Debbie McGaughey is not big on roller coasters, but after riding Busch Gardens’ newest virtual reality ride, Battle for Eire, Friday, she’s found her new park favorite.
“Well, at first when I got in there, I was like, ‘Oh gosh, I really don’t do roller coasters,’ so I was a little afraid,” McGaughey said. “But once it got you going I was like, I can do this. It was really, really neat and the storyline was great, too.”
McGaughey, 52, of Deep Creek, was with a group from the Virginia Beach-based Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Virginia, which was invited to take part in the opening ceremony to kick off the ride’s public debut.
Busch Gardens President Kevin Lembke, speaking to a crowd of more than a hundred who had gathered outside the attraction’s entrance in the Ireland section of the park, said he had been on the ride many times already and is excited for visitors to experience it.
“This revolutionary attraction features 360 degree virtual reality paired with a ride motion simulator, which is a first in the theme park industry,” Lembke said of the ride’s blend of virtual reality and Irish mythology.
The ceremony featured a human likeness of the main character in the fairy tale, Addie — played by 29-year-old Melody Waters of Virginia Beach — who appeared in a cloud of smoke on the rooftop behind where Lembke stood, to share the story of the ride to park visitors and then cut the ribbon to open the ride.
Waters’ father, Gene Waters, was in attendance to watch his daughter interact with people in the park.
“Melody is very excited to be a part of this event,” Gene Waters said. “She loves, particularly, working with people. … I’m very proud of her.”
Lembke acknowledged several officials at the event, including state Sen. Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment, James City County Supervisor John McGlennon and Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance President and CEO Karen Riordan, all of whom rode Battle for Eire immediately after the ribbon cutting.
“Two thumbs up, (and) yes, I did let out a little scream,” Riordan said. “First of all, I’m Irish, it’s Ireland, I love it. And I think Busch Gardens has got a big hit on its hands.”
McGaughey, who is also Irish, said the children with the Boys and Girls Club also enjoyed the experience. The virtual reality ride was the draw for her and said it was much different than her only other virtual reality experience. Battle for Eire, she said, had more adventures, turns and thrills.
“At first, you put (the headset) on, you see this big well and you think, ‘Oh gosh, there’s going to be this big drop,’ so I was anticipating the drop,” McGaughey said. “Then actually, it’s a drop, but it’s also fun. It still gave me the thrill like I was on a roller coaster. This is more me.”