Non-Tech Fun: Vacationing in the Mid-Atlantic Area

It’s that time of year when vacations are starting and you are looking for great places to take your family and relax and have some fun.  And, what better places to take them than to the amusement parks, right?  Well, sure, but there are new types of amusement parks that do not involve rollercoasters or ferris wheels.  First, though, I am going to talk about rollercoasters.  BIG ONES, at that.

Overview of Carowinds entranceThe tallest giga-coaster on the East Coast, and one of the tallest in the country, is called Fury 325 and is located in the very nice Carowinds theme park located near Charlotte, North Carolina.  This thing is 325 feet tall, has an 85 degree first drop and is over 6600 feet long. It towers over the park.  Now, Carowinds isn’t a one trick wonder. No, it also has another tall coaster: the Intimidator. Named after the late, great Dale Earnhardt, this out and back coaster features a first drop of over 200 feet and, prior to Fury 325, was the south easts tallest and fastest roller coaster.  Rounding out Carowinds collect are Nighthawk, a coaster where you lay down and Flightdeck, a hanging rollercoaster that is very fast and features many inversions.  Carowinds is a delightful place to take your family and won’t break the bank.Overview of Carowinds entrance

Charlotte is also home to an NFL team and, of course, NASCAR.  The NASCAR Hall of Fame is located in downtown Charlotte, just minutes from the theme park.

Travelling north, to Virginia, you will find not one, but two world class theme parks, lots of museums, and history, a ton of history from the revolutionary war era, to the Civil War and both World Wars. 

Griffon, at Busch Gardens WilliamsburgStarting in Williamsburg, you have Busch Gardens, a true world class park.  It’s theming, food, service and, of course, its rides, all make it THE best theme park to visit, period.  For its rides, you have Alpengeist, a daring hanging coaster that was the tallest of its type for many years.  The Loch Ness Monster, which, when it opened, was the tallest and fastest coaster in the country. Then, there is the Griffon. Griffon takes you up 205 feet, dangles you over the edge and then lets you drop down an almost 90 degree drop.  It’s a real heart stopper.  Apollo’s Chariot is hypercoaster that will never cease to thrill.  Busch Gardens has terrific food as well.  Oktoberfest lets you sample German cuisine while Festa Italia gives you a taste of Italy.  Down the road from the park you will find Water Country, USA, a huge water park.

Also in Williamsburg, you will find Colonial Williamsburg for a sampling of life in the 1700’s.  There’s also shopping, fine dining and more touristy things to do like the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium. Finally, there’s mini-golf, go kart parks and the famous Williamsburg Pottery Outlets.

Oh, yeah, I’d me remiss if I neglected to mention Great Wolf Lodge.  This nice resort features a good sized indoor waterpark, included in the price of your room. 

And, don’t forget, to the east is Virginia Beach, about a forty minute drive. And Norfolk, which contains even more things to do, including an aquarium and battleship.  Virginia Beach also features an even better aquarium that also has zip lines and a rope course.

Loch Ness Monster, BGWJust north and west of Williamsburg is Richmond.  Richmond is rich in history, culture, fine arts and food. Lots of restaurants with everything from soul food, to country food to anything European, Korean, Japanese or Chinese.  There’s also a tremendous amount of Thai food restaurants.  You name, you can likely find it in Richmond.  In addition to shopping and food, you’ll find many art museums, history museums and the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.

There’s minor league Baseball, NASCAR twice a year (in April and September) and several short tracks for that weekly dose of speed.  There’s adrenaline junky places like Jumpology, a trampoline fun house.  Coming soon to the area is an indoor park featuring an American Gladiators type course, several zip lines and rope courses. 

A few minutes north of Richmond takes you to Virginia’s second world class theme park, Kings Dominion.  Kings Dominion is a sister park to Carowinds and, as such, contains many of the same types of rides and attractions.  It includes a nice collection of Dominator Rollercoaster, KDrollercoasters, including what was the tallest and fastest giga coaster on the east: Intimidator 305.  This 305 foot tall beast, also named for Dale Earnhardt, gives you the feeling of the high banked turns of Talledega and Daytona.  The first drop takes you into a sharp right turn that may cause a momentary ‘grey out’ in which you lose vision for a fraction of a second. This is normal and is not harmful, just weird. It is caused by blood flow and is harmless. 

Edgar Allen Poe MuseumThe park also features many ‘launch’ style coasters, where, instead of the train being pulled up a hill and released, linear induction motors propel the train forward at tremendous speed.  One of them, the Volcano, shoots you out of the station, around the base of a volcano mountain and then up and through the Volcano itself.  Quite thrilling and was my favorite coaster until I rode Fury 325.

Kings Dominion also features a nice but small collection of wooden rollercoasters, including the Rebel Yell, which is featured in the motion picture ‘Rollercoaster’. 

In addition to nice collection of rollercoasters, the park also features shows and a good collection of flat rides including a Ferris Wheel, a Carousel from the 1920’s and a smaller replica of the Eiffel Tower (this one is one third size at 300 feet.)  For thrills, there is the 300 foot tall Drop Zone tower and the 305 foot tall Windseeker, a swing that takes you up nearly 300 feet.

Richmond, VA - richmondcitybook.comRichmond is nicely located with Washington DC to the north, the beautiful Skyline Drive to the north and west and, of course Williamsburg and Virginia Beach to the east.  All of these destinations are within a two hour drive.  The Outer Banks of North Carolina are just three hours from Richmond.  But, there’s certainly plenty to do in the city and one could spend a week here doing it all.

