10 million lights….candy canes and cookies galore….peppermint fudge hot cocoa. These could only mean one thing….CHRISTMAS TOWN IS HERE!!
In it’s tenth year (yes, ten years!!) Busch Gardens is pulling out all the stops for this year’s Christmas Town. And yes, I mean, they’re pulling out ALL the stops…starting with the train.
One of the newest attractions this year is the Christmas Town Express. This 1.5 mile tour around the park is absolutely beautiful and worth the wait. Speaking of the wait, get in line early. With only one station (Caribou) open, the line can fill up pretty quickly. Refill your hot cocoa mugs, sit back, and enjoy the ride!
The second new attraction this year is at the Wilkommenhaus. Once again the park is using their light mapping projection system to transform the Cookies and Cocoa shop into its own gingerbread house. The projections come on every 15 minutes after dark, tempting you to escape the cold and indulge in the parks delicious homemade cookies and hot cocoa, located just inside.
For those of you with small kids, Sesame Street Forest of Fun has family photos with your favorite Sesame Street characters, as well as the new stage show ‘Elmo’s Christmas Wish’.
There may be no other new shows this year, but for those that have enjoyed them in past years, Deck the Halls is back in it’s tenth year (yes, it’s the longest running Christmas Town show), as well as Twas that Night, Scrooge No More, Gloria!, and Gift of Harmony. This is probably my only complaint. While Gift of Harmony was new last year, I would love to see a new show inside Das Fest Haus. Deck the Halls is great, but after ten years, can we get something new?
And don’t forget to round out your night visiting Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in Holiday Hills, along with his friends from the Island of Misfits, for photos, and the big man himself, Santa Claus, inside NewKastle (formerly Darkastle). He’s ready to hear your Christmas wishes and take photos!
And while you’re walking around the park, don’t forget to indulge in all the Christmas Town goodies. Whether you’re stopping by Josephine’s Creamery de Chocolat for a sugar overload with their beignet sundae or peppermint freak shake, or you’re enjoying a hot roasted sirloin sandwich from Das Fest Haus, there is food and treats throughout the park for everyone to enjoy.
Christmas Town is open now through January 5, 2019, on select nights. Check www.christmastown.com/va for more information and tickets.
Can you believe it’s the end of October already? Where has this year gone? Seven months ago we were excited for another year of roller coasters, and now we’re nearing the end of Howl-O-Scream and getting ready for Christmas Town.
What has been your thoughts on Howl-O-Scream this year? Have you been yet? Do you plan on visiting the park for one last scare before they close and prepare the park for Christmas Town?
2018 is also the 20th year for Howl-O-Scream. The park geared us up for weeks leading to the opening by leaking teasers for the new mazes and scare zones.
This year we said goodbye to the mazes Bitten, Deadline, and Catacombs, and said hello to new mazes, Dystopia, Demented Dimensions, and The Vault XX. We also saw the return of Frostbite, Cornered, Circo Sinistro, and Lumberhack.
Along with the mazes, new scare zones Fool’s Court and Garden of the Souls joined forces with the returning zones, Sideshow Square, Vampire Point, Axe Alley, and Ripper Row. Fool’s Court, located in New France where Demon Street was, is full of evil jesters looking to steal your soul. Literally. These guys are great. Creepy and fun to watch. Garden of the Souls though, located in Davinci’s Garden in the San Marco area, is my absolute scare zone this year. Loosely themed to Dias De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, you can watch the skeletons as they roam while trying to steal the souls of unsuspecting park guests. I would really like to see this theme expanded on. I think they did a fantastic job with the characters and costumes, as well as the theme throughout the garden itself.
I have to say, while I absolutely LOVE the new themes this year and I hope to see them return next year, I have bitter disappointment in Sideshow Square. Since it opened two years ago, this has been my favorite zone. The team that played the circus freaks, because seriously, that’s what they were, were always amazing to watch. The gypsy fortune teller, the demon clowns, Wendy the wind up doll, and the ring leaders. I could (actually, I would) spend HOURS watching them do their thing. Interacting with guests and each other. But not this year. This has been my biggest disappointment for Howl-O-Scream this year. They replaced the majority of the troupe (minus the gypsy) with clowns. But the entertainment just wasn’t the same. If the park were to bring one scare zone back, I would ask (beg) them to bring back the original troupe.
