I will say first and foremost that this was a review I debated writing. Writing about something so large as a theme park can be daunting. But in reading over reviews on the place, I realized I had something a Mommy of 3 young ones could offer that I didn't see in others I had read ...
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I had just survived 3 days of Busch Gardens Williamsburg with a 2 year old, 3 1/2 year old, 9 year old, and my 4th child, the 34 year old!
Something as well known as Busch Gardens just needs to be visited if you ever get near one. Thankfully we have one in our home state of Virginia, though we've lived here 13 years and never visited until the Summer of 2009. The trip is 4 hours away from our house and required a hotel stay. Being Virginia residents we got discounted season passes, and plan to make 1 more trip again this Fall. (I suggest going to the on-line site and seeing the package options for your needs)
Finding Busch Gardens Williamsburg was pretty easy, there are signs everywhere directing you. When you pull up to the parking area you find that parking is a minimum of $12. You can pay a few dollars extra to get a "closer" parking area, but we opted not to. So that means all of our parking had to include a "tram" ride to the park entrance. This meant we had to be directed to a parking area far away from the park doors. Then we had to take our family of 5 through the parking lot to the sidewalks and tram loading area. Then we had to load up kids and strollers to for the few minute tram ride (complete with driver and "commentator").
After unloading near the entrance we had print outs of our advance tickets and there are multiple electronic kiosks to use. We had to simply scan our print out into the machine and our gate tickets were printed and spit out. It's a bit of a walk to main gate, with bathrooms right after the entrance. It's all downhill (well, going to there it is, of course that means coming back it's all uphill!) and there's some nice scenery to look at. As you approach the gates there is a small shop off to one side, as well as a baggage area/security check and then the actual gate and turnstyles. To go through you simply scan your card under and follow the directions on the screen. Usually it prompts you to also stick your index finger into a part of the machine (for verification?) and then you are let in. Every day that we went there were older workers there manning the lines and helping anyone with difficulty scanning. On the last day we went my ticket would not scan through, and a nice older lady helped me the best she could and eventually had me stand off to one side while she "called in" my name and verified something?
Once you get inside, the park opens up to what looks like, to me, a small village. There are shops and a walkway and a big clock tower in the center of the square. There are convenient maps when you walk in that help guide you on your way. The whole layout and scene is just lovely, and you quickly get a feel that the overall park is laid out mainly by "countries" - meaning you have to walk a little to get to each area. Within each country are themed shopping, rides, decor, food, music, attractions, and the like. There are some areas not country related though - mainly the animal wild reserve and the Sesame Street Park.
We went 3 different days to the park for many reasons. One was that we had small children - ages 2, 3 1/2, and 9. We felt it was a lot do to in the summer Virginia heat and a lot of walking for us all, even with strollers. The first time we went was a Thursday night, and we went for the last 3 hours the park was open, 6 pm until 9 pm. We felt this would give us a good feel for the overall layout as well as get the children familiar with some of the attractions. In 3 hours we were able to visit about 1/2 of the park, hang out in the Sesame area heavily, and go on a few other rides. We ended going back two other times - once again for 3 hours, and the final time for half a day.
We typically had two strollers with us, and there was plenty of room to move and push. There was plenty of "stroller parking" as well. The entire place was very family friendly and we saw people of all ages attending.
There are many, many rides at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. My personal advice is, if planning on going, log on to their website and check out all it has to offer yourself. (each ride comes with photos and a description) There are rides for all ages, and there are a wide variety. From typical coasters to more leisurely rides, everything can be found. There are 3D and 4D "rides" for those who do not like heights, and there are various water rides for those who like to get wet. My husband was able to go on 2 of the large roller coasters (though by himself) - the Griffon and the Big Bad Wolf. Depending on the path the coasters travel you can find a good place to sit (or walk) and watch the people ride - my kids had the best time watching the Griffon suspend up in the air and then swoop down into the water!
Each area, with their own themed rides, was still pretty "kids of all ages" friendly. We spent a lot of time in Italy, where there's a section of rides next to each other for children - Flying Balloons and what not. They also enjoyed the Swings and Bumper Cars in other countries. I enjoyed how many times rides were set up similarly, with families in mind. In front of the larger Swing ride was the kiddie swing ride ... off to the side of the regular Bumper Cars was the kiddie sized bumper cars ... and so on.
There was a giant children's play area as well, with rides specifically all designed for young children in mind at this park. In the center was an enormous treehouse you could climb and then use various ropes and paths to get down. My children all had a blast there!
Sesame Street Forest of Fun is probably the newest addition to the park. There are rides, characters to meet and greet, pictures to be taken and more. There's a mini roller coaster that is very little kid friendly (my 3 1/2 year old lived on this thing!) and play areas as well. A neat feature is the water area - and many parents had packed bathing suits for their children to run around and play in. Sprinklers of all sizes were running everywhere! In the center is Elmo's Castle, and we were lucky enough to be there one day when all of the characters came out to sing and perform!
My family got me on two rides. One was Corkscrew Hill, which is a 4D ride (complete with glasses) located in Ireland. You walk through a very cool (temperature wise) stone tunnel and into almost a cavern. From there you are escorted through 3 series of "viewing screens", 2 of which you stand up for. The last is a seated "box" which moves around to let you feel what it's like to be shrunken by magic and carried around on an adventure. The other ride was Escape from Pompeii which is a short water ride that goes up a big hill, through a hot tunnel with fire and falling Roman city, and then bursts out of the tunnel and down into a large water pond.
We chose not to eat at the park. It was cheaper for us to eat outside of the park, plus we really didn't want to spend a meal there. We did purchase lemonade, apple juice and water when needed. All were priced between $2 and $3 a drink.
Things not used but seen:
Wheelchairs are available there, as well as renting strollers. There are a few "sit down" eateries, and meals seemed to range $10 - $15 depending. The Dining places were within each country and themed for that area - so if you wanted Italian (pasta, pizza, and the like) head to Italy. There was a "Pub" in Ireland, a "Smokehouse" in French, and etc.
We did not go to any of the "Shows" at the park. This was because in part due to the timing and the children. I would have loved to sit down and watch a show, but the little ones are still pretty squirmy for that sort of stuff. We did go inside and watch the Sesame Street 4-D movie (complete with glasses) and the 2 little ones barely sat still for it. There were pet shows, dance shows, animal shows, and the like. The park's map shows the shows and times available that day - so make sure you pick one up!
There are also plenty of Gift Shops there and of all types too. From toys and candy shops to fancier jewelry and home decor. My favorite to walk through was the fancy Italian shopping area - though not kid friendly. The only shop we went in to was the "princesses" themed one in order to buy my middle daughter a tiara. At a price of $7.00 we felt that was affordable.
All in all we had a wonderful time at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and with our state pass we have plans to go again over the Labor Day holiday!
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