How did you spend your summer vacation?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What do you get when you take your 69-year-old grandmother, your mother and your toddler on a trip to an amusement park on July 4th?

You get what could best be termed as an interesting trip, that’s what.

Last year, I visited Busch Gardens on July 4th with a friend and had an awesome time because there was hardly anyone there.

The ride lines were short, the weather was wonderful and everything else went perfectly as well.

This year, my family and I were not so lucky.

There had to be tens of thousands of people crammed into that place, maybe more.

In any case, the park was absolutely packed.

Combine this with trying to navigate Mema’s (that’s what I call my grandmother) rented motorized wheelchair and an extra-wide double stroller for my son (which was all they had) plus two people walking through that big throng of people, and it’s slow going to say the least.

I felt like Moses trying to part the Red Sea just trying to get through the crowd and move us all a few feet ahead at a time.

At one point my mother muttered under her breath, &uot;I feel like I need a hog shocking stick.&uot; (My sentiments exactly, Mama.)

It was hot as blue blazes in the late morning and early afternoon, so when Mema kept saying, &uot;I wish it would just rain so I could cool off,&uot; I didn’t really think anything of it… until later, when it actually did.

But I’ll get to that in a minute.

As far as mobility goes, I do have a major issue with Busch Gardens in that regard.

The way they have the park set up, in order to get from one side to the other quickly you must go through the middle.

However, to do that requires going down one steep set of steps, across a bridge over a river and then up another set of steep steps.

There are no ramps, so it’s not accessible at all for wheelchairs or strollers.

The other methods of transportation around the park – the skyride and the train – are not available to those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers unless you make a complete circuit (because you have to leave them at the ride entrance), and that rather defeats the purpose unless you are just taking a joyride and not trying to get from one place to a different one.

So, the only alternative is to do get around the old-fashioned way… walk in a huge loop to get to the other side.

That, incidentally, took doubly long Friday because of the aforementioned huge crowds.

We never even made it to the Italy or Scotland portions of the park.

All our time was spent traveling back and forth between Germany, France and England.

You see, when you have a guest with a disability, they give you these special wristbands so you don’t have to wait in line.

The downside to that is you still have to wait for a specific time.

Go to a ride, they write a time down for you to come back (usually an hour) and then you’re free to either wait or leave and come back at the designated time.

Standing still to wait with an impatient toddler was not an option, so we did a lot of going back and forth that day (and there was even more wishing for a cattle prod, of course).

One of the best parts of the day for me was getting on the log flume, or &uot;Le Scoot,&uot; as it’s called at Busch Gardens.

Not very many families can say they had four generations on the same ride at the same time!

Mama and Mema sat in the front of the log, while I held Christopher (very tightly) in the back.

Christopher (my son) was so funny; he instinctively threw his little arms up in the air as we went down the last hill, just like most adults would.

I only wish the ride’s camera had taken our picture in that instant!

My other favorite part of the day was riding the Griffon with Mema.

She loves roller coasters as much as I do, but my mom, on the other hand, is scared to death of them.

The Griffon has the world’s longest vertical drop on a floorless coaster.

There is a 205-foot drop that goes straight down 90 degrees.

Mema and I had a blast on that thing while Mama stayed down waiting with Christopher, who had finally (five hours later than his normal nap time) fallen asleep in his stroller.

Then came the rain.

Much as Mema had wished for rain earlier in the day, when it started to pour she quickly ate her words.

I joked with her and said that she’d been granted her birthday wish, since rain wasn’t even in the forecast at all.


A couple of hours later after several periods of the rain starting and stopping, we finally left in the midst of a downpour, screaming toddler in tow.

The rain had woken him from his nap and needless to say he was NOT a happy camper!

The funniest thing to me was just as it started to rain the hardest, we heard this voice over the intercom announce, &uot;Ladies and gentlemen, the inclement weather has passed.

Ride operations will now resume as normal.&uot;

I remember thinking, buddy, I don’t know where you’re sitting in your cozy, warm, dry room, but obviously you can’t see us down here from up there!

All in all, though, despite the fact that the day didn’t go quite as planned, I had an excellent time, and do you know why?

Because it was spent the best way of all – with my family, all together and in one place… and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

Jennipher Dickens is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

She can be reached by calling (252) 332-7208 or by emailing