Family, Travel

Tips for Your Visit to Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Our family absolutely loves Busch Gardens Williamsburg! We started going regularly when we moved back to North Carolina and one of my favorite summers was when we splurged on annual passes.  We went multiple times that year and learned that place like the backs of our hands!  This year we caught a great deal online and I was able to get Layla a free preschooler’s season pass and the rest of the family got season passes to both Busch Gardens and Water Country USA for $79 each. We’ll get our money’s worth if we only go to each place one time this year (although we will likely be going much more than that!).
Aaron and the girls, May 2011

Busch Gardens is owned and operated by the Anheuser Busch company (yes, the beer company). They actually used to give free tours of the brewery next door but they ceased doing that years ago.  The park is beautiful. There is plenty of shade and there are gorgeous flowers everywhere. Busch Gardens is divided into European countries (England, Germany, Italy, France, Scotland and Ireland) and it feels authentic right down to the employees attire.

There really is something for everyone at Busch Gardens!

Cost Adults should expect to pay $72 for a ticket and tickets for children three and over cost $62. Busch Gardens offers a pay for a day, visit all season option where you can visit unlimited times until Labor Day. You can also get a lot of bang for your buck with annual passes. They are good all year and you get a discount on Christmas Town.  Your admission includes all shows and all rides.  Annual pass members get a 10% discount on all purchases made in the park and they get free parking.

Getting There Busch Gardens Williamsburg is located just minutes off of interstate 64 in Virginia.  It is about an hour east of Richmond and about two hours south of Washington, DC. There is a parking fee for anyone who does not have an annual pass. It is $15 per vehicle. They do take debit and credit cards at the parking gate. If you use handicap parking you will park just outside the gate and walk right in.  Depending on where they direct you to park you may need to ride a tram to get to the front entrance.  They have a space for strollers on the tram.

Pets The only animals allowed are service animals however there is a pet kennel on site and the charge is $20 per day.  They will give your animals water but you are asked to provide food.  You are responsible for coming to the kennel and walking your dog as needed throughout the day.  We’ve left our dog there before and were very happy with the staff and the accommodations.

Kid-ability What kid doesn’t love an amusement park?!  My family loves the variety of rides. There is a special Sesame Street area with several kid size rides as well as another kid friendly area with what I would call state fair type rides.  The Sesame Street characters can be found walking around in Elmo’s Forest of Fun and they are always willing to give out hugs.
Layla and Zoe, 2011
Annagrace, Layla and Aaron on Layla’s first ride
Layla, 2011

There is a small waterpark in Elmo’s Forest of Fun and another water play area on The Land of Dragons.  Add in a carousel, bumper cars, teacups, and multiple smaller rides scattered throughout the park your younger kids will be happy for hours! For the older kids and adults there are 9 coasters/thrill rides as well as three water rides, and several other smaller rides.

While visiting Italy, Germany or Ireland you can take in a show and during certain times of the year there is a parade through France. There is also a wolf reserve, a bald eagle area, and aviary and animal shows throughout the day.  You can visit the Clydesdale stables and see the sheep grazing in the grass in Ireland.  If you have time, try to catch the Pet Shenanigans show. The dogs and cats are adorable!

Parade through Paris
Getting Around Prepare yourself for a lot of walking! The park is mostly flat except for a few hills here and there. There is a train that goes around the entire perimeter of the park. Sometimes we ride it but I find it cumbersome if I have to carry the stroller and three kids along. If you just want to ride the train you can ride all around and come back for your stroller.  If you rent a stroller then you can leave it when you get on and when you get off you take one that someone else left at another stop.
There is also a skyline ride that will take you to several different points around the park. We don’t usually take the skyride because again I find it cumbersome with the stroller. Last Fall when Aaron and I went by ourselves for our anniversary we rode it all around the park.  I actually enjoyed it and it will be fun to use it once we are out of the stroller age!
Skyride!

Shopping If you’re not a thrill seeker then there is plenty of other stuff to do…like shopping!  There are shops sprinkled throughout the park where you can find everything from Roxy clothes to Reef sandals to handpainted signs to wreaths and home decor.  They offer a free package handling service where they will take your purchases to the front gate and you can pick them up on your way out of the park. There is also a candle dipping factory that has been there for years (since I was a kid).  My kids like to look around in there and we dipped a candle once when we visited.

They knew I was coming!

Gettin’ Your Grub On Food is expensive! Expect to pay $6-8 for a kids meal and $9-14 for an adult entree. I think Italy has the best food in the park (umm…hello?  Deep fried ravioli?!) though Aaron prefers the food at the Smokehouse in France. Ice cream is available in Italy, France and England.  Germany has authentic food and a pretzel and beer stand. There is fair type food in New France (funnels cakes, kettle corn, etc).  You can find popcorn, churros, pretzels and other snack type foods throughout the park.

Busch Gardens offers a plastic sports type bottle for purchase for about $8 and it is refillable for $1 throughout the season. We get one each year and bring it back over and over. One word of advice:  water is free at all restaurants and drink stands.  Don’t spend your dollars on pricey bottled water!  They will fill your own bottle or give you a cup.  Hot chocolate and coffee is available during ChristmasTown. There is a meal plan available if you decide to eat two meals and there is also a lunch with Elmo and friends option for a fee.

Madalyn chowing down on some ice cream.  2011

BG has picnic tables just outside the park if you prefer to pack your own food. They ask that you don’t bring food in but they have never said anything about the snack foods/food containers/water bottles that I bring along. It is a long walk back to the car for food so I usually bring a lot of snacks and make sure we eat a good breakfast before we arrive. We will usually grab a small meal while in the park. One time we did bring lunch and we ate just outside the park entrance.

Accessibility The park is handicap friendly and even rents scooters for $45 per day. Strollers are also available and they will comfortably seat two very strong-willed, opinionated, whiny 4/5 year olds.

Layla with her friend, Lilley.  2014

All the walkways are paved and the shops and show areas are wide open and easy to get in and out of. The 4D theater has a handicap entrance. Of note–if your scooter needs recharging there is a great place to plug up outside of the ice cream shop in France.

Special Events One of Busch Gardens’ most popular events is Howl-O-Scream which runs on the weekends during October. It is so much fun…if you like being scared!  There are haunted houses set up all over the park that open up when it gets dark. It is child friendly during the day but I don’t recommend staying with younger children after dark!  We love it so much that Aaron and I actually celebrated our 15th anniversary there!

Arrrgghhh!  Pirate invasion at Howl-o-Scream!

Another event they offer is Christmas Town.  I’ll confess that I have never been to Christmas Town but all my friends just rave about how awesome it is.  There are millions of twinkling lights, Santa, hot chocolate, elves, and even penguins! (ETA:  I finally made it to Christmas Town and it was just as awesome as everyone says!) During Easter you can visit the Easter Bunny in Germany. They will take your photo for you or let you snap one yourself.  The girls liked seeing the large white and pink bunny footprints leading the way to the Easter Bunny.

Layla, Lilley and some stranger in a bunny suit. 2014

Busch Gardens is definitely on the top of the list of my family’s favorite places.  Have you ever been?  Do you have any advice to share that I may have missed?

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