Also a disappointment this year was Circo Sinistro. Again, since it opened two years ago, was a favorite maze. The themeing was great, the scares were good. This year, I was bored. No scares. Not one. Not even anyone trying. I think the guests walking through the maze did more scares on each other than the actual cast. Needless to say, I was so disappointed in this maze this year that I couldn’t bring myself to another walk through.
Another disappointing maze for me was Frostbite. I LOVED it last year. There was always something around the corner. The ice walls added to the feel of being inside a frozen castle. This year, it’s like they didn’t even try. It’s like the park debated about even using the space for a maze and decided at the last minute to bring it back, and then half assed the decorating. So bad that when I went through I spent more time walking through blacked out ‘hallways’ with no scares, than actually being scared. Again, this was a visit one time only maze this year.
The best mazes this year were the new ones. While I found Dystopia to be ‘just OK’, I really enjoyed Demented Dimensions and The Vault XX. I could walk through both mazes again and again and catch new details inside with their themeing and decorations. But my absolute favorite maze this year, has been The Vault XX. This maze pays homage to Howl-O-Scream’s past mazes and themes. If you can, check out the details of the various rooms and see if you can find your favorite characters from years past.
All in all, this has been another great Howl-O-Scream year. If you haven’t been yet, this is your last chance. Sunday will be the last night before the park reopens for Christmas Town. Grab and friend and head over for some last minute scares!
This past week Busch Gardens revealed to local media the behind the scenes construction of their newest ride for the 2018 season, Battle for Eire.
The storyline of the ride is Addie, the heroine, and her dragon sidekick Ollie, are battling the evil Balor and his minions Sluagh for the Heart of Ireland.
If you haven’t heard by now, Battle for Eire is a Virtual Reality ride, the first of it’s kind at Busch Gardens. With the use of goggles, the VR give you a full immersive experience, basically surrounding you in the storyline and making you feel as though you’re there with Addie and Ollie. If you’re not a fan of VR, or are afraid it might give you motion sickness though, that’s ok. The park took that into consideration and has designed the ride so that it can be ridden with or without the VR goggles. If you choose to ride without, you’ll view the screen as a 4K video.
While in line, riders will pick out their headgear and put it on and tighten it down. Once on the ride itself, you’ll put the VR goggles on. The goggles attach to the headgear by three magnets so you literally just pop them onto the headgear.
I know there are a lot of concerns regarding the VR headgear and how it works vs cleanliness, and let me put those fears to rest right now. The headgear is perfectly safe and clean. Don’t trust me? Trust the park. Why? Because you trusted them over the years to keep the 3D glasses at Curst of Darkastle and the shows inside the Globe Theatre clean. The headgear will be cleaned in the same sanitizing machine those 3D glasses were cleaned in. And don’t worry, the park has purchased plenty of the headgear, literally THOUSANDS, to ensure they have plenty for a full days operation with cleaning and turnaround. But what about the goggles themselves? Don’t worry about those either, they will NEVER touch your face.
Just a few stats about the ride for those that don’t already know….
There are actually 2 ride ‘rooms’ with each platform seating 59 guests.
The estimated experience time is around 15 minutes from time in queue to the time you’re walking off the ride.
You can ride with or without the VR goggles. If you choose without, the screen will be the equivalent of watching a 4K television screen.
Speaking of TV…..the frame rate for the video will be 90 frames per second. The average television runs at around 30 frames per second.
The voices of the characters were done by actual actors in Ireland.
The characters based on Irish lore.
Battle for Eire is created by Falcon’s Creative Group, the same group behind the creation of Curst of Darkastle.
While no official opening date has been given out yet, the park is aiming for a spring opening.
If you’re like most locals, you probably have an annual pass for either Busch Gardens, Water Country USA, both parks, or even the 11 park Platinum pass. Last week, Busch Gardens announced their brand new MEMBERSHIP program for their 2018 operating season. Yes, that’s right, Membership. The new program has three tiers, Basic, Unlimited, and Premier, with prices starting at $10 per month, per person, or $120/year.
Let me break the new membership levels down for you.
