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Mid-September Photo Update: Gods, Dragons, and Monsters

A Comprehensive Look at Everything Happening at Busch Gardens Williamsburg & Water Country USA

A Comprehensive Look at Everything Happening at Busch Gardens Williamsburg & Water Country USA

Prologue

I have been feeling nostalgic lately and, with so much happening at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (and Water Country USA) right now, I thought I’d hold some content back from our social media channels for a bit and take the time to write a longform, in-depth photo update. Somehow, that idea ballooned into this absolutely enormous article—what is now the single largest BGWFans photo update in the decade-long history of this site. So sit back and get comfortable, because this will be the biggest dose of Busch Gardens Williamsburg & Water Country USA news you’ve ever been served in one sitting.

PS: At the very end of this article I’ve included a brief statement about BGWFans’ tenth anniversary so, if you care, make sure you stick around for that! Oh, also, yeah, we redesigned the website. It’s not done but we hope you all like the changes we’ve implemented thus far.


Pantheon

Lets begin with the part of this article that I imagine will have the widest audience, a construction update on Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s new-for-2020 roller coaster, Pantheon. The last time we took an in-depth look at Pantheon here on the BGWFans frontpage was back in June before the project was even officially announced. We’ve posted updates to social media a few times since then, but it’s definitely time to take a new, thorough look at the state of the Pantheon site today.

The Coaster

The name of the game for the last couple months on the Pantheon site has been pile driving and footers construction. At this point, we are still at that stage and, though crews have driven an astonishing number of support pilings into the ground in Festa Field thus far, they still have a lot left.

First off, we have some shots taken from the San Marco-side of the construction site. A healthy handful of seemingly-completed footers for the turns out of the station and the first launch are the main highlights in these photos.

Next up, we have some shots from the east side of the Pantheon site. These were all taken from the Busch Gardens Railroad and give a much more complete view of the construction area. A few things to keep an eye out for in this next batch though:

  • There are a lot of piles still staged next to the construction area waiting to be put into the ground.
  • The large rectangle framed in wood are some of the footers for Pantheon’s Rhine River drop. Those are going to be enormous blocks of concrete.
  • The last shot doesn’t have a ton going on right now, but it’s the general area of the massive outward-banked airtime hill that follows the first drop.

Finally in this section, we have some photos of the south side of the site taken from the Rhine River Cruise. These photos do a great job of showing just how much of a terrain coaster Pantheon is really going to be. Plunging down this hillside to the bank of the Rhine River and then following the terrain back uphill and into that outward-banked airtime hill is going to be, dare I say, god-like.

Bridge Over Festa Station

As many of you will hopefully remember from our painfully in-depth exposé of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 2020 multi-launch coaster, a new bridge is being constructed over Festa Station to allow guests access to Festa Field. As of this last weekend, site work ahead of the installation of this new crossing has really kicked into high-gear: Festa Station is now closed and behind construction walls; the old face painting building that used to be located behind Turkish Delight has been largely demolished; and some new clearing as occurred on both sides of the railroad station. Photos of all of this work are included below.

Replacement Barn & Pastures

One of the biggest shakeups caused by Pantheon is that BGW’s zoology department had to give up their barn and much of the grazing area that was previously located in Festa Field. As long predicted, over the last few months, we’ve seen the majority of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s backstage livestock operations shift across the railroad tracks to the east of the Pantheon site. This process has involved the clearing of new grazing space, the construction of new pens, and, most notably, the erection of a brand new barn.


Aquazoid

Next up, lets tackle another big-ticket item, this time over at Water Country USA: Aquazoid. For those of you who don’t know, Aquazoid has been closed most of the summer; at one point, it was even removed from Water Country USA’s website entirely. Busch Gardens Williamsburg has yet to make an official statement about the future of this slide, but something is almost certainly going to have to be done before next season. Having one of the biggest slides in the park standing but not operating is not a good look at all.

So what happened to Aquazoid? We can’t be sure without confirmation from the park, but the rumors we’ve heard center around structural issues with the slide. Circumstantial evidence on the site, such as sections of the tower marked with construction flags and even caution tape barring entry to the base of the tower, seem to suggest that these rumors may not be credible.

Anyway, I’ve included some photos showing the current state of Aquazoid below. A few of them show orange or yellow tape marking sections of the tower, but there are also a couple that are included to show some previous tower reinforcement that Water Country USA has attempted in the past (note the I-Beams).


