Things That Tick Me Off: Busch Gardens

It is time for another addition to my list of “Things That Tick Me Off” — an occasional ranting about something I encounter that drives me to distraction or dismay in everyday life. This week’s cathartic event was a trip on Sunday to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia to celebrate the birthday of one of my kids. Around four, the park experienced bad weather. The rejection of the park however proved as unpredictable as the storm.

In the late afternoon, it began to rain at the park with the appearance of some dark storm clouds. The park announced that it would partially suspend operations, including rides, due to bad weather. At the same time, it announced that it was shutting down the trams to take people to their cars. Given the huge parking lots, shutting down the trams effectively means for many people being unable to leave the park. I can understand shutting down the trams for the protection of drivers and staff. However, this continued even after the sun came out and rain stopped for over an hour. We were never told that the trams and parking services had re-opened. People walked around feeling trapped in the park and staff could not say when the trams would reopen even after almost an hour of sunny weather. (The announcement system seems to be operated on a pretty casual level. The night before we were told the park was closing “in 15 minutes” when it was closing in an hour and fifteen minutes). At a minimum, people should be informed when the trams were operating again. There was a feeling expressed by many that they were at the roach motel where “you can check in but you can never check out.” I am not saying that this was an intentional act to keep people in the park eating and buying merchandise. I honestly assume no one felt they had to inform people that they could now leave by way of the trams (they could always walk on their own), but for those who are not as able to walk the long distance to their cars, it is a bit unreasonable to ask them to walk across the huge park to find out if the trams are operating.

Still I can understand the necessity of caution and, as a torts professor, I respected the need to put the safety of everyone first. After another hour of so, it began to thunder again with light rain. As lightning appeared with increased thunder, I decided to get our family out of the park and call Busch gardens a bust. It was then that my kids noticed that all of the rides had resumed. The parents were astonished. Of course, the kids insisted that the park would not have reopened the rides if they were not safe. Yet, to the amazement of the adults in our group, we watched as roller coasters like the Loch Ness and the Griffin continued to operate with loud thunder claps and visible lightning around the rides. I was flabbergasted. After about thirty minutes of lightning, another announcement was heard saying that the park was again temporarily suspending some operations due to weather. I did not hear the rides after that point but we were leaving. (By the way, the trams were again operating but we only found out by walking out of the park).

I should note that, while the birthday was a bust and we were out hundreds of dollars, I do not blame Busch Gardens. It cannot control the weather. Moreover, despite the ridiculously high prices for everything in the park, I think Busch Gardens has improved. A few years ago, we found people working the park to be pretty rude and snippy. Now, the staff is much changed and very helpful and very friendly. The park is very clean and the rides are a lot of fun.

Moreover, amusement parks still remain one of the safest recreational activities due largely to the attention to safety shown by companies. Each year an estimated 1.7 billion rides are taken by nearly 300 million people. Yet, from 1994 to 2004, we have seen an average of just four deaths per year on rides.

I also realize that roller coasters are grounded so no need to explain that even a lightning strike on a ride is not likely to kill everyone in a car.

However, roller coaster rides are the perfect lightning rods — metal objects that are usually the tallest structure for miles. Not surprisingly, they are often hit by lightning. (here and here and here and here). The greatest danger is often killing the motor or electrical system — leaving people stranded. There is also the low chance of a close hit to a car – an extremely low probability but one with a high potential for injury.

The decision to resume riding in the midst of thunder claps and lightning was a remarkably reckless act in my view for a major park. Ironically, while shutting down the trams (and thereby keeping most people in the park), the officials decided to eventually let the roller coasters operate. So, the park kept the little gondola cars grounded that take people from one area to another. Other small rides were also kept closed, but not the huge roller coasters themselves. Indeed, the big rides were closed when the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. They then resumed with the start of thunder and lightning.