The Basic membership gives you admission to Busch Gardens and Water Country USA, Howl-O-Scream, and Christmas Town, on select days, subject to blockout dates, 50% off general parking, guest ticket discounts, member sneak peeks, and in park discounts
Unlimited and Premier memberships both offer unlimited admission to Busch Gardens, Water Country USA, Howl-O-Scream, and Christmas Town, no blockout dates, free general parking, member sneak peeks, and in park discounts. While the Unlimited pass gets you 2 free guest tickets, the Premier level gets you 3 free guest tickets and free preferred parking.
What are the blockout dates for the Basic Membership? Pretty much spring break, holidays, and most Saturdays. In other words, the busiest days of the theme park season. While at first glance, this may be a huge deal breaker for most people, if you prefer to visit the park during the middle of the week when it’s not super busy, this may be the deal for you. You still have plenty of time to visit the park, even during peak season, and can still get your money’s worth of your membership. For more information regarding the blockout dates, check their website https://buschgardens.com/williamsburg/annual-pass/blockout-dates/
Something I’m curious about with the new memberships, that the park has yet to disclose, is the member ‘sneak peeks’. Will this be something similar to how local museums offer their members private invites to opening night events for new exhibits? Will park members receive private sneak peeks to events like the Food and Wine Festival before it’s open to the general public? Or will these mysterious sneak peeks be something else completely? Only time will tell as the park hasn’t said anything beyond ‘more information will be coming soon’.
Probably my only complaint regarding the memberships and how they’ve been created, is the fact that we don’t get to opt in or out of Water Country USA. I’m torn on this. I’m not typically one for water parks, but I don’t hate them either. But I feel it would’ve been nice to have had one more pass option, not including Water Country USA on it. Not to knock the park, it’s a great park, but for those that absolutely don’t go to water parks, this portion of the membership goes to waste. I would’ve liked to have been given a membership option for one park as well as the two park options, at a slightly cheaper price of course. Maybe Busch Gardens will reevaluate their membership plans down the road and adjust their offerings to suit this need/want. I know those Water Country USA only pass holders would appreciate the option as well.
Now, for those existing pass holders, I’m sure you’re wondering how these new memberships affect your current passes. Well fear not, you have options. You don’t have to switch over to the memberships…..yet. If your current annual pass is paid for in full, you don’t have to switch over until the pass expires. If you’re on the EZPay, you can keep your pass until you’re ready to switch to the membership. If you want to switch to the new memberships now, anything you’ve paid for your current pass will be prorated for the membership. It is currently unclear just how long the park is planning on allowing the annual passes to continue though. It could be through the end of the 2018 season, it could be three years from now. Originally the park had listed a January 2019 date that all passes must be changed over by, but since their announcement, they have removed that original date and are stating you can keep the current pass for now.
This years ChristmasTown at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, as usual, did not disappoint! I will go event by event with my thoughts.
Santa’s Workshop moved this year to the Darkastle location. It is much bigger and just beautiful. You really get the feeling you are walking through Santa’s workshop, with elves along the way to answer questions and even keep the children entertained while waiting in line. You can see our interview with Santa at the bottom of the page.
Gift of Harmony
ChristmasTown’s newest show is an accapella experience, located in the San Marco Theater in Italy. The music was awesome, fun, and I have to give props to their beat boxer, who killed it. All around great cast and vocal experience!
Always a beautiful show with a mix of gospel and and classic Christmas hymnals, with a bit of jazz fusion in the Abbey Stone Theater. Having a live orchestra really makes the show more full. Powerful vocals make for an awe inspiring performance.
Deck the Halls
A traditional show with classic Christmas songs, is fun and great for dinner in the Festhaus. Again, BGW brings in the live band to give it that full sound.
Twas that Night
The third year for this amazing ice show did what it always does, amaze! An awesome cast led by Olympic medalist and world champion figure skater, Elvis Stojko, called for ooohs and ahhhs from the audience throughout the entire performance. A great show and a must to take the kids. You can see our 2016 interview with Elvis below.
Scrooge No More
Easily my favorite show that BGW has ever done, no matter the season! The visuals, the cast, the music and design bring an amazing version of A Christmas Carol to The Globe Theater. There are not enough words in my vocabulary to describe how much I love this show, and if I weren’t able to spend a whole day at ChristmasTown, I would go just for this show.
