Project 2019 Revealed

A Little Context

In late April we shared that Project Madrid—long thought to be the next major attraction addition for Busch Gardens Williamsburg—was currently forecast for a 2020 opening date.
Around that same time, we started talking about a possible Water Country USA project for 2019. In mid-May we elaborated on those rumors—specifically stating that, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter, we were likely looking at a ProSlide HydroMagnetic Rocket water coaster.
While all of that news was ongoing, a member of the ParkFans forum, kingadam, came across a previously unknown project that was, frankly, downright bizarre. All we knew at the time was that a large, new structure was planned for Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Irish-themed Killarney hamlet.


BGW Project 2019

This evening, kingadam delivered again. This time, he dug up a collection of new, freshly-filed planning documents that depict what we should expect from Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 2019. He graciously passed them over to us to allow BGWFans to break the news, but he deserves a lot of credit for spotting them first (and digging through them with me).
Let’s start by showing exactly where the project area for this attraction is. Below you’ll find an interactive map of the region of the park we’re talking about.

Additionally, in this new document filing, the park included a collection of current images of the site that provide some nice context to understanding exactly where this thing is going. Below I’ve included a few of the more useful ones.


With our bearings established, let’s take a look at the actual site plan, shall we? Thankfully the park labeled all of the notable elements in this document—making this a fairly easy site plan to interpret.

For anyone who’s lost, the site plan above shows a large new addition to the south of Killarney.
The orange and purple regions depict areas of new permanent construction. The blue shaded regions surrounding the orange and purple sections should only see temporary impacts (likely clearing), but the attraction will not interfere with those areas once construction is complete.
So, what is this final project you ask?
Well, unfortunately, it’s not spelled out for us in this new collection of documents. That said, after you see the rough, side-view diagram below, I suspect you may start to draw the same conclusion as I have…

Considering the movement suggested by the shape of the ride’s pad combined with the diagram above (a forward and back swinging motion) this looks a lot like a S&S Screamin’ Swing. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the ride type, I’ve included S&S’s promotional video for the model below.

The plot thickens even further though when you take a closer look at the full site plan.
On either side of what appears to be the ride’s platform (orange area on the right), there are two protrusions in the ride’s pad located directly across from one another. This suggests the ride will be supported by two large column structures towards the middle of the attraction.
If these plans were for something like a Zamperla Discovery, I would expect to see four of these indents—one at each corner for each of the ride’s support columns.
This two vs. four support theory is backed up again by the side profile view. It seems to show one very large support structure in the center of the ride instead of smaller ones at the corners.
Plus, just take a look at the Screamin’ Swing schematics provided in S&S’s official ride documentation (below). The side profile shot in particular looks hauntingly similar to the crude drawing included with the park’s latest filing.


Also, before anyone asks, yes, kingadam and I both did the (rough estimate) math as well. We both found that a standard 32 seat S&S Screamin’ Swing should fit nicely into the site plan filed by the park.
Below I’ve put together a overhead image that shows the Killarney Expansion project’s site plan and the official overhead diagram of a S&S Screamin’ Swing, both overlayed onto a satellite image of the project area.

As you can likely deduce from image above, a S&S Screamin’ Swing perched on the hillside next to Killarney’s entrance tower would be quite the attraction—especially when you consider how high above the water the attraction would be perched and how far beyond the ride’s platform guests would swing.
Now, this is all tremendously exciting news of course, but I must highlight something: We have not seen any direct evidence stating that this will, in fact, be a Screamin’ Swing. Honestly, even if I’m right, and the documents above do actually depict a Screamin’ Swing, there is still time for BGW to change the course of this project entirely.
Considering those two facts, it would be reckless to say a Screamin’ Swing is coming to Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 2019.
That said, I believe there is enough circumstantial evidence in this latest round of filings to reasonably forecast with a high degree of confidence that the documents shared above are plans for a S&S Screamin’ Swing for Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Killarney hamlet.


To stay up to date on Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Killarney Expansion project (as well as everything else happening at the park), like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!
Also, ParkFans.net just launched the third version of its forum! If you’re not already participating, now is a great time to start! You can check out the official Killarney Expansion project thread, here.

Food & Wine Festival 2018: The Comprehensive Review

As we promised in part one, we have compiled a comprehensive, dish-by-dish review of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 2018 Food & Wine Festival.
Please keep in mind that these ratings reflect what we tasted on Memorial Day weekend.  Historically, the food at the event can vary dramatically throughout the day and across the weeks.
Below you will find both scores (out of five) and our thoughts, organized by booth.

Jump to a specific booth?

American Southwest

Chocolate Lava Cake

Fudge brownie cake with molten Ancho-spiced Chile chocolate filling

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
American Southwest $4 3.88

Fish Taco

Chile-spiced tilapia with red cabbage slaw, pico de gallo & cilantro lime sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
American Southwest $4.75 4
Renee's
Savory Pick
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Fish Taco

Ghost Pepper Guacamole

Spicy hot guacamole with Tajin seasoned tri-color tortilla chips

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
American Southwest $4.25 3.38

Sonoran Spice Pork Taco

Spice-rubbed pork carnita with jicama-chayote slaw in a soft tortilla

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
American Southwest $4.75 4.38
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Sonoran Spice Pork Taco

Brauhaus

German Meatballs

Traditional meatballs with a lemon & caper sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Brauhaus $6 2.88

Schnitzelwich

Pork schnitzel slider with sliced lemon & caper sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Brauhaus $5.50 4.5
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Schnitzelwich

Brazil

New for 2018

Abacaxi

Grilled pineapple with coconut caramel sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Brazil $4 1.88
New for 2018

Churrasco

Grilled beef with chimichurri sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Brazil $6 3.88
New for 2018

Linguica

Grilled Brazilian sausage with grilled portabellas and peppers

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Brazil $5.25 4.4
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Linguica

Caribbean

Gamba Fritters

Caribbean fried shrimp dumplings with Pickapeppa dip

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Caribbean $5.50 4
Zachary's
Savory Pick
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Gamba Fritters

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Jerk-marinated chicken drumsticks with guava barbecue & grilled pineapple salsa

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Caribbean $6 2.38

Mojo Shrimp

Citrus & garlic marinated shrimp on heart of palm, black beans & corn relish with lime cilantro vinaigrette

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Caribbean $5.75 4.25
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Mojo Shrimp

Pineapple Rum Upside-Down Cake

Cake with sweet pineapple-rum sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Caribbean $4.25 3.25

Crêpes & Coffee

Choco-noisette et Banane Crêpe

Hazelnut-chocolate spread & bananas

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Crêpes & Coffee $5.99 3
New for 2018

Chocolate Crêpe with Nutella & Strawberries

Hazelnut-chocolate spread with strawberries in a chocolate crêpe

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Crêpes & Coffee $5.99 3.5
Best in Booth(Sweet)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Chocolate Crêpe with Nutella & Strawberries
New for 2018

Strawberry Cheesecake Crêpe

Cheesecake batter with strawberries and graham crackers

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Crêpes & Coffee $5.99 3.38

Cuba

New for 2018

Cuban Sandwich

Roasted Pork with ham, dill pickle and yellow mustard pressed in Cuban bread

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Cuba $5.50 3.75
New for 2018

Flan

Custard

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Cuba $3.50 3.75
New for 2018

Ropa Vieja

Shredded beef in criollo sauce served over beans & rice

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Cuba $6 4.88
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Ropa Vieja
New for 2018

Tostones

Fried green plantains with mojo mayo

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Cuba $3.50 4
Nicole's
Savory Pick
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Tostones

French Quarter

Bananas Foster Cheesecake

Vanilla & pecan-crusted cheesecake with orange-rum caramel sauce & sliced banana

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
French Quarter $4.50 4.38
Best in Booth(Sweet)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Bananas Foster Cheesecake

Beignets

Fried doughnut squares topped with powdered sugar & drizzled with caramel

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
French Quarter $5 3.38
Zachary's
Sweet Pick
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Beignets

Muffaletta

Sliced mortadella, salami, ham & provolone with olive spread on sesame bread with Cajun coleslaw

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
French Quarter $5 3.38
New for 2018

Shrimp Etouffée

Creole-spiced shrimp stew over Cajun rice

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
French Quarter $5.75 4.75
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Shrimp Etouffée

