By Banks Lee
Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va. is called “The World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park*,” and rightfully so!
Opened in 1975 as a sister park to Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla., the Williamsburg park has a European setting with six countries represented: England, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland and Ireland. The Tampa park features an African theme.
I had only been to the Williamsburg park once in 2009, but after visiting the Tampa park many times since then, I was eager to go back to Virginia to compare the two. Both parks are wonderful and feature their fair share of exciting thrill rides and settings.
(NOTE: I recently visited the park during its Howl-O-Scream season -- My review of that can be read here -- so some shows, experiences and visuals were not available or were different than the regular season)
A visit to Busch Gardens Williamsburg begins in the England section at the entrance to the park. Here you can find the usual assortment of gift shops and food stands found in most theme parks. The main attraction here is a recreation of the Globe Theater that houses a show inside.
Normally a show called “London Rocks” takes place here, but during the Howl-O-Scream season, the theater houses “Monster Stomp on Ripper Row.” You can read my thoughts on that show in my Howl-O-Scream post.
As you leave the England section you begin to see just how beautiful this park is. Pathways are cut through the forest surrounding perfectly. Be sure to wear comfortable footwear, because the park is situated on a rather hilly setting, but that adds to the look of the park.
From here you can choose to go clockwise or counter-clockwise through the remainder of the park (this report goes clockwise). You can also choose to take two alternate modes of transportation around the park: the Skyride or the steam trains. Both offer gorgeous views of the park from different angles.
SESAME STREET FOREST OF FUN
Just like the Tampa park, Williamsburg features an area for little kids based around Sesame Street. Here it’s as a Forest of Fun, featuring lots of small rides for little ones, a Sesame Street show and a family-friendly coaster called Grover’s Alpine Express. But as you can see below, adults are welcome to ride as well.
Italy is separated into two sections: San Marco and Festa Italia. San Marco features the shoot-the-chutes boat ride, Escape from Pompeii. The ride features some great show scenes with fire, effects and falling statues before plunging into a splashdown that is hard to escape from and stay dry.
Unfortunately, this ride is closed during Howl-O-Scream due to a haunted house inside the show building underneath the show scenes.
The Festa Italia section is home to the other big ride in Italy, Apollo’s Chariot. This B&M hyper coaster features a 210 foot drop and plenty of air-time while traversing the landscape with some great views of the Rhine River. It’s definitely a must-do for roller coaster fanatics!
Another country separated into two sections: Rhineland and Oktoberfest, the former featuring the majority of the big attractions.
Mach Tower is a 246 foot drop tower offering excellent views of the surrounding Virginia country.
Curse of DarKastle is an indoor ride with a ride system very similar to the Spider-Man and Transformers rides at Universal Orlando, with a dark storyline and frightening visuals.
The big attraction in Germany is Verbolten. This multi-launch steel coaster replaced Big Bad Wolf in 2012 and features both outdoor and indoor elements.
Guests are thrust into the forbidden Black Forest and must try to survive their trip. The ride features unique elements that must be experienced in person. Below is a look at the ride video you can purchase afterwards:
Over in the Rhinefeld section of Germany lies Alpengeist. This B&M inverted coaster takes guests through the snowy Alps on a runaway ski-lift. It’s closest cousin in Tampa would be Montu.
This section is based on French colonial Canada and features a log flume and scrambler ride, but it’s mainly is filled with Canadian-themed shops and an an outdoor grill.
This section is based on France and features boutiques, a theater and Griffon.
The Griffon roller coaster is the sister to Sheikra at Busch Gardens Tampa. Griffon’s drop is actually five feet higher than Sheikra’s, and also features a second inversion. Just like Shiekra though, it concludes with a splashdown, which can be seen below:
This area is the newest country at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, having been changed into Ireland in 2001. It features animal exhibits, an indoor theater and an immersive motion simulator called Europe in the Air. Unfortunately that ride was not operational during my visit as one of the houses for Howl-O-Scream was using its queue.
Two animal exhibits are located in Ireland: Eagle Ridge and Wolf Valley. Both offer great views of these majestic creatures. Animals are a big differences between the Tampa and Williamsburg parks. Busch Gardens Tampa has a wide variety of animal habitats, where Williamsburg features just a handful.
During the Howl-O-Scream season, the indoor theater in Ireland hosts Fiends. Read my thoughts about that show in my Howl-O-Scream post.
This small section of the park mainly features two things: the Highland Stables with several animal interactions and the Loch Ness Monster roller coaster. It’s a classic Arrow Dynamics coaster that was the first to ever feature interlocking loops.
As stated at the beginning of the post, Busch Gardens Williamsburg really is the “The World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park*,” and fans of the Tampa park need to take the time to visit here and experience more that SeaWorld Parks has to offer!
*As awarded by the National Amusement Park Historical Association the past 23 years in a row (source).