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.

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