Category: Theme Parks

2015, Attractions, Theme Parks

Williamsburg, Virginia Holiday Attractions: The food of Busch Gardens Christmas Town Pt. 1

This is a guest post by Donika Haddock.

In its sixth season, Christmas Town is open and in full swing, and as beautiful as always. There’s something magical about walking through one of your favorite theme parks at night, decorated from top to bottom, literally, in Christmas lights.

The sights, the sounds, the smells of the pine trees lining the pathways, always seem to bring life some peace to your day, even if it’s only for a few hours.

One of my favorite things about Christmas Town is the food. I’m such a food person. While everyone will agree that the majority of foods served at amusement and theme parks is overpriced and subpar at best, I find the food at Busch Gardens to be top notch for a theme park. While we’re used to the smoked chicken and brisket at Trapper’s Smokehouse, and sausage sampler platters at Das Fest Haus, the park ups their offerings a step above during Christmas Town and changes their menus almost completely. While I haven’t tried everything (yet), I have compiled a small list of what each eatery serves, and what my favorites are.

When you enter the park, the first eatery you see, is Dicken’s Tavern. Also known as Squire’s Grill during the regular season. While I have yet to eat here (seriously, in all the years I’ve been going to the park, I have YET to eat here), a simple peek at their menu leads me to disappointment. Why? Because it’s themed after Charles Dickens. The sign clearly states ‘Serving Traditional Christmas Fare’, but yet….they don’t? Unless you consider burgers, cheeseburgers, and Philly cheesesteaks as traditional Christmas Fare. I say pass on Dickens Tavern and move on to something better, and maybe more ‘traditional’.

tavern

If you head to the right, you’ll come to the first hamlet in the park, Ireland. Grogan’s Grill is their only eatery, and a small one, but tends to be pretty good when you want a quick meal. Their current offerings include a variety of soups and stews. While I haven’t eaten here recently, I can say in the past, Annie Grogan’s stew is one of my favorites, made like a traditional stew with lots of meat, potatoes, and veggies.

grogans

Passing through Ireland you’ll come upon Trapper’s Smokehouse. On my last visit, I forgot to get a picture of their current menu, but I’m going to go off of past years and say they are still my favorite eatery at the park. I love their smoked chicken during their summer season, but during Christmas Town, they also serve traditional turkey dinner with veggies and cornbread stuffing. Not going to lie, I’m obsessed with their cornbread stuffing. Seriously, it’s delicious!!

If you prefer to eat in Das Fest Haus, located in Oktoberfest, this is the parks only indoor restaurant. It’s also the largest eatery, and gets very loud and crowded quickly. I avoid eating here when I can, simply because the crowds are ridiculous, and it’s difficult to have a conversation with your group while you eat. The food though, is still good. They still offer pizza and sandwiches while also offering traditional Christmas dinners, and their sausage sampler platter, which is enough food to feed two people.

xmas favorites

Also situated inside Das Fest Haus is the ‘Tastes of Christmas Town’ dinner buffet. I have not done this yet, and honestly don’t know anyone that has, so I can’t rate the experience or the food. I will say though, the dinner is $30 per person. PER PERSON!!! Much more than what I want to spend on a meal at a theme park. It better be worth it though. Some of the items on the menu include a carving station, pastas, baked potato bar, soups, salad, rolls, drinks, and desserts.

Just behind Das Fest Haus, located in the Black Forest picnic area is another buffet, the Black Forest Buffet. For $15.99 (much better pricing)

And includes traditional foods like turkey and ham, and veggies, as well as chili and French onion soup, and mac and cheese. I finally tried this buffest this year and let me tell you, it’s pretty darn good for a buffet. It’s tucked away behind Das Fest Haus, and is a bit of a walk, but I sort of enjoyed being away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds walking around. I recommend this buffet.

buffet

2015, Guest Post, Theater, Theme Parks, Virginia

Williamsburg, Virginia Holiday Attractions: Busch Gardens Christmas Town “Gloria!” 2015 Review

Hark to this. Image ©2012 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc.
Hark to this. Image ©2012 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc.

This is a guest post by Kara Dennison.

Full disclosure before we begin: I was a Christmas pageant kid. Largely because at my old church there were maybe five children total. I was Mary every year for several years, until I hit the preteen years and graduated to being the angel because apparently that’s how Christmas pageants work. The point is, I did the whole dang “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown” thing. And I was aware “Gloria!” was a big deal show (big enough that I didn’t go last year because the line went on forever), but did I want to stand in line for a Christmas pageant?

Listen up, though. This show is ridiculously pretty, the music is extremely good, and the staging is (sorry) glorious. Yeah, it’s a Christmas pageant — but it’s like the best ever high-end Christmas pageant.

