Busch Gardens Williamsburg (BGW) has the distinction of being Americas Most Beautiful Park for some 27 consecutive years and it has deserved that title each and every year. Once Thanksgiving is over, Christmas Town comes to town with the largest light display in North American with more than 8.3 million lights.
BGW is busting with holiday cheer between the decorations, festive music and peace and love for an additional 6 weeks. Holiday food will also fill your belly as there are desserts, cookies, and cocoa and turkey dinner options available. It’s not just what you see with your eyes at Christmas Town that makes it a Christmas town, it’s this beautifully orchestrated symphony of sounds, smells and good feeling. When it’s all combined you can’t be there and not feel like you just walked into Christmas.
It's very much like a living Christmas card.
The halls here have been decked since 2009 and each year is a little brighter and more exciting than the last. Christmas Town isn’t about the rides, it’s about spending time, enjoying the lights and the magical feeling of the season. If you have never been to Christmas Town and need some holiday cheer this should be on your to-do list, especially if you live in the area. If you do not, it may be well worth booking a weekend trip. Besides Busch Gardens there are plenty of other holiday sights to see in the milder temps of Williamsburg and surrounding areas. We have never found the park to be overstimulating, with the exception of too many people. So I don't recommend visiting on the day after Thanksgiving. I haven't been on Christmas Eve, we have been on New Years Day and it was average attendance. Typically Saturdays are busiest days.
The park does not operate all of the rides, mostly due to weather. However The Mach Tower, Verbolten, InvadR and about 20 more -most flat and kid rides are open. The Train and Skyride also run during Christmas Town. The park is open from 2-10pm November 24 through January 1, 2018 daily, with the exception of the first two weeks (just after thanksgiving and the first week of December) when its just Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. After that you have plenty of options to visit. The only exception is Christmas Day when they are closed.
If you have been before don’t forget your cocoa mug for $1.99 refills on Hot cocoa and cider. (less for passmembers). If you don’t have one, then you may want to buy one for $6.
New Magic at Christmas Town This Year.
Speaking of Cocoa, this year to add to the delicious lineup which includes the Park Signature brew and Peppermint they have added Peanut Butter. Which both Noah and I sampled. It’s delicious, like drinking a less sweet Recess cup.
Santa’s Workshop moved to Dark Castle in Oktoberfest to make for a more spacious environment. The queue begins outside the same as if you are riding Dark Castle. However for those with a mobility pass you use the same quick queue area. If the park isn’t crowded you shouldn’t have to worry about the outdoor queue.
The indoor queue is beautiful and makes the wait more fun and exciting. According to Park President Dave Cromwell “As a father of young children, I understand what a big deal it is to visit Santa,” Cromwell said. “We truly believe our Santa experience is the best anywhere around, and we have made changes this year to make sure families don’t have to wait as long.”
Be sure to use your mobility access pass for this (parents of disabled kids/disabled people). We did feel it was a long wait, but it was an enjoyable wait. Because you were looking and walking through a lot of magic, so the “wait” was truly part of the experience. Much like they say, it’s not the destination, but the journey.
Which has its truth, but let’s face it, meeting the big guy is important. And Santa did not disappoint, he was awesome! You can also take your own pictures or purchase pictures either with your photokey membership, or as an individual picture (same as ride photos) which have their borders. More on Photokey below for those who are unfamiliar.
Rudolph Movie Experience
2016 brought in Rudolph experience with Clarisse, Bumble and the loveable Yeti. (Yukon Cornelius, Bumble and Sam the Snowman.) Holiday Hills is an indoor opportunity to meet Rudolph and friends. The queue is mostly indoors, but on very busy days you will still have a line outside. As you walk through the queue you can enjoy scenes from the Rudolph movie and eventually get to meet Rudolph, Clarice, Bumble and Yukon. Even the floor is sparkly. Out across from this is a shortened 12 minute version of the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer classic TV show. But will also include some special effects, delicious scents and of course lights.
Forest of Fun
The Forest of Fun is open again this year so the little ones will have more rides, and opportunities to meet their favorite Sesame Street characters. Characters will be in and out of the area and offer meet and greets as well as photo opportunities.
Cookies and Cocoa
Germany received a new cookie shop! Includes a heated seating area for cookies and beverages. Cookies and Coca is over in the Wilkomenia building, where you previously met Santa. Here you can buy cookies freshly made by the pound with a variety of flavors like Double Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Lemon, Red Velvet, Snickerdoodle and more. You will also be able to decorate a Gingerbread man. Cocoa is of course sold here, have I mentioned how delicious the Peanut Butter Cocoa is, because its ridiculous.
Highlights of Christmas Town: Info for those who have never been.
Dining at Busch Gardens is part of the fun for many park goers because the food here isn’t your typical theme park food. For the holiday season there are few options of buffets, and just special options at beloved locations like Fest Haus, and as new kiosks throughout the park. I wish I had more photos of the food, but its so good I usually wind up eating it before I take a picture.
In Fiesta Italy, There is a play and dine in the back of Holiday Hills (what is usually La Cucina) called Dasher’s Diner and here you can enjoy a buffet and meet all the characters. The buffet will have holiday themed foods, such as carved turkey and/or ham, a salad bar and plenty of kid favorites (pizza, chicken nuggets, and fries). Pass members can book this online and receive a discount.