The East Coast from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina all the way up to Ocean City, Maryland (two of my favorite vacation spots as well) offer up a tremendous opportunity for a fun filled vacation pretty much any time of the year (the amusement parks are seasonal, however) and none of it will break the bank either.

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Planning a trip to Great Wolf Lodge? Here’s a few things you should know

Recently, I took the family for a mini-vacation at a Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Williamsburg is about an hour from where we live, so we weren’t too far from home, thus gas cost was at a minimum, a good way to start of any vacation, long or not. My son and I have stayed at the resort on two other occasions and cost was never much of a concern then.  We had either planned for the trip or, as luck had it, I had extra disposable income.  Those were several years ago and, apparently, the cost of staying at this particular resort has gone up quite a bit.

I understand that the cost of running such a massive hotel (it is a large hotel) that contains:

  • a full water park
  • a sizable arcade
  • a full spa
  • bowling alley
  • mini gym
  • mini golf
  • outside pool
  • one of the largest water slides on the east coast (there are actually three of them, two right here in Virginia)
  • dance club
  • full service restaurant
  • Pizza Hut express
  • Store
  • Several snack/sweet shops
  • Gift/Souvenir stands and mini stores

That’s quite a bit, yes.  The upkeep on all of that, well, I imagine it is pretty high.  However, this is the problem I have with the resort: it’s too bloody expensive.  The rooms, on a normal stay, are $300 and higher per night. A good size room, one that can accommodate a family of four, for example, is in the $450 range.  If your party is bigger, you could spend $600 or more.  While comfortable and very clean, these rooms do not warrant such a high cost.  Imagine, a family of four staying for five nights.  You hit $2000 just for the room and the ONLY amenities you get? The waterpark and the gym.  Everything else is an up-charge.  The mini-golf is five or eight bucks, depending on age, per game, per person. Same with the bowling.  The arcade requires tokens, which you have to purchase.  The spa…well, you get the idea.  Oh, that full service restaurant? Be prepared to shell out twenty bucks per person for the buffet dinner and fifteen for the buffet breakfast. Not including drinks. That’s $80 plus drinks for that family of four, for one night.

Throughout the day, the kids will want a drink and snack, so there goes another twenty to thirty dollars there. Maybe a souvenir. You see how quickly this adds up.  How in the world does this company expect families to stay for any length of time?  My guess is they don’t.  Each time we’ve stayed, it’s been one or two nights. For us, that’s about all we want. The waterpark, while tremendously fun, is small and it takes just a few hours to exhaust everything.  There’s only so much fun to be had going down the same slides all day.

Fortunately, since this particular lodge is in Williamsburg, Virginia, there’s plenty of other things very close.  For example, just a few miles west of the lodge is a go-kart park, complete with thrill rides and mini golf. To the east, there is Busch Gardens, a world class theme park.  Then you have colonial Williamsburg itself. Beautiful and very charming. If you like to shop, there are a ton of outlet centers around and there is even a Ripley’s attraction. So, there is a lot going on around the lodge.

Don’t get me wrong, you CAN stay there on the cheap.  For example, they regularly have promotions that can end up getting you up to half off the cost of a stay. Some require a minimum two night stay, others are during the week.  You just have to watch the web site as many are not advertised.  Subscribe to the newsletter as there are discounts there as well.  Other ways to save: go to the Wal-Mart that you must past when you exit the interstate and get you the basics: bread, peanut butter, jelly, soda/juice/whatever, etc.  Each room contains a mini-fridge and a microwave so you can make some of your meals there.  Als0, there’s several fast food places around the Wal-Mart and there is a restaurant right off the entrance to the lodge called Jungle Jim’s. The prices are reasonable and they have free delivery to the lodge. Just avoid the dine in restaurant for most of your meals and you will save a ton of cash. It is worth a breakfast, though, as the breakfast foods are pretty decent.

The sweet shop, while expensive, is worth a treat or two.  They have Starbucks coffees, ice-cream, chocolates and fudge.  I wouldn’t venture there too much though, or your waistline and pocket book will suffer.

We have found the staff to be both pleasant and not so pleasant and I suppose that is to be expected.  Well, no, not really. For the cost of a stay, the staff should ALWAYS be pleasant, no matter what.  I understand that some guests will be difficult, but that is no excuse to be rude to everyone or even the next guest.

Staying at this resort is a lot of fun, but it can be quite costly. My advice to anyone who is considering (and you should, if you like water) a stay is to be prepared to spend money. A lot of money, even if staying ‘on the cheap.’  Plan ahead. Book your room or rooms far enough in advance to get a good deal.  It is possible to have a great time there and not need a loan to do so.  And, if staying for more than three days, be sure to venture out to surrounding area. Williamsburg is a beautiful place and full of history. Make the young ones learn while on vacation, that, in itself, will be worth every penny.

Oh, one more thing…if you bring your camera or cellphone into the water park, you need to keep two things in mind: it is likely to get wet and it is hot and humid.  They keep the temp at 84 degrees and, with all of that water, it gets humid in there as well. Wet and humid do not mesh well with electronics. Bring a baggie to store them in while in the park. If possible, get a waterproof case for them.

And, watch for that big ass bucket…