Endless Summer Fun: A Review of Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Some kids like spending their summers at the beach. Others enjoy mastering a new video game. Stink likes amusements parks.
We’ve been taking our 5 year old to various theme parks since she was a baby. She’s spent practically every vacation riding a carousel of some sort and can’t get enough of the dizzying teacup rides. So we knew that if we took her to Busch Gardens Williamsburg she would LOVE it.
If you take a Stink to Busch Gardens, she’ll want to go again.
If she wants to go again, you might as well get a membership.
So that’s how we ended up with an annual pass this year to Busch Gardens. Despite being 3 hours from our house we’ve visited several times already and it’s only mid summer. We’re pros at this theme park now. We know all the best rides, where to get the best food and which shows Stink likes most.
Busch Gardens is located in southeastern Virginia in the town of Williamsburg. There are a ton of attractions within a few miles including Colonial Williamsburg, the historic Jamestown Settlement and Virginia’s largest water park, Water Country USA. Nearby you’ve also got Virginia Beach, Richmond and Norfolk, cities that are chock full of activities. You could easily spend a week in this little corner of Virginia.
What I love most about Busch Gardens is that while it’s known for its roller coasters there is also an excellent variety of other activities in the park. There’s an equal amount of thrill rides and kiddie rides. There are animals such as bald eagles, wolves and Clydesdale horses as well as an abundance of live shows that are far from boring or cheesy.
Exploring the Park
At the park entrance you can find a Height Check Station for the kids. A staff member measures their height and provides them with a color coded wristband, making it easy to distinguish which rides are permitted.
The park is divided into various European countries: England, Scotland, Italy, Germany, France, Canada (New France) and Ireland. It’s easy to find your way from country to country but the trees can hide some of the smaller rides from view. Busch Gardens does an excellent job of scattering roller coasters, family rides and live entertainment. No matter where you are in the park there’s something for your family to do!
Insider Tips: With younger kids I recommend exploring the park clockwise starting with Sesame Street’s Forest of Fun. With older kids and animal lovers start in the opposite direction where you’ll find the Clydesdales and the new Battle for Eire virtual reality ride.
Dining at Busch Gardens
There are plenty of dining options available at Busch Gardens and we’ve sampled most of the restaurants, each having its pros and cons. The Marco Polo Marketplace has excellent food but requires you to stand in line for each food station, making it chaotic for large groups that want different things. Das Festhaus has the best air conditioning combined with an amazing show but the food is dry and tasteless. So we generally gravitate to the smaller food carts scattered around the park and pick up a few snacks at Das Festhaus while we enjoy Stink’s favorite show: Oktoberzest.
Eating at Das Festhaus isn’t required in order to see Oktoberzest; there is plenty of seating available for all and the building is wonderfully cool. Park guests dine at long wooden picnic tables similar to biergartens in Bavaria. The menu offers a wide range of German meat, potatoes and pretzels but much of it was dry and not to our liking. However we all enjoyed the bratwurst sausages and Stink gorged herself on a cup of fresh strawberries and a giant pickle.
I haven’t found a theme park yet that has consistently tasty food and Busch Gardens is no exception. But I have to give them credit for the good variety of juices, fruits and kid-friendly meals that they offer. Oh, and their ice cream sundaes at Josephine’s Creamery de Chocolat are AMAZING.
The Rides at Busch Gardens
Italy and Germany are the two sections of the park we spend the most time in. Italy and nearby Festa Italia have the thrill rides that are appropriate for Stink’s age, such as the pirate ship (The Battering Ram) and the teacups (Turkish Delights). Germany and nearby Oktoberfest have other kid-friendly rides such as the bumper cars (Der Autobahn and Der Autobahn Jr) along with the flying airplanes (Der Roto Baron).
Sesame Street’s Forest of Fun is a popular stop for little ones. It’s home to the park’s only roller coaster for kids, Grover’s Alpine Express, and has a large splash area along with a meet-and-greet station for popular Sesame Street characters. The playground is a bit faded and underwhelming so we go for the rides and then move on.
The most popular section of the park for kids is the Land of the Dragons. This is an enormous playground complete with a water play area and a handful of rides for the smallest visitors. A giant treehouse with slides and climbing nets is the main attraction but Stink loves exploring this entire area. It’s thoughtfully laid out in a shady section of the park with only one entrance and exit to control wandering kids. My only complaint is that there’s limited seating and shade around the entrance/exit which is where most of the parents stand watch.
Good to Know: Nursing stations and family restrooms are located in both Land of the Dragons and Sesame Street’s Forest of Fun.
In April 2018 Busch Gardens introduced a new virtual reality ride, Battle for Eire. I’ve tried this ride out a few times and unfortunately felt a little disappointed in it. The headset feels heavy and bulky and the video quality isn’t what I would expect from a popular amusement park. But the ride isn’t too intense so it’s a good introduction for younger kids into the world of VR rides.
Many people ask us why we chose Busch Gardens over Kings Dominion, another theme park that’s closer to our home. It’s not that Kings Dominion is a bad park, it’s just that Busch Gardens is SO much better. The restrooms are clean, the trash cans are wasp-free and the service is impeccable. On our first visit we went with friends. During lunch Stink’s friend squished his fingers between the metal chair and table. Ouch! So while his mom was making an ice pack with paper napkins an employee came over, offered to make a better ice pack with a Ziploc bag and then provided Stink and her friend with Tootsie Rolls. This kind of service is the reason why I love recommending Busch Gardens and why I’ll continue coming back year after year.
The Verdict: Busch Gardens Williamsburg has easily become our favorite summer activity. You can squeeze everything into one day without feeling rushed and the park has a unique European style that you won’t find elsewhere in the US.
Good to Know: While there is ample shade at Busch Gardens the Virginia summers can get very hot. Since almost no rides are indoors it’s wise to bring stroller fans and cooling towels to the park to keep everyone comfortable and happy. Some of the gift shops also sell these items, though at a considerable markup.
Ways to Save: Keep an eye out for Groupon deals! There was recently an offer for a 3-day pass that covered Busch Gardens and Water Country USA for only $50. Combine that with one of Groupon’s 25% off promo codes and you could save some serious bucks on admission tickets.
Child Friendly? Busch Gardens is an amazing theme park that’s suitable for kids of all ages and their parents too. I love that there are rides available for tiny tots as well as thrill seeking teens.
Pet Friendly? Dogs are not permitted inside Busch Gardens but there is a small pet kennel at the entrance of the park. For $10 your pet will be provided with a water bowl in a climate controlled building. You’re welcome to bring food and walk your pet throughout the day. Guests that use the pet kennel, however, are required to pay for preferred parking and must leave a contact number in case of emergencies.
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