Our family has been lucky enough to visit Busch Gardens® several times in the past few years. We have reviewed it, and I’ve also chaperoned several band field trips here, so we are very familiar with the park. I have to say that my favorite time of year to visit though, is during the annual Christmas Town™ event. We loved our first visit in 2011 and now two years later, the celebration has gotten bigger and better.
With over six million lights throughout the park, a visit to Christmas Town really is magical. 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 the weather may affect each. You can view an interactive map online to start thinking about all the options. The park opens at 3pm during the season and you’ll either have until 9 or 10pm to visit, depending on the day of the week. You can also view the behind-the-scenes video which gives a nice overview of everything. If you don’t want to feel rushed to visit everything in one evening, consider getting a Christmas Town Fun Card. The card gives you unlimited visits to Christmas Town™ and really is worth the money if you will be in the area more than one evening. Families with little kids take note!
There are three different ways to see the beautiful lights throughout the park: take a ride on “Flights of Lights”, walk from village to village or take a ride on the park’s train. This year we did all three – and “Flights of Lights” is our favorite. This cable car ride is accessible in France, Germany and England. You can hop on the ride at any of these stations and take a one-way ride to the next country. If there is a line at the next stop, you’ll have to disembark and get back in line. But this really is a nice way to get a different perspective of the twinkling light displays. Tip: get to this ride earlier in the evening. Lines typically get very long once it gets dark in the park.
If your group needs some downtime or a break from walking, take the train ride, which you can board in New France, Scotland or Holiday Hills. This ride is relaxing and gives you a nice view of the park in all its glory.
What’s at Christmas Town?
Fact: Wolves bite with 1500 pounds of force (you should have heard the sound their jaws made when they were given treats). That is about twice that of little Snoopy down the street. Fact: Wolves are naturally neophobic and afraid of what is unfamiliar. Fact: Participants in the tour do not get to touch the wolves, but we all got to train the wolves (calling known behaviors) and we had a howling good time.
After the excitement of interacting with the wolves we headed into the rest of the park, first stopping for a crepe and hot chocolate in France (yum!). During Christmas Town™ not everything is open; but there still is so much to do between the rides, lights, food and shows. Verbolten™ is the signature roller coaster that is open for the thrill-seekers in your group. But for those who are a little less daring, we recommend Der Autobahn, which had our group in stitches. Other rides that we enjoyed were Le Catapult, Da Vinci’s Cradle — and for the youngest of guests, there is the Der Autobahn Jr. In the Holiday Hills™ area (which is new from when we last went), the littles can ride the Peppermint Twist™, Snowman Summit™ or the Reindeer Run™. There are some other rides that are open as well, but we were selective our choices so that we could participate in other activities.
Again, don’t feel like you have to see everything – target what fits your group. Busch Gardens really does have something for everyone: the afternoon we were there we were happy to see a mix of ages and stages, which really reminded us of the importance of family.
Christmas Town also offers shows and a plethora of shopping. Each country sells merchandise similar to what you might find if you were really there. Try Glüwein as you wander through the traditional German market (aka Mistletoe Marketplace), make hand-dip candles or pottery in New France, or select from beautiful nativity scenes in Italy at Bella Casa. Holiday Hills™, the newest area at Christmas Town brings home traditional Americana. Take home a sweet holiday-themed gift at The Stocking Stop™. Each country has many more stores of all kinds as well.
There are four shows at Christmas Town this year, and they run at various times throughout the afternoon and evening. The first show is at 3pm (Gloria!) and in general the last show starts at 9/9:30pm. Plan in advance, looking online at the calendar for show descriptions and times. The map that you’ll get at the park also lists this information. You probably won’t be able to see all the shows in one evening, so we’d recommend that you pick one or two. O Tannenbaum in Germany, highlights the 50-foot-tall Christmas tree and the show is set to music with an amazing light show. We also saw Gloria, in Ireland, which retells the story of the first Christmas. We enjoyed the live orchestra that went along with the production.
Where to Eat
So many options, so little time! Some choices include:
- a retro American buffet diner in Holiday Hills™,
- fish and chips in England,
- smoked turkey in France,
- taste of Christmas Town buffet (reservations are required),
- soups and stews in Ireland and
- pizza’s and traditional Italian fare.
- Food generally started in the $8.99 range, although you could find single selections for less and buffet selections for a little more.
- Bottled water, beer, sodas and other drinks are available.