The first thing of note: the scrim. No, seriously. They make extensive use of it, and it’s very cleverly handled. This is performed at the Abbey Stone Theatre in Killarney, which is a much smaller and more intimate performance space than, say, the Globe. But they make up for their lack of fly space and pyrotechnics by using the scrim and back screen to project set pieces and special effects, with the actors between the two in a way that integrates them into the imagery very cleanly and artistically. The costumes are essentially what you’d expect them to be, save for our lead angel (see above), who’s straight out of Jesus Christ Superstar and looks amazing.

What’s most interesting is that yes, they are doing a Nativity play jukebox musical using Christmas carols. And they are ramping it up. But they seem to know what they’re meant to ramp up and don’t fix what ain’t broke. There’s a full band down front performing all the music live (and sit near the band if you can, because it’s very fun to watch them), there’s a decidedly more modern tone to some segments and orchestrations, but all things considered, it is very traditional.

The singers, incidentally, are astounding — some of the best I’ve heard in the park. The soloists especially in the choral numbers are just mind-blowing, and I’m glad they took the time to put credits with photos outside the Abbey Stone. And the aforementioned band is top-notch, too. We were sitting rather close to them, so I can’t vouch for how good they sound at the far ends of the theatre, but they were good and loud and strong from where we were sitting.

Honestly, my only issue with it was probably only an issue on the night: there seemed to be some set pieces that were moving and thumping oddly as they were being slid on and off the stage. I’m not sure if that was an error on the night or if there’s something that needs looking into. Fortunately nothing came crashing down, but it seemed odd in a production that was otherwise well put together.

I mean, yeah, I appreciate “Gloria!” might not be everyone’s jam. But even if you’re not of a terribly religious bent, give it a go, because it is a beautiful show managed extremely well and sung with a hell of a lot of heart. And no, seriously. Look at that angel. Look. Tell me you would not wear that suit to a party.

2015, Theater, Theme Parks, Virginia

Williamsburg, Virginia Holiday Attractions: Busch Gardens Christmas Town “Scrooge No More” 2015 Review

Image ©2014 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc.
Scrooge on one of his better days. Image ©2014 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc.

This is a guest post by Kara Dennison.

Question: how many ways can one tell the story of A Christmas Carol? Answer: all of them. It’s one that never gets tired of being rewritten or remade or reimagined because it is, at its heart, the most basic and essential of holiday messages: don’t be a jerk on Christmas.

Okay, it’s more than that. But the fact remains, it is the most solid non-religiously-tied story of the season, and with a park that has its own tiny England, you really can’t do without a staging of it at Christmas.

“Scrooge No More” was Christmas Town’s new show in 2014, put on by the same people behind “Monster Stomp at Ripper Row” — and it shows. Off-the-wall costumes, creative use of all parts of the stage, heavily thought out lighting design, and a highly stylized aesthetic are all present again, although not as gory or edgy as its Howl-O-Scream counterpart. “Scrooge” is infinitely more family-friendly, though it does get its creepy on at plenty of points throughout.

It’s worth noting that “Scrooge” isn’t a jukebox musical of the typical theme park variety. Nor, for the record, was it borrowing at all from the Leslie Bricusse musical. This is all new music, ranging across a variety of styles. The music is cute and engaging overall and moves the story along, but it isn’t truly the central or most fascinating thing about the show.

Visually, as you’d expect from its pedigree, “Scrooge No More” is serious eye candy. Heavy use is made of clever lighting and video projection to move the story along, even in the “real life” scenes. Scrooge’s chamber has a distinctly Lemony Snicket feel to it (as does Scrooge himself) before Marley’s appearance in chains kicks off his night of weird dreams. The various ghosts (all played by ensemble members) are heralded with a variety of projected effects, bringing a surreal, dream-like quality to the whole production. Much of it is reminiscent of the techniques used by the UK theatrical troupe 1927: Marley’s chains are augmented by a “web” of animated ones projected behind him, scenes build themselves up from animated pieces, and the Ghost of Christmas Present appears to us first as a giant CG nutcracker.

(This is to say nothing of the time travel effects between the ghosts’ scenarios, which… well, let’s just say someone loves the Twelfth Doctor as much as I do and has no problems being extremely blatant with it.)

The final segment with the ghosts is downright eerie, veering slightly more toward its “Monster Stomp” roots. Between Crowley-esque imagery and a frighteningly realized, larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, I found myself sinking down in my seat to hide. It’s grim, but not gruesome: a good chilling Christmas ghost story, lightened immediately by Scrooge’s reformation.

Also worth noting are the ensemble players who took part in a light pre-show, specifically the gentleman performing antics with an unruly spotlight and doing a bit of juggling. It was a pleasant, fun atmosphere from the beginning, and the right one to get families jazzed for the show to come.

“Scrooge No More” is sheer spectacle at its core, somehow managing to blend the merry Victorian aesthetic just outside the theatre’s doors with the dark, unsettling undercurrent of “Monster Stomp.” A Christmas Carol is the ultimate vehicle for this pairing, of course, and it’s exciting to watch. While you might not necessarily leave humming any of the music, you will definitely still be talking about the visual spectacle for days after.