Enjoy summer's end with an ultracool theme park weekend.

Good Times in Virginia
This family has splashy fun at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Two of the biggest and best parks in the state, Kings Dominion in Richmond and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, lie an hour from each other. And with Colonial Williamsburg merely a stone's throw away, you and your family are guaranteed a fun-filled weekend.

Friday Frolics
You'll find a number of hotels to choose from in Richmond. Because you won't spend much time in the room, opt for less cushy digs. The key is to stay someplace in close proximity to your destinations. A number of accommodations offer theme park packages that include a discounted night's stay and two theme park passes. The Quality Inn & Suites in Ashland is only 5 miles south of Kings Dominion and includes the most bang for your buck. Choose the park package, which offers one standard room with double beds, two adult one-day admissions, and a complimentary breakfast for two at the Club House Grille for $159 a night; (804) 798-4231 or www.choicehotels.com.

Stop in at the Strawberry Street Café in Richmond for lunch before heading to the park. You can order from the scrumptious salad bar stocked with all-you-can-eat shrimp pasta salad, potato salad, and fresh fruit for $7.95.

Because Kings Dominion boasts an awesome water park, be sure to bring swimsuits for a splashy good time. At Big Wave Bay, 4-foot swells swoosh revelers into a hydrated frenzy. For something more serene, the Lazy Rider slowly takes occupants in inner tubes through waterfalls and geysers. Admission to Kings Dominion, including the water park, is $43.99 adults and $29.99 ages 3-6 or under 48 inches tall.

When you're ready to dry off, hit the rides. Some of the park's best include Shockwave, the first stand-up roller coaster on the East Coast. Next, add Anaconda to the must-do list.

For something slower, venture to the Nickelodeon section, where kids encounter everyone from SpongeBob SquarePants to Susie Carmichaels and her Rugrats friends.

A brand-new attraction, Scooby-Doo and the Haunted Mansion takes guests into the crime-solving world of the doggy dream team. You get to travel in your own Mystery Machine and solve the mystery of the gooey ghost who haunts the mansion.

For dinner, try the park's Bubba Gump Shrimp Shack. It offers everything from a shrimp po'boy ($6.79) to shrimp caesar salad ($5.99) to accommodate your seafood cravings.

Before departing the park, cool off at a show. Paramount's Magic of the Movies goes behind the scenes and shows how special effects add sparks to America's favorite films.

Saturday Splendor
Start off with breakfast in Williamsburg, home to Busch Gardens and the Capitol Pancake and Waffle House. This family-friendly restaurant, located two blocks from the historic district, buzzes with diners munching on large stacks of pancakes dressed with whipped topping and fresh fruit. More than 19 varieties of this morning favorite as well as made-to-order omelets grace the menu.

This mega-meal is an apt precursor to a day of excitement at Busch Gardens (admission is $46.95 adults and $39.95 ages 3-6). Enter its gates, and you'll discover more than just cool coasters and silly bumper cars. This park introduces guests to the best Europe has to offer in games, food, music, and culture.

With so much to see and do, plan your visit around the big attractions first; then hit the small ones when time permits. It's not possible in one day to see everything, so pace yourself, and vow to return.

Sections of the park represent European countries such as Italy, France, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, and England. Each one is filled with rides, cultural attractions, and shopping.

From Scotland comes the Loch Ness Monster coaster. Speeds of 60 mph carry visitors through double loops and sharp dips. In Ireland, visitors exercise their purchasing power at Emerald Isle gift shop, which features the largest collection of Waterford crystal on the East Coast. This country also brings the high-stepping moves of Irish Thunder--a 40-minute show of dancing and music direct from Dublin. This is a great way to get inside and cool off from the summer's heat.

Italy lends Apollo's Chariot, a coaster that juices your adrenaline with its overpowering free flight (the effect of flying through the air) rush. The Italians also bring us their taste for gourmet cooking. Inside the Italy Pavilion, guests may choose from authentic cuisine such as baked cannelloni as well as chicken and eggplant parmigiana (prices range from $6.50 to $9.95). Be sure to catch a sensational performance by the Rhythm Chefs, who beat out much more than marinara sauce on their pots and pans.

Sunday Strolls
Spend your last day catching the rest of Busch Gardens' rip-roaring rides or tooling around Colonial Williamsburg for a bit of edu-tainment. Become an unofficial member of the 16th-century city (tickets cost $45 adults and $23 ages 6-17) by way of a walking tour. You'll meet everyone from the local wigmaker to the silversmiths. It's one of the best ways to experience historic Williamsburg. By the end of your stay, you will have visited a couple of continents, ridden some of the most thrilling coasters in the country, and traveled to colonial America--all in one weekend.

This article is from the August 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.