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Aug 17, 2010
I got a chance to check out BGW's altered Christmas Town event last night while in the area visiting family. My father can only walk short distances due to a handicap and requires the use of an ECV or wheelchair. Normally I would advise him to skip Christmas Town due to the insane crowds and the general disrespect of American theme parkgoers towards those in wheelchairs due to the stereotype that anyone who uses a ECV is just fat or lazy. He decided to give it a go when tickets came available early last month due to the 1,000 person capacity limit. When Busch raised their capacity limit for the event, we didn't receive any notification from them about it, which honestly irked me. I was aware from staying up on general theme park news, and we had to make a decision. My father decided the limit was probably still OK and we pressed on. I have to be honest, though, $60 for a more exclusive event and $60 for over quadruple the number of people isn't comparable. I know that BGW is trying to make ends meet during these challenging times, but $60 really isn't worth the amount of offerings they have this year, especially since I was surprised to see that they didn't even have all their lights up this year.

The night got off to a rocky start. I know that the park is trying to get the most out of their capacity limit, but they need to find a way to stagger the entrance times better for guests. First of all, a morning session of a Christmas event with the only real linchpin of lights is just utterly lame, so everyone is naturally going to want to attend the evening session. Even with fewer than 5,000 guests, social distancing was difficult to manage for the first 90 minutes of the event. With everyone entering the park at pretty much the same time, the entrance plaza was still filled with people, and the process of entering the front gate was a nightmare. BGW clearly did not have the staffing to handle this event at the capacity limit they went with, and on many occasions it was difficult for me, a seasoned theme park veteran, to ascertain where we were supposed to be. The beginning of the event was incredibly frustrating as it was impossible not to be within six feet of people, and the park did not have any team members patrolling and policing for social distancing. Six Flags managed this much better when I visited a couple months ago, including having staff maintaining social distancing in the most popular ride queues. It's a little embarrassing for BGW to be getting outpaced by Six Flags on safety and guest relations like that. I didn't even consider riding Finnegan's Flyer due to the complete lack of distancing in that queue throughout the evening.

Once people were finally able to disperse throughout the park a little better, the evening improved greatly. I was quite pleased at the setup of the Festhaus and the distancing of all the tables, and the low key music performance was frankly much more enjoyable the usual hoopla going on while I'm trying to eat dinner. The bullpen area they set up for the exit seemed counterintuitive, however, as it forced people to conglomerate on the way out. Invadr had a bit of a line due to the row blocking on the trains, but I much preferred that to the lack of any semblance of blocking and distancing on Verbolten. Signage was a real issue throughout the event, however. The park did a good job of cordoning off certain sections to create one-way traffic, but not of giving instructions on the new traffic flow. For instance, the entry/exit into Invadr was split, but the entry path was to the left, which runs contrary to American intuition of staying to the right, and the lack of posted signs explaining this, as well as the lack of a team member in the area, created much confusion.

BGW clearly didn't have the staff on hand necessary for this event, and I know it must be tough on them, but it was frustrating. A number of times I had to seek someone out for help finding handicap entrances as everything was in a different location than normal, and I don't expect to have to do that at Busch Gardens, especially when paying $12 per person per hour. I was pretty disappointed by the lack of the usual amount of lights, especially the stripping away of the train experience, as I feel that they could have still done that as a guest experience during the pandemic. The addition of Alpengeist did little to make up for the lack of show offerings, and I don't blame Busch at all for not being able to put on normal Christmas Town entertainment, but that is really the backbone of the event. If that is the backbone, then the lights are the heart, and those really needed to be at full force. I tried to give the park as much benefit of the doubt as possible, and I still enjoy the park enough to have a good time, but I'm not sure I want to return until a greater sense of normalcy returns (or until Pantheon opens, which will probably be somewhat concurrent). All in all, it was a rather middling experience, and not worth the money. If they hadn't extended my membership, I wouldn't have forked over the cash for this, even in an attempt to help the park out in a struggling economy.
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