Busch Gardens Williamsburg is operating during the winter months for the first time since the park opened in 1975.
The theme park, which was closed for much of the regular operating season last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, is looking at ways to rethink its operations by having smaller, limited-capacity special events.
“We had to figure out how to operate safely and how to operate [economically] and still give our members and guests something that they love doing,” park spokeswoman Cindy Sarko said.
Busch Gardens, one of Virginia’s largest tourist attractions, will operate on certain weekends in January, February and March for three new limited-capacity outdoor events — Winter Weekends, Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day Celebration.
These new events are a continuation of similar limited-capacity events that the Williamsburg theme park held in August (Coasters & Craft Brews), September (Taste of Busch Gardens), October (Halloween Harvest) and in December and early January (Busch Gardens Christmas Celebration) that were popular among guests.
The events in January, February and March will be held on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and will admit a maximum of 4,000 people each for each time slot on those days, operating under the state’s new patron limits. There typically will be two time slots on Saturday and Sundays and one on Fridays.
Reservations must be purchased in advance.
Having 4,000 people per session has helped make the event more economically sustainable, she said. Before the state changed the rules, entertainment venues, including amusement parks, could operate at 50% capacity or a maximum of 1,000 people.
“We did operate successfully when we had the 1,000-person capacity limit, but it was great news when we could do even more guests at a time. Then it made it more economical for us,” Sarko said.
Being opened in January and February has been a request of patrons for years, she said. The park typically opens in mid-March for the beginning of the season.
“We have always tried to figure out a way to operate 12 months out of the year. Our sister parks are year-round operations but are in warmer climates, she said. “Now that we had to rethink how we operate with COVID, it made sense to do it [operate in the winter] given the limited-capacity events we had in 2020.”
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, the parent company of Busch Gardens, operates parks including SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and SeaWorld San Antonio.
Here are the events planned at Busch Gardens Williamsburg:
- Busch Gardens Winter Weekends (weekends from Jan. 15 through Jan. 24) will allow patrons to stroll through villages and ride 13 popular attractions, including three roller coasters and Sesame Street Forest of Fun. Fireworks will take place on Saturday evenings. Also new will be allowing guests to experience up-close encounters with animals such as a capuchin monkey, baby kangaroo, gray fox, crested porcupine and an alligator. There also will be interactive musical performances as well as food and beverages for sale.
- Mardi Gras (weekends from Jan. 29 through Feb. 28) will have guests indulging in the New Orleans spirit. Visitors can explore eight villages filled with Cajun food, cocktails, and live entertainment and music. Thirteen roller coasters and attractions, including Sesame Street Forest of Fun, also will be available.
- St. Patrick’s Day Celebration (weekends from March 5 through March 28); details are still being worked out.
Admission prices for Busch Gardens Winter Weekends and Mardi Gras limited-capacity events start at $34.99. Guests can bundle Winter Weekends admission and a meal for $54.99 and bundle Mardi Gras admission with a tasting card starting at $59.99.