Part One, June 2004

Text and images copyright Jay Ducharme 2004

On June 20th, Karen and I drove out to Williamsburg, Virginia, for three days at beautiful Busch Gardens. I thought it would take us around eight to ten hours to get there. I mapped out a route circumventing Manhattan, following route 87 south and joining up with I-95 in New Jersey. That was a mistake. Traffic was so thick and slow that after three hours we had traveled 86 miles, including a half-hour sitting in traffic at a New Jersey toll booth while cars continually cut into our lane. After thirteen hours of driving and about thirty dollars in tolls we reached our motel, The White Lion in Williamsburg, at about half-past midnight. The motel was set up more like a series of charming cottages. Our room was spacious, comfortable and quiet. It was perfect for two exhausted travelers.

The next morning we woke up early and headed to the park. I had bought the park's "Summer Sizzler" passports online. They were a great bargain at only $65 each. We didn't have an interest in the water park and we weren't coming back for the rest of the season, so the Sizzler worked out well.

The weather was perfect: the sky was bright blue, the temperature was in the upper 70s and the humidity was low. What a contrast with our trip from a few years ago when it was so hot and humid we thought we would pass out. The bright purple and yellow structure of Apollo's Chariot greeted us at the entrance. Preferred Parking went up three dollars since our previous visit. At $13 the price was a bit steep but it was still worth it. We got a space right in front of the entrance. That made trips back to the car much easier.

There was an extensive queue line set up in front of the ticket windows. Two employees were efficiently herding guests to open windows. We waited no more than two minutes. Karen presented her online ticket. She was given the plain brown Sizzler ID card. Rather than take her photo like season passes at other parks, the ticket girl simply ran the card (which was black on the back) through a printer, which stamped a bar code on it. When I handed the ticket girl my online pass, she seemed puzzled for a moment and then looked around her booth as if she were missing something. She turned to me and said, "Um...I'm all out of Summer Sizzler passports. So go ahead and pick any one of these." She gestured to a row of sample cards in her window. I picked a rather stunning one that featured the Big Bad Wolf coaster. She ran my passport through her machine and off we went down the winding path to the entrance. Karen was a bit disappointed that she didn't get to choose a nicer pass. Since none of them seemed to indicate the type of passport and all the information was in the barcode, it didn't seem to make much difference which one was used. Letting guests choose their passport makes sense.

Busch Gardens has such a beautiful entry way. I love how, after the ticket windows, there's no traditional entrance. We wandered among the beautiful floral displays. Ivy climbing along the buildings was trimmed into geometrical forms. Shrubs were pruned to form spirals. And there was that wonderful waterfall running along the left side. A pond with quietly floating ducks spilled down into another pond, which spilled down into yet another smaller pond which then sent water cascading down a steep hill and out of sight. The curving tan pebbled walkway diverted so that you could follow the path of the water until it disappeared beyond a weathered rustic wooden fence. Everything was draped under a thick canopy of trees. Before we ever got into the park, this section told us what we were going to experience: beauty and serenity. Performers will often have a warm-up act to get the audience in the right mood. This entryway is Busch Garden's warm-up act. I wondered about the pre-recorded music there though; there was a lot of british and american pop from the 1960s. It didn't quite seem to fit.

The actual entrance had long lines at all the gates, but they moved swiftly. There were makeshift tables set up in front of the gates where three security guards were checking bags. But there were so many people pouring in, the guards would check perhaps one bag for every ten guests. When Karen gave the gate attendant her pass to swipe, the machine let out a loud beep. "Place your hand here and squeeze the posts," the attendant said. There was a little stainless steel box that had a right hand imprint on it and little posts between the fingers. She placed her hand on it and squeezed. "Okay, now do it again." Karen repeated the procedure and the machine beeped again. "You're all set," the attendant cheerfully said. I went through the same routine. The scanner matched our hand prints to our bar codes, so no one else could use our passes. Everyone with a passport had to place their right hand in the device before entering the park. Considering how poor most season pass photos are, this was certainly a better alternative. The workers at the gate were relieved of the verification process. I don't know how reliable those machines are; we didn't have a problem with them in our three days there. I also don't know if there are privacy issues related to them. (Where is my hand print stored and who has access to it?) I actually don't even know if it's registering a hand print. It reminded me of those silly old arcade machines that supposedly determined your "love level" when you placed your hand on them.