My sons and I got to visit with some of the characters from the classic Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer claymation. It is a blast to get to see life sized versions of the childhood favorites.
All in all, 2017 ChristmasTown was a great experience that just gets better every year! See you all in the Spring, until then…
Hey there friends! It’s your friendly neighborhood scary dude, Cody. I got the awesome opportunity to scare the pants off of people, yet again, at Haunted Hunt Club Farm in the Haunted Hayride. This year, the overall theme was A Night of Possession. Our hayride theme was classic monsters.
Jack and Jason, our managers, along with other actors, staff and friends worked from February until opening night to build an awesome playground for us this year. A few stages had been taken down or moved, including moving the entire graveyard to the finale from the first zone.
The first stage was cut in half and Stanley, our talking skeleton was placed as the opening act.
The old graveyard area was turned in to the outskirts of town, where a warehouse and church were built, along with a house and a camp. The werewolf, his mother or a victim, the hunter, and the priest were all featured here.
Just beyond the camp is the demon stage. I was asked to paint the shadow demon, and I am rather proud of it!
You then come upon The Black Raven Inn, our biggest build this season. Jason did 90%, if not more, of this build himself. It is one of the most gorgeous sets we have ever had. I spent the last 5 nights of the season here. Across from the Inn was the garden, which was home to Gnomie, our living garden gnome.
On your left you meet our detective, who is trying to find the werewolf, after being attacked, and losing his mind in the process.
You come upon “Hidden” where our possessed lady is hiding body parts in the walls, while her friends scream and cry at the sight!
As you reach “town center” you find it under the rule of the vampires, who are fighting the human resistance. I spent the beginning of my season until the last week, here.
After town center you enter our famous tunnel. This season featured the mummy, Akanummen, who was released by a foolish tomb raider, where the ancient evil begins to possess others and raise his henchmen.
Through our new graveyard, you come face to face with a partially resurrected Akanummen, who questions your motives in his land, and sends his minions upon the attack, at which point your driver hauls butt out of the hayride.
I started out my season as Eleazar, the master vampire. My character was rather upset that the humans allowed the ancient evil to return, and is leading the fight against the human resistance. I really enjoyed the character, I was on a tall stage, in an area that looked really cool. I have to thank Aunt Sharon for making me the awesome vest!
My last 5 days of the season were spent as The Keeper. I was in the Black Raven Inn, where the souls of those I have possessed reside, constantly walking my endless halls, searching for your body. I had roughly 18 hours to come up with the character as we had an actor go out with pneumonia. I really liked the character and the lines, and it seemed well received by my peers.
Now it’s time for me to talk about my fellow actors. We had a great group of returners, who brought it like the veterans they are. I love you guys and I hope we have a lot of returners next year! I am really proud of our first years! Awesome job! i will let the pics do the talking!
Now a little bit about the people who get you there and help try to keep us safe.
Mary, Josh, Matt, Nate and Robert were the drivers this year. Things ran pretty smoothly from what I can se and I appreciate you guys for keeping things safe!
Annie, Chalane, Katie, Ricky and Teresa were the monitors. Those fine ladies that help set the scene and keep telling you to put away your cell phones. Each monitor has a different personality. Miss Anne is the cackling witch that brings us joy! Chalane was new this year, but brought a little punk rock to the hayride. Katie was tough, but interacted with us, which is something I love. Ricky is always smiling and seems to be having more fun than the guests. Teresa is a pro, great interaction and the best lemon cookies ever!
Our ownership an front office staff work their butts off to make it easier for us in the back! JD and Randi, thank you for giving us this space and time to let loose and get paid for it!
Travis and Holly kept the makeup flowing. Thank you guys for throwing paint around and making people scary!
I cannot finish this without the most important people on our staff, Jack, Jason and Sandy. You three are the backbone of the operation. Sandy runs the office, she is the mom, nurse, confidante, and the sweetest hardass you will ever meet. Jason can build anything you need him to. It is amazing to see the progression from week to week, and I cannot wait to see what you come up with next year! You are the quiet manager, but you have my respect and admiration for what you do and what you put in to making us this cool playground. Jack, you are a makeup master! Design, acting, dialogue, just and overall haunt wizard. I look forward to working and learning with you in the offseason! I always learn so much from you in the haunt, as a father and a man.
