Things are a-changin’. That saying couldn’t be truer for Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 41st season. It’s hard to comprehend the amount of changes that can happen in just three months. Just about any renovation you can imagine, whether it’s on rides, restaurants or restrooms occurred during the off-season at Busch Gardens. The park opened its gates on March 19 to display their changes to pass members. Like usual, Joe and I (Matthew) were there to explore and cover it all for you! We decided to wrap all the changes we saw into one post, so let’s not waste time, and get right to it!
Pass Member Announcements
Busch Gardens put on a series of announcements in the Abbeystone Theatre, detailing what is happening in the park this year, and finally spilling the beans on what Project 2017 entails! If you haven’t yet seen these announcements, you can view them below:
Things Happening This Year
David Cromwell, Busch Gardens and Water Country USA’s brand new President, was the first on stage to talk about what’s coming this year. Considering he just arrived in town a day before Pass Member Preview Day, I’d say he did a great job of representing the park and being knowledgeable of everything the park has planned.
That said, most of the items he announced we already knew about. David discussed the new Kidsiderate concert series, Glory in the Gardens, and Marco Polo’s Marketplace. He also talked about the Food & Wine Festival and the new offerings it will serve this year, and a little bit about All For One, the new nighttime action-adventure show coming to the Royal Palace Theatre this summer. Finally, David unsurprisingly announced the return of Howl-O-Scream and Christmas Town.
After Cromwell finished speaking, Larry Giles, Vice President of Engineering, came to speak about what everyone was waiting for: Project 2017. Thanks to the leaking of updated site plans, we already knew that Project 2017 would be a wooden roller coaster. After going through the previously released teasers, Larry spilled the beans and confirmed that it would indeed be the park’s first ever wooden coaster, built by Great Coasters International.
However, after kicking Larry off the stage, Dan Dipiazzo, Vice President of Marketing, talked about other aspects of Project 2017, including its theme and how it will be the first ever “crowdsourced” ride in the world. But wait- what does “crowdsourced” mean? It means we, the fans, will get to take part in making decisions about the ride. The first decision we can participate in is voting on the coaster’s name. You can vote on the three options: Viking Raider, Battle Klash, or Invadr, on an online poll here.
If it wasn’t obvious from the name, Project 2017 will be a Viking-themed wooden coaster. The theme takes off on the idea of a battle between Viking invaders and French-Canadian trappers. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Vikings and French Canada existed about 600 years apart from each other, but I am intrigued nonetheless.
Also, you can view some pictures from the announcement and presentation below:
Marco Polo’s Marketplace
Marco Polo’s Marketplace, the new market-style Italian restaurant, opened up for pass members to explore before its grand opening later this week. My first impression was that the restaurant was visually and thematically stunning. They did an excellent job of emphasizing the Marco Polo’s travels theme of the restaurant in a cohesive manner. The layout, with plenty of space to move about and easy navigation of the different serving stations, was very impressive and the menus, with Mongolian, Italian, and Mediterranean cuisines, have a lot of potential.
Outside the Marketplace, a covered awning has been added to connect the restaurant to the adjacent Il Teatro di San Marco, and the building received a robust new coat of paint. You can view a multitude of pictures of the restaurant below. Follow along in the captions for more information about each picture.
Brauhaus Craft Bier Room
The all-new Brauhaus Craft Bier Room was open just for pass members this past Saturday! This is another fantastic addition to the park’s culinary lineup. Brauhaus is a new beer club in the back of Das Festhaus in the Festhaus Kaffee room, serving locally-brewed and authentic German craft beers in a casual lounge environment. Guests could purchase special steins that would be kept in one of 300 cubbies in the lounge, letting them sample new beers all season long.
You could easily tell by how popular it was with pass members. The 300 Stein Club Memberships were sold out just an hour after the park opened, and a huge line extended outside the room most of the day. I believe it was overwhelming for the park, as they seem to have grossly underestimated the demand for membership. To combat frustration from fans over the quick depletion of memberships, we hear that more stein cubbies are planned to be added in the future. Anyways, you can view pictures of the Brauhaus below!
New France Merchandise Changes
Many changes came to New France in Merchandising for the 2016 season. A brand new shop called Acadia Traders opened, an impressive decorative centerpiece was added to the “panning for gold” station, and the beloved Village Candle Carver was relocated.
Acadia Traders seemed like a fantastic addition to the area. The interior, with a rustic cabin aura, was extremely pleasant, and very thematic. The merchandise, which features all things Canadian, was very intriguing, with everything from maple syrup to Canadian wine!