Hawaii

Haupia

Sweet coconut mousse with Kona coffee ganache

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Hawaii $3.25 4.88
Thomas'
Sweet Pick
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Haupia
New for 2018

Hawaiian Mac & Cheese

Ham & pineapple mac & cheese with macadamia nut crust

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Hawaii $4.25 3

Huli Huli Chicken

Sweet pineapple & soy BBQ chicken served with orange & purple sweet potato salad

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Hawaii $5.25 3.75
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Huli Huli Chicken

Spam Slider

Fried spam with Sriracha mayonnaise & grilled pineapple served with pineapple & coconut coleslaw

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Hawaii $5 3.25

Tuna Poke

Soy & sesame sushi tuna in a wonton flower with wasabi aioli & wakame seaweed salad

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Hawaii $6 2.88

India

New for 2018

Lamb Kofta

Indian spiced ground lamb on a stick with cilantro lime yogurt sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
India $5.75 3

Samosas

Indian savory pastry filled with curried potatoes & peas with mango chutney

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
India $5 4.5
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Samosas

Tandoori Chicken

Spiced yogurt marinated chicken with cardamom ginger rice & cucumber raita

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
India $6 3.5

Ireland

Bangers with Colcannon

Irish sausage with mashed potatoes, cabbage & Guinness brown sugar gravy

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Ireland $5.25 2.88

Guinness Mousse

Dark chocolate & Guinness mousse with whiskey-infused whipped cream

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Ireland $4 4.63
Renee's
Sweet Pick
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Guinness Mousse

Irish Cheese Sampling

Sage Derby, Blarney Castle cheese & Dubliner cheese served with apple-raisin chutney & cream crackers

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Ireland $4.25 3.25
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Irish Cheese Sampling

Italy

New for 2018

Biscotti (Almond)

Almond Italian cookie

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Italy $3 2
New for 2018

Biscotti (Chocolate)

Chocolate Italian cookie

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Italy $3 3.13

Mini Cannoli Trio

Traditional, strawberry cheesecake & chocolate-hazelnut mini cannoli with chocolate-dipped shells

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Italy $6 3.13

Panna Cotta

Vanilla cream pudding, served with strawberries

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Italy $3.25 3.5
New for 2018

Pizzelle Cookies

Fresh pressed Italian cookies filled with sweet mascarpone cheese

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Italy $3.25 4.88
Best in Booth(Sweet)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Pizzelle Cookies

Tiramisu

Italian parfait with sweetened mascarpone cheese, layered with espresso-soaked lady fingers

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Italy $3.25 3.13

Japan

New for 2018

California Roll

Sushi roll of crab, avocado & cucumber with pickled ginger & wasabi

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Japan $4.50 3.38

Lettuce Wrap

Vegetables & tofu wrapped in tender butter lettuce with toasted almonds & sweet chili dipping sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Japan $4 4.13
New for 2018

Matcha Ice Cream

Green tea ice cream with sweet soy glaze and sesame cookie

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Japan $4 3.38
Nicole's
Sweet Pick
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Matcha Ice Cream

Mushi-Gyoza

Japanese-style steamed chicken dumplings with citrus ponzu sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Japan $5 4.75
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Mushi-Gyoza
New for 2018

Soba Noodle Bowl

Dashi broth with pickled vegetables, green onions, edamame, egg, and shiitake mushrooms

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Japan $4.50 2.5

Mediterranean

Baklava

Sweet pastry with nuts & honey between thin crispy filo pastry layers

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Mediterranean $3.50 4
New for 2018

Dolmades

Rice & herb stuffed grape leaves with Tzatziki sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Mediterranean $4.25 3.88
Thomas'
Savory Pick
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Dolmades

Falafel

Chickpea fritter with sesame dipping sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Mediterranean $3.75 1.75

Lamb Burger Slider

Seasoned ground lamb on pita bread with feta cheese spread, cucumber, tomato & olive

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Mediterranean $6 3.88
New for 2018

Spanakopita

Spinach and feta in crispy filo dough with spicy lemon sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Mediterranean $4.50 4
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Spanakopita

South Korea

New for 2018

Beef Bulgogi

Grilled Korean style marinated beef skewer

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
South Korea $6 3.5
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Beef Bulgogi
New for 2018

Kimchi Sampler

Cabbage, cucumber, daikon radish varieties of kimchi

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
South Korea $4 3
New for 2018

Korean BBQ Pork Ribs

Spicy chili BBQ glazed ribs served over gochujang slaw

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
South Korea $6 3.38

Spain

Chorizo Empanada

Spicy pork sausage pastry pocket with cilantro lime cream

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Spain $4.50 3.5

Gazpacho con Ceviche

Chilled tomato cucumber soup with citrus-oyster mushroom salsa

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Spain $4 3.75

Tapas

Paprika-roasted Marcona almonds, Marinated olive medley, Manchego cheese with Membrillo – quince paste

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Spain $5 4.13
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 Tapas

Venera con Jamón

Scallop, wrapped in cured ham with saffron rice & romesco sauce

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Spain $5 3.75

Virginia

Bacon & Cheddar Hushpuppies

Cornmeal fritters served with honey butter

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Virginia $4 3.63

Pecan, Bacon & Chocolate Bars

Sweet pecan caramel bars topped with smoked bacon & chocolate drizzle

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Virginia $3.50 3.38

She-Crab Soup

Crab bisque finished with sherry, Old Bay® crostini & Chesapeake blue crab salad

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Virginia $5.75 4.38
Best in Booth(Savory)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food and Wine Festival 2017 She-Crab Soup

Smithfield Ham Tasting

Red Eye country ham, Applewood carved ham & ham pate, served with a honey biscuit, apple butter, honey mustard & whole grain mustard

Booth Price Rating (Out of 5)
Virginia $4 4.13


Reflecting on past festivals, there are a few dishes that we would love to see return to the F&WF in 2019. That said, this was another good year for BGW’s tastiest event.
Once again, we would like to thank Renee, Meri, Thomas, Zimmy, and Luke for all of their help with this fairly massive undertaking.  We quite literally could not have done it without them.
Look for additional updates and commentary on social media: like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Food & Wine Festival 2018: Impressions & Highlights

It is that time of year again: the season when BGWFans and our Band of Merry Foodies head to the park to try every dish at the annual Food & Wine Festival.
Last weekend Zachary, Thomas, Luke, Zimmy, and I, accompanied by our friends Renee and Meri, spent Saturday and Sunday exploring the 2018 event. In all we sampled 62 dishes and 11 non-alcoholic “specialty” beverages. We did not taste all of the beers, cocktails, and wines, because the alcohol would have dulled our palates.
In this two-part series we will share our impressions of each booth; present our recommendations; and describe the trends we noticed this year. In a departure from the past, we have chosen to present our recommendations and broad observations first; look for the comprehensive, dish-by-dish review in Part Two.


Our Process

For those readers unfamiliar with our system, here is a quick overview. All voting participants were required to try everything. The entire team split each dish to avoid a massive outbreak of food comas. We discussed and scored each item as we went. The highest average score at each booth was awarded “Best In Booth.”
We determined years ago that we could not compare mains and appetizers with desserts, because the sugar would always prevail. As a result, we selected Best in Booth Savory, when there were multiple such dishes; and Best in Booth Sweet, when we were lucky enough to find more than one dessert at a single kiosk. At the end of our culinary adventure, we compared all of the dessert scores to rate them against each other.
We elected not to select either a Best in Show Savory or a Best in Show Sweet this year. All of our favorites are captured in the summary below, however, because we included every dish that scored at least a four out of a possible five points.
Additionally, each voting member selected one savory and one sweet dish to recommend. Neither could be a Best in Booth item.  The result is a list of both the high-scoring items and offerings that caught the attention of at least one team member.


Recommendations

With all of that said, here are our 2018 recommendations. Dishes that did not make the list are not necessarily bad, but they did not compare in quality, taste, and/or interest to the items we selected.
It is worth noting that historically we have noticed both the flavor and quality of individual items can vary dramatically from day to day, and even sometimes from hour to hour. Additionally, we conducted our review on the first weekend, so the staff’s skills and techniques could change as the event progresses. As such, we are not willing to claim that our scores absolutely reflect how things will taste in the future.

Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Cuba Aquitaine 4.09/5
Ropa Vieja
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 4.88/5
Tostones
Reason for Highlight Score
Nicole's Savory Pick 4/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
French Quarter Aquitaine 3.97/5
Shrimp Etouffée
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 4.75/5
Bananas Foster Cheesecake
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Sweet) 4.38/5
Beignets
Reason for Highlight Score
Zachary's Sweet Pick 3.38/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
American Southwest Heatherdowns 3.9/5
Sonoran Spice Pork Taco
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 4.38/5
Fish Taco
Reason for Highlight Score
Renee's Savory Pick 4/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Virginia Heatherdowns 3.88/5
She-Crab Soup
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 4.38/5
Smithfield Ham Tasting
Reason for Highlight Score
Honorable Mention 4.13/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Spain San Marco 3.78/5
Tapas
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 4.13/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Brauhaus Oktoberfest 3.72/5
Schnitzelwich
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 4.5/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
India Oktoberfest 3.67/5
Samosas
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 4.5/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Japan San Marco 3.63/5
Mushi-Gyoza
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 4.75/5
Lettuce Wrap
Reason for Highlight Score
Honorable Mention 4.13/5
Matcha Ice Cream
Reason for Highlight Score
Nicole's Sweet Pick 3.38/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Ireland Killarney 3.58/5
Guinness Mousse
Reason for Highlight Score
Renee's Sweet Pick 4.63/5
Irish Cheese Sampling
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 3.25/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Hawaii Jack Hanna Trail 3.55/5
Haupia
Reason for Highlight Score
Thomas' Sweet Pick 4.88/5
Huli Huli Chicken
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 3.75/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Mediterranean San Marco 3.5/5
Baklava
Reason for Highlight Score
Honorable Mention 4/5
Spanakopita
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 4/5
Dolmades
Reason for Highlight Score
Thomas' Savory Pick 3.88/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Caribbean Rhinefeld 3.48/5
Mojo Shrimp
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 4.25/5
Gamba Fritters
Reason for Highlight Score
Zachary's Savory Pick 4/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Brazil Trapper's Village 3.38/5
Linguica
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Savory) 4.4/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Crêpes & Coffee Aquitaine 3.29/5
Chocolate Crêpe with Nutella & Strawberries
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Sweet) 3.5/5
Booth Location Avg. Dish Score
Italy San Marco 3.29/5
Pizzelle Cookies
Reason for Highlight Score
Best in Booth (Sweet) 4.88/5


Specialty Drinks

Last year Chef Justin told us that he was introducing several “specialty drinks,” for those who did not want to (or were not able to) experiment with the adult beverages. We discovered that we very much enjoyed the variety of interesting flavors, and thought they would be worth sharing with our readers.
The park added several new beverages this year, and we noted a strong emphasis on both citrus flavors and iced teas & coffees (four of each). In general, the drinks paired well with the food options, and in fact in some cases were perfect for balancing the spices in the savory dishes. For example, the milky and sweet Horchata immediately quenched the fire created by the surprisingly hot Ghost Pepper Guacamole at the American Southwest Booth.


So, this year we decided to taste and score all of them. Rather than select a Best in Category, however, we agreed simply to recommend four of our favorite drinks. As with the food, we will provide more in-depth commentary on the individual drinks in Part Two.
Of the 11 non-alcoholic options, each of us selected our favorite mocktail:

  • Nicole: Strawberry Lemonade (Virginia)
  • Renee: Ginger Limeade (Caribbean)
  • Thomas: Batido de Trigo (Cuba)
  • Zachary: Brazilian Lemonade (Brazil)

The Booths

Every year BGW surprises us with its decisions about which booths to cut and which to add. 2018 saw the demise of both Canada and Germany, although the new Brauhaus station offered the old Schnitzelwich. The Asia booth was essentially replaced by Japan and South Korea. In addition, the park added Brazil and Cuba, for a net gain of two kiosks.
While we have never loved Canada, and found the German offerings to be only occasionally worth buying, we remain baffled that they were removed before Italy. While we universally loved the new Pizzelle Cookies, we stand by our position from last year that serving desserts that literally come from Marco Polo’s Marketplace is not acceptable at a Food & Wine Festival kiosk. Similarly, while we appreciate the park’s attempt to preserve the guest-favorite Schnitzelwich, the addition of a “booth” inside the Brauhaus is simply fraudulent. The fact that the only other dish served there is a plate of meatballs, which is available at that location year-round, only adds to the absurdity.


Those negative thoughts aside, we fully support the other four new options. Brazil offers the opportunity to serve unique flavors, and we loved everything at the Cuba booth. Moving away from the regional “Asia” booth and introducing Japan and South Korea gave the park the ability to offer many more culturally-specific foods. In fact, we would love to see all of the booths replaced by (or restored to) specific countries.
In addition to these more obvious changes, we noted significant improvements at a few of the older locations. Of particular note, both French Quarter and Virginia went from mediocre to delicious, each boasting dramatically higher scores than ever in the past. Additionally, we were pleasantly surprised by by how much more prominent the flavors were at the American Southwest booth.
One final note about the booth themes. The introduction of the Brauhaus, Japan, and South Korea booths this season brought into focus the inconsistencies in how each station is defined. Some are linked to specific countries, including the oddly-specific South Korea kiosk. Others encompass entire regions like the Mediterranean booth. Members of a third set represent specific states, cities, and sub-cultures within the United States. A final group employs year-round quick service restaurants to serve F&WF-specific dishes.

We would argue that at a minimum that last category should be eliminated. Specifically, we find the inclusion of both Crepes & Coffee and the Brauhaus as “booths” to be pointless. We would also propose that all of the regional booths be split into specific countries, as the park did with Asia this year. Yes, we do miss Greece.


Our Experience

So as not to bury the lead, the service at a majority of the booths last weekend was simply abysmal.
While there were a few bright spots — the staff at the Cuba kiosk was charming and efficient — more often than not we encountered workers who appeared ignorant about their jobs and disinterested in learning. In one case we waited for more than 10 minutes with no one in front of us, before anyone offered to make us our food. At multiple locations the kitchens were so slow that the relatively short lines backed up as much as 45 minutes. We had to repeat and correct our orders several times, despite the very limited number of options at each booth. In fact, the staff did not seem to know what was on the menus at their locations. For example, one cashier sent us to another register, because he apparently did not recognize the name of one of the three items at his booth.
While we are certain that some of the problems stemmed from the fact that it was the first weekend, we no longer believe that is an acceptable excuse. The Food & Wine Festival is in its sixth year. Most of the booths have been around for several seasons, and some debuted with the event in 2013. While new staff obviously need time to train, that should happen before opening weekend. No one should be asked to prepare dishes or man a cash register for the first time during the festival.
We hope that by next weekend all of the staff are as delightful as the servers and cashiers at the Cuba booth, but we are disappointed in how much worse service was this year than at any time in the past.


In Conclusion

Overall, we thought the event was very good this year. While it was, perhaps, not as fantastic as 2017, the new booths, especially Cuba, were great additions. We enjoyed the wide variety of flavors and cooking styles, and hope to see more exotic dishes added next year, as well.
Finally, we need to thank the entire tasting team — Thomas, Zimmy, Renee, and Meri — for spending the weekend with us, and helping judge all of the food and drinks.  We would also like to thank Luke for taking so many of the fantastic pictures for this article.  We could not have gotten everything done in one weekend without their help.


Check back for Part Two, which will include scores and reviews of every dish and booth; and look for additional updates and commentary on social media: like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

"Summer Rewards"

So, Zachary and I had been considering when and if we were going to write a front page article on Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s newest ride, Battle for Eire. It seems like a reasonable topic, and we have been asked for a formal review.
Unfortunately, that discussion has, again, been completely derailed—this time by the park’s most recent announcement about a special “Summer Rewards” for anyone who joins the park’s new Membership program between April 9th and April 30th.


We first learned about this program today, when BGW Family, one of our long-time forum members, posted a screenshot (see below) of an email he received about the new Membership promotion.  He was curious if anyone knew who would qualify for the two single-ride QuickQueues and one-time digital download being offered.

My initial hope was that the long-promised additional Membership perks were finally being announced. That naïveté was short-lived, however. We found the following update on BGW’s Membership FAQ:

Apparently, ONLY those who sign up, during this special offer, will get the new benefits. I am equal parts disgusted and offended. And to be clear, it isn’t because I particularly want either of these perks. It is because:

  1. This promotion contradicts what Marketing told us, when they first announced the new Membership Program in February; and
  2. I, personally, put my reputation on the line, defending the park’s decision to move away from the old pass system.