We followed the simulated stone path up the hill to Banbury Cross, the old England section of the park. The path was poured concrete, patterned and colored to resemble red brick trimmed with gray stone. The tightly-spaced buildings resembled a stereotypical street in England around 1700. The buildings were all tudor style, with colorful stained glass windows. The tall clock tower in the center was the anchor-point for this section. As with the rest of the park, planters with colorful flowers were everywhere. Ivy crawled up the buildings. The place could have been hundreds of years old. The only clue that it wasn't was that everything was so clean. Later in the day, I actively tried to find trash on the ground and I couldn't. Outside of an occasional sign of faded or peeling paint on part of a structure, the huge park was absolutely spotless. It was amazing. And unlike most other parks, the cleaning crews were practically invisible. Only once did I notice a sweeper in the park. The music in this section was generally baroque (Handel and Haydn).

The Squire's was a nearby little breakfast nook. We got some pretty good food there on our last trip. I liked the orange juice, fresh-squeezed before our eyes. So we stopped in. All of the food courts in the park were cafeteria-style. There was only one small sit-down restaurant, which to me was strange. Cafeterias seem out-of-place in such a classy park. When we entered, no breakfast food was visible. The orange juice squeezer was gone. Just like on our last visit, however, there was an employee behind the counter who didn't speak very good english (ironic, since this was the English section). Karen wanted an order of scrambled eggs and steak fries. The girl behind the counter said (in broken english) that she couldn't have it. She had to have sausage too. Karen talked with her for a while, trying to get her to understand that she simply wanted a side of scrambled eggs and a side of fries. The girl refused. Finally, she agreed to serve it to Karen, but said, "You have to pay full price." Then another worker nearby who overheard the conversation interrupted saying, "She can get them separately." The two workers discussed it for a moment, but then agreed that Karen could simply get sides of each item. I got a Belgian Waffle without sausage and milk. I had to wait about fifteen minutes for the waffle. Then we took our order up to the cashier. My order was rung in as a Belgian Waffle side, but Karen's was rung in as a full meal. We gave up. We sat at the cafe-style tables outside Squire's. The waffle was good, with a rich consistency more like a pancake. Karen enjoyed her full-priced sides. Our breakfast price tag was just under nineteen dollars, quite a lot of money for what we got.

We then headed out of Banbury Cross, took a left outside of Heatherdowns (Scotland) and walked across the train tracks toward Escape from Pompeii. This heavily-themed Intamin shoot-the-chutes ride was visually impressive. The massive five story building looked like an ancient ruin that you'd expect to see in Pompeii. The weathered sandstone-like exterior was rich with detail and shading, with chunks of crumbling facade and multiple layers of stone. The lift hill rose up into the top left side of the structure and emerged out of the top right of the structure. The steep drop plunged the large boat into a crystal clear pool. Near the base of the drop, a stone platform jutted out into the pool where guests who didn't want to ride could stand and get soaked by the spray coming off of the boat. There was also a curious area section of the platform walled with plexiglas for people who wanted to watch but not get wet. Various realistic broken statues littered the queue area and pool. There were signs warning about volcanic and seismic eruptions. The music was peculiar but exciting, leaning heavily on russian composers (Stravinsky and Prokofiev in particular). There were only a couple of guests in the station. We got in line for the front seat. This is the only shoot-the-chutes I know of that has queue lines for the separate seats in the boat. We sat down and pulled the large lap bar down. It clicked into place. I'm not sure what its function was other than to make passengers (and perhaps insurance companies) feel good. It locked into place about six inches above my thighs. It certainly wouldn't prevent anyone from falling out. Shipwreck Falls, another Intamin shoot-the-chutes at Six Flags New England, doesn't have any lap bar.