Since Acadia Traders takes up the building previously occupied by the Village Candle Carver, he and his carving station were relocated to the left side of the nearby St. Lawrence Trading Post building this year.
Finally, the “panning for gold” mining trough that was located by St. Lawrence Trading Post was removed, but replaced with a bigger and better version. The new trough encircles the planter between Acadia Traders and St. Lawrence Trading Post. Best of all, a massive water feature was added to the center of the planter: a water tower, whose water spills down into the mining trough. The new water feature seems to have gained a lot of attention from guests, as I assume it was intended to.
You can view pictures of all of these changes below!
Le Scoot Renovations
As you may already know, Le Scoot underwent major renovations over the off-season. These renovations include complete replacement of the concrete basin, new thematic elements, and a brand new entrance arch! All these renovations show a great investment by the park to keep one of its original attractions in great shape for another generation.
The new concrete basin looks beautiful, and in some areas its texturing and paint make it look just like natural dirt. Plus, the new entrance archway, located at the top of the hill leading down to the queue, does a great job of pointing the way to the ride. Its rustic log-built look fits right in with New France, and it even has a spinning saw blade! Here’s a look at everything that Le Scoot received this year:
San Marco Changes & Restroom Renovations
In addition to Marco Polo’s Marketplace, San Marco received some changes including a couple new paint jobs, and some fantastic restroom renovations! The restrooms really steal the show, completely equipped with tons of thematic elements like mosaic flooring. My favorite touch, though, is the new Dyson Airtap sinks, in which the faucets serve as both traditional sinks and air dryers!
Additionally, some of the buildings in San Marco received different colored paint jobs, moving away from the previous earth-tone color scheme to a much brighter pallet of pastel colors. Take a look at the new village changes below:
New Tram Shelters
Over the off-season Busch Gardens added new cantilevered shelters over the tram waiting areas, which were not previously covered. This will definitely be beneficial on rainy or very hot, sunny days. You can view some pictures of the main tram-stop’s shelter below:
Griffon Gifts Renovations
In a bit of a surprise move, Griffon Gifts got some renovations over the off-season. In addition to what we saw this weekend, there’s also some proposed exterior work that may have either been scrapped, or has just not happened yet. But inside, the shop got a new layout with new display cases, shelves, and a castle-themed interior. A new ceiling was added with new light fixtures and a fan. You can view the pictures of these renovations below:
The State of Landscaping
If you haven’t heard already, this off-season has been an unfortunate one for the landscaping department. The park was forced to endure massive greenery removal throughout the park on the area that lies overtop the Colonial Pipeline, forcing them to clear all trees within 25’ of the pipeline that cuts through the park. San Marco, Festa Train Station area, Heatherdowns and the Wild Reserve were most affected by the clearing. The park has made an effort to replant what they can over the area despite strict regulations, including shrubs and other smaller plants, but the now-open areas in the middle of the park’s dense forests might be jarring at first.
On a lighter note, I’d like to recognize and congratulate the wonderful landscaping department for their work this off-season. Despite the headache of the pipeline clearing, they were able to get all flower beds, containers and planters completely planted before the park opened its gates on Pass Member Preview Day. Landscaping may have been the only department that was totally ready to go by Saturday.
Anyways, below is a gallery featuring most of the landscaping changes that occurred all around the park this off-season.
Park-Wide Locker Replacements
In the past, when using a locker, most of the systems around the park had a manual “token and key” system. However, the park replaced every single locker with new electronic systems like those installed last year at the Tempesto lockers. This new system allows you to pay with credit cards and open the lockers using a custom PIN. Best yet, you have the option to buy an all-day usage deal for $5 where you can use any locker around the park for the rest of the day!
You can view pictures of the new lockers in various locations around the park below:
Other Minor Changes
On top of this long list of major changes, many other, more minor, alterations and renovations happened around the park. You can view a gallery of all of those below, the captions will inform you of the change that each picture shows.
This officially concludes our long, but (hopefully) informative opening-weekend photo update on everything that happened over the 2015-2016 off-season at Busch Gardens! We hope you enjoyed it, and if you have any questions, comments or concerns, you can comment below or join the discussion on the ParkFans Forum. Please don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook if you haven’t already. Thanks for reading!
Be on the lookout for our Kings Dominion Opening Weekend report in the near future… stay tuned!