By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here, but at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the season has been shinning bright since Nov. 21! At the annual Christmas Town™ festival, now through Dec. 31, 2014, “the world’s most beautiful theme park” becomes even more spectacular with sparkling lights, spectacular shows, and fun seasonal extras.
We recently made our first visit to Christmas Town and can see why it’s a tradition for many families in the area. You may not think of a theme park as a natural choice on a cold winter day, but bundled up enough (it’s all about the layers), with some indoor attractions and shows, and a cup of hot cocoa you can refill in many places, Jack Frost nipping at your nose won’t be a bother.
Now, if you’ve never been to this event, the first advice I’d give you is to NOT think of this as a visit to Busch Gardens, but as a trip to Christmas Town. By that, I mean go there ready to fully enjoy the seasonal attractions (including the shows) that make this special. Busch Gardens, known for its huge roller coasters, does not run most of them during this time of year. In fact, the only big coaster in operation during the festival is Verbolten, and even that is subject to a certain minimum temperature or it won’t be operational. That’s very important to note in order to avoid potential disappointment.
That said, there are 20 rides total to enjoy. Our favorite was the Skyride, which lets you enjoy views of all six European countries while relaxing 80 feet in the air. The Skyride stops in England, France and Germany. This is an especially fun time to ride it, when you can see the park illuminated from above.
From the ground, walking around you’ll get to see each section with its own charm. Italy, for example, is decorated in a bright, old-fashioned, fun style, while France has an elegant, modern vibe with its “12 Days of Christmas” trees. And certainly don’t miss the Polar Pathway with its “waterfall” of lights. This awe-inspiring display takes the Escape from Pompeii® ride and turns it into a cascading icy wonderland that is just stunning.
We also enjoyed visiting the beautiful horses in the Highland Stables and the penguins at the Ice Palace by France where you can watch them swim or just hang around…even standing still they’re adorable! Of course, no Christmas Town would be complete without Santa, and he’ll be there waiting for you at his workshops!
When you need to take a break from your walking, or just want to come in from the cold, enjoy one of the stage shows. You can choose from Deck the Halls in Germany, a live musical tribute to Christmas traditions; “Gloria” in Ireland, a “joyous re-telling of the story of the first Christmas;” “Miracles” in Italy, an uplifting story about everyday miracles; “Scrooge No More” in England, a fast and fun version of the classic tale; and “O Tannenbaum,” the light show around the 50-foot tree. (I had hoped to see Gloria, but because of our schedule that day, we only got to attend Scrooge No More. It was late at night and I worried if the time and sometimes serious story would keep my child’s interest, and I’m glad to say that it did.)
You can also take a break at one of the many stores where you can find traditional souvenirs and special seasonal merchandise, and of course there are plenty of places to eat (we had a buffet dinner at the Fireside Feast with Santa), so that’s another opportunity for an indoor break.
I’ve read some reviews that Christmas Town can get very crowded. We went during a media preview so the park crowd was light, but as with any popular event, I would say to get there early so you have plenty of time to plan your day and see all you want to see. With so much to do, you want to be able to pace yourself, take lots of photos, have snack breaks, and just enjoy the sights.
Disclosure: I am a Busch Gardens ambassador and my family was invited to visit Christmas Town and received other perks including a photo pass and goodie bag. The opinions in this post, as always, are strictly my own.