A Viking-sized year has just commenced at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The park opened their gates to pass members on Saturday, March 18, and unveiled a world of change. InvadR has taken over New France as the park’s first wooden roller coaster, unique dining experiences have opened for business, new shows are preparing to debut, and a major new attraction is coming in 2018. We took to the paths to uncover everything new at Busch Gardens Williamsburg on Pass Member Preview Day.
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On Preview Day one year ago, guests learned that the Vikings were coming to New France. Now, the Vikings have finally invaded Trapper’s Village—and brought Busch Gardens’ first wooden roller coaster with them.
An entirely new plaza for InvadR has been built in the far corner of New France between Le Scoot and Caribou Train Station, contained almost entirely behind a wall of logs. The wall separates the Viking-themed landscape of InvadR’s plaza from the rest of New France, save for an enormous dragon-headed battering ram that anchors the entrance to the plaza and sets the scene for the ensuing “battle”.
Editor’s note: For best viewing, click to enlarge each image.
The plaza itself is home to all the standard accompaniments of a coaster: lockers, a souvenir photo stand, height checks, the queue, the exit, and so forth, but the entire area has a decidedly rustic and “Old Country” look. The ground is comprised of mud-colored stamped concrete, the station and queue ramp are constructed of logs and crudely cut wood, signage is painted on wood slabs and animal pelts, and Viking shields and arrows litter the plaza.
The coaster itself looks just as fantastic. Set in the distant backwoods of New France, InvadR’s track dominates the village visually at the moment, but once the foliage grow in, it will nearly disappear behind the treetops. For now, guests can appreciate the deliciously curvy and heavily-banked track that twists and dives down Le Scoot’s ravine, through tunnels, and above the railroad tracks.
Though InvadR is well-contained to its own plaza, traces of its presence are sprinkled elsewhere. The Trading Post gift shop has been renamed Trapper Dave’s General Store (a nod to park president David Cromwell) and is now the official location for InvadR-themed merchandise, which ranges from hats and t-shirts to full sized Viking helmets and shields.
Also, small warning posters have been tacked up throughout New France, and video monitors showing a mini-documentary of InvadR’s construction are displayed outside multiple shops in New France. The park’s resident Viking, Magnus, was also wandering through the village to harass guests.
After unveiling the entrance and signage, the park also shared that InvadR will officially open on April 7!
A new and unique dining experience has taken up residence in the old Grande Glace ice cream shop in the Aquitaine village: a “specialty French fry” restaurant called Les Frites.
Like Marco Polo’s Marketplace in 2016, Les Frites is heavily themed and carefully designed to a level that rivals restaurants in a Disney or Universal theme park. An elaborate backstory tells the tale of Pierre Frites, a French mechanic who converted his turn-of-the-century auto shop into a French fry restaurant. To fit the story, the restaurant is decked out with tires, tools, motors, grease stains, and attention to detail at every turn. Even a repurposed car from Le Mans Raceway makes an appearance near the entrance.
The dishes themselves are all custom-crafted and made to order. They start with a base of fresh potatoes that are cut, blanched, and fried right in front of guests. Then, they are fused with one of six “flavors”—although the word “flavor” hardly does justice, since in most cases the dishes were full-scale meals inspired by different hamlets throughout the park. The “Smokehouse” flavor, for instance, combined the fries with barbecue pulled pork and coleslaw, while the “Italian” flavor smothered the fries in marinara and mozzarella. Les Frites also serves crisp cinnamon apple fries with caramel and icing for dessert. The full menu can be found here.
We teamed up with our friends at BGWFans to taste-test every item. BGWFans’ comprehensive review of Les Frites will be published shortly, but in general, we thought Les Frites hugely exceeded expectations. The dishes aren’t just regular old French fries with fancy toppings, but specialty dishes that make for an exceptional snack or a unique meal. Some (especially the apple fries and Smokehouse fries) were better than others (the Mediterranean fries), but we were overall impressed by the fresh fries which paired surprisingly well with the unlikeliest of flavors.
As we reported shortly before the park opened, Europe In The Air will not be open for the 2017 season—or as we learned yesterday, ever again.