When we first spoke with BGW Marketing, they told us that the initial promotion ($2 off per month) would be the best deal ever offered. According to a February email from the Vice President of Marketing, “Bottom line: Now is the best time to buy.” Innocently taking them at their word, we encouraged people, who wanted to switch, to do so before the end of March.
It seems, however, that those who waited will receive an exclusive signing bonus worth more that the $24 annual savings initially offered. The two single ride QuickQueues alone are worth $24. So, clearly, those of us who signed up early, did NOT get the best offer.
Even more galling is the fact that Marketing repeatedly told us that they would announce additional benefits for Members in the future. In fact, they came to us, and asked us to have our forum members brainstorm ideas.
In response to the myriad of ideas proposed by our Forum, we received the following feedback from Marketing:

Just wanted to reach out to say we’ve been monitoring the Membership perks suggestions and have found the input very helpful. Please encourage your audience to continue offering ideas. We really appreciate all the great suggestions thus far.

A lot of great suggestions so far – some we already had been working on and some new ones.

Well, other than the exclusive, $10 t-shirts, we have yet to see a single new perk added to the Membership Program, but two of our ideas were used… as a signing bonus for those who waited until April to join.
But they didn’t just mine our Forum; they exploited the credibility of BGWFans, as well. Because we believed they were acting in good faith, we trusted what they told us about their new program. We agreed that the switch would level the playing field, ensuring everyone was paying market value for their passes. We understood the problems with the old system, and thought the new plan addressed them fairly well.
Because we thought the new Membership Program was reasonable, we agreed to publish a front page article about it; we explained the details to both our Forum and our social media followers; and we even responded to questions on the park’s Facebook page. BGW actually thanked us for our efforts: “Again, I want to commend you on the effort you have taken to explain the new Membership program to your readers… They may not like all of it, but they get it. And that’s fair.
At the time we honestly thought they were trying to do the right thing. In fact, despite today’s announcement, I still believe our initial judgement was sound. This post from then Vice President of Marketing, Dan Dipiazzo, on Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s official blog, appears to confirm everything we were being told:


Since then, however, he moved to SeaWorld Orlando. Perhaps that is why the approach has changed? Certainly, we heard nothing from Marketing about the program, after his departure. Maybe that is because they were focused on Battle for Eire and the Sneak Peak Day. On the other hand, it could be because the park is thinking differently about the Membership Program.
Regardless of the reason, it is clear that the new promotion stands in direct opposition to the stated goals and promises laid out for us in February. It was already frustrating enough being accused of shilling for the park, given how often we don’t support their activities. Now I have begun to think we should not have invested all that time and energy into informing people about this project, because it appears BGW has also turned us into liars.
Hopefully, all Members will soon see the addition of the new benefits long-promised by BGW. Perhaps the park will reverse their decision, and extend the Summer Rewards to us, as well.
We reached out to the park for an official statement, and will update this article when we hear back.
 


Update (April 12)

This afternoon we received a response from BGW Marketing to our questions about both the Summer Rewards promotion and the long-promised Membership benefits.
It appears the park is standing by their decision to include in this limited-time offer perks with a higher market value than the introductory, discounted rate. They did, however, provide a link to the never-before-seen list of Member-exclusive rewards.
Here is their full statement, including that link:

Thanks for your email. Appreciate you reaching out. Let me address what I feel are misinterpretations of our April deal.

As you’re aware, Busch Gardens and Water Country USA’s new Membership Program is presenting special offers and added value deals to existing Members and to consumers considering joining the program. Now through April 30, the park is offering a special deal for those who join the new Membership Program this month. Guests who purchase a Basic, Unlimited or Premier plan will receive two free single-ride Quick Queues and a free digital photo download. This special deal is just another way the park is committed to providing the best benefits, rewards and deals to Members. Keep in mind the free QQs are for one-use only for any ride; and the digital photo is for one ride photo only.
This April deal is an added value offer unlike the monetary savings special made available during the program’s introductory period. Hopefully you can see the two offers are not comparable. Guests who joined the Membership Program during the introductory period, locked in a special savings rate for one year from the time of purchase.
This deal is only available for new Membership purchases. Members who joined prior to April 9 were able to take advantage of the special introductory offer rate.
Click WWW.BUSCHGARDENS.COM/REWARDS to see our comprehensive list of member benefits and rewards associated with the program. I hope you’re as pleased as we are.

Permit Filed for Dedicated Entertainment Facility

According to a new special use permit filed with James City County late last month, Busch Gardens Williamsburg appears to be giving their entertainment department something they have needed for decades now: dedicated, non-theater space inside the park.


The Plans

So, what is the permit for exactly? A 15,500 square foot rectangular building located behind the Royal Palace Theater labeled in the plans as “Proposed Busch Gardens Entertainment Event Building.” Below is an image that was included in the permit filing which depicts the site plan overlayed onto an annotated satellite map.


To give some better context as to where exactly this area is, I’ve included a map below depicting the the rough project perimeter.

Those with particularly sharp eyes may even be able to spot the first signs of life from the site next time you’re at the park. Currently, as the pictures below show, all that can really be seen are utility markings in an otherwise untouched field, but that is certainly more than nothing!


Possible Uses

So, cool, it’s a big rectangular building in the middle of nowhere. What will it be used for? Why does this matter?

Howl-O-Scream Location

The most obvious use that comes to mind for this new construction is as a dedicated Howl-O-Scream house location. Since 1999, one of the park’s most popular and profitable events has been forced to scrounge for empty corners of the park in which they can set up temporary haunted houses. This worked well enough at first because, honestly, the park’s competition wasn’t actually doing anything all that different.
However, as the popularity of park Halloween events grew, so did their budgets. Many parks across the country began to dedicate entire buildings to their fall attractions. As the events continued to grow, many of those same parks began to take things a step further by constructing dedicated warehouses solely for haunted house use.
These dedicated haunting locations allowed parks to build a house once and leave it standing throughout the year. A simple dusting and some light refurbishment is all that would be needed to reopen one of these permanent houses for the following season. This is in stark contrast toBusch Gardens Williamsburg’s temporary houses, which needed to be built and removed on very tight schedules each and every year.
As financial hard times fell on SEAS, BGW found themselves cornered into opting for a strategy far worse than erecting and razing temporary houses. BGW found themselves cornered into opting for a strategy far worse than building temporary houses. Instead, Busch Gardens Williamsburg began to simply let any temporary houses in otherwise unused space stand throughout the year.
This is fine indoors, but Williamsburg’s Howl-O-Scream currently features three outdoor mazes—all of which now sit out in the elements year-round. This naturally dramatically limits the initial quality and, overtime, the lifespan of these outdoor houses and the props utilized within them.


What about the indoor houses? The man hours that should be dedicated to rebuilding and removing outdoor houses are instead forced to be utilized on the indoor mazes. Why? Because as of this year, there is only one single indoor house location at Busch Gardens Williamsburg that doesn’t need to be removed and rebuilt each season (Dead Line’s location under Escape from Pompeii). The other three indoor house locations (Battle for Eire’s queue, the Royal Palace Theater backstage, and DarKastle’s ride building) are all used for equally (or more) important attractions during the park’s other seasons.
Lets contrast this to Kings Dominion for a moment. Kings Dominion’s Haunt event features seven houses as well. Only one of those seven houses is outdoors and it is essentially completely reconstructed for each season. Of the six indoor houses, five of them are located in space dedicated to the event meaning that only one indoor house needs to be rebuilt each season (Blackout in Planet Snoopy).
With so many indoor house locations dedicated to the event, Kings Dominion has shown over the last few years that they can justify spending incredible amounts of money building remarkably well-themed environments. Case and point? Blood on the Bayou which was added for last year’s event or Trick or Treat which came the year before it. Both of these houses were the most expensive Kings Dominion has ever built at the time of their construction and, as anyone who has experienced them can likely attest, they blow the thematic quality of anything Busch Gardens Williamsburg has ever constructed straight out of the water.
Due to an overreliance on indoor house locations that must be reconstructed each year, paired with the use of too many outdoor house locations which the park cannot properly care for, Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Howl-O-Scream event has simply fallen behind the regional competition. The park’s investment in Howl-O-Scream infrastructure, such as dedicated warehouses for haunt mazes, is long overdue and I, personally, hope this will be the use of the park’s new 15,500 square foot “event building.”

