Busch Gardens Christmas Town

It’s been several years since we’ve had a chance to visit Busch Gardens and I have to say that my favorite time of year to visit is during the annual Christmas Town™ celebration.  We have been twice before, our last visit being three years ago and boy has the celebration gotten bigger and better.

With over eight million Christmas lights in the park, Christmas Town™ is the largest light display in North America.  I am here to tell you it really is magical.  If you’re looking to start a new family holiday tradition, then add this to your list.  As always, Our Kids recommends that you plan ahead before you embark on this holiday adventure.  Consider your group’s stamina, the number of thrill-seekers in your party and how the trip and weather may affect each.  To start, you might want to consider downloading the Busch Gardens Discovery Guide Mobile App.  I didn’t do this, but wish I had.  Instead we used the map that you can pick up at the entrance to the park, which also works just as well for those who like paper versions of information.  With the app, if you attach a credit card to your account you can do Quick Pay throughout the park.

Busch Gardens Christmas Town Review

The park opens at 2 p.m. during the season and you’ll have until 10 p.m. to visit.  We arrived right on the dot at opening (to a large long of cars trying to get into the park) and left at closing and still didn’t get to see all that we wanted (but managed to get 22K steps on my Fitbit).  If you don’t want to feel rushed and can swing spending multiple nights at the park, consider purchasing the Christmas Town™ Fun Card, which allows for unlimited visits to the park.

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There are three different ways to see the beautiful lights throughout the park: walk from village to village, take a ride on the Busch Gardens Railway or take a relaxing ride up above on the Skyride.  The skyride is our favorite, especially as dark falls on the park and you really get to see a quiet, calming perspective of the twinkling light displays.  You can access this ride in France, Germany and England and the rides are one-way.  If there is a line at the next stop, you’ll have to disembark to get back in line.  Insider Tip: get to this ride earlier in the evening or later as lines can be long.

Busch Gardens Christmas Town Review  Busch Gardens Christmas Town Review

If your group needs more downtime, then you should definitely take a ride on the train which boards in New France, Scotland and Holiday Hills.  This rides is relaxing and also gives a nice view of the park in all its glory.

What’s at Christmas Town™

We spent 8 hours in the park and visited many attractions.   For the littlest of visitors, Sesame Street Forest of Fun is the place to be, as evidenced by the many strollers buzzing about.  Kids can choose from three different rides — and our group of teenagers went on Grover’s Alpine Express.  I am quite sure, my risk adverse 14-year old screamed the loudest.  Spend time riding Prince Elmo’s Spire, Oscar’s Whirly Worms and play on Oscar’s Yucky Forest, a fun playground.

Each country or section within Christmas Town™ offers rides, entertainment and dining options.   New this year is Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland.  Try your hand at one of the many Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer themed games – where you might win a cute Bumble stuffed animal.  You can also participate in a photo opportunity with Rudolph or dine with Rudolph and Clarice at Dine with Rudolph & Friends.  Note: both of these two experiences have an extra cost associated with them.

We visited each country within the park and some of our favorite rides included Snowman Summit, The Battering Ram, Le Catapult, Der Autobahn and Peppermint Twist.  As I mentioned before, we aren’t huge thrill seekers when it comes to rides, but if you’re a rollercoaster fan, Busch Gardens has two open during Christmas Town™ – the Verbolten® (one day I am going to get up the nerve to ride this) and Tempesto®.

Busch Gardens Christmas Town Review  Busch Gardens Christmas Town Review

In any event, don’t feel like you have to see everything – target what fits your group.  Busch Gardens has something for everyone.  We visited on the first Saturday in December and we saw a complete mix of ages and stages, which made the importance of family hit home.

In the mood to shop? Then you are in for a treat.  Each country sells merchandise similar to what you might find if you were really there.  Make pottery in New France; select scarves, sweaters, GUINNESS stout and more in Ireland; try Gluwein as you wander through the traditional German market or purchase beautiful nativities, ornaments and other unique gifts in Italy.  We purchased some really cool necklaces (see photo above) for just $10 a piece.  They have different light features and my girls were excited to have them for the season.