Thank you to the guests for coming out, and remember…
2017 brought in a new Terror-Tory, a new haunted walkthrough, and a re-vamping of a classic show.
Night Beats: ReVamped brought more casket and less “Casket Club”. The overall theme of your Brad and Janet style characters, a la Rocky Horror, being musically stalked, and subsequently turned, by vampires was a different approach than years past. The music was fun, and the dancing was decent. It wasn’t my favorite version of the show, but Ulrich will forever be the measuring stick.
Axe Alley is Howl-O-Screams newest Terror-Tory, replacing the often lackluster Wendigo Woods in New France. The theme of Viking Zombies was rather unique. I found the scares to be better, staffing was better, and the overall look and atmosphere were a big step from Wendigo.
FrostBite has replaced Bitten as a haunted walkthrough. What made Frostbite unique is the location. You are walking through DarKastle, down along the tracks and through twisting areas. The theme felt as a take on the Night King from Game of Thrones, even including dragon skeletons. That aside, the scares were very good. Use of shadow, animatronics, stunt sliders and zip-liners worked in the cold and rather well lit environment.
Now on to the returning attractions
As usual, one of the best looking haunts I have seen at BGW. It seemed a bit understaffed, but it still has potential to be wat it was it’s opening season
3 ½ / 5
The longest tenured haunt, now that Bitten has moved on. It is a tight winding walkthrough, with some really good pop scares. In my opinion, I would like to see something replace it, mostly because it is hard to keep returning guests scared/impressed when they see the same thing for so many years.
Some changes were made, including the removal of the mirror area. It is cleverly themed, and the addition of the audio whispers was very nice. Most improved in my opinion.
They reversed the path this season, but that is about all that has changed. It is still a clever and fun walkthrough, but I would love to see some changes in pop scares and actor dialogue.
A beautiful haunt, with one of the best rooms I have ever seen in a haunt, the ringmaster room. The lack of traditional clowns, the turn of the century (20th, that is) feel of the circus, are well executed. Still my favorite of the haunts.
I need to be honest with this one, Deadline is dying. The addition last year of the obvious projectors was a disappointment, as projectors should not replace actors. At most they should be a distraction. It was a bit lackluster from 2 years ago, when I think the haunt was at it’s best.
2 ½ /5
I didn’t see much of it in action this year, as it seems the actors weren’t there as guests were exiting. In the past, my favorite part was ending my HOS with a sit in 1866 White Chapel to watch the cast make people run. I cannot give it a proper rating due to lack of experiencing the area.
The demons are great, we could do without the EDM party. ‘Nuff said.
The area lacked in actors, but those that were there new how to work around the crowd to get the target scare. As an actor, we look for the most effective ways to hit the good ones. These actors read their audience and attacked with stealth and the in and out technique, where you almost don’t see who just made you wet yourself before they disappear back in to the fold. Well done!
So clever and understated. Not overly decorated, but that is made up by the actors involved. I missed the marionettes this year, but Wendy was back, and that is good enough for me. BGW, do not let that young lady go, because I know a few haunts that would love to have her! The fortune teller scare is always fun to watch. Best Terror-Tory, hands down.
Still my favorite show of HOS. The jokes were ramped up this season, just really good. The cast was on point, especially the return of Chandler as Igor (Eye-gor). Always a must see!!
Unfortunately, my schedule did not allow another trip to the park to catch this show. What did you guys think?
Monster Stomp on Ripper’s Row
Not much changed in this show, and that is a good thing! Amazing vocals, dancing and especially percussion! You have to see this show every year, or the haunt season is not complete!
Overall, Howl-O-Scream is always a blast, and though I had a few negative reviews, I know where the potential lays, and as someone who is around the business of haunts, I get the struggles, especially on the scale that Busch has to go to. I give the whole event 4/5. Thanks again to the BGW staff for giving us awesome access as per usual. See you guys at ChristmasTown!
Please join the conversation here, on Facebook and YouTube.
