When Willie Nelson sang “On the Road Again” and we decided to heed his advice and head to Williamsburg, Virginia, I envisioned my family and me running through a gorgeous park, snacking on churros, making picture-perfect memories on a day with temperatures that gave our cheeks a rosy glow in all of the pictures. Instead, we walked through the admittedly gorgeous park, hitting every patch of shade along the way, snacking on Icees which stayed in slush-like form for 35 seconds, on a day with temperatures that matted our hair to our head and left our cheeks soaked with sweat coming out of our pores like Niagara Falls. There were pictures of course, but they were the furthest things from perfect. Case in point…
Thank you, heat wave.
But, we survived! And not only did we make it through the hottest road trip of 2019 still smiling, but we made memories we’ll cherish for years to come. We also learned some valuable tips for park-goers, so if you’re planning a trip to Busch Gardens or Water Country USA, my blogs today and on Thursday are for you!
Two days before we were set to head to Williamsburg, I started paying attention to the temperatures. I became a bit nervous when I saw predictions for real-feel temperatures for the weekend hitting a whopping 118 degrees. To keep us from melting, experiencing melt-downs, and most importantly, to keep everyone safe, I picked up extra sunblock, cooling towels for our necks (and heads, as I so fashionably donned above), a case of water and some juice boxes to keep in a cooler in the car. I was doing my best to portray a confident facade that this would be a great trip, with both the crowds and temperatures not as high as they were predicting. I was trying to formulate plans to be prepared for every possible situation and sometimes, well, the best laid plans…
The afternoon before we left, my husband was scheduled to fly into Philadelphia airport on his return from a business trip. The kids and I were planning to meet him at the Hertz lot to pick out the car we would be renting for the weekend. Sadly, his plane was delayed several times due to severe weather. By 8 pm, when he still hadn’t even departed, we needed to change the plan. I’m a stress eater and that certainly doesn’t help right before traveling to a water park! Thankfully, Hertz was super helpful and changed the reservation from my name to my husband’s name so he could get the car without me. Hertz took his flight information and guaranteed they would hold a car for him in spot 500 until he arrived. He, too, is a Gold Rewards member, so he didn’t have to wait in line which was a huge time-saver, much appreciated after a day of delays. Hertz also helped change our drop-off location so that we wouldn’t have to come back to the airport, and could simply place the key in a drop-box Sunday evening when we returned to town. Things were falling back into place and I finally was able to put the fork down, 1800 carbs later.
We wanted to arrive at Busch Gardens before it opened, so we woke the kids at 4 am to leave. We were excited to surprise them in the driveway with the rental car. It was a minivan, which is what we used to own when they were itty-bitty. While they were initially hoping for a more luxurious car, they jumped inside and were pleasantly surprised that it didn’t remind them of our old one…probably because it was clean and devoid of week-old chicken nuggets on the floor. The car was so comfortable that they never went back to sleep after the 4 am wake-up call. Yay.
We had purchased VIP parking online. It costs $40, but ensures you have a spot near employee parking, which is the closest spot a guest can get. This means no waiting for trams either! We had front-row parking a hop, skip and a jump outside of the park, and by the end of the day, we couldn’t have walked much further, so it was worth every penny.
Busch Gardens really is one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen. It is so clean and in a way, reminds me of a cross between Dollywood and Disney’s Epcot. We grabbed our maps and were off running. Well, more like a speed walk. The park is a bit hilly and I’m just a tad bit out of shape. (Takes puff of inhaler.)
We began the day with Griffin. There weren’t any lines, so my kids and husband rode it three times before we all moved on to the next ride. That seemed to be the story of the day. No lines and multiple rides in a row. My kids loved all the roller-coasters and the more drastic the drop, the better. On a few of those rides, I volunteered to be the “keeper-of-the-things” so we wouldn’t need to get a locker. Overall, we could not have asked for a better experience, despite the heat. It felt like I lost at least 10 lbs through sweating, so clearly the carb-loading the day earlier was a literal wash.
Speaking of carbs, it’s been said that some people can’t eat when it’s hot outside. Those people are not my family.
For a mom of children with food allergies, mealtime can be nerve-wracking. I was pleasantly surprised at how accommodating Busch Gardens is for those with allergies. When you initially arrive at the park, you can head to guest services and pick up an allergen information card. Just fill out the card and when you arrive to eat, let the host know. A Culinary Supervisor will come speak to you, take your card, and hand it to the person preparing your allergy-friendly meal. If you forget to get the card or if you head to a buffet, you can speak to a supervisor on the premises and they can guide you toward what you can/cannot have. The breads and pastries are all made in the central bakery, which uses tree nuts, so we knew that any bread or desserts were off the table for our son.
After lunch, it was time to walk around a bit before going on more high-thrill rides. We were planning on seeing a show, but instead decided that standing by some of the water rides might cool us off a bit. My kids got a little more refreshed than they originally expected on the bridge by the Pompei water ride!
Most people will find on the Busch Gardens website that you can bring in a bottle of water per person; however, what many don’t know is that at EVERY location selling food and drinks, you can get a free cup of ice water, and as often as you want. That was a huge cost savings and very helpful in keeping us all hydrated and our cool towels wet. While we brought in six bottles of Poland Springs water, there really was no need to lug them around. Busch Gardens also sells reusable cups which I highly recommend. We bought one for each child. They were $10.99 each when buying more than three, and that includes FREE refills all day long. Say what?! My kids were getting Icees, waters, sweet tea, fruit punch…you name it, they had it. No heat headaches, no dehydration, and oddly enough, not many bathroom stops, which tells you just how hot it was. Plus, once you buy the cups, you will pay just $0.99 cents for refills any other time you visit either Busch Gardens and Water Country USA in 2019.
Despite the temperature being over 100 degrees, we managed to enjoy every single ride in the park. The Loch Ness Monster was still as fun as I remembered, but my kids loved Alpengeist more. My husband thought he liked Verbolten the best until our ride came with an extra twist. As the ride was coming to an end, it stopped unexpectedly. After a few minutes, people started to get antsy and hot. When it became apparent that the ride was not restarting, the staff began to walk people off car by car. Until they got to my boys car. It turns out the safety bar across their laps was stuck. Everyone on the ride, with the exception of my boys, was removed from the area, which made the boys a little nervous. Thankfully, the ride attendants and the leadership team helped to keep them calm and cool, with water and extra towels for their heads while maintenance worked on their car. Twenty-five extremely hot minutes later, they were free.
We obviously understand things happen in extreme temperatures, so we were surprised when Tara from the leadership team came over to apologize for the situation with the boys and asked if Busch Gardens could treat us all to dinner anywhere in the park! Heck, girl, for a free dinner you can keep one of my kids. (I’m joking, of course.) She gave us six tickets, each redeemable for an entree, side, dessert and drink. Next, Kim, one of the ride attendants, came over and slipped us a few Quick-Queue tickets to get on any rides in the park without a wait. While we hadn’t waited in any lines that day, it left us with a great impression of guest services. Overall, it was such a fun day that even with the blazing temperatures, we stayed and enjoyed the park for 9.5 hours. We cannot wait to come back…in the spring or fall months.
The second we hit our minivan, we felt that 4 am wake-up call. Thankfully, our hotel was only two miles from the park. We could not wait for that AC.
Stay tuned, because on Thursday, I’ll tell you all about our hotel and our adventures at Water Country USA!