After a 2020 season that was disrupted by the global pandemic, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is bringing back its major fall and winter events in full swing this year, according to Kevin Lembke, park president.
The park was closed for most of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. “We were reopened as of August, 2020, but it was on a very limited basis,” says Lembke. Even after opening, Busch Gardens was unable to put together a Howl-O-Scream event last year; and though Christmas Town did take place, it was reduced in scale. “Our ability to put on special events at the level that guests have come to expect was limited based on our capacity,” says Lembke.
This year, Busch Gardens is open at full capacity once again, and Lembke is excited to bring back all the excitement and wonder that guests have come to expect from events like Howl-O-Scream and Christmas Town. “We’re planning new experiences for both events,” he says, adding that Howl-O-Scream will be “scarier than ever” this year.
Busch Gardens, currently owned by Seaworld Parks and Entertainment, was originally opened by Anheuser Busch. One of two Busch Gardens locations — the other is Busch Gardens Tampa, which opened in 1959 — the Williamsburg location, as Lembke says, “was born out of the location of the Anheuser Busch Brewery” that has been in Williamsburg since 1972.
“The Park was much smaller back then,” says Lembke. The England area and part of what currently comprises Germany, opened with the original park. Everything else has been added over the years as the park expanded.
Of the original attractions at the park, there are six still operating: The Skyride, Le Scoot Log Flume, Le Catapult, The Herschell Carousel, The Busch Gardens Railway and The Rhine River Cruise. The oldest roller coaster in operation at the park is The Loch Ness Monster, which has provided excitement for almost 60 million riders over 43 years.
The park’s emphasis was on shows and live, in-person entertainment in the early days. “That’s a tradition that we carry on today,” says Lembke. Most notably, Lembke mentions that the show “Celtic Fire, an Irish dance show, has won the award for best theme park show in the Unites States for several years in a row.” He goes on to say, “that combination of rides and shows, along with great food, has really been the recipe for success since the beginning.”
Many more coasters have been added to the park over the years, including fan favorites like Alpengeist, one of the fastest coasters in the world, and Griffon, which features a 90-degree, 205-foot drop. The next major roller coaster to debut at Busch Gardens Williamsburg will be Pantheon. It will be in the Festa Italia portion of the park, featuring multiple launches and a top speed of 73 miles per hour.
The date of Pantheon’s official debut has yet to be announced. It was originally slated for a 2020 launch, but that was changed because of the pandemic. Busch Gardens does anticipate a 2021 opening for the new coaster.
Through all of the growth, Busch Gardens has continued to make the most of the Williamsburg area, which Lembke describes as, “a fantastic location,” adding that, “the park truly feels like it was carved out of the natural topography.” Indeed, guests at the park get to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the location in many ways, including aboard The Rhine River Cruise boat rides and from the park’s taller rides that provide expansive views of Williamsburg and the James River.
Lembke began his career with Seaworld Parks and Entertainment in Orlando in 2000, and moved to the Williamsburg park in 2018. It’s not hard to imagine that running an amusement park with more than a thousand employees is very time consuming, but Lembke says that it is still possible to carve out some time for himself and his family. He’s an avid golfer who also loves music and has been playing guitar for more than 20 years. In addition to his work and personal hobbies, large amounts of Lembke’s time are dedicated to being with his wife and their four children. “We’re a boating family,” says Lembke, “and any time we can escape, we love to take the kids out on the water.”
For updates on the projected opening of the new coaster, Pantheon, as well as information about what to expect at this year’s fall and winter events, Lembke recommends following Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter. That information, in addition to park hours, ticket pricing and promotions, will also be available on the park’s website.
TO THE POINT:
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Address: 1 Busch Gardens Blvd., Williamsburg, VA 23185
Business: Amusement Park, Entertainment