Diving Show Theater

Before we head out of Water Country USA, I want to provide an update on something that, despite its very prominent location in the park, has been standing but not operating for far longer than Aquazoid: the old diving show theater. It’s not often that I carry my DSLR into a waterpark with me, so it seems like as good a time as any to check out the current state of this long-deserted area.

As you can see, its incredible just how little has changed behind these walls in the last five years or so. Hopefully we’ll see new life in this location sometime in the next seasons. It really is a great piece of real estate!


Land of the Dragons

Making our way back over to Busch Gardens Williamsburg, there are a couple of smaller construction projects that haven’t gotten much attention yet. One revolves around alterations to Land of the Dragons, the children’s area next to Rhinefeld. Earlier this season we reported on the removal of Eggery Deggery, the kiddie ferris wheel, and its eventual replacement with a new electronic play structure. Alongside that work, the old Land of the Dragons theater was converted into a toddler play area.

Despite these changes earlier this year, it seems Busch Gardens Williamsburg still isn’t done with Land of the Dragons modifications. Sometime in the last few months, Busch Gardens has removed all of the slides from the treehouses⁠⁠—most notably, the two large enclosed ones towards the back of the area. Not only that, but much of the ground-level paths towards the back of Land of the Dragons have also been walled off with signs promising new additions soon.

Below you can find photos of the closed off section of the hamlet and the areas previously occupied by the large slides.


La Cucina Deck Replacement

Speaking of construction projects no one has been following thus far, we have another one: the replacement of the deck behind La Cucina. I wasn’t actually aware of this project until I happened to stroll back to Roman Rapids to check on Circo Sinistro and noticed construction walls up in an unexpected area.

Anyway, given that the new construction seems to be identical to the previous deck which has long been located here, this is likely a case of an aging wooden structure just needing replacement. That said, it does make you wonder if Busch Gardens Williamsburg may be thinking about attempting yet another relaunch of La Cucina in 2020 to debut alongside Pantheon…

Regardless, here are a few shots of the ongoing deck work.


Howl-O-Scream

Lastly, but certainly not least, rounding out the end of this photo update, we have Howl-O-Scream. Despite this year’s event losing a stage show (Fiends) and a house (Cornered), I’m actually really intrigued by how this year is shaping up. There aren’t any new houses, but we have heard rumors of notable changes having been made to at least half of the returning houses in the lineup. Those whispers, paired with what looks to me to be a fresh, renewed interest in in park decorations, has me very interested about this year’s event.

Anyway, not every area and attraction will be covered in this update because there are large sections of the park that still hadn’t received their overlays as of last weekend. That said, everything I could spot, I’ve included.

Axe Alley

A number of props, a few fog machines, and a bungee rig are all already setup for Axe Alley. They even sprinkled some skeleton bones into the remote control monster truck area.

Fools’ Court

Fools’ Court’s large puppet and skull throne are both in place alongside some thematic flags and bagged lights. It’ll be interesting to see if something new will take place on that throne stage this year…

Garden of the Souls

Easily my favorite scarezone in 2018, Garden of Souls is back. That said, as of last weekend, very little work had actually been done in San Marco thus far. The only notable things I spotted were a new themed sign outside of Il Teatro di San Marco and the addition of the the Restless Spirits bar.

Ripper Row

Other than the pergolas that normally go up over the pathway in front of the Emporium, Ripper Row is looking pretty much done at this point.

That’s not all there is to see in Banbury though. Inside the Emporium, the merchandise department has done a splendid job decorating for the season as well!

Sideshow Square

Sideshow Square has never had many props so it’s hard to know if we should be expecting much more than what is currently in place. What is currently in place? The Circo Sinistro billboard, the circus props in front of Tempesto, and the Sinistro Souveneurs signage over the gift shop near Apollo’s Chariot.

Vampire Point

Rhinefeld’s overlay, Vampire Point, is the scarezone showing the largest number of changes when compared to previous seasons iterations. A few updates to make note of:

  • New pillars next to the Rhinefeld entry arch
  • A new skull-themed podium structure over top of the Rhinefeld entry plaza fountain
  • Bats hanging all over the hamlet

At the other end of Vampire Point, Wilkomenhaus is, once again, home to Howl-O-Scream’s No Escape escape rooms. From the outside, everything looks pretty much ready to me!

