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The Ultimate Insider Tour: Ultimately Awesome!

All My Tour Badges

All My Tour Badges

Taking the Ultimate Insider Tour was for me, the “ultimate” Busch Gardens guru was a no-brainer. I was a very happy camper pulling up to the parking lot at 8:30am; ticket in hand and meeting my friends for an 8 hour adventure!

The tour includes preferred parking, early access to the park, touring the bakery, a behind-the-scenes tour of The Curse of DarKastle and Pompeii, VIP access to rides during the tour, VIP seating for Celtic Fyre and Entwined, and a meal voucher that includes a entire main course, side item, desert, and drink!

All of this awesomeness set me back $80.00.  However, when you calculate the meal into the ticket price, your actual tour is closer to around $63.00.  Being that I had one of the best trips to Busch Gardens in quite some time, I say it was worth every penny.  Also, my season pass offered me a discount on the price, so it was even less.

Our little group of four consisted of a serious gang of Busch Gardens enthusiasts.  We all planned on taking the tour together in order to maximize our park knowledge.  I sure hope that our tour guides enjoyed all the geeky trivia we were blurting out the entire time.

The Start of Our Tour

The Start of Our Tour

Speaking of, we had two tour guides greet us at the park entrance; Ashleigh and Kelsie.  Both of them greeted us warmly and immediately began the tour.  Kelsie was currently training under Ashleigh, so I made sure to stay close by and give her as many trivia facts as possible.  She now possesses the knowledge of how many cabins are on the skyride, the hidden “Grimm’s Hollow” throwbacks found in Land of the Dragons, and pretty much everything and anything you needed to know about the Big Bad Wolf roller coaster.

There is nothing I love more than talking about Busch Gardens and I am glad Kelsie was patient enough to listen to me.  “Much to learn you still have…my padawan. Now, know the exact date that Busch Gardens opened do you?”

Going back to the tour, we started out with a trek to the Festhaus bakery.  For someone with a wheat allergy, it was like being set in the Garden of Eden and told not to touch the forbidden fruit.  Torture I tell you; absolute torture!

All the wonderful Cakes!

All the wonderful Cakes!

Cakes, rolls, and all kinds of floury treats hit your senses as soon as you walk in the door.  Racks of torte cakes rolled by, bakers were applying icing on carrot cakes, and even a plate of chocolate chip cookies were set out with a little note that said “Thank you for Taking Our Tour.”

I was so touched by their kindness but since I couldn’t eat my cookie, I passed it on to another in my group that was more than happy to sample the dessert on my behalf.

Looking in at the bakery.

Looking in at the bakery.

The bakery was amazing.  It was a flurry of workers getting everything made for the day.  The supervisor stepped in and explained that all the bread, cakes, and so forth were made fresh everyday at the park.  Yes.  Everything at Busch Gardens is made fresh for you everyday! There are no “frozen” cakes that they thaw out.  So next time your mouth begins to water over a layered torte cake at the Festhaus, just remember, it was made with pride right there at Busch Gardens!

We were led outside the Festahaus bakery and made our way over to the maintenance area of DarKastle.

Instantly, we were greeted by a long  row of mechanical sleighs.  For a moment, we all just stood in awe before we all whipped out our cameras; it was one of those eye-opening WOW experiences!

Inside DarKastle

Inside DarKastle

Joe and Jason, two members of the DarKastle maintenance team, went over the questions we had about the technical aspects of the ride.  They were very considerate of our inquiries and seemed to really enjoy the interaction with our group.  They even allowed me to have a little cup of their coffee; a much needed boost to my early morning adventure at Busch Gardens.

Joe and Jason at work!

Joe and Jason at work!

After testing one of the sleighs right in front of us, we all headed through the ride on foot.  Seeing all the detail of the ride first-hand was astounding.  During the ride, you are turning and swerving all the time and you hardly get a moment to really notice all the detail.  I was extremely impressed at the craftsmanship of the ride and the technology behind it all!  The tour guides made sure we were finished our walk through by the time the ride opened for the general public.

One wall of DarKastle

One wall of DarKastle

The spooky painting you see at DarKastle

The spooky painting you see at DarKastle

The tour led us to the control booth were we got to witness the testing of the ride.  We were shown all the safety checks and how the ride securely operates on a day to day basis.  I was in theme park heaven at this point.  I could almost see the clouds part and a ray of light hit the control panels with a choir of harmonious voices singing “AHHHHH!”

Happy Day!

Happy Day!

Saying goodbye to all the staff at Darkastle, Ashleigh and Kelsie took us onward, stopping at a few rides along the way.

Escape from Pompeii was next on our agenda and upon reaching the ride, we went inside the secret passage that no guest dares to venture.  It was a dark hallway and very spooky.  In fact, many of the Howl-O-Scream decorations were still up, so the haunted atmosphere was a little disconcerting walking up stairway that led us up to the Pompeii control tower.