On April 7th we were honored to be included in the media event for InvadR, Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s first wooden coaster. Before you say, “Yeah, but it’s not all wood”, we understand that. As coasters do, wooden coasters have evolved. This ride gives you the wooden feel and the smoothness of an Arrow coaster.
David Cromwell, Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA President, invited the waiting crowd to InvadR before being interrupted by Magnus the Red and his horde of Viking InvadRs.
Upon leaving the queue you take a quick dip into a turn that takes you to the lift hill, up and over Le Scoot log flume. Another dip at the top helps you pick up speed that brings you to the small bump and into the tunnel that covers the top of the 74′ drop. Exiting the tunnel, you are face to face with a “head-chopper” (thanks for the term from our friend Andrew Stilwell at Coaster101.com) and under the service road that leads to Le Scoot. You then proceed to the nine airtime hills and bank turns up to 55 degrees ending with a helix that drops down and back up to the finish.
This ride maintains it’s speed and feels faster than the 48 mph the park boasts. The airtime hills will lift you off the seat, which caught me off guard. InvadR is far more intense than I expected, and after four rides, I have to say, THE BACK IS THE BEST! Riding in the back row feels like a smaller version of Apollo’s Chariot.
The theming to this coaster lacks nothing, in my opinion. It is very well done, and fits very nicely into Trapper’s Village.
Hi Chasers! I wanted to take a moment to talk about the expansion of I 64 from Newport News through York County. I do not want to make this an anti-VDOT post, I just want to give people a heads up on what is happening, as I think this will be a good thing in the long run. As many of you may have noticed over the last year, work is being done to expand the interstate from 2 to 4 lanes starting afterf Jefferson Ave., where it currently goes from 4 to 2 lanes. Those who take that drive to Busch Gardens Williamsburg know that bottle neck all to well, and dread the moments before arriving there. I was up there today (Feb. 7th) and saw a ton of completed work. From what I saw, all that needs concrete are the bridges and overpasses. This is great news considering the VDOT website, that segment is not supposed to be finished until December of this year. So what does it mean for BGW visitors when this segment is finished?
The bottle neck gets closer to BGW
BGW is at exit 243. As you can see here, the first segment ends just before exit 247. That is roughly 3-4 miles before the BGW exit. Those new 4 lanes will become 2 again before the Yorktown Rd. exit. Expect heavy BGW traffic to get heavier around this area until the second segment is completed. Where this will help is, we will have only a few miles of 2 lane interstate before it expands to 4, thus smoother rides home. Those traveling 64 East will not be affected until the second and third segments are completed.
The second segment has already been getting marked off and I saw work vehicles beginning to clear the path. The website has a completion date of Spring 2019. Yes, I know, that is 2 years away, but, once completed the 64 west route will be much smoother. I still expect BGW traffic, but there will be less “interference” from vehicles passing through.
The third segment will be a much bigger undertaking, as it has more bridges and overpasses, some of which are going to be replaced. There is currently no start time on the website, so we will keep you informed when we can, as this will affect travelers from 64 east.
In conclusion, this construction can be a pain in the but for motorists for he time being, but in the long run, I believe we will have a better commute to our favorite park.
In the last several years, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has offered what is known as the Preschool Pass for children ages 3-5. This year they are again extending that offer again. Preschoolers will get unlimited FREE admission to both Busch Gardens AND Water Country for the entire normal operating season, which for 2017 ends on September 10th. This pass does NOT include Howl-O-Scream or ChristmasTown. You can only get your pass by “purchasing” online, as it is not available at the ticket windows. Offer ends on May 31st, so get your pass now before this deal expires. Click the below image to sign up for your pass:
Proof of age is required, so you’ll need to bring your child’s birth certificate or passport to redeem your voucher. School ID’s and Social Security ID’s will not be accepted. On your first visit to the park, you’ll take your voucher to the cashier to print your real pass. This is done on the first visit, after that, you’ll be able to go through normal park entry.
For the 2017 season, Busch Gardens Williamsburg opens March 25th, Water Country opens May 20th.
If your a parent, they also have a deal for you. You can get 2 Park Fun Card, which allows you to get unlimited visits for the same timeframe. Cost is $80 for this pass. This deal ends March 31st, so don’t wait.