Surely the reason most people go to a place like Busch Gardens is to experience roller coasters and the various rides. The thing we love about this park is that you can find something to please every age and taste – from Oscar’s Wiggly Worm all the way up to the panic inducing Griffon®.
Photo courtesy of Our Kids
Overall Busch Gardens does a good job giving multi-generational groups many options to choose from. We always say this, but make a plan. Before you head to the park, view an interactive map online or download their mobile app. Get your whole group involved so that everyone knows what the options are.
So many countries, so little time! If you can swing it, Busch Gardens is definitely worthy of a two-day adventure. We spent about 8 hours at the park and couldn’t get to everything.
If you have younger children in your group, there is plenty to do at Busch Gardens, thanks to their “Kidsiderate” program. Attractions marked as “Kidsiderate” are designed especially with young guests in mind. You will definitely want to check out Sesame Street® Forest of Fun.
This area is a perfect introduction to various rides that you’ll find in an amusement park, just on a smaller scale. There is a water area that was packed with families and strollers. There are water sprays, a zero-entry depth area and more that will make a hot summer day less so. Be sure to come prepared with swim diapers, a bathing suit and a change of clothes for the kids.
Make your way past the water area and go on Prince Elmo’s Spire, a mini drop tower that goes up and down very gently. No screams of terror here! Nearby is Oscar’s Whirly Worms, a tiny battering ram type ride that twirls and swirls young riders.
The highlight for our roller coaster intolerant children was a trip on Grover’s Alpine Express, a 45-second journey into fear (for our two kids anyway). This is a great starter coaster for kids to prepare them for the real deal in years to come. Kids can also hang around for a meet and greet with one of the Sesame Street characters and have their photo taken for an additional charge. There are family restrooms and water fountains available in this area.
Other places that are perfect for the youngest of visitors:
- Land of the Dragons®
- Wolf Valley, Eagle Ridge and Jack Hanna’s Wild Reserve
- Kinder Karussel
- Le Catapult
- Turkish Delight
- The Little Balloons
Need a break from walking all over the park? Take your pick – land, sea or air. You can take a nice gentle train ride around the park to get a sense of the different countries and all that is offered (we used it as a way to cool down and unwind from a busy morning). There is also the Rhine River Cruise or the Skyride. Note: The Skyride is one way and you have to get off at each segment. If you want to continue on, you have to get back in line.
Need to cool off? There are three main water rides for elementary-aged kids and up: Escape from Pompeii, Roman Rapids and Le Scoot. Our group’s favorite was the Roman Rapids. Located in Italy, you take this ride in a raft built for six and you’ll head down white water currents, under waterfalls and get completely drenched. Escape from Pompeii® and Le Scoot don’t let you off easy either, you’ll get soaked on these two rides as well.
They are a great way to cool off, but keep in mind you will get wet and stay wet, so consider wearing wicking clothes. We recommend that you ride these earlier in your visit to allow for time to dry off. Busch Gardens also has family drying stations which we tried out for $5. We say skip them, as they succeeded in warming our calves but barely got 1/3 of our shorts dry.
For the thrill-seeker in your group you can’t go wrong with any of the roller-coasters. The Griffon®, Alpengeist®, the Loch Ness Monster® and Apollo’s Chariot® are all worthy, especially if the lines are short. Busch Garden’s newest coaster, the Verbolten® is an indoor and outdoor coaster that takes you through the Black Forest. Unfortunately the Verbolten® was closed the day we were at the park, but from all accounts, the newest coaster is one not to be missed, so we’ll just have to return another time to check it out.
There are many add-on experiences to your regular park admission that you can do while at Busch Gardens and we’ll highlight two that we were able to enjoy.
Animals Up-Close Tour
Animals Up-Close is a great way to take a break from the action, and for us it turned out to be as exciting as any ride. We can now distinguish between a crocodile and an alligator, we know the dietary habits of a six-banded armadillo, we know a gross piece of trivia about pygmy hedgehogs, we’ve seen an opossum yawn (and they have lots of teeth!), and we got to feed a wallaroo! Our guides for this tour, Jessica and Jennah, happily answered all of our questions, and seemed genuinely excited to show these animals to us and teach us about them. They clearly demonstrated that they were devoted caregivers for the animals, telling us the life history of each animal, and explaining that many of the animals on site were abandoned pets or rehabilitated wildlife no longer able to survive in the wild.
The OK team loved all the rides, but rated Animals Up-Close the highlight of the afternoon. The cost of this tour is $24.99/person and you must be 4 and up to participate. If you have a child(ren) who is interested in animals, this is definitely a great add-on to your trip.
There are other Behind the Scenes Tours such as the “Ultimate Animal Insider Tour” and “Wolf Training Up Close Tour” plus many others that might interest your group.
