Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival – Food & Beverage Sampler Review

The Food & Wine Festival at Busch Gardens Williamsburg is one of my favorite times at the park (second only to the pure MAGIC that is ChristmasTown), and I was so excited to get to experiences the YUMS this year too. I give you a rundown of the new kiosks (Mediterranean and India) and my favorite dishes in the park in my latest video which you can check out below.

But I also decided to splurge for a Food & Wine Sampler Pass for the first time, and I wanted to give you my thoughts because one of the questions I’ve always had is “Is it worth it?” The short answer is, most likely.  There are two options, a 10 item sampler for $45 (plus tax which comes out to be $50) or a 15 item sampler for $60 (plus tax which comes out to be $66) but for simplicity’s sake let’s go with the pre-tax prices. This means that on the 10 item sampler, any dish or drink you purchase will be $4.50 and on the 15 item sampler it will be $4.00. Dishes and drinks range between $3.00 and $6.00 so for some of the heartier and more expensive items this is quite a good deal!

Drawbacks you do have to note though: this sampler pass doesn’t cover EVERYTHING. It includes all the entrees (yay!), specialty non-alcoholic drinks (like my favorite the Hibiscus Lemonade in Hawaii) and some samples of wine and beer. Flights of wine/beer, cocktails, or full-size alcoholic beverages available at select kiosks are not counted though and you’ll have to pay for those separately.

So how do you get the most out of a sampler pass?

  • Unless you’re just really not very hungry (but I mean, it’s a festival about food so why wouldn’t you be!), the 15 item pass is the best deal because it brings your average price per item down to $4.00.
  • This is definitely the best option for a group as you can split the 15 items between you and share all around!
  • If you’re mostly interested in sampling the beer and wine from the kiosks this is also a perfect idea. Most of the samples run at $5 so you’d be saving a $1 for every drink!
  • I also think it’s a perfect idea for a family if you’re going to be in the park all day. You can graze around the park as you take the kids on different rides and save money for lunch/dinner by getting several of these smaller items rather than something from one of the main dining areas.
  • If you’re really looking to get the bang for your buck, make sure that you purchase items that are under $4.00 separately (and if you have a season’s passholder you get a 10% discount so it’s even cheaper!)
  • If you’re looking for simplicity this is also your best option. You pay once (say, at your first kiosk) and then the rest of the time you just have the cashiers scan your pass and you’re golden! No fumbling with cash or card or trying to keep track of multiple receipts!

Reasons you might should skip out on the sampler pass?

  • You’re more interested in the cocktails or wine/scotch/beer specialty samples. These aren’t included in the sampler so save your bucks and go straight for the booze!
  • You’re there for the desserts. Most of the desserts in the kiosks run in the $3.00 to $4.00 range so you’d actually be overpaying for them in the long run.

So there you have it! I think the sampler pass is best purchased when you have at least three people eating and the 15 item one is an absolute no-brainer when comparing it with the 10 item sampler. I hope this has given you a bit of clarity on how to spend your money at the Food & Wine Festival. It’s all delicious so I can really only say go for it!


Behind the Scenes at Howl-O-Scream 2016: Dolls, Clowns, and My Worst Nightmares


It’s that time of year again! I’m so excited to bring you what’s new and scary at Howl-O-Scream in Busch Gardens Williamsburg this fall!  If you have a fear of creepy dolls (thanks Chucky and Pretty Little Liars), clowns, and carnivals, you’re in for some scream-inducing mayhem!

Busch Gardens added several new features to the park this Howl-O-Scream including a haunted house “Circo Sinistro” which has a carnival/circus theme, a Terror-tory in Italy called Sideshow Square which continues the circus theme, two Escape Room experiences, and the Starfright Orchestra on Saturday evenings playing your favorite Halloween tunes.  I really loved the “Evil Encore”/Circus theme because it’s surprisingly bright and fun sounding while being thoroughly creeptastic. In fact, I wish that more of the park could have incorporated it, and perhaps even expanded upon the Mr. Karver/Georgie the Doll mythology that I glimpsed in the Escape Room.  It’s scary without being so overwhelmingly terrifying that you feel you like you can’t have any fun, which for me, made for a super great experience. So let’s break the new and interesting things down for you:

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No Escape → Escape Room Experiences

