Category: Theme Parks

2016, General, Guest Post, Theme Parks, Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Christmas Town 2016: “Miracles”

This review is a guest post by Kara Dennison.

One of the cool things about Busch Gardens is, if you’re bad at keeping track of time (like I am), sometimes you get surprise shows. My family had gathered for dinner at Marco Polo’s Marketplace during the opening night of Christmas Town 2016, and we were rather pleasantly surprised to see a show start up in front of us… which kept us in our seats longer than any of us had been planning.

For those who don’t know, Marco Polo is a sort of multicultural food court with Italian, Mediterranean, and Asian food, which is now attached to Il Teatro di San Marco. That particular theatre, located in Italy, is known for more elaborate sets and effects than one usually gets at a stage in the park attached to an eatery — likely because the performance space is isolated enough that there’s no worry of confetti getting in your food.

"Miracles" at Il Teatro di San Marco
©2016 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc.

“Miracles” is an interesting addition to BGW’s Christmas show line-up, because other than a mention of Christmas at the end, there’s very little that makes it directly seasonally-branded.  You’ve got “Scrooge No More” in England, you’ve got “Gloria” in Ireland — handling multiple facets of the holiday, but both unmistakably themed to it. “Miracles” goes a different route. While you will hear a brief mention of the holiday and see what are definitely Christmas trees on the set, this is more a broadly uplifting, inspirational show. There’s talk of unity, love, family and friendship. There’s a performance of “Angels Among Us.” But it falls fairly solidly into the category of “uplifting”… yet and at the same time, seasonally so.

©2016 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc.
©2016 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc.

There were four female singers who would trade off solos and four-part harmonies throughout the show. The rest were dancers, with two notable female lead dancers — a sort of fairy snow queen in a sparkling, traditional costume, and the ingenue of the piece, who was in the same all-white ensemble as the rest of the dancers but notably smaller and coded younger. There was no “story” to speak of. Each segment might have its own vague plot to it: a boy and a girl lost in a forest and watched over by an angel, three girls playing tag on the ice, and the like. But this was knowingly an assortment of show pieces.

The costumes were actually quite nice. As mentioned, they were all white, but they weren’t uniform. Sitting close enough showed you that the dancers were in a wide array of wintry clothes. The ladies all had flowing skirts, but paired off with jackets, sweaters, blouses, leg warmers, and the like. The male dancers had an equal amount of variety. Everything there could likely have been store bought, but the decision to have multiple monochrome-yet-unique pure white ensembles kept things unified without running the risk of looking “strict”. It kept the production feeling very real and very human, where matching costumes might have made it lose the human touch it was going for.

©2016 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc.
©2016 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc.

 

The staging was overall good, with a mix of traditional and contemporary dance styles. The “contemporary” veered towards the playful rather than the postmodern, which was nice. There was some very creative choreography, but some of it could only be appreciated from straight-on (my group was seated stage right). Most of the choreography avoided this, but there were a handful of moves that were clearly gorgeous from head-on but couldn’t be salvaged from off-side. In spite of this, the majority of the production made good use of the expanse of stage, sending the singers and dancers to all corners and engaging as much of the audience as possible.

My one complaint is an “on the night” one, and not a complaint so much as a minor issue — one of the singers’ microphones was glitching on and off constantly towards the end. A shame, as she had a beautiful voice (all of them did). Overall, minus that one issue, the whole production looked well put together, which is good considering this choreography involves a lot of trust-jumping.

“Miracles” is very sweet, very pretty, and very uplifting. Someone a bit more cynical might tire of it early on, but it’s very much “good and pure,” no sarcasm implied. It’s just… nice. It’s people singing happy songs about caring about each other and believing in miracles and there’s confetti and shiny things and sometimes we need a little of that in our lives.

“Miracles” plays at select times at Il Teatro di San Marco during the entire run of Christmas Town. Admission is free, but reserved seating can be purchased on the event website.

2016, Attractions, Guest Post, Theme Parks, Virginia

BUSCH GARDENS WILLIAMSBURG: BGW Announces Variable Pricing for Christmas Town 2016!

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This is a guest post by Kara Dennison.

So it probably goes without saying that myself and everyone else who writes for the Onezumiverse site is thrilled for Christmas Town this year. And yeah, I’m trying to keep the hype at least slightly at bay until Halloween has passed, but there’s no denying it’s a big deal every year. With eight million lights lighting the park up after dark, Ghirardelli hot chocolate stands every few feet, and festive shows and music to excite even the Scroogiest member of your party, Christmas Town is catnip to a holiday fiend like myself.

Plus, with their new pricing system, it pays (literally) to get a jump on the season this year.

