Passholder Day at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW) has become a rite of Spring for my family. This year was no different. I went to bed the night before with images of what I thought would be a fun-filled day for me, my wife and our son and daughter. Those images persisted as we readied the kids and car for the 45 minute trip to the park.
Those images began to fade as I settled into the driver’s seat of my car. Our passes, normally kept at the ready in my car, were missing. After ransacking two cars and several rooms in the house, we opted to head to the park without them and just get them reprinted. Doing so meant having to wait at Guest Relations in a long line of new pass holders, but it had to be done. Little did I know that what I thought would be the low point of the day was really just the initial climb on the lift hill of a rollercoaster of frustration.
Ok. So, I know that Passholder Day is a shakedown day for the park. The park benefits from “live fire” training for its new employees and the park’s “investors” (passholders) get a special day before the park opens for the season. Since there is this “win-win” relationship, the passholders are expected to, and often do, give a little latitude for slow and/or poor service or a lesser in-park experience. Typically, I’m in for it and play along.
But this day wasn’t typical. Today was a day beyond comprehension. Upon our arrival at the park, it look more like a Saturday in July rather than a passholder only event.
It took us 45 minutes to exit the interstate and get to the parking toll booth. FORTY-FIVE minutes! That might not seem that long except for the fact that the BGW exit from the interstate empties right to toll booths. Adding that all lanes were open, I was left with one thought. BGW’s marketing folks had done a great job is selling season passes for this year! But, they hadn’t done enough to train the folks in the booths to move cars quicker through the gates.
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Another 20 minutes to find our parking spot and unload the kids and their paraphernalia for the day, I began the wait in the next line at Guest Relations. The cue was full and spilling out onto the walkway that head’s to the park. I took a deep breath and dove into the cue. But AH HA! BGW was on it. They had an employee at the top of the cue directing pass reprints back to the overflow/military recognition ticketing booths. Even better was the news that reprints were free.
I gleefully walked to the booths thinking, “Ok! This is going to make up for the parking debacle. I’ll be in the park in 10 minutes.”
I was wrong!
BGW had three, maybe four, booths open for this purpose. Unfortunately, the lines for these four were moving at a snail’s pace. Not as slow as the parking, in comparison, but it was a slow and growing problem as I watched the lines grow behind me. I began what ultimately ended up being a 45 minute wait to have tickets reprinted.
When I finally arrived at the window, the booth attendant apologized for my wait, but the reason for the slowness was never explained. Nor did I see supervisors working to add capacity to move the lines. I did see numerous park supervisors and suit-types walking around and talking with each other. Probably congratulating each other on the number of season passes sold!
Now, almost two hours since arriving on site, we were able to proceed into the park and start the fun.
As funny aside, the employee that reprinted our tickets had informed me that Platinum passholders, which we are, were eligible for a special gift. We just needed to stop at the table before going through the turnstiles. After going through a lackadaisical bag inspection, (if you’re going to make me stop to have all the bags inspected, at least look in all the compartments of the diaper bag, camera bag, and cooler..I’m just saying) we proceeded to the table. They were handing out platinum lanyards to hold passes. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived they just had the straps. They had run out of the plastic sleeves that hold the passes.
Huh?!? How do you run out of one and not the other? Couldn’t someone in purchasing order the same amount of sleeves as straps?
At that point, I didn’t care and didn’t question it. I just wanted to get through the turnstiles and fortunately there were no troubles there.
We entered the park hoping to leave the troubles we’d had behind, and for the most part we did. Well, except for dining, but more on that in a minute. We found the park familiar but with some changes. Some are subtle, like the moving of the height check location over near the guided tour area, formerly Guest Relations which is now to the right as you come through the turnstiles.
Because of the entry issues and my daughter’s preferences, we managed to do only a little bit of the park. We noted that the barn owl is now outside greeting guests as they decide whether to head to the Loch Ness Monster, left to Sesame Street Fun Forest and Italy, or right to Ireland.
Heading to Italy, I noticed that the water ride, Escape from Pompeii appeared to have received some new paint in the splash down area. Heading through Italy and on our way Germany, we notice the canopy that enclosed the Italian eatery, Il Teatro di San Marco, during Christmas Town remained in place. Could these be permanent additions? Will they take away from the open-air dining experience?
The walk across the bridge from Italy to Germany was different. Gone are the salutes to the different branches of the US military salutes and appropriate battle themes. Instead, themes and music from the Italy area carry you across to Germany, or the new, revitalization project, Oktoberfest area.
While the Big Bad Wolf no longer greets arrivals from Italy, the construction area around the new Mach Tower does. As does a new building, presumably part of the revitalization that was built where the kiddie swings were. The kiddie swings have been relocated behind the bigger swings. Also, a new path has been cut through behind the swings over to the game/Dark Castle ride area. No more having to cut through the gift shop!
After a few games, we decide to eat in the Festhaus. It was off show times so we thought we’d be able to get a seat and eat. While seating was not full, it was busy. After dropping of the wives and kids off at a table, my friend and I made our way to the food lines. Upon arriving at the entrance for the food lines, we were instructed to cue up in a line that stretched back to the building’s entry area. As it turns out, the serving lines were so long that crowd control measures were required.
After a nearly10 minute wait in the pre-line line, the serving lines took about 30 minutes to navigate. In the kitchen area, I saw a lot of team leaders doing prep work (cutting veggies for salads) and instructing new employees rather than “showing” them how to prepare entrees and move the lines a little faster. Was it a case of too many Chiefs or Chefs? With our wait, we were able to enjoy the show and our meal at the same time.
The day turned uneventful after lunch. We attempted to ride the swings, but the kids determined the line was too long. It did spill out of the ride’s covered cue area. So we headed to the DaVinci Garden area for a ride on the Flying Machines. We then headed to the old Festa Italia area for a spin on the Elephant’s Run and some game play in the arcade. I did note that it appears Apollo’s Chariot was running at least two trains.
We wrapped up our day in the Fun Forest with, what else? Some more line waiting. Since my daughter has discovered she likes roller coasters, we can leave without a ride on Grover’s Alpine Express. Literally a 30 second ride for the littleones, we waited 20 minutes to ride. That was fitting end for the day.
All things considered, it wasn’t a bad day, and certainly wasn’t the worse day we’ve had in a park. We’ve grown to expect better from BGW and we hope that as the season progresses those expectations will be met. However, this was one of the rockiest starts to the season in the ten years that we’ve been passholders. We hope to make it to Ireland, France and New France on the next trip, in a couple of weeks.
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To wrap things up, here’s a collection of photos from all around the park of things that have changed since the 2010 season. In France/New France, Le Catapult has yet to be completed (however I’ve heard it will be ready for next weekend), as well as some new awnings being installed in the Trapper’s eating area near the ride. The Oyster’s Secret shop has been removed so the pathway could be expanded as well as a new small seating area where the shop was once located. In Scotland, the Ladies’ restroom has finally been expanded, which has caused the owl area to be moved to Crossroads and the removal of the gift shop inside the barn. In Oktoberfest, the planter right outside of the Festhaus has had a stage added to the center of it. A new pathway has been built, and Kiddie Swings has been relocated. Oktoberfest is a lot more open as the area is sure to be packed once Mach Tower opens in late spring. In England, Guest Relations and Adventure Photo has swapped places. Stay tuned for more updates!
For more information, including tickets visit the parks official website.