Photos courtesy of Our Kids
Dine with Elmo & Friends
If you have a little one who loves Sesame Street, then this add-on experience is a great way for a family to start a tour of the park or to even break up the day. Though the OK interns are now post-Elmo age, they admitted that the show was a hit with the kids in the audience. Kids were swarming Elmo, Big Bird, Bert, Ernie and the Cookie Monster. While Elmo and Big Bird were up on stage taking pictures with the kids, the rest of the characters walked to all the tables for a meet and greet.
Parents and kids will find plenty of food options that are a cut above most amusement park offerings. Buffet choices: dinner rolls, mac ‘n cheese, hot dogs, mozzarella sticks, fruits and veggies, salad, pork loin, potatoes and more. The cost of this experience is $22/person and you can make reservations online. Most of the folks at the dining experience were youngsters up to age 8, there were a few groups with older kids too.
- One of the reasons we recommend that you make Busch Gardens Williamsburg a multi-day event is the shows. There is so much to see and do here that it’s hard to get it all in. Shows are also a great way to wind down from the many rides and activities. Busch Gardens Williamsburg offers six shows. A few highlights: Celtic Frye is an action-packed show full of Irish dancing. Head over to Italy and watch Mix It Up, a face-paced feast for the entire family. Kids will surely love Pet Shenanigans, a hilarious show featuring rescue and shelter animals.
- Celebrate summer with Illuminights from July 1 to August 19, 2012. This event will be held each evening with performances and music and then culminating with a dazzling display of fireworks.
- There is one more summer concert left — Victoria Justice on August 26th and it is included with your park admission.
Where to Eat
There are a range of options throughout the park and some choices include:
- fish and chips in England,
- soups, pork loin and stews in Ireland,
- smoked turkey leg and authentic German sausages in Germany,
- baby back ribs and ham in France,
The interns couldn’t be convinced that it was time for a food adventure, so we settled on the Italian market for dinner. Chicken Parmesan, pasta, mozzarella sticks, meatball subs and other sandwiches are on the menu. Adult entrees start around $8 and there is also a Kid’s Entree selection which includes a drink for $5.99. Desserts are plentiful throughout the park – Starbucks coffee, caramel apples, cotton candy, kettle corn, funnel cakes, homemade donut balls and more!
Hours of Operation, Admission & Discounts
- There are so many ticket options available when visiting Busch Gardens Williamsburg. If you have more time, make it a multi-day trip and purchase the Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA Discovery Ticket for $84.99/ages 3 and up. This ticket allows for unlimited visits to Busch Gardens Williamsburg (and Water Country USA when open) for up to seven (7) consecutive days from date of first use. It also includes free parking at both parks.
- If you only want to do Busch Gardens Williamsburg, consider purchasing the Unlimited Visits All Summer pass for $66.99. Pay for a day and get unlimited admission to Busch Gardens Williamsburg, including all special events and concerts, through September 3, 2012.
- You can also choose from other ticket options that allow you to include Historic Williamsburg in your visit. The Williamsburg Bounce Ticket and Williamsburg Flex Ticket are great options.
- Want to skip ahead of the crowds and get onto rides more quickly? Then you’ll want to consider purchasing a Quick Queue Pass. There is the basic pass (starts at $19.99/person) and Quick Queue Unlimited (starts at $39.99/person) and the Quick Queue Unlimited Plus (starts at $49.99/person).
- Parking is $13 per vehicle per day. You can purchase your parking ticket in advance online.
- Anheuser-Busch salutes active duty, activated or drilling reservist and National Guardsmen through their Here’s to the Heroes Program. This program allows the aforementioned heroes to free admission. You need to register online or you can submit your information at the entrance plaza to the park. As many as three direct dependents of military personnel also are entitled to free admission.
- If you are a resident of Virginia, Busch Gardens is offering kids ages 3 to 5 a Free Sesame Street Forest of Fun Preschool Pass, valid for unlimited admission through October 28, 2012. Details online.
- You can also find discount coupons at local participating Burger King restaurants.
- Visit on an off peak time, weekdays, for example. We went on a Sunday and were surprised at the lack of crowds. We enjoyed short waits in lines for rides, which makes a visit much more manageable.
- Don’t forget to bring sunblock and water! Technically you can ask for a cup of water at any of the food places, but if you don’t want to do that bring a water bottle to stay hydrated.
- Lockers, strollers and wheelchairs are available for rent. Lockers were $1 (you have to change in cash for tokens) and we used one to stash our bag in while on the wet rides. They aren’t in/out lockers, but one-time use, so be sure to take note of that and bring some one dollar bills.
- There are plenty of restrooms scattered throughout the park with baby changing stations.
Williamsburg is about a two and a half hour drive from the DC metro area. It makes for a fairly easy car trip if there isn’t any traffic.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg makes for a fun and thrilling family getaway for all ages.