This week, Busch Gardens Williamsburg announced that they will be doing flexible pricing for this year’s Christmas Town event. Starting November 1, visitors will be able to purchase tickets to the park for as low as $16. No, seriously. Yes, that is a 55% discount off the already low at-gate price of $38. Yeah, I thought it was a typo, too. But this year, the sooner you buy, the less you pay. That means more money in your pocket to pick up Christmas presents at the park — or some seasonal snacks for yourself.

Oh, and they’re really going to have us working hard to cover all the coolness this season. Not only are they currently boasting more lights than any holiday event in North America, they’re adding more to the festivities. They’ll beopening Tempesto to riders during the event, making two roller coasters you can experience during Christmas Town. Sesame Street® Forest of Fun will be decked out for the season. And they’ll be opening Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland, where you can meet Rudolph the Red-Noised Reindeer and his friends.

We’re really going to have our work cut out for us this year, Oni. Are you ready?

Christmas Town runs on select days from November 25th, 2016 to January 2nd, 2017. Visit their website to find out more and start picking up tickets at the beginning of November.

2016, Attractions, Guest Post, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theme Parks, Virginia

INTERVIEW: Busch Gardens Williamsburg “No Escape” Rooms

This is a guest video by Kara Dennison.

I’m not nearly done with Howl-O-Scream. I have plans to go back over the course of the month and see everything there is to see. But before that, I was invited backstage to learn more about the “No Escape” rooms currently running in Rhinefeld.

In addition to speaking with the events manager, I also had a rather… special… interview with the stars of the rooms themselves, Jack the Ripper and Mr. Karver. I also got to speak with Nate Edwards and Nick Hanni, the actors behind the two terrifying characters, and learn about their experience with the park and what makes a room escape experience different from a haunted maze or terror-tory.

There’s still time to buy tickets and try the rooms out with your friends! Visit the Howl-O-Scream website to find out more!

2016, Attractions, Guest Post, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theme Parks, Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg: Howl-O-Scream 2016 Opening Night Review

This is a guest post by Donika Haddock.

September 23rd marked the opening night for Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Each year the park brings in a new theme for their event. Cursed (2014), Unearthed (2015), and new for 2016, Evil Encore.

The premise with Evil Encore is heavily advertised dolls. And not just any dolls, but the creepy ventriloquist type dolls. Aside from the new ‘No’ Escape Room, and some random creepy decorations throughout the park, this is where the creepy theme ends.

New attractions for 2016 include an all new maze, Circo Sinistro, and two ‘No’ Escape rooms, one themed to Jack the Ripper, and the other themed to the dolls and their creator, Mr. Karver.

Returning attractions for 2016 include the same mazes from the last several years, Bitten, Deadline, and Catacombs, plus the new mazes from last year, Unearthed, Lumberhack, and Cornered. I have to say, while I love Bitten and Catacombs, I’m ready for a change. Can we retire them and bring on something new??
I will say though, there were quite a few changes to Unearthed and Deadline that really impressed me. While I won’t give them all away, I will say, the park has added projection screens to the mazes, as well as throughout the park itself. They make a difference to the overall Howl-O-Scream experience, and not in a bad way. They’re well done and not cheesy like one would expect or anticipate. While they certainly don’t replace the human factor in the mazes, they are an added bonus to the overall theme.

Unearthed was my favorite maze last year. The amount of detail that went in to it was fantastic. I still wish we could walk through it with the lights up so guests can take in every bit of detail to the rooms.

This year Busch Gardens presents Circo Sinistro. This replaces last years’ Cutthroat Cove, the pirate themed maze. With this change, Festa Italia has gone from pirates to clowns. Not the creepy terrifying clowns from a few years back with Fear Fair, but a new version of the creepy clowns. I love this theme!
The downside to the new maze on opening night, it wasn’t completely finished. And it was obvious. The characters within aren’t quite sure of their roles, and like most of the mazes, there wasn’t a lot of actors within it. But those that were there did a good job of keeping you on your toes as you didn’t know who would jump at you and when.
On the upside, I LOVE this maze, it’s a new favorite (coming from someone that was terrified of the clowns from Fear Fair), along with the accompanying scare zone, Sideshow Square. You simply must visit the fortune teller booth for your reading!

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One disappointment with the park is the removal, or partial removal, of the pirates. If you’re going to do a theme in a particular area, I want to see the theme throughout. While the pirates were a major theme in both Festa Italia and San Marco, it is now just the San Marco portion of Italy that is themed. And by theme I mean, they kept the Pirates Baaaaargh (the bar), and kept the decorations throughout the shops in the area, but that is it. I say get rid of the pirates completely and just make that area circus themed, clown’s and all.
Speaking of San Marco, the park has brought back, for the first time in eight years, their Starfright Orchestra. I wish I could comment on their performance, but since we were there on Friday night, and they apparently only perform on Saturdays, well, we were disappointed. So those attending Howl-O-Scream on Fridays or Sundays won’t get the chance to see this show. Why even bother with one day out of the weekend? Either do it, or don’t. While I tend to avoid the park on Saturdays, I feel I will be forced to fight the crowds at least once this season, just to see this show.