For our dinner, we opted for the buffet behind the Festhaus and this option did not include the show. You could opt to make reservations and have the buffett dinner in the Festhaus, but we didn’t realize this until it was too late, lines too long and kids too hunger. The buffet without the show is a good option though. It was in a heat-filled pavilion filled with a nice buffet of hearty selections.
Desserts are plentiful throughout the park – gourmet Ghiradelli hot chocolate, homemade fudge, gourmet dipped apples, gelato, wine, funnel cakes, Starbucks coffee,cotton candy, kettle corn and more!
There are several different add-on experiences to your regular park admission that you can do while at Christmas Town. We enjoyed these on our first visit two years ago.
Santa’s Fireside Feast
Santa and his helpers tell a classic Christmas story while you nosh on a buffet that offers plenty for kids and adults. The buffet includes macaroni & cheese, chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks and more. For the adults there was turkey, pork, salad, sweet potato casserole, cornbread stuffing and salad sides plus a few other delectables. Santa’s Fireside Feast is an add-on to your park admission. It is $30 for ages 10+ and $20 for children ages 3 to 9. Children under 3 are free but do require a reservation. Purchase your tickets online. A bonus: reserve the 1:30pm feast, which gives you early entry into the park.
Ultimate Penguin Insider
We did this tour two years ago and the kids still talk about it. This year Christmas Town features a chance to view penguin visitors from SeaWorld® San Antonio and The Columbus Zoo. Anyone can wait in line to tour this exhibit and see the penguins in action, but if someone in your family is interested in wildlife, consider splurging and buy passes to the this tour. For $30 per person (ages 3 and up), you’ll get a behind the scenes tour where you’ll learn As Much As You Ever Wanted To Know But Couldn’t Google about penguins. And bonus – you will get to actually touch a real live penguin.
Other Ways to Make your Visit Extra Special
- Tastes of Christmas Town is an all-you-care-to eat buffet that includes reserved seating for the Deck the Halls show in Germany. Reservations are required and performances begin 30 minutes after your designated dining time. The cost is $35 for ages 10+ and $15 for ages 3 to 9; under 3 are free.
- Christmas Town Insider is V.I.P. at its best. You’ll experience the best of Christmas Town™ all in one evening. The tour includes; an up-close encounter with penguins, priority access to Santa’s Workshop, reserved seating at Gloria, Miracles and Deck the Halls plus dinner at the Festhaus. The cost is $60 per person ages 3 and up.
Hours of Operation and Admission
- Christmas Town is open December 6 to 8 and then December 13 to 31, 2013 daily (except for Christmas Day). Park hours are 3 to 10pm; with some days closing at 9pm.
- Admission to Christmas Town is $30.00 per person ages 3 and up. We recommend just purchasing the Christmas Town Fun Card for $30.00 which allows you unlimited visits to Christmas Town. We say make a weekend of it and take in the excitement that fills the air.
- Visit any participating area Wendy’s Restaurants for a savings coupon.
- Parking is $15 per vehicle per day. You can purchase your parking ticket in advance online.
Good to Know
- Because it is primarily an outdoor venue, Christmas Town can be cold (or rainy, or snowy). We had a moderately cool day on our visit, which set the mood. Not to hot and not too cold. The next day, however was below freezing, so two rides were closed and it definitely makes for a bigger reason to bundle up. Be sure to dress comfortably to be outside for hours. 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 probably get cold.
- The park does have heated seating areas in the different eating venues. There are also plenty of outdoor heaters throughout the park for you to stand under to get warm.
- Consider making an overnight visit to Williamsburg. There are plenty of lodging options in the nearby area. We stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites which was a 5-minute drive to the park. There are many other options. We’d recommend looking at the Busch Gardens Vacation Packages to help with planning your visit.
- Lockers, strollers and wheelchairs are available for rent.
Williamsburg is about a two and a half hour drive from the DC metro area. It makes for a fairly easy car trip if there isn’t any traffic. We lucked out on both legs of the trip and made it to and fro stress-free.
Christmas Town: Go for the Wolves, Stay for the Lights!
Enter to Win!
Enter to win a pair (2) of Fun Card tickets for admission to Busch Gardens Christmas Town™ for the 2013 season. The Fun Card tickets will give the winner unlimited access to Christmas Town from November 22 to December 31, 2013. This giveaway is open to US residents ages 18 years and up and will end on Monday, December 9, 2013 at 11:59pm. One winner will be randomly selected from all eligible entries on Tuesday, December 10, 2013 and notified shortly thereafter. The winner will have 24 hours to respond to claim their tickets.
Photos courtesy of Our Kids. Video courtesy of Busch Gardens.