Onward to Pompeii!

Onward to Pompeii!

Many times I looked up to the Escape from Pompeii facade and noticed a little mesh covered window next to the final drop.  I’ve often wondered who is peering at me from behind that curtain; making sure all the riders were securely seated in the boats.  Four long flights of stairs later, we met the team member who does just that.  The room was air conditioned too, which must be nice on those hot summer days.

The window looking out.

The window looking out.

At the control tower.

At the control tower.

Back tracking a little, we went into the room were the pyrotechnics were being controlled.  Yes.  A team member is responsible for all that fire you see leaping around you as you pass by safely in your boat.   I will say that control room was rather hot but it was absolutely hilarious to watch guests scream at all the explosions; oblivious that they are being watched from above.

The pyrotechnics booth.

The pyrotechnics booth.

We took this time to grab some lunch and watch Entwined at the Festhaus.  After the walking for four miles, the air conditioned break was perfectly timed.  It was also very nice to have dining passes. We could have any meal and dessert of our choosing.  Score!

And they lived happily ever after!

And they lived happily ever after!

During our trip, we decided to sign up for the Verbolten Insider Tour in addition to the Ultimate Insider Tour.  We purchased our tickets and met up with the 1pm tour group at Verbolten.  I had been in the building once before, but I have never had the joy of climbing up the hill behind the building were the final drop is located.  It was like standing on sacred ground.  Looking around, I could feel the start of tears thinking that I was right were the Big Bad Wolf roller coaster once stood.  Being so close to that special place and also having a rare glimpse of the new ride that will always contain a part of “the Wolf’s soul,” was a bit overwhelming for me.

Behind the Scenes at Verbolten!

Behind the Scenes at Verbolten!

Awesome shot!  Go Verbolten!

Awesome shot! Go Verbolten!

The inside of the building was rather intense as you can hear all the sound effects and the coaster roaring by!  It was fun to have such access to what only a few park employees get to see on a daily basis.

The controls of Verbolten.

The controls of Verbolten.

After the Verbolten tour we rode a few more rides and went over to Ireland to watch Celtic Fyre.  Having  VIP seating allows  you front row access.  I’ve seen Celtic Fyre over a hundred times, but nothing beats seeing the power of the dancing just inches away from your nose.

Love this show!

Love this show!

Lastly, we took a peek in the maintenance bay of the Loch Ness Monster and also inside the control room of Europe in the Air, where I ran into Cristal who  used to work at the Big Bad Wolf.  I was so happy to see my friend again and to also find a little “Wolf” sticker hiding out at Loch Ness!  It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

Me and Krystal giving our howl out to the Big Bad Wolf!  Awwwoooo!

Me and Cristal giving our howl out to the Big Bad Wolf! Awwwoooo!

Look what I found!

Look what I found!

Parting is such sweet sorrow,  and I was sad to say farewell to Kelsie and Ashleigh since I thoroughly enjoyed their company on  Busch Gardens Ultimate Insider Tour.   Eventually, I hope to take all the tours the park offers  because as I always say:

“One can never have too much of Busch Gardens Williamsburg!  EVER!”

Saying Goodbye after a wonderful day!

Saying Goodbye after a wonderful day!

 

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A Coaster Tour Survivor’s Review: 2010

I survived the Busch Gardens Williamsburg Coaster Tour, the question is, have you?

March 29, 2010On Top

For those of you teetering on the fence about whether to purchase a ticket or for those who may not have even known about the coaster tour; don’t hesitate – Get your ticket and head out there! The relatively new Roller Coaster Insider Tour is a must see for any person with a strong passion for either Busch Gardens Williamsburg or World Class Coasters.

My set date was March 27, 2010; a cold March Morning; one that barley passed the temperature restriction for riding the coasters. Arriving at the parking lot, I was personally escorted in by a company vehicle and was given a parking spot in the very first row of the England Parking Area.

OK, for those of you not familiar with this; I have been coming to the park for over 30 years and have NEVER had the good fortune of landing such a parking spot. EVER.

Already, I felt like a VIP.

Ben & Zack, our two designated tour guides, greeted us and took us onward into the park’s main entry way and I immediately noticed something amiss from my normal visits to the park. It was quiet. No music or crowds; just carts being moved around and a spattering ensemble of maintenance work being done. Eerie perhaps, but pretty much just how I envisioned the park to be before the gates officially opened.

Our Tour Guides

Destination number one on the Coaster Tour (besides the bathroom) was The Classic Loch Ness Monster Coaster; an honor well deserved by its legacy. Good ol’ Nessie is an ACE landmark and should always be the anchor of the Park. Testing of the Loch Ness was happening at the moment of approach and while standing underneath the interlocking loops, we were able to see all the coasters in the nearby vicinity being sent out on test runs in the odd quiet. It was definitely intriguing to see maintenance workers hopping across tracks like Kung Fu Movie Stars and hearing secret codes being called out over the announcement speakers.

