WILLIAMSBURG — Last week, we took a journey back to days of yore to visit the history of the Busch Gardens brand, the founding of our home park, and the beginning of the Hastings village. Today, we will look at some of the attractions and learn more about the closing of Hastings and the birth of its replacement.
Additionally, new villages were opened to add to the Old Country experience for guests.
“The Enchanted Laboratory of Nostramos the Magnificent”
While the dark scrambler ride was fun, the park saw a better use for the building it housed. The scrambler made its way out into the sun and moved to the Oktoberfest village of the park.
What kind of show could they put in this massive building? Busch Gardens Vice President of Entertainment Joe Peczi, Jr., came up with the idea of some sort of sorcerer’s apprentice theme.
Peczi reached out to a handful of people to help develop a concept, including Gary Goddard, a former Disney imagineer who started Gary Goddard Productions, which would later go on to be known as Landmark Entertainment.
Riffing off of another popular story of a sorcerer’s apprentice that decided to try his own powers with several mishaps along the way, this show was to be filled with both low- and high-tech special effects, beautifully orchestrated music, fun characters, and even audience participation.
The building that once held a dark ride was magically transformed into a sorcerer’s laboratory for his cheeky young apprentice, Northrup, to take guests on a journey for twenty minute intervals throughout the day.
Starting in 1986, guests piled inside the laboratory. While they appreciated the air conditioned space, it was the show that really stuck with them. Several generations would flock to the space to watch Northrup try to turn iron into gold, consult with both a dragon friend and a wise old owl named Pelinore, sing songs, fly into the air, get shrunk to an impossible size, compete with a dragon that lived under the stage, and have the sorcerer, Nostramos, speak to him through a magical screen.
This delightful (albeit a little scary for the youngest audience members) show was one that guests would come to time and time again.
Questor and King Arthur’s Challenge
As a park that was already known for many firsts, BGW would add another to its already impressive list. Four years after debuting the magical show of “The Enchanted Laboratory of Nostramos the Magnificent” came the first large scale motion simulator ride in the Mid-Atlantic.
In 1990, “Questor” burst on the scene with a wild ride to find the powerful Crystal of Zedd at the behest of a charming gnome named Alwyn. Guests walked through the caverned walls before learning about the quest(or) that they were about to go on in search of this powerful, yet ominous, crystal.
After being briefed by Alwyn, guests were brought into the motion simulation room where they buckled themselves into seats covered in dragon scales. The ride combined both live action footage and the use of miniatures to take explorers through caverns, down a waterfall, and through the air on this magical trip.
What “Questor” did was not only provide an exciting ride experience, but also give guests who may not want to go on the larger rides a refuge for fun.
“There are many rides that adults are reluctant to go on because they are afraid they will be too rough,” said 1990’s Busch Gardens General Manager Mel Bilbo. “Due to the nature of the ‘Questor’ experience it will have much broader age appeal than a lot of rides.”
Below is a fan uploaded video of a commercial for “Questor”:
Despite its popularity, “Questor” was not in theme with the medieval ambiance of the village. After just five seasons, “Questor” took its last journey in search of the Crystal of Zedd.
On June 22, 1996, “Questor” was replaced by “King Arthur’s Challenge.” This was to be a 3D experience that took riders on a journey to save Excalibur, the legendary sword pulled from the stone by King Arthur. While the idea of this ride was noble, its execution paled in comparison to “Questor.” Instead of live footage, this ride relied on early computer-generated imagery (CGI) and resembled more of a rudimentary screensaver on a desktop computer running Windows 3.0 than an actual immersive ride experience.
What Else Was There in Hastings?
The puppet show in the Magic Lantern Theatre was followed on by several different song and dance shows that really had nothing to do with Hastings circa 1066. However, these lighthearted reviews were still popular among crowds.
There were concession stands, an arcade, a studio where guests could record themselves singing along to a variety of pre-recorded instrumental tracks, and, of course, Wizard Works — a store that carried items of magical and fantastical intrigue.
Then, just beyond the Enchanted Laboratory down a short path was Threadneedle Faire; a recreation of a Renaissance-era fair, filled with games and roaming entertainers. But that is a Landmark Lost for a different day.
From Hastings to Killarney
By the end of the twentieth century, everything related to Ireland was all the rage, thanks, in part, to popular Irish dancing shows that were touring the globe.
As for BGW, the park wanted to make a big splash heading into the new century. In 2000, guests were treated to a newly envisioned Hastings. Or, moreover, a new village where Hastings once existed.
The tents and medieval architecture were replaced by quaint thatched rooves and slight aesthetic alterations to give the feel of a stereotypical Irish village. What guests found were more than aesthetic changes, but new occupants inside the buildings.
“The Enchanted Laboratory of Nostramos the Magnificent” would no longer have Northrup singing earworm-worthy tunes while attempting to turn iron into gold. Instead, the new show was barely worthy of remembrance. It, too, would eventually close and the building where the Battle of Hastings was fought and the dragon lived beneath the stage was then used as an add-on meal venue and for events, such as Howl-O-Scream.
With “King Arthur’s Challenge” gone, the building that was fitted for “Questor” initially held “Corkscrew Hill,” a magical ride through Irish folklore in which the CGI graphics were far superior to its predecessor. Though it was a popular, but rough, ride, it was replaced by the forgettable “Europe in the Air,” and then “Battle for Eire,” which utilized virtual reality headsets.
The Magic Lantern Theatre was reimagined and a new staple show, “Celtic Fyre,” is performed throughout the season. This award-winning show features traditional Irish music, dancing, fun and fancy that engages the audience in the merriment of the performers. Despite the loss of several of Hasting’s staples when Killarney opened, “Celtic Fyre” soothes the scorch of that burn.
A Landmark Lost
Despite its more than two decade lifespan, Killarney’s beautiful atmosphere will always have Hastings in its shadow. Many of us still talk about the time when we were hanging over a waterfall on “Questor,” bought our first magic kit at Wizard Works, and hum the tunes we remember by heart that Northrop once sung as he transformed iron into gold right before our very eyes.
Killarney has been a worthy successor to the medieval village that opened with the park. However, it will never replace the puppets, the dragon, and the once upon a time that was Hastings.