I know I promised this review on Friday – I’ve had a few things to keep me busy offline (least of which is a complicated schedule to squeeze in extra therapy for the Monster on Friday afternoon), and since I don’t generally post on Shabbat…
A week ago today, my family visited Busch Gardens, in Williamsburg, Virginia. We went primarily to go enjoy the Food and Wine Festival, but admittedly there was a coaster that we’d not yet riden at the park…
(As I always state with reviews – I was not compensated in any fashion for this review. We paid for our own admission to the park.)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg, much like the associated waterpark Water Country USA, is very close to I-64 – there is, in fact, a direct access road from the highway to the parking lots. This is a place where, if you have a child with mobility issues, you may want to find out about how to get yourself into the preferred parking lot, as anyone in “standard’ parking needs to take a tram from the lot to the gate. Preferred parking is a walk to the gate itself.
Once we were parked and came into the park – and we did come early enough that there was not an insurmountable line at Guest Relations, which is in a kiosk outside of the park gates and after the ticket purchase windows – I will admit that I had some dread about how asking for assistance would turn out. As with our Six Flags trip, Busch Gardens is very much a roller coaster park where the rides generally have height requirements taller than the Monster. I therefore did not expect very much in terms of appropriate accommodation for his Autism.
I was, therefore, very much mistaken.
First – they already had the Monster in the system, since he was put into the system at Sesame Place. Second, they issued a variation of the exact same Ride Accessibility Program (RAP) sheet, customized for their park. Like at Sesame Place, the sheet listed the requirements for each ride, including where a parent/co-rider was required. Busch Gardens doesn’t like to use “Autism” as a reason on the RAP sheet, so he was listed simply as a code that means “cannot wait in lines” and that was changed in the system. (I wonder how that’ll affect our next trip to Sesame.)
Then, they put a bracelet on him – unlike Sesame Place, this was clearly marked as Handicapped, so it wasn’t as subtle – made sure we know how the program works, and wished us a fun day in the park.
(For what it is worth, do not go to the Guest Relations kiosk outside of the main gate. There is an accessibility counter at the Guest Services windows inside the park entrance, on the right side, with a marked canopy. There was no line there when we passed, as opposed to the ten-or-so minute wait I had at the main kiosk.)
Now, like Six Flags, the back of the pass has a registration check-list on it for the rides, for when they’re busy – it’s a reservation system, pure and simple. Please notice a critical difference between Six Flags and Busch Gardens – there is no limitation on the rides you can have reserved at once, nor how many times you can reserve them. (We weren’t informed of any limitation, at least.) The Monster obviously wasn’t going on any of those rides… but please, that’s so much easier when you know you’re not restricted to waiting on one thing at a time.
On the other hand, he can go on some of the other rides that do often have queues. None of these happened to have real lines… but it was on one of them that the ride operator noticed the Monster’s blue bracelet and came over to talk. I already had the RAP sheet in my hand, and was ready to give it to him, but that’s not what he wanted.
He wanted to ask a) why we’d gone through the queue (answer – it had been empty, so why not?) and b) if we realized that he’s more than welcome to not disembark when the ride was over, if he wanted to take a second ride.
Wait…. what? Is that not fabulous?
The other thing to bear in mind with Busch Gardens is that they do what Disney does at their parks – they offer “parent swap”. For rides that do have lines, one of you can go through and the other can advise the operator at the entrance that you’re a parent. Once the first parent is done on the ride, the second is ushered a significant way through the line – if not all the way to the ride itself – and can ride almost immediately. This was awesome, given that we were with the Monster’s aunt, uncle and cousin, which let us ride Verbolten and Apollo’s Chariot without major problems. (I’m not a coaster fiend, so… those were the only two that I wanted to ride. Nyah.)
Busch Gardens is not as “open” about food as Sesame Place – you can’t bring in your own food or coolers there. That said, they do offer a variety of food (outside of the festival that we were there for) that should help you find something for your kids if that’s a concern.
So… in the end, I am definitely giving Busch Gardens a major thumbs up for families with children on the spectrum. While, like most amusement parks, it can be loud and crowded, the policies they have in place at the park are wonderful and definitely make it far less stressful of a day than it could otherwise be.
October 9th Addendum:
I’ve come back to revisit this to add some information that I had not though of, back when I was writing this. 🙂
Restrooms: Most of the bathrooms in the park – including over in the ‘family’ bathroom at the Sesame area – have dryers, those Dyson AirBlade things. Every toilet we saw was automated. However, the bathrooms over at the Festhaus in Germany have paper towels, if your child has issues with the dryers like the Monster does. There may be others that are so equipped, but I did not stop at every bathroom we saw. 😉
Wristbands: When we went the most recent time, the wristband that the Monster got was still blue, and still had the universal ‘Handicapped’ logo on it… but did clearly say “Ride Accessibility Program”. I might have missed seeing that, the last time I was there.