Something else that impressed me about Busch Gardens was that on every ride the attendants offered to take any loose items for you. Obviously, they couldn't be responsible for them. But it was thoughtful as well as efficient, because guests didn't have to cross the platform to put away their items. It saved time. Guests were quickly seated and dispatched while the attendant(s) handled the items.

The lift started up and we were slowly dragged to the top by the wood-slat conveyor belt. I felt a bit uneasy when, at the top of the lift, the nose of the boat kept going up. Finally the weight of the boat pulled the nose downward with such force that it actually went under the water in the trough and then bobbed back up. A heavy wave of water poured into the boat, completely drenching us from the hips down and flooding the bottom of the boat with about two inches of water. Karen and I looked at each other and laughed. We had thought of bringing our sandals, but didn't. Now we would spend the rest of the day with soggy sneakers.

[For those who want the contents of the building to be a surprise, skip this paragraph.] The boat gently drifted through the trough around a right turn. There was faint manic music playing, then loud rumbling. To our right, a pillar "collapsed," breaking in half. With a loud crack, flames shot out of the left wall. The heat was extremely intense. We drifted toward the left and flames erupted on the right, sending a long streak of fire shooting across the top of the water alongside the boat. Flames then blasted out from the left. It felt dangerously hot. Spinning tires in the trough propelled the boat quickly through that section. Flames then shot out from a portal in front of us to the right. That was a bit cheesy; there was a fan in full view blowing the flames. Then the most spectacular effect: the ceiling above us filled with crackling, swirling multicolored flames. We turned right. Smoke wafted up from broken pillars along the sides of the trough. Another loud crack was heard and a giant statue tipped and fell across our path, a couple feet above our heads.

Tires in the trough pulled the boat up a small incline. The boat pushed against two doors that swung open. The nose of the boat pointed precariously out over the precipice. From our viewpoint, there was no chute visible. It looked as if we were going to drop off the edge of the building. Then the nose pointed down the steep drop. There was a nice moment of airtime until we hit the water sending a powerful spray flying in all directions. Then we slowly drifted back to the station.

Overall we liked the ride a lot. It didn't have the biggest splash. Canobie Lake's Boston Tea Party has a far bigger splash (and it's a smaller ride ... go figure). It didn't have the greatest effects either. But it had some other wonderful theatrical elements: the boat diving into the water at the top of the lift; speeding up and slowing down inside the building; the incredibly unsettling approach to the drop. And everything looked so great. The water was sparklingly clean. The building was just plain impressive from the outside. So even though the inside of the building to me felt half-finished, overall the experience was very enjoyable. We left the ride with smiles and slogged our way toward Festa Italia.

The entrance to the Italy section of the park (which itself is divided into two parts) is delightful: the fauna changes, with different trees and shrubs. The long bridge over the train tracks into Festa Italia are bedecked with bright and colorful flowers. We turned left after the bridge and headed for Apollo's Chariot, a 1999 Bolliger & Mabillard roller coaster masterpiece. Although this was their first non-inverting coaster creation (along with Six Flags Great America's Raging Bull), it rides like it was designed by seasoned professionals. Next to the entrance to the station was a giant throne with a blazing sun on it. There was a short line. Karen and I waited about fifteen minutes for the front seat. While we were waiting, it was one of the few times I noticed a maintenance person picking up trash: crawling through the densely-packed bushes around the station, where most people wouldn't even bother to notice.

The train glided out of the station and climbed the long, slow lift. The seats were so darn comfortable, more like sitting in a recliner (even though there was no padding to speak of). The single ratcheting T-bar with its flared padding made me feel so vulnerable, as if I could tip out at any time. There were no seat belts and no other restraints of any kind. It just didn't feel right. I was so used to being overly secured on coasters. Something else I liked about these trains: I could hold my feet out with no obstructions, like I was flying.