Frankly, the day itself seemed doomed from the start for us. We stayed the night in a suite at the Holiday Inn Suites on Access Road in Williamsburg and woke up to find our hotel room flooded from a leak near a window. It was not a good night frankly with the wet floor and damp smell. However, it was so late that we did not call down since the kids were sleeping. When we returned from the park, the room smelled even worse like the inside of a gym shoe and the hotel had put a fan to try to dry the room. As I called down to speak to a manager to see if we could switch rooms, the manager Geoff was already knocking on the door. To his credit (and that of Holiday Inn), they moved us to a new and better room and even sent up a plate of cookies and milk for the kids. Geoff and the staff could not have been nicer. Thus, it is possible to face bad weather and still show an overriding concern for your guests. We would not hesitate to come back and stay at the hotel. (I will also note that once again the Holiday Inn offers free wifi — and free breakfasts for kids under 12 — while higher end hotels continue to nickel and dime guests for every possible convenience). We had a swim in the pool and pizza in the room and did not feel quite as bad about the Busch Garden disaster.

As for Busch Gardens, it would seem that a reexamination of basic procedures in bad weather would be in order.


21 thoughts on “Things That Tick Me Off: Busch Gardens”

  1. Here’s something that ticks me off

    Last week, the Jill Stein for President campaign placed over a hundred thousand dollars worth of airtime on cable TV nationally and in select markets across the country. The ads are scheduled to air tomorrow, Tuesday through this Thursday, to raise important progressive issues key to our nation’s future that will not be discussed during the corporate-sponsored Democratic National Convention.

    This morning, Google –which served as a broker for placement of our national satellite and cable television ad placements– informed Jill Stein for President that they were censoring the campaign’s ads due to “inappropriate language.” (The ads in question can be viewed here).

  2. Rule of thumb about lightning. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough for a strike. The closer between the time you see the flash and hear the thunder, the chances of a nearby (or direct) lightning strike go up.

    I have been in a Volkswagen Beetle hit by lightning. It acted as a Faraday cage, but I was blind for a few seconds, and deaf as a post for about five minutes. It was like that scene near the end of Saving Private Ryan where the Tom Hanks character is deafened by a nearby explosion. I have a very healthy respect for lightning.

    Factoid: Those little braided wire cords hanging off the trailing edges of airplane wings are static wicks. Designed to drain off static electricity charges.

  3. We have Cedar Point. I haven’t been in years but the kids love it and take the suspensions of rides calmly as it happens often due to its location right on Lake Erie. The Breakers is a great hotel located right in the park.

  4. Years ago my daughter was at soccer practice, she was the goalie. The sky darkened and there was thunder in the distance. The recreational area they were in was huge. The soccer goal posts were the highest metal objects around. I expressed my concern to the coach, we did not agree.
    Two more thunders later, I had my daughter come off the field, (much to her displeasure) Soon the rest of the team did too. I have read of many weird lightning strikes. The expression “a bolt from the blue” is scientifically accurate. Lightening is fickle, deadly, and possible anytime thunder is heard. There are many stories with bad endings.
    I am 100% for pulling all activities from wide open fields and metal objects when thunder is heard. I think it should be a national school policy.
    Regards amusement parks, I am amazed to hear they do not rigidly follow this practice.

  5. Most people struck by lightning get hit before it starts raining. Part of that is because people tend to get out of the rain but if you have ever lived in an area were you can watch storms develop you will see lightning often proceeds the rain on a broad front.

  6. Feel like you are being raped, whatever your sex?
    Bring America and yourselves to task.

    I support the minigolf and museum ideas.

    The worst I know is taking kids somewhere to then see them realize it all is a stinking bluff.

    But is that America? Try a walk in the woods. All you get there are ticks and chiggers, or a bear or two.
    Bear, not beer. But beer can be arranged at the convenience store.

  7. I took a young nephew to FL with me. We drove down in my RV. We enjoyed Sea World. We skipped Disney World and all the other big deals. He wanted to do mini-golf. We played several games and spent some time at the beach. Much cheaper. More time to interact with each other. A good time.

    Binghamton NY baseball team has good games, modest prices for entry and food. They invite a local school class in to perform. Kids get in free and get extra tickets. Special activities for the kids. 2-3 mascots that interact with the kids.