We were then led underneath into Nessie’s Lair of coaster lore. You know, behind that mysterious door where coaster trains seem to be either magically eaten up or spit back out onto the tracks. Tentatively breaching the door that says “Staff Only”, I had a fleeting vision of security guards grabbing me and giving me a swift inquisition. (After all, this is the area of “Cross this line and you shall swiftly be removed from the park and be allowed to return Nevermore.”) But as my eyes adjusted to the light glaring off hundreds of coaster parts and tracks, my fear was gone and my eyes glistened with coaster nerd joy!

Nessie Wheels
Both Ben, who has only hosted one tour prior to ours, and Zack, who was supervising the tour and overseeing the content, began giving us facts about the ride, the history, and why the Loch is such a landmark coaster. I must tell you here that there is not much about the park that Zack does not know. Even I found it difficult to stump him. No matter what coaster or area we were led to in the park; we were always allowed to stop the tour and spout out a question or two. It is amazing I must say, that even with my bombardment of inquiries, we were still able to finish the tour relatively on time.

And that brings me to the main gist of this review my fellow coaster aficionados; if it is questions you have, it is questions you must ask. This tour encourages the curious mind and allows the average coaster guru to see what it takes to keep maintenance on each of the park’s coasters. At each of the Four Rides you are given a chance to go behind into the maintenance areas, speak directly with people who work on these rides everyday, watch the coaster crews hard at work, and stand behind the controls to see what it is like to operate such machinery safely.

I would also like to mention that you get your own personal ride on each coaster before anyone else in the park is allowed to. As if that is not enough, you are also given a Quick Que pass for one ride on each of the four major coasters after the tour is over. A little inside scoop here; I quickly learned that the coasters feel completely different on the first ride of the day and when I asked about it, Zack explained the answer.

No, I will not tell you what was said. That’s cheating! Take the tour and see for yourself just how different a very early morning, pre-crowd ride is.

Oh and bring your camera!

Have you ever been to an art museum and were watched closely by a guard who shouts “No flash photography” every five seconds? Well, you will have none of that on this tour. I could take pictures of almost anything and everything. It almost felt I was breaking the unspoken coaster law of silence by capturing sacred images of what is normally forbidden to see. It was invigorating to have such freedom.

Let us focus for a moment on the word freedom.

Arriving at the Griffon, we were given the freedom to ride up the service elevator all the way to the very top and walk -YES WALK- to the other side where a stationary coaster car awaits your perusal. Before you worry too much, let me assure you that your tour guide will make sure that you are properly following procedure. Still, let me repeat this: You are allowed to maneuver ON TOP of the Griffon, looking down and walking on the platform all the way around to the other side! I will NEVER look at this coaster the same way again. From now on,every ride I take will have me muttering to my ride companion: ’ “I walked there… and there… oooo.. and right there (pointing to a certain spot) I had my picture taken” speech.

Approaching the Drop

While basking in the joy of unhindered coaster heaven, I must have asked a hundred questions about the lift hill, breaking systems, anything that I could wrap my poor stuttering mouth to spit out. I am still, in shock… speechless over the experience. Right then, looking across the park at 205 feet in the air, I knew that this tour was worth every penny and that I would be taking this tour again and again.

Going on the Roller Coaster Insider Tour was a chance to see all the inner workings of Busch Gardens Coasters that up until now, I could only use my imagination to fill in the blanks. Needless to say, it surpassed all my expectations.

Cost of my ticket (in 2010): $67.46

Value of the Memories gained: Priceless.

Here are all the official details I experienced in the 2010 Tour: (Please note that every year the tour may change and the below only relates to what I experienced in 2010.)
* Tour Loch Ness, Griffon, Alpengeist, Apollo’s Chariot maintenance areas and speak with maintenance personnel on daily maintenance/operation of rides.

* Learn how our coasters are designed, built and constructed from concept to opening.

* Learn cool facts about the construction/operation of our coasters.

* Park History is shared along to tour to include some of the other Sea World Parks & Entertainment Parks.

* Ride to the top of the Griffon lift via the elevator system. At the top, get out of the “cart” and walk around on top.

* Photographer on the tour to take pictures. Photos are taken at the top of Griffon too! All personal cameras are welcome on the tour, but can’t be taken on the coasters themselves.

* Ride all 4 coasters twice without waiting in line. Loch Ness, Griffon and Alpengeist are ridden before the park opens. Front of the line pass is given to all guests on the tour to be able to come back and experience all 4 coasters during park operation without waiting in line.

* Photo CD of tour is included in price.

* Questions are welcome on the tour.

* Be the first guests of the day to enter the park! (You get to be let in at 7:45 am folks!) Groups are limited in size for a smaller more personal experience.