The train reached the top of the lift. Usually when I'm on a lift hill I look around at the rest of the park. For some reason, on Apollo's Chariot I was so fixated (or terrified) on the ride that I couldn't look at anything else. The train crested the top and in an Arrow-like maneuver dropped down slightly and evened out again, getting a boost of speed. It rolled over a tiny check brake and then plunged steeply over 200 feet down to the ground below. We flew up over the second hill. There was a hard but not very sustained pop of airtime. Then we dove down over a flat run across the Rhine River Lake then banked hard to the left and entered into one of the most disorienting pretzel turns ever created. It was a giant knot of track where the train just seemed to drop out from under itself.

We flew across the lake again and over a really strong airtime hill. The next hill was my favorite: the train flew upward, and the track suddenly dropped away to the right. It was like Boulder Dash: severe airtime with severe laterals. We turned to the left, hit a few more bunny hops and the big drop right before the station, and then we were back.

We both loved this ride. For me, it's probably my second or third favorite steel coaster. It was smooth, fast, comfortable and filled with airtime. But for me it was just too short. Some of the positive Gs were a bit too intense for me. Also, the airtime wasn't very sustained. It was more like Magnum, where there are quick bursts of airtime that send you up into the lap bar. I prefer the sustained floating of Superman Ride of Steel. But I thought the ride's changes of direction were stunning and unique. And there was always a fear that I'd come flying out of that lap bar. We enjoyed "our voyage to the sun on the wings of Apollo's Chariot."

We walked over to the observation deck near the La Cucina restaurant and watched the rafts float by on the Roman Rapids. There were many nice touches, romanesque statues, fountains and waterfalls, that were visible to onlookers but hidden from riders. There was classical music playing that I couldn't identify as particularly italian. Karen and I got in line for the Rapids. There was a convenient separate line for parties of 1 or 2 people. The giant turntable for boarding was staffed by three attendants who basically stood in place as the turntable slowly spun, squeezing rafts between the table and a conveyor. They had little remote controls which I assume controlled the speed of the conveyor. By slowing it down or speeding it up in relation to the turntable, they could re-orient the rafts so the entry points were lined up properly. In a very short time, we were on a raft and heading out over the rapids through the crystal clear water.

I love rapids rides like Lake Compounce's Thunder Rapids that get you wet from the rapids themselves rather than gimmicks like waterfalls. Roman Rapids has lots of gimmicks, and the theming is largely invisible while on the ride. There are water cannons around the observation deck, near the start of the ride, and if the waterfall there doesn't get you wet, the cannons (coin-operated by observers) will. We got doused. There was a holding area that looked as if it might have been a wave pool at one time. We drifted around a right-hand corner. Our raft spun round and round. We were on with another family and they were having a blast. We floated underneath Apollo's Chariot. Then we passed through a long straight run of tall waterfalls. We rounded another right-hand turn and that was it. We were drenched but happy.

We then walked over to the Festa train station. The three huge steam engines that Busch uses (each a scale replica of real trains from different countries) are really impressive. Since there were so few people riding, we stayed on board for the entire circuit around the whole park. It was really relaxing. We passed by the old Drachen Fire roller coaster station, still standing but abandoned, looking eerie and lonely next to all that empty acreage. We crossed the long trestle over the Rhine River, with a terrific view of Alpengeist, the Loch Ness Monster and the Big Bad Wolf.