Have you been to an Escape Room yet? It’s a difficult adventure where you’re locked in a room with some friends and you have to find and solve clues to escape before the clock runs out!  I did one in New York City when I was at YouTube NextUp in the spring, and it was so fun once I got the hang of it.  Busch Gardens is catching onto the trend and put together an amazing experience.  Not only are they Halloween themed (Mr. Karver’s creepy doll workshop, and the mystery of Jack the Ripper), but they also have performers in the room with you! I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard of a Escape Room with that added element yet. It certainly ups the difficulty factor as you’re a little worried Mr. Karver is going to cut off one of your limbs at any moment!  I didn’t get to play the rooms, but I did get to tour them, and they look amazing! The Escape room experience isn’t included in the price of admission, but I think it’s well worth the price because it’s a puzzle experience and show all in one!



Sideshow Square

Terror-tories have always been something I tried to avoid in Howl-O-Scream. I’m not a big fan of  people jumping out at me when I’m just trying to eat some funnel cake.  But sometimes you have to walk through them in order to get through the park quickly which is why I actually really like Sideshow Square. While you do have some extra creepy guys in weird clown masks walking around with chainsaws that sound like clown horns, you’ll also find fun (but still scary) “sideshow” style areas.  For example, I got tricked into pressing a button to have my fortune told and ended up with a fortuneteller jumping out of the booth at me. Ah! It makes you want to linger a little more to see everything that’s there rather than power walk through it like your grandma on steroids.

Circo Sinistro

I’m not a big haunted house fan. I’ve learned to somewhat enjoy them when I have a big group of friends, and I can hide in the middle and use them as shields. However, walking through a haunted house essentially alone because you’re wearing a GoPro harness with a light pointed at your face that is basically blinding you, makes for an entirely different experience. Parker was hanging out behind me filming from a different angle so I didn’t have any manly biceps to cling to. I was really nervous to go in! But I would say that of all my Howl-O-Scream maze experiences, this one is actually my favorite! It’s long and has several different stages. It also didn’t feel so closed in and claustrophobic which is usually my one complaint with haunted houses. I remember the Catacombs maze in France in 2014 where I kept bumping into walls and it nearly made me hyperventilate.  But man, are the dolls and clowns in this maze horrifying! It’s pretty much full of every part of carnivals, circuses, and dollhouses that you HATED as a kid (and an adult). So good luck and Godspeed!




Starfright Orchestra

I haven’t actually gotten to hear the Starfright Orchestra at the time of writing this blog because they only play on Saturdays, but I really hope that I get to take another trip on a Saturday just so I can sit and listen! If you’re a scaredy-cat like me, and really just like going to Howl-O-Scream for the Halloween-esque atmosphere, I feel like this is the perfect place to chill out!  I love the idea of just hanging out and listening to some fun Halloween-inspired tunes from some super talented musicians!


If you’re looking for even more Howl-O-Scream goodness (and fright!), check out my latest video from the park! I go behind-the-scenes in all the new areas that I summarize for you here, so if you’re still skeptical, you can see for yourself!


How to Have Fun at Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream When You Hate Being Scared!

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The ghosts and goblins have come out to haunt Busch Gardens at this year’s Howl-O-Scream, and despite my aversion to Halloween horrors, I was there to revel in the mayhem and attempt to escape alive! (Obviously, since I’m writing this post, I succeeded!)

I love Howl-O-Scream. I don’t like scary things or haunted houses but somehow I still love Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens. You can ride rollercoasters by day and dodge scary creatures lurking in the fog by night! So how does someone who doesn’t like being scared enjoy a theme park transformed into Horror Central? You could hide in the bathroom or ride the same rollercoaster over and over, but I’d suggest going with one or more of these ideas:

1.) Make it a game to avoid the scarers as much as possible.

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When I first started going to Howl-O-Scream, this was my tactic. Busch Gardens has changed the way they distribute scarers throughout the park over the years. Sometimes they’ve placed them in areas that are tight but avoidable. In more recent years they’ve instituted the “Terror-tories” where themed scarers wreck havoc on whole areas of the park (usually centralized in a certain country). This means if you want to get through the park, you CAN’T get around them. But you CAN make it a game among your friends to see how many scarers you can get past without them noticing you or trying to scare you! There are many options for this tactic: laughing in their face, remaining stoic-faced, dodging around them, and even being creeptastic yourself. Pretty much anyway you go, you’ll be left with belly laughs instead of nauseous fear!