Christmas Town Space

I consider this option far less likely than the Howl-O-Scream related possibility outline above, but it certainly isn’t out of the question. Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Christmas Town has shown an intriguing propensity for walk-through attractions and detailed photo ops.


The now defunct Ice Place in Aquitaine lost its home in the Royal Palace Theater backstage to Twas That Night on Ice. It is not out of the question to think that, following the success of Ice Palace, Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland, and the new Santa’s Workshop, that Busch Gardens Williamsburg may be considering the addition of another, more elaborate walk-through Christmas Town attraction in the same vein as the ones mentioned previously for Aquitaine.

Storage Space

The two possibilities presented above are exciting and eye-catching, but we must also consider the possibility that this project simply won’t be guest-facing at all. There is a real chance that this new building could simply be new storage space for the Entertainment department—something the team could always use more of.


Acknowledgements

Huge thanks to ParkFans forum member, Celticdog, for the initial heads-up regarding this permit and to the James City County Planning Commission for their incredible turnaround time in setting up a viewing for the documents related to this application.
Additionally, Luke and Thomas, two other ParkFans forum members, volunteered to head down to the planning department offices to get the site plans for this project since I couldn’t make it yesterday. They then headed over to Busch Gardens Williamsburg to take the pictures included above of the planned construction site.
The turn-around time on this article would have been impossible without the contributions of everyone listed above.


To stay up to date on all things Busch Gardens Williamsburg—from new warehouses to possible new theme parks—like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

Sesame Place Williamsburg: Pros & Cons

Yesterday, Zachary reported on a recent survey soliciting feedback on a new, proposed SEAS theme park in Virginia, which we are calling “Sesame Place Williamsburg.” While his extensive analysis of the included site plan and concept art focused on the How, When, Where, and What in depth, we decided to address the Why separately, because it is such a complex discussion.
There are many arguments in favor of building Sesame Place Williamsburg. But first, the question of “Why” needs to broken into three subcategories:

  1. Why would SEAS do this?
  2. Why would it be good for BGW?
  3. Why do we like the idea?

SeaWorld Parks

Probably the most important question is whether it makes sense for SEAS to build Sesame Place Williamsburg at all.

The 2017 Agreement

The most critical reason is that SEAS has an agreement with Sesame Workshop, which includes the building of a second Sesame Place park by 2021. Taken in this light the survey becomes much less hypothetical.

SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., a leading theme park and entertainment company, and Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street®, today announced the extension of their 37-year partnership to include the development of an additional Sesame Place® theme park in the United States…

The new license agreement between Sesame Workshop and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment extends SeaWorld’s status as Sesame Workshop’s exclusive theme park partner in the United States, with the second Sesame Place theme park scheduled to open no later than mid 2021 in a U.S. location to be determined…

This press release contains statements that are “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, which are subject to the “safe harbor” created by those sections… Accordingly, there are or will be important factors that could cause actual outcomes or results to differ materially from those indicated in these statements.

Source (May 18, 2017)

Blackfish

Additionally, it could beneficial for SEAS to attempt to focus and expand on the elements of their company that are not associated with Blackfish and marine mammals (sorry, Shamu). Closer ties to Sesame Workshop, a well-known and beloved children’s educational organization, could help SEAS resuscitate their brand image. The press release, itself, emphasizes the charitable aspects of a Sesame Place:

Sesame Place also extends Sesame Workshop’s commitment to social impact work with its Sesame Place Cares annual series of events both in and outside the park, including a 30-year partnership with Variety—The Children’s Charity, focused on providing events with a safe and fun atmosphere specifically for children with disabilities and their families.

Growth of Children’s Parks

More generally, we have seen a recent increase across the industry in both the number and importance of children’s parks. LEGOLAND is the perfect example. It is an incredibly popular family destination, which has continued to evolve to include integrated resorts and water parks.


It makes sense for SEAS to want to cash in on this expanding sector of the amusement industry. The (possibly) most obvious theme, however, has turned toxic. Attempting to focus new children’s parks on animals would probably only exacerbate their Blackfish problem. Sesame Street characters, however, provide them a popular IP, free of baggage.

Mitigated Risk

One obvious question is whether a Sesame Place park would even be successful in Williamsburg. While we don’t have the data to predict its likely popularity, we believe the risks associated with failure would be by the proposed proximity to Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
Assuming the absolute worst case scenario, the addition could flop completely, and SEAS would be forced to close its third gate. In that case, Forest of Fun, and probably the rest of the new park, could be reintegrated into BGW relatively cheaply.
So, the end result of the project would be either a new children’s park in Williamsburg or an expanded children’s area at BGW. Neither is a bad result for SEAS, and both have the potential to bring in guests.
Based on this calculation, it seems that building Sesame Place adjacent to BGW would mitigate the risk associated with a new park. New attractions and infrastructure could be used, regardless of whether it proved successful.
Thus, a case could be made that using Williamsburg as a test bed for adding Sesame Place parks is a relatively “safe” venture with the potential for long term gains for SEAS.

Resort Destination

Finally, based on several reports and investors calls over recent years it is clear that SEAS sees value in having dedicated resorts and creating multi-day destinations. The Disney/Universal model is clearly the benchmark for any large theme park chain; the question is where to build it.
Obviously, Orlando already has a three-gate complex, and adding a fourth park and a resort there might make a lot of sense. Williamsburg, however, is already a vacation destination as well, and has both a major dry and a massive water park. Further, there is still room for expansion, and possibly more critically, significantly less local direct competition. In fact, the case could be made that the other area attractions are not likely to detract from a BGW-centered three-gate theme park destination resort.
But is a hotel feasible, in addition to a new Sesame Place?
There is some precedent already: In 2016 BGW partnered with Colonial Williamsburg to create joint vacation packages, which importantly focused on linking stays at CW hotels with discounted tickets for BGW. So, clearly, SEAS (or at least BGW) has previously looked into some sort of hotel/resort for the Williamsburg parks.

On the Other Hand…

Perhaps more important than the question of “why” is the counter of “why not.” As highlighted in the survey, itself, there is significant competition in the northeast.
The original Sesame Place is only five hours away in Pennsylvania. That state also boasts several other popular children’s parks like Dutch Wonderland and Idlewild. Perhaps more importantly, there are plans for a new LEGOLAND resort in New York.
A second Sesame Place park, even as part of a larger resort area, might have difficulty drawing families from New England and the Mid-Atlantic (excluding Virginia), with all of those options closer to home. SEAS would need confidence that a children’s park in Williamsburg would add to their bottom line, before they made such a huge investment, especially given their current financial difficulties.


Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Why would a park built to help market a brewery be the logical place to build a children’s park, themed to Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch? On the surface, it is a fairly reasonable question. As local park enthusiasts can tell you, however, there has been an ever-increasing focus on family-friendly attractions at Budweiser’s old Virginia park.

Kid-siderate Attraction Boom

Not only has BGW added things like kids concerts and shows, and free Preschool Passes; but also starting last year, there was a dramatic increase in Sesame Street events. As of March 2018, the park has already announced Sesame Street® Kids’ Weekends, Let’s Play Together, and The Count’s Spooktacular. From this trend it is evident that BGW is expanding and increasing its focus on families with young children. Creating a third park targeting that demographic would fit that pattern, and may be the next logical step, especially if it increases sales.

And the Cons…

The obvious drawback from BGW’s perspective, that it loses a popular children’s area to a nominally separate park. Since it would still have kids rides in all of the other hamlets, it would still have attractions for its youngest guests, however. In fact, the removal of Forest of Fun from BGW proper could possibly lead to a future refurbishment of the beloved Land of the Dragons.


Park Guests

Regardless of how good or bad this addition would be for SEAS, the questions remain about the value to BGW’s guests. The bottom line is that we think this addition would be a net improvement for most people.
We see a lot of upsides to the addition of a third gate and even a resort. We have selected a few reasons that jump out as us; this is in no way a comprehensive list, and we certainly don’t have any real hard data from which to draw conclusions.

Demographics

The addition of a children’s park would solve one of BGW’s perennial problems. Unlike many regional parks, it needs to cater to a very wide range of ages, tastes, and priorities. The park draws everyone from 3 to 60, and must provide attractions appropriate to all of them.
Sesame Place Williamsburg would allow SEAS to focus children’s programming in one park, and emphasize adult rides and entertainment at the other two. While this would not solve the problem entirely, it would mitigate it.

