Concrete Titans: The Rival Theme Parks of the Chesapeake Bay Region


The Mind Eraser, Six Flags America, Photo by Ash V

Ever since the Switchback Railway was debuted in Coney Island in 1884, roller coasters and the amusement parks that hold them have become staples of American entertainment. Over the next 140 years, various theme parks began to spread across this country, some of which fell, some of which flourished, and some of which stood the test of time merely because they were close by. These are regional theme parks. 

Here in the Chesapeake region of the United States, sandwiched between the North and South, lay three shining monuments of themed entertainment, Six Flags America, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and Kings Dominion. These miniature metropolises have been entertaining the people of Virginia and Maryland for decades now. However, under the peaceful facade, a silent war has been brewing between these three rival nations: constant competition for a highly acclaimed title, “The Best Theme Park in the Chesapeake Area.” With this article, I will finally put an end to the debate and deliver a definitive answer to this age-old question. 

Busch Gardens

Griffon, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Photo by Ash V

This June, I went to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. I could feel the heat of the Virginia summer in full force, but, luckily, the park had plenty of trees that helped provide some much-needed shade. When I went, the park had just finished constructing their newest ride, Pantheon. This ride was genuinely a delight, at least if you’re someone who enjoys g-forces as much as myself, and I believe it could become a modern classic. There was also the park’s flagship ride, Griffon, a beloved roller coaster whose massive drop at the ride’s start fails to ever get old. Then there was my personal favorite ride at the park, Verbolten, located in the Germany section of the park, it is themed after the Autobahn and the German folklore of the Black Forest. This surprisingly well-themed ride makes you forget that you’re in a regional theme park, and while it doesn’t necessarily make you feel like you’re in the setting of the ride’s story, it does make you feel like you’re at a Universal Studios. Speaking of theming, this park does surprisingly well on that front. It tries its best to immerse you into various parts of the European continent, and while it’s no Orlando, it’s pretty good for Williamsburg. Finally, the cuisine, and honestly, while the food is pretty inoffensive, I expected a bit more from it, especially considering the spectacular theming of the restaurants carrying said food.

Six Flags America

The Wild One, Six Flags America, Photo by Ash V

Later in July, I went to Six Flags America, located in Bowie, Maryland, not to be confused with Six Flags Great America in Ohio. The fact that the Six Flags corporation decided to open two separate theme parks whose only difference in titling was that one of them isn’t considered ‘great’ should be an affective omen as to what is to come when you visit Six Flags America. The park is divided into various areas vaguely themed around different parts of the United States, such as Olde Boston, Chesapeake, and Gotham City. However, the only real theme of the park is that of a parking lot. Theming aside, the park also had some memorable roller coasters, such as Superman: Ride of Steel, which, while not very innovative, is very large and well-polished. I also have to give credit to the ride Batwing, one of two remaining Vekoma Flying Dutchman coasters in the world, where you actually ride it laying down, so when the car flips after the ride’s initial inversion, you are provided with the illusion of flying through the air. Sadly, the park loses points for the food. It was extremely greasy and not in an enjoyable way. While, overall, the experience I had with the park was pretty good, I can agree with Six Flags by refusing to call it great.

Kings Dominion 

Dominator, Kings Dominion, Photo by Ash V

Finally, in August, I went to Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia. Many readers will be familiar with this park from the BIM field trip that occurred here. The ride that stood out the most to me has got to be Intimidator 305. This ride, which is vaguely themed after Formula 1 and the Formula 1 racer Dale Earnhardt, is an extremely intense ride with massive positive and negative g-forces throughout. Another standout coaster was Dominator, a floorless coaster that flung you through a healthy serving of loops in a rather quick manner. The park also holds two separate wooden roller coasters, Grizzly and Twisted Timbers, both of which provide an enjoyable, but also somewhat bumpy, experience. In terms of theming at Kings Dominion, the quality really depends on what part of the park you’re in. While some areas seem to be themed on the idea of concrete, other areas, such as their newest area Jungle X-Pediton, are surprisingly immersive. In terms of food quality, Kings Dominion ranks pretty high. The restaurant I went to, entitled Grain and Grill International Kitchen, was unexpectedly good, and the menu went far beyond the usual theme park cuisine fare, including some vaguely worldwide cuisine.

So which of these parks deserves to be called the best theme park in the area? Well, it’s a pretty close call, but I’d have to give that title to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. However, each park has its benefits. While Busch Gardens has the best theme, Kings Dominion has more intense rides, and Six Flags is not far from where most BIM students live. So if you plan on visiting one of the Chesapeake area’s many theme parks, I’d suggest you go to the one that exemplifies the experience you seek, or maybe just the one with the shortest drive.