2.) Look for the irony and hidden humor.

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Haunted houses are scary, but the creators almost always have a sense of humor. For example, two of the new houses in 2015 are called “Cornered” (where you travel through a corn maze on the property of the McCobb family farm) and “Lumberhack” (where you must try to escape the axes of a band of zombie lumberjacks). It’s funny! When you think about it, you have to laugh. So instead of being scared stiff, just try to find the hidden jokes!)

3.) Bring a large group.

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Peer pressure is bad. Unless you’re in a scary park and the pressure is to scream and laugh at the same time. One of the first times I went to Howl-O-Scream I was just with my boyfriend, and it was awful. Neither of us liked scary things and we accidentally stumbled into an elaborate haunted house experience that we thought was going to be a show. (BIG NO!) But the last few years I’ve been slowly adding more and more people to my Howl-O-Scream group, and it’s become more fun. First of all, it’s so much easier to wait in line when you have a large group of friends to talk with. Second, there’s always an arm to hold onto or a shoulder to stumble into when you get caught off guard by a spooky ghoul. And finally, the more people there are, the easier it is to laugh off those scary moments. You can laugh at your friend getting scared by a creepy guy on Demon Street with a chainsaw and laugh at yourself when a pack of vampires freak you out in Germany. Friends don’t let friends get scared by alone.

4.) Enjoy the not-so-scary parts of the park.

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If all else fails, you can always retreat to the not-so-terrifying parts of the park. While not horror-tastic, they are still just as awesomely Halloween-themed and fun. The shows are always amazing with my personal favorite being “Monster Stomp” in England because you can’t argue with dancing skeletons and music made from beating and scraping knives on a coffin! There’s also the Rocky Horror Picture show reminiscent “Fiends” in Ireland where you can get your fill of sexy, pink-haired nurses, the more audience interactive “Night Beats” in Das Festhaus, and new for this year and the live-action dining-experience of the Blood Banquet™ at Vampire Point™ Hotel in Germany. Once you’re done checking out all the shows, you can’t go wrong grabbing a “bite” to eat at any of the delicious dining options which are always appropriately renamed for the Halloween season. And if you’re old enough (and inclined), there are many alcoholic options to get yourself a little looser and maybe ready for the scarier parts of the park. My favorite this year was Scarlett’s potion, a spooky-looking mixed drink with color-changing lights in the glass available just outside the entrance to the park’s headlining haunted house: “Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge.” You can down that sucker and then stride right into the scariest house in the park like the boss that you are!

All in all, Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream is a wild ride for both the horror-junky and the faint-at-heart because the key to the park is to have fun! As long as you’re not taking yourself too seriously, you’re guaranteed to have a delightful time!


The Impossible Idea of Losing Your “Home” (Thoughts on the Closing of Sweet Briar College)

Sweet Briar 1When I learned of the Board’s decision to close Sweet Briar College, I was hit with a hard punch to my gut and hollowness in my chest. It wasn’t my alma mater—at least not my “academic” one, but Sweet Briar is, in a way, a “nourishing mother” to me because I’m from Amherst County. Sweet Briar was my first introduction to true academia and liberal arts. I went to preschool and kindergarten on the grounds. I spent winters sledding with my friends on the sloping hills. I had nightmares about Daisy, ghosts, and the “Screaming Statue.” I practiced dance in the studios, went to prom in Prothro Hall, attended performances and had my art displayed in Babcock Performing Arts Center, and explored STEM at a girls’ science camp. To imagine my home without Sweet Briar seems impossible.

I saw the faces of the girls after they had heard the news. Pure, raw anguish and confusion burned on their brows. Tears filled their eyes as if something much more horrific had happened—a school shooting, perhaps. Though no student lives were lost that day, there was an announcement of death even if in the form of a century old institution closing its doors because of “insurmountable financial challenges.” And that death is no less tragic to those who know and love Sweet Briar.