Howl-O-Scream

We see a related, but separate benefit during the Fall. There has long been a debate about how best to balance having an adult haunt in the evenings, while still providing programming for children. BGW introduced The Count’s Spooktacular in 2017, which provided something for kids to do, during the day. It did not, however, address the problem of having scared youngsters on the paths and even in the houses, during Howl-O-Scream.


Having a completely separate gate for children could greatly alleviate this perennial tension. Sesame Place would provide a place for “spooky” fun, where kids would not be in danger of being terrified by scare actors or gruesome decorations. Similarly, BGW would have the freedom to turn HOS back into the intense haunt that it was in its heyday.

Christmas Town

Another annual issue for BGW are the overwhelming crowd levels at Christmas Town. In recent years the park has experimented with a variety of innovative solutions to try to manage their capacity problem. No matter how much they play with ticket prices and add attractions, there are still nights when the paths are simply unnavigable.
Unlike other special events, CT specifically targets families. Having a whole park aimed exclusively at kids would allow SEAS to increase capacity during the holidays. Targeted children’s activities at Sesame Place could be a huge draw, and relieve some of the pressure at Christmas Town, improving the experience for everyone.

Theming

Finally, one complaint from long-term park guests is the slow erosion of the “Old Country” theming, and the continuous encroachment of unrelated IP into all of the hamlets. Because Forest of Fun would become a section of the proposed Sesame Place park, guests would no longer run into Elmo in Killarney; the streets of Banbury would be safe from Cookie Monster; and no one would hear Abby Cadabby on the Busch Gardens Railroad.

But There are Drawbacks…

There are a few cons. While I’m sure we have missed something, here are the most obvious potential problems.
Some families, especially those with children at a wide variety of ages, but also those just with very young kids, could find themselves forced to purchase passes to both (or all three) parks.
The inclusion of two children’s areas at BGW has always been a benefit to families who want access to both adult and kids attractions. Without knowing the pass structure, however, it is impossible to predict the real impact of this potential addition.
It is worth noting that this is not out of the norm in the industry, although admittedly, Kings Dominion would likely still have an integrated Peanuts area. More importantly, there would still be children’s rides throughout BGW, and a charming play area would remain in Land of the Dragons.
The loss of the France lot would affect everyone, especially Premier Members. While presumably the park could still allow its highest tier pass holders to use the employee entrance and simply direct them to the England lot, Preferred Parking capacity would essentially be halved. Additionally, the loss of the parking spaces would have a cascading effect on all park guests, especially on high-capacity days. One possible mitigation could be the addition of a parking garage. This solution would be especially useful, if SEAS did include a resort in the proposed expansion.
Short term investment in Sesame Place Williamsburg could affect planned or potential projects in the existing two Virginia parks. Obviously, budgets are a zero-sum game, and while the addition could potentially bring in significant revenue, in the short term BGW and WCUSA might not have the resources for any new major attractions. Lacking insight into the park’s books and timelines, there is no way to assess the impact the proposal could have, especially on Project Madrid.


In Conclusion…

Despite some of the potential drawbacks, by creating a third gate, the addition of Sesame Place could turn Williamsburg into a real theme park destination. Of course, one could argue that attempts have been made for years to market the Historic Triangle with BGW and WCUSA as a multi-day family vacation destination. Those efforts, however, do not seem to be as fruitful as hoped, and perhaps a different approach would be more successful.
Especially, if SEAS included a themed resort, similar to LEGOLAND, the proposed expansion could breathe new life into the entire area, potentially improving tourism around the region. In an era of layoffs at CW and Blackfish-induced budget crises, such revenue growth could be invaluable to everyone.


To weigh in on this potential expansion, check out the official thread for Sesame Place Williamsburg on the ParkFans forum, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Sesame Place Williamsburg

This morning we rode Battle for Eire, Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s brand new, first-of-its-kind VR attraction. If you are looking for Battle for Eire content, for now, check out the most recent posts in this thread on ParkFans.net or our social media channels (particularly Instagram).
Anyway, you’d think that something that noteworthy would be monopolizing the BGW news spotlight right now. Frankly though, that story has been entirely eclipsed.
According to a number of credible reports from ParkFans members, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has sent out a survey asking park goers for their thoughts on the possible addition of a third SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment property in Virginia.
This proposed third gate would be a children’s amusement and water park themed to Sesame Street—effectively creating a sister park to SEAS’s existing Sesame Place Philadelphia. Hence, from this point on in this article, we will refer to this project proposal as “Sesame Place Williamsburg.”


How?

The park proposed in the survey would incorporate and massively expand upon Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s existing Sesame Street Forest of Fun area. The current hamlet would be cut off from Busch Gardens Williamsburg and the rest of the proposed park would be built in what is currently BGW’s “France” parking lot.
Park operations facilities such as ticketing, guest services, stroller/wheelchair rental, parking, etc. appear to be shared between this theoretical Sesame Place park and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.


When?

Probably never—at least not exactly as depicted in the survey. This may seem obvious, but before we go any further, I want to be clear: This is nothing more than an idea SeaWorld is evaluating.
That’s not to say this isn’t newsworthy (because even the existence of this concept within SEAS is a huge deal), but it’s important to keep expectations in check. And since “repetitio est mater studiorum…”
It is likely we will never see this project come to fruition.


Where?

As mentioned above, this proposed Sesame Place park would be constructed in what is currently Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s handicap and preferred parking lot. A site plan of the proposed park provided in the survey is included below.


To put the map above into a little more perspective, here is the area in question on Google Maps.


What?

So what does this proposed park feature exactly? Since there was not a comprehensive attraction list included with the survey, all we have to go on aside from the site plan included above are a few pieces of concept art.
As revealed in the site plan above, the park in question would feature four themed areas: The Neighborhood, Central ParkForest of Fun, and Seaside. Below we’ll take as deep a dive as we can into each section.

The Neighborhood

This area of Sesame Street Williamsburg would act as the park’s entry area and as a “hub” for the rest of the park (think Mainstreet USA at Magic Kingdom). Below is a piece of concept art depicting an overview of the proposed “Neighborhood” area alongside an estimated field of view map to give you a better idea of what you’re looking at.


What do the concept art and site plan reveal about The Neighborhood? It appears that there is a healthy selection of shops and restaurants in this area of the park (as one would expect from a typical theme park “mainstreet” area). Survey slides for those two aspects of the park can be found below.

Additionally, there appears to be a large theater as well (the funnel-shaped building on the site plan). There is a slide in the survey that confirms the presence of a major theater in the proposed park as well.

If you look closely at the street down the middle of the area, there is a parade going on. Helpfully, the park included concept art for the parade in the survey as well!

Part of The Neighborhood that didn’t make it into the overhead concept art featured previously is the proposed park’s entrance. Once again though, the survey provides with a slide entirely dedicated to the entry gate!

Another attraction that appears to take up residence in The Neighborhood is a large character meet and greet space. The slide for that aspect of the proposal is included below.

Now, before we move on to Central Park, scroll back up and look at that original piece of concept art for The Neighborhood. Note the fabric pavilion in the bottom left corner…

Central Park

This is an area of the proposed Sesame Place Williamsburg that the survey slides really don’t reveal much about. That said, as referenced immediately above, the concept for The Neighborhood gives us a hint at what Central Park features.
The fabric roof seems to belong to the relatively small circular attraction shown in the top left corner of the Central Park site plan. There isn’t any information to discern what exactly this ride would be, but there is a good chance it could be the park’s carousel. We know the proposed Sesame Place Williamsburg would feature a small carousel thanks to the rides slide (included below).


In addition to the circular flat in the top left of Central Park, there appears to be another new, larger circular flat ride on the bottom edge of the area. Considering the other two rides depicted in the rides slide above already exist in Forest of Fun (we’ll talk about that in a moment!), there’s really no way to know what this larger circular attraction could be.
Aside from a selection of trees and various small structures, there’s not much else to this area of the park in the site plan.