If you prefer to dine with Santa and Mrs. Claus you can also do so! Santa’s Fireside feast includes a buffet meal, cookies for dessert from Mrs. Claus and the big guy will read you a story. Santa’s Fireside Feast is located in Castle O Sullivan in Ireland and is interactive. You can meet Santa, tell him what you would like for Christmas and get a picture. Part of the show includes elves but you are part of the show. It was a real delight and a must for kids. You can book this for lunch or dinner; bring your appetite the buffet includes a carving station of turkey or ham, Swedish meatballs, homemade mac-n-cheese, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and Trapper’s Smokehouse Chili. Plus there is plenty of food for kids plus a salad bar and more.
Other dining options include The Tastes of Christmas Town a buffet where you will also get reserved seating for Deck the Halls. (which if you go there on a busy day at the wrong time you certainly need). Both buffets have holiday themed food including roast turkey and ham, chicken alfredo and much more. In Oktoberfest there is Tannenbaum Soups where you can get potato or clam chowder from the kiosk. Most other kiosk locations are cookie and dessert related.
Fest Haus also has a Sirloin sandwich and clam chowder in a bread bowl for the holiday season. Plus you can buy a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. In England Squires Grille is renamed Dickens Tavern, it states it has “Christmas Faire”, but it does not with the exception of desserts. However, for burger lovers you can get a Philly burger, which is a burger topped with cheesesteak and peppers. Very delicious and not too big. But if Christmas Fair is your thing, check out Fest Haus or one of the buffet dining options.
Besides its beautiful lights, there are also more than 20,000 ornaments and other decorations and displays including 900 window candles, 700 wreathes and 800 lit snowflakes. The smells of pine trees are everywhere as they also ship in over 1500 trees for the event. Holiday music is piped in throughout and in many cases is themed to the area so you will enjoy Irish, French and German holiday music. The bridge that connects Oktoberfest to Italy plays “Let there be Peace on Earth” and when you are there looking over the water, seeing the display, listening to this choir sing it. You feel it, you believe it, and for that moment, there really is peace.
Each village is beautifully lit and decorated. The area normally known for the Pompeii ride is now the Polar Pathway and has over 1,500,000 lights.
The largest light display in the park is Oktoberfest with almost 2 million lights itself. There are more than 1,700,000 lights in the main area of Oktoberfest and almost 400,000 at the North Pole.
Italy is full of almost a million gold lights. France is adorned in beautiful blues and purples, holiday hills is very retro and England is very classic with white lights.
If you want to get some photos done Busch Gardens offers a Photo Key service which costs $35 for the day or $60 for the season. There are 8 locations throughout out the park. (Includes Verbolten) as well as characters, Santa and other picturesque areas in the park. These are all noted on the Map you can get when you enter. With Photo Key you scan the card with the photographer after you have your picture taken or have ridden a ride. You get unlimited downloads. You can also opt to purchase photo and photo gifts off the website. Which if you opt for the Premium $60 you do get a 50% discount.
Shopping at Christmas Town can be part of the fun there is plenty of it around. The normal stores will be open selling Busch Gardens merchandise as well as holiday decorations and gifts. As well as fun novelty items like Christmas Tree hats (with or without "snow") and Christmas Bulb lighted necklaces and hats. In Oktoberfest there is an outdoor market of items (Mistletoe Marketplace) from local artisans, winery and ornaments. With all of the holly jolly around it makes a good time to pick up some special items, or get pictures done for your holiday gift giving, regardless of what you celebrate. Cashless wristbands are offered and can be purchased once you enter the park to make your day a bit easier. You can pre pay a set amount or link to a credit card depending on your preference and needs. If you pay up front with cash and don’t use it all, it is refunded to you at the end of your night. You can use these for all purchases including dining.
There is plenty of entertainment decking the halls of Christmas Town. There are 6 shows you can enjoy throughout the park besides character meet and greets. Scrooge No More in England, an adaptation of the Charles Dickens Classic A Christmas Carol, takes full advantage of the technological enhancement done on the Globe in 2014. At Fest Haus there is a musical holiday review show about different traditions called Deck the Halls. In Italy at the San Marco Theater is an a cappella musical show called “Gift of Harmony” full of Christmas music both new and old. For Christian traditionalists you can enjoy Gloria, a classic retelling of the Christian “first Christmas” at the Abby Stone theater in Ireland. But the true crowning gem is T’was the Night, an ice skating show over in France in the Pallidum based on the story T’was the Night before Christmas. For additional entertainment you will also find Carolers in England and outside of the Fest Haus a 50 foot tree that will light up nightly to a musical score, properly named O’Tannenbaum. Video here
You can visit Christmas Town in all its glory from now through New Year’s Day2018. The gates typically open before 1pm as do all the villages. Rides and experiences open at 2pm, and the skyride at 4pm. You have the option to purchase a ticket at the park or online. If you think you will attend more than once you should consider the Fun Card which is $39 for Pass members, or $49 for others, includes discounts and parking. Which is a decent deal for even just a day of magic. Parking for pass members is complimentary and $15 for non-season pass holders.