Sweet Briar 2My first thought after hearing about Sweet Briar’s closing might have been nostalgia for my childhood where much of it was spent on that beautiful campus, but after seeing the girls’ faces, I felt an even deeper compassion towards them. Because all I could think was “What if it was my Alma Mater?” That is, what if now or while I had been a student, The College of William and Mary had up and announced at the beginning of March that they would be closing in 6 short months? That I would need to reapply somewhere else to continue my studies? That I wouldn’t be able to attend homecoming with all my fellow alumni that fall? That I would be separated from my friends and colleagues, professors and mentors? That I would need to start over at a new institution and learn to love somewhere else when I had already found my home? As a member of William & Mary’s Tribe, I know what it’s like to be consumed with love for your academic institution. We call it “Tribe Pride,” and it isn’t something that vanishes when you graduate. It isn’t just a privilege of enrolled students. It’s a part of who you become as a result of immersing yourself in the culture of William and Mary. For example, I’m not a big sports fan. And I really don’t enjoy basketball, but with W&M playing in the CAA tournament this past weekend, I was watching the games and rooting for my school. Because it’s home.

After I told someone where I went to school once, they snarkily remarked, “Oh the old Colonial hamster wheel, huh? How do you like that?” I was appalled! Yes, William and Mary is an academically intense school known for its stressed out students and suicides, but NO ONE but members of the Tribe get to criticize it that way. Because while we know the pain, we also know the love for our Alma Mater.

Sweet Briar 3-1 Sweet Briar 3-2I seem to have digressed into a “Hail William & Mary” spiel, but see, that’s the point! I love my school. And those Sweet Briar girls love theirs just as much. It’s their home, whether they are a freshman or from the Class of ’62. And they’ll fight for what’s theirs even if the Board won’t.

So now we have #SaveSweetBriar and SavingSweetBriar.com and a lawyer hired on to the case and over $2 million pledged in support of keeping the school open and over 500 women confused as to how to proceed. And I don’t really know where I stand. From my compassion and nostalgia for the school and fear of the economic impact it’s closing would have on my home area, I want Save Sweet Briar to succeed. But I’m also always skeptical and I want to believe in the good intentions of leadership—like the Board of Directors had to have a good reason for closing, right? It had to be impossible even with the help of alumnae, right? I fear for the people involved in Save Sweet Briar, that all that time and effort and pledge money will come to no good—nothing but burst hopes. But I also want them to succeed. To show the world that grassroots campaigns can work. That the Internet is a powerful tool. That Sweet Briar, academia, women’s education matters to people and that’s enough to keep it open.

I want it to be enough because if Sweet Briar can save their school like a plot out of a Hallmark Saturday Night Special then maybe, any girl can fight for what she wants and win.

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The Magic and Memory of Busch Garden’s Christmas Town


Christmas is one of my favorite times of year, and Busch Garden’s Christmas Town has become my tradition to start off the holiday season right since 2011. Because I’ve had the super amazing chance to be an Ambassador Blogger (aka “Thrill Chaser”) for Busch Gardens: Williamsburg, VA in 2014, I had the opportunity to visit the park on opening night where I experienced the lighting of all the Christmas lights and watched as the magic came to life!

You can watch the vlog I did about my experience above, but there was so much goodness packed into my two visits that I felt like it deserved a blog post too!

I garnered an extreme love for Busch Gardens during my time at the College of William and Mary. The park was just down the road. A season’s pass was WAY worth its money if I visited a few times during the school year and came back in the summer with my parents. And my college boyfriend, Andrew, LOVED (and I MEAN LOVED) to ride roller coasters. During the fall of my sophomore year at W&M, Andrew and I visited the park 4 out of the 5 weekends in late September and October. I’m still not quite sure HOW we did that considering October is one of the busiest college months with midterms, Fall Break, Parent’s Weekend, and Homecoming, but I consider it a feat worth noting to this day. Over my four years at W&M (and even as an alumni), I visited the park during all of its many events and changes. I’ve been to Pass Member Preview Day (which is always a treat because of the lighter crowds). I’ve seen the park in spring, summer, fall, and winter. I’ve rocked out at park concerts. I’ve been terrified at Howl-O-Scream and in awe at Christmas Town. I’ve seen the Griffon built, the Big Bad Wolf torn down, the Verbolten and Mach Tower added, the Globe Theatre reinvented for live performance. The park has changed so much since I became a “Busch Garden’s Snob” as a college sophomore. (And by “snob” I mean that I had memorized the park layout and generally knew when and where to be places to have the shortest lines and the best food). And yet, even today I’m still discovering new things about the park.

