Busch Gardens Williamsburg has the distinction of being Americas Most Beautiful Park for some 26 consecutive years and it has deserved that title each and every year. They also have the notoriety of the largest light display in North American with 8.2 million lights. For the past few years Christmas Town has come to town, it’s extended the enjoyment of America’s Most Beautiful Park an additional 6 weeks. The halls here have been decked since 2009 and each year is a little brighter and more exciting than the last.
Fun now in the Forest.
This year the park has opened up the Forest of Fun for the first time at Christmas Town, so the little ones will have more rides, and opportunities to meet their favorite Sesame Street characters. All of the normal rides are open in Forest of Fun, except for the water spray area. Characters will be in and out of the area and offer meet and greets as well as photo opportunities.
Rudolph and Friends in Holiday Hills
Also new this year over in Fiesta Italy, (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. There is a play and dine also set up 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.
Christmas Town Shines Brightest
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. (packages are available here) Besides Busch Gardens there are plenty of other holiday sights to see in the milder temps of Williamsburg and surrounding areas. The tag line for the park this year is “Where Christmas shines brightest” and it does. But it really does more than that.
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 is a completely immersive experience. Busch Gardens has always had a way about it to melt bad moods, soothe anxiety and if any place can give make a Grinch's heart grow, I believe it to be here.
Come for the Ambiance and Magic.
You don’t generally come to Christmas Town for the rides, as there aren’t as many open. However there are 22 rides available, mostly flat rides, plenty for kids. For thrill seekers The Mach Tower, Verbolten, Tempesto and the Sky Ride (hey that is sometimes scary!)will all be open in most conditions. These attractions are the parks 3 newest rides, and with the capability of technology they are designed better for colder weather. (Griffon we will see you in the spring.) This time of year many of the rides go through checkups, tune up and improvements. The Train will also be open, which will give you the opportunity to rest your feet and take in all the additional lights. Kinda like their own Polar Express (maybe this year they will play Believe on it, if they did, that was my idea).
Besides its beautiful lights, there are also more than 20,000 ornaments and other decorations and displays. The smells of pine trees are everywhere as they also ship in over 1400 trees for the event. If you are the type who comes to the park for its food, you will get to enjoy holiday themed dishes and some of the best hot chocolate you will ever drink. (Refills from a park mug are also only $1.50! If you don’t have a mug you can get one for $6 which includes your first round)
Holiday music is piped in throughout and is themed to the area. So in Germany (The North Pole in Christmas Town) its German holiday music, as is the case for France, Ireland etc. The bridge that connects Oktoberfest to Italy plays “Let there be Peace on Earth”.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.
Additional Fun and Benefits of Christmas Town.
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. There are unlimited downloads. You can also opt to purchase photos printed for you and photo gifts off the website. If you opt for the Premium (Season option of $60) you do get a 50% discount on those items. Santa’s Fireside Feast is a separate event which includes a meal and is a separate price, even though you can get photos done there (you can use your own camera as well).
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. There is also a photo opportunity. 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.
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 Trapper’s Smokehouse Chili. Plus there is plenty of food for kids plus a salad bar and more.
Other dining options include the Buffet in the Black Forest and Tastes of Christmas Town in Das Fest Haus 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. Both locations are heated; the Black Forest is in a pop up heated pavilion tent just to the left of Fest Haus.
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 a traditional outdoor German market of items from local artisans, winery, handmade gifts 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 prepay 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.
First of all you can visit Santa at his Workshop in the North Pole. (Germany). There are 6 shows you can enjoy throughout the park besides character meet and greets and carolers over in England. 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 called Deck the Halls. In Italy at the San Marco Theater is Miracles a winter themed acrobatic show. And for Christmas traditionalists you can enjoy Gloria, a classic retelling of the Christian “first Christmas” at the Abby Stone theater in Ireland. But the crowing gem is T’was the Night, an ice skating show over in France in the Royal Palace based on the story T’was the Night before Christmas. For additional entertainment you will also find outside of the Fest Haus a 50 foot tree that will light up nightly to a musical score, properly named O’Tannenbaum. Video here
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
You can visit Christmas Town in all its glory from now until January 2, 2017. For the first few weeks it is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday then the park is open daily from December 9th-January 2nd except for Christmas Day. Operating hours are generally 2-10 pm; the gates typically open before 2. 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. To do and see everything you do need more than one day. The shows alone would be difficult to all see in one day. And rushing around isn't really fun, you're not really in the moment.
Parking for pass members is complimentary and $15 for non-season pass holders. Prices for a Fun Card is $38 and gives unlimited admission. Single tickets are $16-$38 depending when you buy (they are discounted at the writing of this piece). Best days to visit will be most weekdays to avoid crowds. Sunday's are usually a slower day as well.
The only thing Christmas Town lacks is Christmas Karaoke, which I understand isn't everyone's cup of tea, and perhaps that would be a bit of merriement overboard. But a girl can dream.