By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
Beautiful light displays, fun and festive shows, amusement rides, and special “extras” are what make Busch Garden Williamsburg’s Christmas Town an annual tradition for many families. If you’re looking for a fun weekend getaway, or even a day trip (the park is less than a three-hour drive from just about anywhere in Fairfax County), you still have plenty of time: Christmas Town is open now through January 3, 2016.
Visitors to Busch Gardens Williamsburg already know it is one of the largest theme parks in Virginia, and often has been named as the most beautiful theme park in the world. Its uniquely decorated “countries” – such as France, Italy, England, and Germany – and the park overall take on a special glow (literally) during the holiday season. With eight million lights, fun celebrations, festive food, beautiful decorations, and specialty shops, the annual Christmas Town event is sure to get you in the holiday spirit.
We attended on opening night, November 27, 2015 – and so did apparently half of Virginia! I won’t lie: the park was crowded, but that is because it was not just opening weekend but also (a) a holiday weekend (we went the Friday after Thanksgiving) and (b) an unseasonably warm day, and on top of that we (c) did not arrive until 5 pm.
Because many (or most) people are coming to see the park in all its illuminated glory at night, an evening arrival is going to put you at “rush hour.” We would have been much better off arriving earlier, and that is my first recommendation to you: be at the park as soon as it opens. The park actually opens on most days at 2 pm (closing time is 9 pm or 10 pm, depending on the date), giving you lots of time to explore.
This will give you time to enjoy the rides and see the shows (which start mid-afternoon) before more people arrive to see the lights, and you also can explore the shops, take your time eating, and just enjoy your surroundings. For example, leaving the Festhaus in the Oktoberfest area to make our way to Italy after dinner, I was taken aback by how wonderful the walkways smelled. The natural pine was lovely! At first I thought the scent was being “piped in” through some hidden mist, but no – it’s real pine, from the 1,200 trees the bring in for the event and the clippings they use for mulch throughout.
Our dinner this year, by the way, was the buffet at the Black Forest Picnic Village near the Festhaus. With hand-carved meats, chili, mac-n-cheese, and other favorites, and price at $15 for adults and $8 for kids, this buffet is a good bargain. Last year we had enjoyed the Santa’s Fireside Feast, a similar buffet with Santa Claus and a show as the added attractions (but about twice the price). Busch Gardens has many other dining specials.
Dining at Das Festhouse itself, where you can buy items a la carte, is always a good option, especially because it is where “Deck the Halls,” an upbeat variety show, takes place. The stage is in the center of the huge hall, which has plenty of dining, so you can always find a spot, meaning it’s one show you are practically guaranteed to see. Other productions, including the spiritual “Gloria!” and “Miracles,” may have lines of patrons waiting before the shows start, as will “Scrooge No More!,” a condensed version of the Dickens classic (and which we saw last year).
By far, though, the most popular show this year seemed to be “’Twas That Night,” an ice-skating spectacular based on the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and starring none other than Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko and other professional figure skaters. In addition to a beloved story, a nice set, and beautiful skating, there is a surprise ending that will put a big smile on your face.
This show seemed to be a must-see for many, as the first time we walked by we saw a long line of people waiting for it. But don’t let that scare you — the show takes place at the Royal Palace Theatre behind New France, a huge venue that seats 5,000, so you’re likely to find a seat (but for $5 per person, you can save a spot, if you wish). All shows are included in the Christmas Town admission fee, which is $35 for anyone ages 3 and up (kids younger than that get in free).
In fact, if you can afford it time-wise, go late at night, when some guests have already left the park. We decided to go to the very last show at 9:30 pm (the park was closing at 10), we arrived right when it started, and we had plenty of seats to choose from, so we got to sit up close!
Other tips to make the most of your trip:
- Take time to look at the lights all around the park. My personal favorites? The “cascade” of lights in the Polar Pathway (near the England Skyride) and the beautiful decorations in New France.
- Take a train ride through the park early to see the animals in the “countryside” and take the Skyride at night to see all the lights.
- Know what to expect: most of Busch Gardens’ rides are not meant to operate in cold weather, so typically none of the big rollercoasters will be running during Christmas Town (except Verbolten, weather-permitting). You can still find most of the smaller carnival rides operating, many of which are in the Italy part of the park. See the Busch Gardens site for a full list of seasonal rides and a park map online.
- Listen to a traditional choir by Victorian-clad singers near Big Ben in England.
- Visit the Clydesdale horses and take pictures with them.
- Make time for treats including hot cocoa, warm pretzels, and more.
- Take lots of photos! If you choose to buy photos park staff take, make some time at night to buy your photos before you leave – don’t leave this for the last-minute or you may have to wait in line (a better option is to sign up for the Photo Key option).
Visit www.christmastown.com/va for more details, including complete operating schedules, park information, and ticket sales for Christmas Town 2015.
Disclosure: I am a Busch Gardens Williamsburg Thrill Chaser and receive free park admission for my family and special offers such as dinner and a gift bag for Christmas Town. This article is my own writing based on my own experience and opinions.
All photos by and (c) P. Hall