Jack is Back (in Killarney)

Moving on from scarezones, we have the biggest addition for Howl-O-Scream 2019: Jack is Back. Yes, technically Jack was supposedly back last year too, but all that really meant in 2018 was that he would stand outside Das Festhaus for a few minutes each night, he would make the occasional appearance in Vault XX, and he had his own upcharge No Escape room. Considering the hype around Jack’s return, last year’s reintroduction left a lot to be desired.

That said, this year, it sounds like Jack is actually back. This time, Jack is returning to his original home in Killarney with a full show dedicated just to him. As of last weekend, the biggest additions to Killarney ahead of this new show’s debut were a new stage, some theming on the balcony above Annie’s Cafe, a few lighting towers in front of the Abbey Stone Theatre, and a ton of lights along the Killarney roofline. The only other item of great note in Killarney right now is that Control Lab has been set back up outside of Castle O’Sullivan.

There was something hiding backstage last weekend that we can probably expect to still be added to Killarney by this weekend: the strings of jack-o’-lanterns that have been used over Heatherdowns for years now.

Heatherdowns

Why do we think that the jack-o’-lanterns are destined for Killarney this year? Because ghosts and ghouls have already taken over Heatherdowns!

Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest is going to be late to the Howl-O-Scream setup game this year because Bier Fest was still ongoing last weekend. Almost all of the Howl-O-Scream theming in Oktoberfest will have to have been installed over this week. That said, we did see a few details this past weekend:

  • Colored lights have begun to appear throughout the hamlet;
  • Der Marketplatz was closed ahead of it’s Halloween overlay; and
  • The typically-incest-themed frozen drink bar across from Verbolten has been rebranded as “Frost.”

Inside Das Festhaus, Night Beats’ set is going in. The photos below were taken during some sort of awful country band performance last weekend in Das Festhaus so excuse the poor image quality.

Wild (Werewolf) Reserve

This is a big one right here. For years now (I’m talking like a decade plus), people have been begging Busch Gardens to bring werewolves back to the Wild Reserve for Howl-O-Scream. Although we don’t know whether there will actually be any actors in this area of the park this season, the overlay is still a great throwback, and a perfect thematic fit for the hamlet.

The Vault: Overtaken

Although we have heard that a number of houses are getting refreshed this season, the only one that is getting enough work to justify an updated theme is Vault. According to Busch Gardens, we can expect some new characters from Howl-O-Screams gone by to show up this year including the famous nurses from Fiends. Below you’ll find a few images of the progress visible from outside of Vault.


Thanks for making it to the bottom of this monumental photo update! If you’re a Howl-O-Scream fan like we are, make sure you like BGWFans on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with our live coverage of the event’s opening weekend! Additionally, if you haven’t done so already, consider joining in with our discussions about all things Busch Gardens Williamsburg on our partner forum, ParkFans.net!


Epilogue

Within the last month or so, BGWFans turned ten years old. It’s incredible to me that BGWFans (and the community around it!) have not only endured for this long, but have truly thrived along the way. I know it’s cliché, but ten years ago, I could have never imagined BGWFans growing like it has in the time since. Frankly, in 2009, I had no idea that there were more than a handful of people who would even self-identify as Busch Gardens Williamsburg fans. Yet here we are, more than a decade later, with a continuously growing reader base and a community forum, ParkFans.net, that is showing no signs of slowing down.

There are dozens of people who deserve credit for helping build BGWFans into what it is today—many of whom have never gotten anywhere near enough public credit for their contributions. Among the underappreciated are former site staff, many long-time friends and contributors, and a lengthy list of former and current sources within Busch Gardens Williamsburg. While a Busch Gardens Williamsburg fansite of some kind would almost certainly exist with or without some of these people, BGWFans, as you know it today, would not.

Lastly, but certainly not least, we must also thank our readership. Your continued support for BGWFans’ signature brand of in-depth, eccentric, aggressive journalism focused around such a niche subject makes everything we do worthwhile. BGWFans and ParkFans are a lot of work, but the knowledge that we can provide so many people with news, rumors, and discussion about a place they all love as much as we do is what keeps us going.

Thanks for reading,
~ Zachary


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  1. Thanks for a great article Zach!. Looking forward to Howl-O-Scream and all the changes in store for us. Keep up the good work on BGWFans and ParkFans. Happy 10th anniversary!

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