Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg is full of holiday magic

America’s most beautiful park lives up to its title again with Christmas Town.   Busch Gardens in Williamsburg’s halls are completely decked with wreaths, bows, lights and real Christmas trees for the sixth time since 2009. The event has grown much over the years with even more lights, shows and rides open from its early beginnings. The park gets turned into this holiday extravaganza in just about 3 weeks after Howl-O-Scream.

Christmas Town is an additional event which typically begins a week before Thanksgiving and runs until the end of the year. This year (the most wonderful time of the year at Busch Gardens) began on November 21 and is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, plus 2 weeks in the middle of December. The park is open overall from 2-10 pm but you should check the operating hours before going as some days they open later or close earlier.  This is a time to visit the park for the seasonal delights and not necessarily the rides (as many are not operating due to weather and maintenance). The coasters are closed except for Verbolten, as are all the water rides and the two dark rides (Europe in the Air and Dark Castle), the Mach Tower and all other rides remain open weather permitting. 

In fact if you are short on the Christmas spirit, this is the place to go. It is nearly impossible to not truly appreciate the beauty of the holiday season with 8 million twinkling lights, the sweet clean smell of pine trees and some of the best hot cider and hot chocolate you have ever had. Also,as it turns out Santa takes up residence at Busch Gardens before he takes his long journey on Christmas Eve. If that isn't enough there are live penguins, delicious food and plenty of options for shopping. But it's the lights that make it so magical...plus some "snow".

What you will see
Each country has its own light theme. England is very traditional with white lights, holly and red ribbons.  It "snows" in England near Union Jax in the evenings.

In Scotland  it’s a winter wonderland of blues. The horses are still at the stables for pictures.

Ireland and Italy are themed as you would expect, Ireland is lit in greens, Italy is very gold with angles. 

Fiesta Italia has become Holiday Hills and is a retro holiday theme with your classic red, green and white. All of the rides and the arcade is open here (with heat). 

They also added these billboards to give it a town theme that features the original Coke Santa Claus. 

 France is full of blue, purple and silver and decorated as the 12 days of Xmas so plenty of partridges in some pear trees. This is also where the Penguin attraction is located. Penguins are on loan from SeaWorld and a zoo. 

Germany’s theme is O’Tannenbaum and is home to the 50 foot tree that lights up with music. 

You can click here to see the video of the actual lighting.

Be sure not to miss the Polar Pathway (the transition from England into Italy where Pompeii is). Riding the train around when it’s not super cold is really nice you can see a lot of the lights including what you can only see from the train. The Skyride is open as well and the above view is probably breath taking (it was far too crowded for us to get on it) but I have enjoyed the skyride plenty of times and am always in awe. You can lap the park twice in the same day to see it all (both lit and unlit).

What you will hear
As always, Busch Gardens has music in the back ground of each country. So for each themed location there is a set list of holiday music on the loop. Over in Germany you will hear O'Tannenbum, in other songs in German. In Ireland there is holiday themed Irish music. France plays the Twelve Days of Christmas. But my favorite was when you walk the bridge between Italy and Germany to the song Let there be Peace on Earth while looking at the lights, it is such a lovely version of the song it may just get you a tad choked up.

Holiday Shopping
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. In Oktoberfest there is an outdoor market of items from local artisans, winery and even more fun ornaments and such at the big store in Germany across from Dark Castle. With all of 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.

Food is always part of the fun and exceptionally delicious at Busch Gardens. The menu is relatively the same but gets tweaked for the season.  Some examples of holiday themed foods are turkey, ham, stuffing, hot chocolate and hot apple cider. You can purchase a Christmas Town themed refillable mug for about $6 and get as much hot chocolate and hot cider all season long for $1 a refill. For Christmas town you will also get to enjoy holiday treats like S’mores, Fondue Fudge, seasonal soups in a bread bowl. Over in France you can get some Trappers Smoke House deliciousness even outside from smoked turkey legs to smoked sausage sandwiches with whatever toppings you like (kraut, cheese, peppers, onions, chili, all of the above), plus beef stew, corn dogs and much more. There is never a need to ever be hungry here. In Italy you can dine at Dashers Diner for a buffet, or grab some Italian classics at Ristorante Della Piazza. Pricing is always reasonable compared to what you would spend for the same quality. (much better than Applebees or Olive Garden, more authentic)A typical family meal for 3 is about $30-$35 including dessert and drinks. There are many options available for counter or sit down meals. I am getting hungry just thinking about all of the options, and really you need several days if you want to enjoy it all....do not eat before coming to Busch Gardens, its worth it.

Santa’s Fireside Feast (Castle O Sullivan in Ireland) is a holiday buffet and interactive show with Santa. You can meet Santa, tell him what you would like for Christmas and get a picture taken with the big man himself. He also will read everyone a story, there is a small show with this including elves but you are part of the show. 

Ms. Claus will bring cookies out for dessert. 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 plenty of food for kids plus a salad bar and more. Cost is about $31 for adults, $20 for kids 3-9 and free for children 2 and under.

No trip is complete without a visit to at least one of the shows. Every theater except for the Palladium in France has a show for Christmas Town. In the Globe Theater (England) you can enjoy Scrooge No More an adaptation of the Charles Dickens Classic A Christmas Carol, with a technological enhancement. On opening weekend it was standing room only and for those who have seen London Rocks or the Jack the Ripper show, we had a good idea what to expect. The Globe has received an upgrade this year with lighting and sound and the festive show fully takes advantage of the new technology. At the Festhaus there is Deck the Halls a musical holiday review show that covers all the many "Christmas" traditions. In Italy at the San Marco Theater  is Miracles a winter themed acrobatic, action packed dance and vocal show. And in Ireland at the Abby Stone is Gloria a retelling of the first "Christmas".

If we lived closer I would be at Christmas Town over and over throughout the season, especially if having a bad day.  Parking is complimentary for season pass holders and $15 if you do not have a pass. Saturdays are typically very busy, so keep that in mind when you make your plans. There are heaters (the type you find at restaurants/bars with outdoor dining) spread around the park for you to warm up in case it is chilly. There are also tents set up in France, New France and England for you to eat "indoors" where you would normally not be able to do so.

I would recommend getting the Christmas Town Pass even if you aren’t local and are going for the weekend. It’s a good value to spend 2 days there. And you need that to be able to take in all the shows without rushing through the park. This is a time to savor and enjoy your family, take pictures to cement memories. And just savor the season.

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