We returned to the Festa station and walked over the bridge to the San Marco area. This was one of the most beautifully-themed areas in the park. From the fake crumbling plaster on the buildings to the bright flowers to the authentic-looking statues, it looked just how I'd imagine a street in old Italy would appear. There was even cryptic "authentic" graffiti on the buildings. One stretch of this area had some perfectly themed kiddie rides: a colorful balloon ride and a glider ride. There was also a pirate ship ride themed with a huge ram's head on each side of the boat ("Battering Ram") and a standard Slingshot themed as DaVinci's Cradle. In front of that there was a pleasant series of gardens with intersecting paths and a large fountain in the center. Surrounding the fountain were a circle of roman columns about twenty feet high. It was both beautiful and impressive. The music here had more of a traditional Italian sound, with accordions similar to "That's Amore."

We strolled over to the Ristorante della Piazza next to the huge and elaborately decorated amphitheater. I ordered a plate of spaghetti with red sauce. The woman behind the counter went to scoop out some red sauce but discovered the container was empty. So she got a fresh container and struggled to get the old container out of the steam table and put the new one in. (The potholder got caught on the steam table.) Finally she finished. And then she did something I've never seen done at an amusement park: she took my plate of spaghetti and without my asking threw it out because it had gotten slightly cold. She then got me a fresh plate of hot spaghetti with fresh red (marinara) sauce on it. Now THAT was customer service! At most other parks, the employee would simply pour the sauce onto the cold spaghetti because they were trained not to waste food. But at Busch Gardens apparently they were trained to make the customer happy. I also got some garlic bread and a gelatin dessert with whipped cream. Karen got mozzarella sticks and garlic bread. We sat down at a cafe table in the amphitheater. The stage was empty. The two huge fountains on either side created a soothing backdrop. My spaghetti was pretty good, thick and rich. The garlic bread was good. Karen's mozzarella sticks were interesting, dipped in batter instead of bread crumbs. She enjoyed them. It sounds strange, but the tastiest part of that meal was the gelatin. It was more flavorful than I expected of simple Jell-o. I also had some lemonade that tasted like it had just been pulled out of the Roman Rapids.

Next we walked across the long bridge over the Rhine River into the Oktoberfest section of the park. German oom-pah tunes filled the air. This section was interesting in that it was one of the few places that had traditional midway games set up, like guessing your weight, tossing a ring and so on. Each game had a placard over it in the shape of a scroll with its german name. There was a well-disguised arcade. The wave swinger was the most prominent ride, in the center of the midway. Off in a corner was the Autobahn, a bumper car ride. Near that was the infamous Big Bad Wolf. The only apparent way out of that section (besides the bridge) was through the gift shop. (It was possible to walk up to the giant Festhaus and turn right, but it looked more like a dead end.)

We emerged on the other side of the gift shop, turned right and walked across the short bridge lined with ornate black iron arches into the Rhinefeld section. This was sort of like an old german town, but it wasn't as coherently themed as the rest of the park. The Kinder Carousel sat in a corner. This unassuming ride was covered with mosaics of tiny mirrors. What struck me most were the horses, painted in really odd colors. There was one iridescent blue horse, a pink one, a purple one, a green one ... you name it. Although they were wood, the colors made them look like fiberglass. There was an old band organ there but it was silent. To the left of that was the Land of the Dragons, a delighful children's play area. There was a small water playground, a tiny flume (with a tiny lift hill), tubes, a netted climbing area and slides. What was nice was that adults (if they could fit) were allowed to play too. Karen and I wandered through the play areas. I climbed up the rope nets and slide down through one of the tubes. Most of the area was designed to look playfully prehistoric. A small ferris wheel, for example, was a ring of dinosaur eggs.

