Pros: Beautiful, clean, family-friendly park with excellent service and lots to do
Cons: The park is not very well-lit at night.
My family of four just returned from a wonderful
vacation to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Since our
children are four and two, we decided to go to the
park when older kids would still be in school.
The crowds were light mid-week in May, with
temperatures in the seventies. The only people in the park seemed to be young families, senior citizens, and some area schools taking class field trips. (This was a big
improvement over our hot and crowded experience there last August!)
Whether it's crowded or empty, we LOVE Busch Gardens. When you enter the park, you're immersed in culture as you "travel" through beautifully themed European countries. Even a young baby will have a great time enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells from a stroller.
GETTING AROUND BUSCH GARDENS WITH YOUNG KIDS:
We brought an umbrella stroller for our 2 year old, and our 4-year old walked or rode on my husband's shoulders. Avoid bringing a big or bulky stroller. Our umbrella stroller worked well because it folded easily and went on several family rides with us. Busch Gardens also rents double jogging strollers at the park.
When traveling with young kids, taking "shortcuts" is a must! (Our four-year old is too big for a stroller, but too small to walk very far without complaining!) We quickly learned that each area of the park has either a train or skyride station...
Our kids' favorite was the SKYRIDE! (Tip: The
skyride doesn't open until 10:30 a.m.) Once you enter the
park, the England skyride station will be almost immediately on your left. The line is longest in the morning when it
opens. The other two stations-- farther from the park
entrance-- tend to have NO LINES in the morning. It's much faster to walk past the England skyride station and hop on in France first thing in the morning. The France skyride will take you directly to Land of the Dragons where little ones could stay and play all day!
Young children will also enjoy the TRAIN that circles Busch
Gardens. (My son calls the blue one Thomas the Tank
Engine!) There are three stations: Caribou in New
France, Tweedside in Scotland, and Festa in Italy. The
longest we ever waited for a train was about 15 minutes. Once we boarded the train, we had the option of getting off or staying on at each station. Riding the whole loop is a nice way for the whole family to cool off and rest. The train ride is narrated, and the train is not loud at all.
FUN STUFF FOR LITTLE ONES
ENGLAND: No rides here except the skyride station, but plenty of places to buy souvenirs... cha-ching!
SCOTLAND: View the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales and two dalmations. You can watch the famous Clydes being fed and groomed throughout the day. There is also a Lil Clydes kiddie ride in this section. (Our kids weren't into this one, but it looked cute!)
IRELAND: No rides for young children here, though they can view plenty of animals-- from the eagles and birds in an aviary to grey wolves at Greystone Tower. The best show for preschoolers in this area is called Pet Shenanigans.
FRANCE/NEW FRANCE: My 4-year old loved riding on an antique car at the Le Mans Raceway with his dad. There's also a build-a-bear type shop and Caribou Pottery where kids can paint their own pottery; it's then fired and shipped to your home address directly within about a week. You can have old-time photos taken in this area as well.
GERMANY: This country is home to the Jr. Autobahn (bumper cars), mini-swings, and small red airplanes for young children to ride. Das Festhaus has a great family show inside where you can learn to polka (or NOT!) and young children are invited to do the chicken dance. Don't feel like you have to sit in the crowded front of the hall-- Every seat is a good one because the show is done in the round, but plan for food lines to be really long just before the show starts.
RHINEFELD: Land of the Dragons!!!
My kids could spend all day here. Both of them loved a small water play area. Although the water is only about six inches deep, they managed to get soaking wet from head to toe. You might want to bring an extra set of clothes if you would like for your little one to play in the water here.
My children also enjoyed the four-story tree house in the center of Land of the Dragons. We ended up carrying our youngest through some of it, but our 4 year-old loved the huge climbing nets and the giant tube slide.
This year, we saw the "Trio of Three" show in Land of the Dragons twice. Both of our kids were mesmerized by the singing and dancing Dragons. This 25-minute show is a sweet story about fitting in and friendship. Bring your cameras along for a photo op because the show's stars hang around for about five minutes after the show to meet the audience.
Tucked away next to the show's stage is a sand area with some sand diggers that my oldest son really loved.
There are five rides in Land of the Dragons:
a carousel, kiddie dragon flume, ladybug ride, tugboat ride, dragon egg ferris wheel, and little flying dragons. Even our two year-old could enjoy these rides! I was allowed to accompany my children on everything except the tugboats and ladybugs.
Italy also has a couple of kiddie rides that are better for a pre-schooler than a toddler. My four-year old enjoyed the kiddie hangglider and the hot air balloons in this section. We liked watching the Holiday in Roma show while we ate dinner. It's entertaining with singing, dancing, and a few serenades to unsuspecting audience members.
Both our pre-schooler and toddler also enjoyed watching the big boat splash down in the viewing area for Escape from Pompeii. This ride had no line whatsoever, so I rode it quickly while the kids watched me splash!
There are some small radio-controlled boats next to the Pompeii attraction that little kids love, though you have to buy tokens to operate these.
EATING AT THE PARK:
I packed water and snacks for the kids in the diaper bag, but we ate our meals at restaurants in the park. Each area of the park has its own themed restaurant. My husband LOVED the ribs and baked beans at Trapper's Smokehouse in New France so we ate there more that once. Lunch for a family of four ran us $61. (Ouch!) Tip: The portions are really large. Two adults could easily share a platter, so you might want to just ask for the second plate empty. The fruit sides such as strawberries or watermelon could also be shared.
Every restaurant has a kiddie meal that seems to match its theme. The kiddie meals were priced just over $6 and came in cute souvenir dinosaur egg lunchbox cases. In Italy's Restaurant Della Piazza, the kids' meal is spaghetti and a breadstick. The Das Festhaus German meal is a hot dog and chips. At Trapper's Smokehouse, they served up chicken tenders and waffle fries for children. (My kids love chicken nuggets, but didn't like the spices on these chicken tenders at all-- wasted money for us!)
My favorite snack at Busch Gardens is the soft serve ice cream sundaes served in homemade waffle cones near Land of the Dragons (about $4 each). Just follow your nose to find them... The smell is wonderful and permeates the entire kiddie land. You really can't leave without getting one!
I'll put in a plug here for Kingsmill Resort. We were really happy with our stay there, and found it to be worth every penny due to its convenience. The resort is located just around the corner from Busch Gardens. It runs hourly shuttles back and forth between the resort and the park. This was so convenient for us because we could ride over as a family in the morning, and then split up as needed for nap time. There are no packing hassles whatsoever. Kingsmill has a large shaded station right near the gate and they drop you off right at your suite upon returning to the resort. This type of door-to-door service is wonderful for families with young children. Our family package included a huge breakfast buffet each morning as well as 3-day park passes and meal vouchers for Busch Gardens.
Staying at Kingsmill when visiting Busch Gardens is like staying at a Disney resort to experience Disney World. We really love both places!