    I understand the Turley’s frustration and disappointment. Busch Gardens probably needs a new internal communication system so that the person who decides when to shut down and when to start up due to weather is closer to the action. Sounds like there was a delay in getting a decision and no one on the ground had the authority to reverse things. Or maybe they just need a new pic who is willing to delegate.

  8. I’m w/ you 100% about the dangers of lightning. Three times in my baseball coaching career I pulled my team off the field when umps said, “let’s try to get the game in.” When you’re entrusted w/ the safety of other people’s children how and the hell can someone think about “getting the game in?”

  9. Sara:

    The weather in Central-Eastern Virginia was in flux this weekend. It rained Saturday morning but by 11:00 a.m. the sun was out, it was 91 degrees, and I was working in the yard and on the car. We then had very little rain (short overnight shower) until Sunday late afternoon when the clouds opened up again with little warning. I’d give JT a pass given the uncertain climate.

  10. It is very baffling to me that why anyone would take their family to Busch Gardens and not having checked the weather forecast. You are just asking for it.

  11. I am always irked when I stay at higher end hotels, I get nickeled and aimed (actually it is more like ten and twenties) for amenities, when I am paying a vast premium to begin with. More and more I make alternate choices, not because I cannot afford it, but because I feel abused.

    Outrageous fees and prices inside parks (and ball stadiums and elsewhere) are far to common and again in my mind abusive. Why is a bottle of water $6.00 inside a ball park, or amusement park. When it is $2 in a conveneice store (a rip-off even there) and $0.30 sense at retail in a grocery store, let alone the wholesale bulk cost these places pay.) It irks me because these places are venues that suspend the laws of competition because they are limit access, then once within people are abused. We accept it by and large, but to me that does not make it right. I more often vote with my feet and avoid them, when I otherwise would participate.

    One of my favorite stories was going to an Anaheim Angels game some years ago on a very hot summer day. I was with my buddy and his two parents in their eighties. As we go to the gate, the guards confiscated the water bottles from my friends elderly parents, even after we pointed out the blistering hot weather, and the health concerns. They told us the party line BS that is was for safety. Very nice. Once we got in, they were selling the same brand and size waters inside. Thanks Disney.

    We go basket ball games at the Staples Center. That is another microcosm of abuse. The costs of products and services inside is not what might be deemed fair and reasonable, not even what is just abusive. They seem to be correlated to ride the razors edge just short of infuriating you and having you walk out and never return.

  12. It’s been 10 years since I’ve stayed in a Holiday Inn, despite the fact that I travel frequently. During my final experience EVER with that chain, in Jacksonville, FL, I checked in to discover a revolver in my bedside table (which I refused to touch in case it had been used in a crime). Worse, there were bodily fluids (of a sexual nature) on top of the comforter. I almost tossed my suitcase onto that mess.

  13. I’m conflicted about your Holiday Inn experience. I used to travel for work and had several truly horrible experiences with HI including finding fleas in my bed & being dismissed by the management and arriving at 1AM to find my guaranteed late arrival room had been rented. They found me a room in a place across the street in what turned out to be a sleazy, hooker filled flop house (doors opening & closing as johns came & went). But HI billed me for the room & I had to fight for weeks to get them to refund my room.

    To hear that they may have gotten better during the years I have avoided them makes me glad in one way but renews my anger over past treatment.

  14. One point: That “Superman Ride of Steel Gets Struck by Lightning” is obviously faked. (I say this having once taught physics to undergraduates.) I assume you knew that — your posts are sometimes playful, and the video is quite entertaining. Of course actual strikes happen all the time, just not like that.

  15. Wow! That type of park mismanagement would have sent me over the edge! At least the Holiday Inn staff made the right decisions! Happy Birthday to your son!

  16. As a complainer I would share your expressions. As a former grammar school teacher I would comment that pronounce, grammar, tense and spelling are lacking in the article in the second full paragraph. After that I sped read the thing and got the gist. Places like Busch Gardens are for chumps. Had one taken the brats to a large art museum the rain in Spain would have stayed in the plain and it is not all that difficult to get from the door to a parking lot. Picasso and Van Gogt are just as entertaining to a kid as some ferris wheel. You can feed them in there and they will not be served hot dogs. Washington DC has a lot of artful venues.

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