We walked down the steep path to the Rhine River Cruise dock. There were plenty of benches under a giant bright yellow canopy in the waiting area. The one boat that was running slowly made its way back to the dock. There was an elderly attendant at the dock entrance chatting amiably with guests. When the boat's passengers disembarked, we boarded. Eventually the boat was filled and we departed. The captain had a headset microphone on but it wasn't working. His voice was a faint garbled mess. He pulled the boat up alongside the long drop of the Big Bad Wolf and stopped as the train crested the top of the hill and then plunged toward us with enormous speed. The captain would press buttons at his console that activated various pre-recorded spiels. He occasionally got them confused and would punch various buttons until he hit the right one. So we'd hear, "The Loch Ness -- Alpengeist is an inverted -- The Big Bad Wolf plunges -- The Rhine River is named after the famous river...." There was another elderly attendant on the boat who walked from person to person during the ride and struck up friendly conversation with them, usually asking where they were from and how they liked the park. It was a nice personal touch. The leisurely cruise was enjoyable and ended too quickly. Disembarking was a little unsettling. The attendant unloaded one side of the boat at a time. Karen and I were at the back of the first side to unload. As most of our side left, the entire boat began to list heavily to the side with the seated guests. The boat's draft was only a few inches and the water was maybe a foot deep, so it wouldn't have tipped over. But it felt weird.

After disembarking, we strolled along the wooden promenade, heading toward the looming structure of the Loch Ness Monster. There were a couple of people feeding a large swan that was devouring everything they tossed into the river. Karen and I stood nearby, looking over the railing. A little turtle swam in from the left to grab some of the food, but the swan beat it every time. There is strength in number, though. We looked off to the left and there was a long line of turtles, like a turtle train, heading for the swan. Some of the turtles had brightly colored collars in yellow or pink. Others had shells thick with moss. But they were all determined to get some of the food. In all, about eight turtles arrives. Most had shells about a foot in diameter. The people with the food (it looked like bread) would through scraps directly to the turtles. But the swan would use its feet to step on the turtles and push them out of the way. Some of the turtles purposely would bump the swan, as if they were tugboats trying to move a tanker. We watched that scene for a while and then moved on.

One impressive display on the river walk was when we stood right at the base of the first drop and loops of the Loch Ness Monster and watched the trains blast by us. We then climbed the long staircase up into Heatherdowns. Nothing much had changed in this section. The main attraction was the Highland Stables, where the famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses are kept. They often can be seen grazing in the fenced-in field behind the stables. The horses are amazing to see because of their tremendous size (about 12 hands). The park had placed a new white plastic fence around the stables, which seemed a bit out-of-place. Everything else in that area looked so old and authentic. The fence looked so ... plastic.

We took the Skyride to Aquitaine. The Busch Skyride was interesting because was built in a triangle, with three stations. We could travel from Heatherdowns to Aquitaine to Rhinefeld and back to Heatherdowns. It was a picturesque, peaceful ride high above the densely-forested park. Aquitaine was home to the Royal Palace Theater, a giant amphitheater that was still playing "Imaginique" which we saw two years ago. It was a sort of Cirque du Soliel imitation with loud music. The anchor point for this section is the big iron clock. I like how each section has an identifiable anchor. It makes meeting up with your family easy. Aquitaine was laid out like a small french village. All of the "midways" at Busch were intimate. There were no wide expanses of asphalt. The walkways were relatively narrow and twisty, making us forget we were in a theme park. It also helped the park feel more crowded even when there weren't a lot of people there (by Busch standards).

We headed for Le Scoot, the old Arrow flume ride that's dwarfed by the surrounding track of Alpengeist, the giant 1998 B&M inverted coaster that repeatedly roared through its course with a fearsome sound. The queue line for Le Scoot filled the station. But Karen noticed that the water in the troughs had been shut down. We glanced over at the lift hill to see the log boats stopped on it. Over near the ride's big drop, ride supervisors and maintenance crews were walking people down from the ride. We waited a few minutes, watching more and more people be taken from their log boats and guided down the lift hill stairs. Finally an announcement came over the intercom that the ride was being shut down for a while.

So we headed out of Aquitaine toward Killarney, the irish section. A long winding path led down through the forest and entered Lorikeet Glen, which was a sort of nature preserve. Lorikeet Glen itself was an aviary. We walked in through the doors which were protected with mesh and plastic drapes. The aviary was a circular walkway enclosed within a large net. Many different species of birds were flying around like brightly colored projectiles. They would land on guests' shoulders and heads. One had settled onto a guy's baseball cap. The bird was working very hard to remove the little button on the top of the cap. Another bird was unbuttoning the shirt on one of the attendants. "I've tried to teach her to button them back up, but she won't do it."

