curse Of Darkastle, which doesn’t hold a candle to IoA’s Spiderman (especially given the re-tuning and new footage Spiderman has received).

The less said about Water Country USA the better. Hell on Earth.

But even so, I realise that I’m probably being a bit too negative about these parks. And hindsight is a wonderful thing. We don’t regret visiting any of the parks (except perhaps Water Country USA) as, to be perfectly honest, you don’t know until you’ve been. If we were to do another road trip in this part of the country, we would definitely start off in Chicago again, going to Six Flags Great America and staying longer in the city, before going to Sandusky and Cedar Point, possibly staying on the islands and going to Cedar Point’s water park. Then we’d head towards New York, stopping off at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, and flying back from New York.

Of course there would be other parks to do on the way – from what I gather, either King’s Dominion or King’s Island (is it King’s Island? I don’t know) is in this area, as well as Hersheyland (I think). And whilst we’ve been to New York before, we haven’t seen Coney Island (though I don’t think it’s still open – it’d still be worth it to have a look from the outside).

A conclusion then. Was the road trip good? Yes. Trip of a lifetime good? Yes. I answer these without hesitation as we did so much, not just theme parks, and saw a lot of things most other people wouldn’t consider. America is huge and diverse – we visited the city where America was basically founded as a nation and fostered it’s independence, one of the oldest (if not the oldest) city in the USA, or at least one with a huge heritage. We visited a modern city which has had it’s fair share of trouble and bad publicity. We visited islands so far off the beaten track it’s seemed like we travelled to a different century – but then remember, these aren’t the most off-the-beaten-track places you can go. We visited the seat of government, arguably the most important city in the world. We’ve travelled through many states, chatted to all sorts of people and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Organising a road trip such as this is difficult – but not impossible and, once you’ve set your mind to it and got the momentum going, you’ve just got to trust that everything falls into place, or simply hammer it from every possible angle until it does. And it was well worth it.

So remember – if you want the trip of a lifetime, work for it. Plan in advance – it can be part of the fun. Make the extra effort to look into costs, different options, what works out better. If you go the extra mile, rather than going to one or two places, you can really make a journey out of it and actually experience the country you’re in by travelling around in it, under your own steam.

And so, finally, I close – but not for long. 2012 means a new year, a new holiday – this time a substantially smaller one, to Florida (it’s easier) and, even though we stay in a single state, and at a single destination, it doesn’t mean we don’t do a bit of travelling around…

Previous – Water Country USA

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