Forest of Fun

The layout of the existing Sesame Street Forest of Fun area inside Busch Gardens Williamsburg would stay almost entirely unchanged according to the site plan in the survey. The current entry path across from Escape from Pompeii would be removed and a new backstage area would separate the two parks from one another.
The existing attractions in this area all seem to remain in place as well. The concept art on the rides slide above suggests that rethemes are in the cards though. The children’s drop tower in the rides graphic appears to just be a retheme of the existing ride of the same type, Prince Elmo’s Spire. The Oscar-themed flat on the bottom left of the rides graphic seems to be a visual refresh of the currently operating Oscar’s Whirly Worms ride.
What is very noteworthy about Forest of Fun in the site plan is that it has nearly doubled in size. The area outlined in blue in the picture below would be new portion of Forest of Fun.

As you can see, this area of the site plan is very sparsely populated. It does seem to offer some room for a few additional flats if the park decided to build out its ride collection a bit more.

Seaside

The final (and largest) section of the proposed Sesame Place Williamsburg is Seaside. As the name suggests, this is a children-focused water park.
The site plan seems to depict three slide complexes, a wave pool, and a large water play structure. The survey graphic for the water attractions is included below.


This slide is a bit more curious than the others we’ve seen. The lazy river suggested by the left-most picture does not appear to exist anywhere in the site plan.
There is another inconsistency with this section of the park too. If you look at the aerial concept art depicting The Neighborhood, on the right you can see the top of a water slide that also does not appear in the site plan.
Ultimately, these minor inconsistencies are almost certainly a result of different iterations of the project being meshed together for a survey. That said, it shows how cautious we should be with all of the information presented. Nothing in this survey should be considered even close to finished.


Why?

Our thoughts on this are far too extensive for this article. Within the next day or two Nicole will have a full article up explaining why we believe this project is great for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Williamsburg as a tourist destination, and even Busch Gardens Williamsburg itself.

Update

Nicole’s full analysis of the pros and cons surrounding a new Sesame Place theme park in Williamsburg, VA is now live, here!


Acknowledgements

This post would have been impossible without a number of members of ParkFans.net who came forward to share their surveys. Thank you all for your time and dedication!

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Unveils Membership Program

January 9th Update: Because we have been adding information to this post regularly over the past two days, we decided our article needed to be completely restructured to better present everything we know about the recently announced Membership program. Hopefully this version is more user-friendly.

BGWFans learned yesterday (February 7) that the long-rumored, new Membership Plan will be unveiled at 10am today. Dan Dipiazzo graciously offered to answer our questions in advance of the release, so we could break everything down for y’all.
Since we know this is the big question on everyone’s mind, yes, you can keep your current pass at its current rate… at least for now (see the section below on grandfathered passes for a more complete discussion). That said, we strongly recommend crunching the numbers before making a decision.
To help you decide whether you want to switch over to the new program, we have summarized the tiers, including prices and benefits below. You can find more details, as well as information on a limited-time, promotional rate after the charts, so be sure to read to the end!

Basic Membership

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Water Country USA
Season-Long Admission with Select Blackout Dates Throughout the Year Season-Long Admission with Select Blackout Dates Throughout the Year
Price Per Month Price Per Year Parking Guest Tickets
$12 $144 50% Off General None
Additional Benefits
  • $35 Off Single-Day Tickets for Guests
  • 10% In-Park Discount on Food & Merchandise
  • Special Membership-Exclusive Events (eg. “Sneak Peek” Days)
  • Additional Membership-Exclusive Offers & Promotions
  • 50% Off Admission to Other SeaWorld Parks (Excluding Discovery Cove)

Unlimited Membership

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Water Country USA
Season-Long Admission Season-Long Admission
Price Per Month Price Per Year Parking Guest Tickets
$17 $204 Free General 2 Per Year
Additional Benefits
  • $35 Off Single-Day Tickets for Guests
  • 10% In-Park Discount on Food & Merchandise
  • Special Membership-Exclusive Events (eg. “Sneak Peek” Days)
  • Additional Membership-Exclusive Offers & Promotions
  • 50% Off Admission to Other SeaWorld Parks (Excluding Discovery Cove)

Premier Membership

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Water Country USA 9 Other SEAS Parks
Season-Long Admission Season-Long Admission Season-Long Admission
Price Per Month Price Per Year Parking Guest Tickets
$22 $264 Free Preferred 3 Per Year
Additional Benefits
  • $40 Off Single-Day Tickets for Guests
  • 10% In-Park Discount on Food & Merchandise
  • Special Membership-Exclusive Events (eg. “Sneak Peek” Days)
  • Use of the Employee Entrance (When Available)
  • Additional Membership-Exclusive Offers & Promotions
  • Extra-Special Premier-Exclusive Offers & Promotions
  • “Platinum Perks” at Other SeaWorld Parks Nationwide

Additionally, we have created a detailed spreadsheet comparing all of the currently valid ticket options. In my case, the inclusion of Christmas Town balances the increased monthly rate, but I know many of you are paying considerably less than I.


Factors to Consider

  1. If you paid for your pass up-front, in-full you will not be able to renew it, and will be required to switch to the Membership Program or purchase a Fun Card once your initial 12 month pass expires. Pass holders on EZPay, however, will be able to keep their passes until BGW decides to eliminate them.  No decision has been made about if or when that will happen, but the park has guaranteed they will be valid at least through the end of 2018.
  2. The Premier Membership will be treated like a Platinum Pass when we visit other SEAS parks and vice versa. Platinum Pass holders from other parks, however, will have to pay for Christmas Town at BGW. That inclusion is considered a home park benefit.
  3. Current pass holders will be allowed to attend the Sneak Peek on March 17. The future Member Sneak Peek days, including Howl-O-Scream and Christmas Town, will only be open to participants in the new Membership Program, however.
  4. We asked BGW whether Platinum Pass holders and Premier Members will still be able to use the employee entrance to park in the England Lot. Here is their answer: “We have offered entry through the team member entrance as a courtesy to Platinum Pass holders when possible, and will continue to do so. We will extend this to new Premier Members. This is not a guaranteed benefit and may be re-evaluated at a future date.”
  5. There will be a variety of short-term exclusive benefits for Program Members throughout the year. These may be of higher value for Premier Members.
  6. The free guest tickets (Unlimited and Premier Memberships) will work at both BGW and WCUSA, as well as Christmas Town. Tickets will be populated in a Member’s account twice a year for Unlimited and three times a year for Premier. According to Dan, “[These] tickets will be good for consecutive periods, meaning all operating days will be covered, including the events. When the park opens March 24, everyone in those plans will have one ticket available. Those tickets will be available and valid for a specified period, and then another one will populate. Free guest tickets may be used on any regular operating day, but would not be valid for Sneak Peak days.”
  7. Basic and Unlimited Members and 1-Park and 2-Park Pass holders will be able to purchase guest tickets with a $35 discount. Premier Members and Platinum Pass holders get $40 off guest tickets. All Members may also receive larger, promotional discounts, but Pass holders will not.
  8. For Members on the Basic tier only there are 57 Blockout Dates at BGW and 25 at WCUSA. 28 of the 40 Saturdays that BGW will be open are blocked out, while of WCUSA’s 17 Saturdays 15 are blocked out. Additionally, all Spring Break and many December days are blocked out.
  9. For $25 Basic Members can visit the park on Blockout Dates. That said, the difference in price between the Basic and Unlimited plans is only $60; and three such visits would cost $75.
  10. Basic and Unlimited Members and 1-Park and 2-Park Pass holders will get 50% off tickets to all other SeaWorld parks (except Discovery Cove).
  11. Members will be able to upgrade to a higher-tier plan and pay the difference in price. Downgrades, however, are not available in the first year.  If you are on EZPay you will be able to move to a lower tier once you have met your initial 12-month obligation.  Additionally, according to Dan, “The introductory rates are available only through March 31. So, if someone joined at the Basic level today and wished to move to Unlimited in June, he would do so at the $17 rate, not the special $15 promotional rate.”

