We began our visit to Busch Gardens Williamsburg with the four hour long Roller Coaster Insider tour. I blogged about this experience extensively back in 2010, and the only significant difference today was the inclusion of what used to be a standalone Verbolten tour. Our fearless leader asked us to avoid taking pictures of ride blueprints or control panels, but this wasn't a big deal given that I had those shots in my archives already. Over the course of the morning we were granted two rides apiece on Griffon, Alpengeist, Verbolten, Apollo's Chariot, and Loch Ness Monster, which was far more than we'd have managed in the same time period if we'd been wandering the park independently.
In an ideal world we'd have made our first post-tour stop at Tempesto, a launched coaster from Premier Rides that was added to the park last year. Our guide had told us that it was the only ride of its type to be fitted with comfort collars in addition to standard lap bars, an interesting turn of phrase that we felt was almost certainly an oxymoron. Sadly we were unable to validate this for ourselves due to a technical fault that kept the ride closed all day. Though frustrating, the embuggerance was a very minor one given that we'll be back to the park in the not too distant future for InvadR, a bizarrely named wood coaster that is currently under construction.
Instead we pottered over to Grover's Alpine Express, one of six worldwide installations of the Force 190 family coaster by Zierer. This stop was made purely for the benefit of Megan, who hadn't visited the park in seventeen years and needed the credit. Curiously her main comment on the experience was to lament the cold weather attire that adorned the figurehead on the ride train, pointing out how uncomfortable it would be on a warm summer day. In my case I was more concerned about the shark fins in the seats, but fortunately the train didn't pick up enough speed for them to present a major problem. We were only given a single lap, but that was all that we wanted.
We decided to take advantage of the Festhaus for a good quality meal, a natural defensive reaction to three consecutive days of roadside fast food. I decided to enjoy a pint with my food, and was politely asked to show identification before being served. It seemed unlikely that the bartender would be familiar with the recently introduced Irish Passport Card, but mine was accepted with barely a second glance, making me wonder whether any official looking piece of plastic would be sufficient to pass muster. Less than a minute later I was asked for identification again at the cash register, making me laugh out loud; American law requires no documentation to purchase a firearm at a gun show, but a balding middle aged man who definitely doesn't look under twenty one apparently has to prove his age several times in order to buy a drink.
Afterwards we had what was probably the best ride I've ever had on Curse of DarKastle, aided considerably by the fact that all the projection systems were properly in focus. There was one point where the change from scenery to projection was done so well that I was surprised when an apparent statue suddenly began to move.
Our next stop was at Le Scoot, a log flume designed by Arrow Development and one of the few attractions in the park remaining from its 1975 premiere. Earlier in the day our guides mentioned that the hardware had been through a multi-year refurbishment from 2012-2014 that included new boats, a new lift mechanism, and a new fiberglass trough, presumably with the aim of keeping things going for a few more decades. The experience felt like every other flume I've ever been on (they're honestly not my thing) but there was an unexpected benefit in that we were treated to a nice overview of the InvadR construction site from the top.
The day had gotten progressively hotter, and given that, it seemed prudent to relocate to air conditioned comfort for a while. The best way to do that seemed to be the Celtic Fyre show, a thirty minute long music and dance performance with an imported cast of traditional artists. It wasn't much of a surprise to hear a presentation laced with the so-called traditional songs that are absolutely never performed outside of tourist bars, but one couldn't fault either the singing or the infectious enthusiasm, and the Americans in the audience were obviously enthralled by what they were watching. We also caught an abbreviated version of the Pet Shenanigans show, reduced in length so that the animals wouldn't have to perform in the stifling heat.
The last major attraction of the day was the Europe in the Air simulator ride, which Megan insisted on trying despite me telling her that it wasn't very good. The experience began with an exceptionally hokey pre-show presented by the conveniently named Miles O'Skye, an air traffic controller shocked when he was able to clear our "aircraft" to do low passes over major landmarks in Europe. With that out of the way, we boarded a vanilla motion base in front of a projection screen with large fans either side to simulate the sensation of flight. The video focus issues I alluded to in 2010 were not present today, but despite that the effect wasn't even close to convincing, and well below the standard that I'd have hoped for in an otherwise excellent park.