A winding shady path encircled the aviary. Many different birds sat on perches. Most of them had an injury that prevented them from flying. There was a small open field there and two workers were training a raven (who, they said, had the intelligence of a two year old human, to dispose of trash. One worker held the raven; the other held a piece of trash (an old bottle or can). The raven would fly over, grab the object in its beak, walk over to a nearby bucket and drop the trash in the bucket. They it would perch back on the arm of the worker. The worker with the trash would try different things, like tossing a can on the ground as the bird was in flight. The raven would alter its course, grab the can and drop it in the bucket.

We went "across the street" to Jack Hanna's WIld Reserve, which was presenting Greystone Tower, a show about grey wolves. It was fascinating and informative, as dangerous-looking large grey wolves were brought onto the stage (which was designed to look like a natural mountainside) and performed routines like trained puppies. The announcer said that Busch Gardens trains its animals using positive reinforcement only, so that animals are never punished. After the show the announcer, a college-age guy, invited the audience to come over and ask questions. I asked him about wolf-to-domestic dog evolution and he gave me a lengthy, articulate and thorough answer. (Part of it dealt with how the look of wolves genetically changed as humans gradually domesticated them.)

From there we walked across the bridge where there was a bald eagle sanctuary. A babbling waterfall and brook ran through the area. Seven bald eagles (with no ability to fly) were basking in the sun or bathing. Then we walked up the hill through the stone archway into Killarney. Naturally, traditional irish music was playing. This area of the park, the newest land, was rather small. There were no rides there, except for the simulator Corkscrew Hill. There was Grogan's Pub, the Abbey Stone Theatre and a couple of gift shops. I loved the "ent" growing around the Pot of Gold shop. The architecture was impressive. There was a wagon similar to a traveling entertainer's from the old west. It housed an animatronic Irish puppet. It carried on amusing banter with the guests, similar to the "Sassy Sally" rooster at Great Escape. It was sort of a cross between a leprechaun and the Muppet's Dr. Teeth. As we were watching the puppet, a falcon swooped by inches from my face and lighted on top of one of the buildings. It then flew across the midway and landed on top of another building. It crisscrossed like that for a while and then flew off.

We walked back up to Aquitaine and took the Skyride over to the Rhinefeld. We went into my favorite shop at Busch Gardens, the German Gift Shop. I love clocks, and that place was wall-to-wall clocks of all styles. Most were hand-made wooden clocks from Germany. I stared longingly at the expensive and beautiful cuckoo clocks that were not only timepieces but works of art. The attendants there were happy to demo the clocks for me. They moved the hands forward and I could listen and watch the delicate machinery operate. I was surprised at the difference in tone from one clock to another. Not only the chimes, but the cuckoos (tiny leather bellows like an organ) varied considerably, from shrill to sweet. I sighed heavily and we left the shop.

At the plaza with the large memorial Busch fountain, the "world famous Busch Gardens Boogie Band" appeared. This group of a half-dozen guys dressed in something like Navy uniforms and shorts and carrying brass instruments and drums played high-energy instrumentals from the 1970s as they danced around with intricate choreography. I remembered this group from our last trip to Busch Gardens. Two of the members from that trip were still in this incarnation. It was a lot of fun and featured some great musicianship.

By then it was after 5 p.m. Karen and I were exhausted from our long trip the night before, so we headed back to our comfortable little cottage. We had a terrific first day at Busch Gardens. Anything that didn't go smoothly (like our breakfast) vanished from our memory. All we were left with was a sense of wonder at the park's beauty. That's what sets it apart from other parks: there's such a pervasive optimism and friendliness about the place that we always remember the good times.

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