If you’re into entertainment, there are six shows at Christmas Town™ this year.  Show times vary, so this is where the mobile app or the paper map comes in handy.  When we arrived at the park, we picked the shows we knew we wanted to see and planned our visit around them.  You won’t be able to see all the shows in one evening, so pick one or two ‘must-sees’.  O Tannenbaum in Germany is a highlight and it a light show whose centerpiece is a 50-foot tall Christmas tree.  The show is set to music and the lights are breathtaking.  We also saw Twas That Night in the Royal Palace Theatre in France.  It’s an ice show and features World-champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist figure skater Elvis Stojko.  The show is outdoors, is about a half hour long and includes original holiday songs and some cherished favorites.  We also wanted to see Scrooge No More, but when we arrived at the theater, we were turned away because the theater was full.  Insider Tip: if you really want to see something on a peak visit day – get to the line early.  We arrived about 45 minutes prior to ‘Twas That Night and there was a long line forming.  Thankfully, the theater venue is very large, so it can hold a lot of people.

Busch Gardens Christmas Town Review

Dining options are plentiful and just like shopping and entertainment, food is everywhere.  We feasted on a late lunch at Marco Polo’s Marketplace.  They had a nice selection of Italian food, but other options as well.  The highlight was the create your own cannoli station.  Yum!  We enjoyed a late dinner at Trapper’s Smokehouse which offered various smoked turkey, ham and spare ribs entrees plus sandwiches and kid meals.

Other choices include:

  • a traditional German dinner in Das Festhaus or a Tastes of Christmas Town buffet (reservations required for the latter),
  • fish and chips in England,
  • soups and stews in Ireland
  • a retro American buffet diner in Holiday Hills

Desserts are plentiful throughout the park.  We recommend grabbing a crepe at Coffee and Crepes in France.  In addition, you’ll find hot chocolate, homemade fudge, gourmet dipped apples, funnel cakes, coffee, kettle corn, beignets (enjoyed these during the ‘Twas That Night show, delicious), festive cocktails and more.

We had an unforgettable to Busch Gardens Christmas Town™ this year, so much so that we plan to continue the tradition of visiting for years to come.

Additional Information

  • Christmas Town™ is open from 2 to 10 p.m. daily from December 9, 2016 to January 2, 2017 (closed on Christmas Day).
  • Ticket prices vary by day, but start at $16 for a one day ticket.  Busch Gardens has frozen 10 select days at the lowest prices from $16 to $20, so hurry and get your tickets.  These prices are only available through Saturday, December 10, 2016.  We recommend that you purchase your tickets online.
  • Parking is $15 per vehicle per day.  You can purchase various parking options online in advance.
  • If you can manage it, we recommend visiting Busch Gardens Christmas Town™ on a non-peak day.  The park will be a little quieter and the crowds more manageable.
  • Busch Gardens Christmas Town™ is primarily an outdoor event, so be prepared.  Dress comfortably for hours outside in the cold.  Layers are a good idea.  While you might not need your hat, scarf and gloves earlier in the day, once the sun sets, you will get cold.  Case in point: my teenage daughter who was blessedly thankful that she did end up bringing her jacket vs. just wearing a hoodie.
  • If you are going on a peak day (for our visit on Saturday, it was a peak day), you can purchase a Quick Queue pass.  This will allow for single-time priority access to select park rides and to the new Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland attraction.  Pricing starts at $30 per person and goes up based on date of attendance.
  • Purchase one of the many Exclusive Christmastime Tours.  From a 5-hour guided tour to wolf training, there are packages that are sure to please different ages and stages.  We’ve taken part in the Wolf Training Up-Close Tour and it is worth the price, especially if you have an animal lover in your group.
  • You can purchase Holiday Dining Experiences, which might be a fun way to add an extra ounce of excitement to your evening.  Bonus: by purchasing one of these experiences, you get early entry into the park.  So in theory, after you’re finished eating, you can head into the park to start before the masses arrive.
  • Lockers, strollers and wheelchairs are available for rent.

Photos courtesy of Amy Miller.

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