Just beyond Oktoberfest, located in the Wilkommenhaus gift shop, is the all new ‘No’ Escape rooms. These rooms replace the beloved Blood Banquet dining experience. For $30 (before 4pm) or $40 (after 4pm) you can choose between two themed rooms, Jack the Ripper, and The Case of Mr. Karver. You’re locked in, trying to find clues to help you escape. If you’re familiar with escape rooms, you know the drill here. While we were given a ‘modified’ experience for these rooms, the experience was NOT to the parks advantage. Our group was disappointed and confused with the Mr. Karver room. The actor in it is AMAZING however, and I feel that had we been given the full on experience, or even had someone actually EXPLAINED to us what the room was about and what clues to look for, we would’ve walked out wanting more, but this attraction fell flat in my opinion. The Jack the Ripper room though, definitely a keeper. I loved the theme, and the actor inside was great. The sneak peak we had in this room convinced me the money for the full thirty minute experience would be worth the price.

One more thing with this year’s event, a not advertised little piece of fun, if you have the Busch Gardens app on your phone, they have snuck in a game. Basic premise, you go around and pick up buttons. There’s sixteen total around the park. In previous years, you can win prizes such as a free drink, free snack, and during Christmas Town, an ornament. Not sure what the prizes will be for Howl-O-Scream but it’ll be fun finding out!

 

 

 

 

2016, Attractions, Food, Guest Post, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Theme Parks, Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl-O-Scream 2016 Review: Vampire Wine Tasting

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This is a guest post by Kara Dennison.

Full disclosure, I have been extremely jealous of Oni’s talk about food and wine tastings at Busch Gardens recently. If I’d had more time, I would have gotten in on them early on. But envy aside, I’m very happy that this is becoming a “thing” for them. The German cordial tasting at Bier Fest was well run and very interesting, so when I heard there was a “vampire wine tasting,” I was very excited.

At first, I thought the “vampire” part of the title was just a theming conceit for Howl-O-Scream. But there is literally a Vampire Vineyards, so named because said vineyards were originally located in Transylvania. They’re now in California, and the Vampire Wine Tasting at the park introduces you to four of their wines.

The tasting is set up in a corner of Der Marktplatz across from Curse of DarKastle. Be ready with your ID over at the cash register, which is in the opposite corner, and bring your receipt over to the tasting table (and be ready to show your ID again — they’re very thorough about that, but also very kind). The tasting will run you $14.95, which also includes a Busch Gardens wine glass — bring that back, and you can get wine tastings on future trips at the refill price of $9.95.

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One thing I’ve loved about both events I’ve done like this in the last few months is the people running them. They’re knowledgeable, but that knowledge is conversational and accessible. I never felt out of my depth with high-flown descriptions of what I was trying, nor did I walk away feeling underinformed. For the Vampire wine tasting, our hostess was a friendly lady named Ruby who was very cheerful and could answer all our questions as we went. She claimed to be relatively new to these particular wines, but we’d never have known without her saying so.

The wines themselves were nice — a pinot grigio, a chardonnay, a “Vampire Red” winemaker’s blend that was four different reds (which I can’t remember off the top of my head), and a cabernet sauvignon. The third was my personal favourite, but all were good. Granted, it’s hard to tell a stranger if they’ll like a wine. That’s what a wine tasting is for. But as there are two reds and two whites, you have a decent chance of finding something you’ll enjoy.

We were told that Vampire wines aren’t as widely distributed in, say, Total Wines or grocery stores, so they may be harder to find. However, if you find something you like during the tasting and don’t want to order online when you get home, they do sell it at the park for between $20-30 a bottle depending on which you choose (the Vampire Red is the priciest).

I’m really enjoying how widespread the wine and cordial tastings are becoming at the park, and the Vampire one was perfectly themed for Howl-O-Scream. These have also opened me up a lot more to going to tastings, as the few I’ve gone to outside the park in the past leave me feeling awkward and uninformed. The friendliness and accessibility of these is great, both for people who want to try new things and for people like me who are extremely picky about their drinks and want a little help finding something for the cabinet.

And yes… I’m getting me some of that Vampire Red.

Visit the Howl-O-Scream Dining and Spirits site to find out more about the event’s Spirit Bars and to book your wine tasting in advance.