Christmas Town for me is all about nostalgia.

I love this event at the park more than any of the others because I feel like it really captures the wonder and beauty of being a child at Christmas. When I walk into the park, I don’t feel like the adult-world-war-torn 24-year-old that I am. I remember all the wonderful and beautiful things about Christmas, not how expensive and stressful it’s probably going to be. I remember the smell of a fresh cut pine tree sitting new and unadorned in my childhood living room and eating a bowl of buttery macaroni in front of it while just glorying in the awesomeness of Christmas coming soon. I remember the seemingly long car journeys to see the best Christmas light displays in the area with my family. I remember the magic of new toys and “elf feet” in the snow and the candlelight Christmas Eve service at church. I remember belting out the carols with my grandmother. I remember the movies I watched with my dad cuddled on the coach with the gas logs keeping us warm in the hearth.

It’s amazing to me that something so obviously orchestrated can elicit for me such deeply ingrained feelings and memories. It’s a combination of the music, the sights, and the lighting, but I don’t feel manipulated like I might in other situations. While Disneyland and Disney World reminds me of the magic of my childhood because I was an avid Disney consumer as a kid, Busch Garden’s Christmas Town really puts me back into the childlike mindset. And THAT is better “magic” to me because I can experience the park in the same state of wonder and awe that I experienced Christmas as a child.

For this reason, Christmas Town is my favorite Christmas experience, and I hope that you have something similar to do during the holidays to evoke all the warm and fuzzies that you deserve as not only a child but an adult too during the Christmas season!



What It Means to Be a Church

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I recently had the opportunity to attend a Steven Curtis Chapman concert at Busch Gardens as the finale for their Glory in the Gardens summer concert series. I even got to be in the VIP section because my Ambassador Blogger agreement with Busch Gardens has unexpected perks like that. I’ve never really been a big concertgoer. Actually, this year I’ve been to more concerts than ever before—that being three concerts. Yeah…I know. I have been to a concert for a Christian artist (Mandesa and MercyMe last year for work events), but my experience at the Steven Curtis Chapman concert was significantly different than anything I had ever participated in. I say “participated” because it wasn’t just a passive “listen to the music and smile and clap and dance because you enjoy it,” but rather, it was a worship service in the middle of a secular theme park with people screaming on roller coasters just feet away.

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Near the end of the concert as we (the audience) were singing and clapping along (in the pouring rain I might add), Steven Curtis Chapman yelled “Sing it Church!” It was at that point that the magic of the moment was broken for me. I suddenly thought, “He can’t say that. This isn’t a church. This is an amusement park that has no direct religious affiliation.” I figured for a moment that he’d simply forgotten what kind of audience he was performing for.

But then, I thought more, and no…

No, he hadn’t forgotten where he was or who he was singing for. He was singing for God. And so were we. And THAT, that is what makes a church. In that moment, singing in the rain and raising our hands in praise to God, we were a church.

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That experience reminded me that the Church isn’t a building or a gathering on Sunday mornings with other professed Christians. Sometimes those experiences can actually be the least church like moments in comparison. A Church is anywhere a group of people is gathered to worship and learn about God, to expand their faith, to pray together, to believe in wholeheartedness.

That particular night in Busch Gardens with the rain pouring down and people screaming their lungs out on roller coasters right next door was one that felt more like a Church than I had felt in a long time. It’s not that my Sunday morning worship services are not Godly or “Church-like,” but I help lead those services which for me means a lot of pouring out and I’ve found recently, not so much being filled back up.

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I think over the past year or so Church has become for me a struggle in terms of spiritual motivation. I’ve been craving that “refilling of my cup” but haven’t found an effective place or way of doing so. But that concert and Steven Curtis Chapman’s simple “Sing it Church!” reminded me that I don’t need to be in “church-Church” to have my cup refilled. Maybe that’s not even the place that will be able to effectively do it for me because of the particular roles I play there. It reminded me that Church can be anywhere, with anyone as long as God is the central focus. That night I participated in a beautiful worship service without even realizing it that filled and fired me up. I thought I was just going to a concert at a theme park but in actuality I was being taught and reminded of a valuable lesson about faith, Christianity, God, and the Church—God is everywhere, you just have to open your eyes to see Him.