Details About Switching

It is worth noting that the current rate will be locked in for at least 12 months. The cost will remain the same, until the park decides to raise the price of everyone’s Membership simultaneously, so there is no established annual price increase. In fact, Dan confirmed that there are no current plans to increase the Membership rates for the foreseeable future. You will still have the option of either using EZpay or paying-in-full for an entire year at once, if you prefer.
In light of that system, it is especially important for people to make a decision about switching over soon. From now until March 31, all three plans will be discounted $2 per month ($24 per year). For some people that special, introductory rate will be lower than the cost of their current annual pass. Obviously, it is worth locking in that lower price, since it could last well beyond the first 12 months of the program.
The next important question is how people can sign up for the Membership program. If you are not currently an annual pass holder, you can go online starting today and purchase one of the three tiers. Anyone with a current annual pass will need to call customer service or visit guest services in person to switch.
If you purchased an annual pass within the past 12 months and want to upgrade to the Membership program, you will be allowed out of your current contract. When you make the switch, you will restart your initial year-long obligation. Obviously, if you are beyond your initial 12 month EZpay commitment, you can call the park and cancel anytime. In fact, as one of our forum members pointed out, this could be a better choice than simply upgrading straightaway.
Pass holders who already paid for an entire year (a one-time payment, not EZPay) can apply the balance of the remaining months to the new Membership program. This will require a visit to Guest Services.
Recognizing that the lines will likely be very long, BGW has decided to allow current pass holders to visit before opening day to switch over to the new program. Guest service agents will be available for pre-processing at BGW on March 1st through 4th and 8th through 11th.


Keeping Your Old Pass

There has been a lot of concern and confusion about how long the old pass structure will remain in place.  For those who paid in full for their annual pass, the answer is fairly straightforward.  Your pass will be valid for the full 12 months, unless you choose to convert earlier to the new Membership program.
Unfortunately, things are a bit less clear for people using the EZPay system. Your current pass is good at least for the full 12-month contract. We all know, however, that most pass holders locked in rates years ago, and have since met their initial year-long obligation. Despite an earlier version of the park’s FAQ stating otherwise, no date has been set for when (or if) current pass holders on the EZPay plan will have to switch to Memberships or Fun Cards. So, you can use your current pass through the end of the 2018 season, and may be able to keep it after that, as well. There are, however, no guarantees at this time. Hopefully, BGW will release more information, after they have had a chance to evaluate the Membership program.
There are some additional implications to keep in mind if you plan to keep your legacy annual pass.

  1. Because the Memberships include Christmas Town, there will no longer be a Christmas Town Pass for pass members. There may be a Fun Card, but decision has not yet been made. Additionally, according to a reliable source, Christmas Town ticket prices will increase significantly this year. This variable is what made the switch cost-effective for me.
  2. Current pass holders will still be entitled to all of the benefits listed on the park website as of this week. This includes discounted Christmas Town and guest tickets, in-park discounts, etc.
  3. Only Unlimited and Premier Members will receive free guest tickets. That promotional perk was never included as an official pass benefit.

Why This is Happening

Some people have wondered why BGW decided to overhaul their pass structure, especially since the rest of SEAS is still using the old system.
Dan said the motivation was not “exactly” financial. Apparently, Williamsburg has the highest percentage of pass holders, and they wanted to reward that loyalty. Additionally, for about a year BGW has been wrestling with how to incorporate Christmas Town into the annual passes. They decided on a membership program, where guests will pay a monthly fee for access to all of the attractions available through the Williamsburg parks.
I know many people are unhappy with the idea of giving up their very low monthly rates. Looking at the pass programs with a wider lens, however, I believe this new structure re-establishes a level of equity among members. Under the current system there are Platinum Pass holders who pay less than Single Park Pass holders, simply because they started using the EZpay system sooner. That is on its face absurd. Additionally, the current system is unresponsive to either inflation or BGW’s legitimate financial needs. While none of us love paying more, I think the park has found a fairly reasonable way to level the playing field and normalize their revenues.


As always, we are happy to track down answers to additional questions you may have. Please feel free to reach out via the comments below, on the ParkFans Forum thread dedicated to the new Membership structure, or via one of our social media channels (primarily Facebook or Twitter).

Flames Erupt at Busch Gardens on New Year's Eve

A large brush fire was triggered by Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s New Year’s Eve firework show on Sunday evening around 9:20pm.
According to park communications manager Ron Vample, the fire was extinguished within 15 minutes of its ignition.
The extent of the damage to the Rhine River Trestle and surrounding areas is still being assessed by the park as of early Monday afternoon.
The following map depicts our rough approximation of the impacted areas. We will refine it further as more information comes to light.

Pictures from the first moments of the fire on the Rhine River Trestle can be found below. Full photo credit goes to Dani Reese Nixon who originally posted these images to her Facebook page.


The fire then spread to the heavily wooded embankment between the Rhine River and Festhaus Park. Pictures of the resulting brush fire, posted originally by G-No Jaxon on Facebook, can be found below.

Lastly, we have a picture of what appears to be a close-up look at the blaze which was originally posted by a Facebook user to the park’s official page. The image has since been deleted so, for the time being, we are presenting the image below without crediting the source. We have reached out to the Facebook user in question to learn more.

According to the park’s statement to BGWFans, the blaze was extinguished by the James City County Fire Department which is required to be on-site to oversee all Busch Gardens Williamsburg firework displays. After the fire was contained, the park resumed normal operation for the remainder of the night.
Vample further confirmed that park operations are expected to continue unimpeded on New Year’s Day (Monday). When asked specifically about the current status of the Busch Gardens Railroad, he shared that a park operations official had confirmed the railroad would be closed on January 1st. Reportedly, this was due to extremely cold temperatures and not the fire which took place the night before.


This article will be updated as we learn more about the New Year’s Eve fire at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Any updates made to this post will be noted on our Twitter account.
If you were at the park on Sunday and would like to share your experience or pictures, please contact us here or via our Facebook page, here.
Thanks to WAVY News reporter Brandi Cummings for staying on top of the story as it happened. Additionally, thanks to Luke from the ParkFans Forum for notifying us about the event so quickly and posting it to the forum.

New Year Brings New Busch Gardens Williamsburg Passes

As some of you may have noticed, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is not currently selling season passes. No, this is not a computer error; the park is planning to institute a new membership program in 2018.
While we have no hard data about the new structure, we do have some tantalizing clues. Specifically, we have information gleaned from a recent annual pass survey.
It is worth noting that other SeaWorld and Busch parks are still selling passes under the old structure, including the Platinum option.
Before we get to the details of the survey, we wanted to highlight a few key questions:

  • How closely will the new structure emulate the tiers laid out in the recent survey?
  • Will there be a Fun Card in addition to the membership levels?
  • Will current annual pass holders be grandfathered, or will they have to convert over to the new system?
  • Will the top tier still get discounts and other perks, especially Platinum privileges, at SEAS parks outside of Virginia?

The Survey

Over the past few months BGW sent a long and detailed survey to some pass holders. It appears that the intent was to propose a range of new pass and ticket options, and elicit feedback.
That last point is critical. While we have seen the proposed structures, we have no way of knowing the final details of the planned, new program. The park may have tweaked some or all of the tiers, or decided on a completely different system. So, please do not take the following screen shots as anything more than BGW’s attempt to gauge public responses to potential options.
As you can see, BGW presented two structures:

  • A new membership program with three tiers; and
  • An annual pass system with levels similar to the current options.

Because the park recently posted on Facebook that “Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA 2018 Membership plans will be available early next year,” we wanted to highlight that section of the survey. While we don’t know if or how the perks will be allocated among the tiers, we were intrigued by some of the changes in how they might allocate privileges. In addition to the number of parks covered at each level, BGW seems to be looking at varying:

  • Parking discounts,
  • Guest ticket discounts,
  • Inclusion of Christmas Town, and
  • Blackout dates.

The blackout dates are of particular interest. While the large Florida parks already exclude their peak seasons from less expensive passes, this is not standard practice in our region.
As we know from the dynamic pricing structure at Christmas Town, BGW has been experimenting with using ticket prices to manage crowd levels. In addition to serving as a way to scale perks among the tiers, the possible blackout dates may be intended to reduce the number of pass members at the park on predictably busy days.
Water Country, which could be included at all levels of the membership program, has always had a few days each year that are incredibly crowded. Blackout dates could be very useful in dealing with that capacity problem.
It also looks as if they are evaluating Fun Cards and single-day tickets:

We seriously hope BGW takes this opportunity to eliminate the Fun Card. Especially if they opt to include blackout dates with the basic-level pass, it seems like an odd, and potentially disruptive, alternative to have outside of the membership program.


Conclusion

Overall, we like the ideas we see in the survey. With the exception of the Fun Cards, they appear to be attempting to link privileges and access to the tiers.
Especially since the other SEAS parks do not seem to be changing their annual pass structures, we hypothesize that the new program will be designed to compete with Kings Dominion and possibly Six Flags America, both of which now include water parks, Halloween haunts, and holiday events in their annual passes.
Hopefully, we will have real information to share soon.