At a special presentation in the Globe Theater, Busch Gardens announced that the 2018 season will bring a first-of-its-kind attraction to the Killarney area of the park: a virtual reality ride using Europe In The Air’s motion simulator platform. The park promises that it will be the first attraction of its kind in the United States.
Details about the ride and its theme were sparse. Vice President of Engineering Larry Giles hinted that the new attraction will pay homage to other attractions that have used the simulator building, including Corkscrew Hill and Questor. A teaser video says the new attraction will take guests to the “Otherworld” of Ireland where mythical creatures roam, unbeknownst to humans—a premise suspiciously similar to that of Corkscrew Hill.
Oktoberfest is coming back to Das Festhaus!
Ever since the departure of This Is Oktoberfest in 2011 (and its brief return in 2013), the park has foregone their showcase of traditional German song and dance in favor of full-fledged Broadway-style theater productions. Guests pointed out that these shows detracted from Das Festhaus’ German beer hall theme, the dark theater lighting made it difficult to eat, and the convoluted plots made it impossible for diners who arrived after the beginning of the show to follow along.
In 2017, Busch Gardens is switching gears and heading towards the direction of This Is Oktoberfest with a new show: OktoberZest. In a comprehensive interview with BGWFans, the park revealed that OktoberZest will indeed be a simpler song-and-dance show meant to complement Das Festhaus and its dining aspects, but with a modern twist.
OktoberZest’s new stage makes use of the same physical structure of the oblong Entwined and Roll Out The Barrel stage, but the elaborate woodland set has been removed. The stage is now lined by a simple and rustic wooden border, and its only set pieces are two pairs of massive boxes topped by a single spire. Each box is printed with a collage of gears, evoking the theme of a giant glockenspiel.
According to the new sign outside Das Festhaus, OktoberZest debuts on March 31!
Wild Reserve Removals
There’s one change at Busch Gardens that hasn’t been for the better. Jack Hanna’s Wild Reserve has been devastated with the loss of several large animal exhibits, leaving behind enormous and egregious empty spaces. The Conservation Station, Animal Ambassador pen, snake exhibit, and cabanas have all been removed, leaving behind empty fields of grass. Sadly, Lorikeet Glen is now the only animal encounter left on the Aquitaine side of the Wild Reserve.
On the Killarney side, Eagle Ridge and Wolf Haven have both survived the removal, and for now are here to stay. Unfortunately, this means there are only three animal exhibits remaining in the Wild Reserve, a heartbreaking fact for fans of the park’s wildlife program.
So much has changed at the park that we can’t fit them all into their own category. The following are other minor and miscellaneous changes that have occurred for the 2017 season.
Griffon repainted – parts of Griffon’s track were repainted in a darker shade of blue, mostly near the splashdown and the turn into the mid-course brake run
Exit turnstiles removed – the park has removed all of the turnstiles at the park exit, allowing for easier and faster crowd flow
La Cucina revamp – La Cucina in Festa Italia ditched its old format of all-you-can-eat pre-made pizzas and replaced it with a custom pizza-making station, now allowing guests to design their own pizza. We didn’t get to try the new La Cucina, but our friends at BGWFans had a less-than-stellar experience
Golden eagle pen removed – the pen for Aquila, the park’s golden eagle who was euthanized last summer, has been removed from New France, expanding the existing seating area and giving greater visibility to the pond within it
Custom candy orders – Rhinefeld’s candy shop now provides forms to be filled out, where guests can indicate a variety of preferences to craft their own gourmet treat
Phone booth height check – height check stations have been moved back to the phone booths in Banbury Cross, now sporting a large “Kidsiderate” sign
Der Wirbelwind murals repainted – several of Der Wirbelwind’s hand-painted murals were touched up with vivid colors
Apollo’s Chariot sign replaced – Apollo’s Chariot’s sign has been given a vibrant but otherwise identical new sign; the queue railings are also still missing from the main queue house after having been removed during Christmas Town
This image provided by Kyle D.
Whew! This may have been one of the most action-packed Preview Days yet, and that’s just the beginning of an entire season of new thrills. Keep up with InvadR, the new shows, and all the other progress at the park by following Busch Dominion on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and by joining the discussion on The ParkFans Forum.
Here’s to a great season!