By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
Can’t get enough of theme parks? Don’t let winter get in the way! Summer may be the best season to enjoy theme parks in full, but in winter you still can enjoy some rides and special attractions. The holiday season also puts the parks in a new light, literally, with thousands of sparkling, dazzling lights, festive decorations, and gorgeous scenes. Although dates and hours are limited and not all rides may be operating, these parks also have shows, special character meetings, and more to let you experience the joys of the season. Holidays at theme parks are a nice way to enjoy a “staycation” or easy road trip and put a different twist on family fun. See our list below for information on Christmas and holiday events at theme parks in the mid-Atlantic area. These parks, in Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia, all are within a three-hour drive or so of Washington, DC.
Busch Gardens Christmas Town, Willamsburg, VA
Six Flags Holiday in the Park, Bowie, MD
Dutch Winter Wonderland, Lancaster, PA
Hersheypark, Hershey, PA
A Very Furry Christmas at Sesame Place, Langhorne, PA
Busch Gardens Christmas Town
1 Busch Gardens Blvd., Williamsburg, VA 23185
For many years, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has been named the most beautiful theme park in the world, and that’s during the park’s regular operating season. During the holidays, Busch Gardens tops itself with millions of lights and decorations for the annual Christmas Town event, making it an even more beautiful place. The park is aglow with more than eight million Christmas lights, making it the largest Christmas lights display in North America. Many of the park’s rides and attractions are open during this time, but you also can enjoy holiday-themed shows, seasonal treats, shopping, dining, and more. Definitely make time to see the shows, which are free, short, and help you get into the spirit of Christmas. The shows vary greatly: Deck the Halls is a fun music fest you can enjoy while dining at Das Festhaus, Gift of Harmony is an a new a cappella show, O’Tannenbaum is a dazzling display of lights by a big Christmas tree, Gloria! is a beautiful and joyous retelling of the Christmas story, Scrooge No More is a fun and condensed version of the classic tale, and Twas That Night is an exciting production on ice with world-champion figure skater Elvis Stojko. See more on our detailed reviews of Christmas Town from 2016, the 2015 season, and 2014.
- Schedule: Christmas Town is open Nov. 24-25 and again Dec. 1-3, 2017, and Dec. 8, 2017-Jan. 1, 2018 daily (except for Dec. 25, when the park is closed). The event operating hours are 2 pm-10 pm each day.
- Kids: There’s plenty to do for guests of all ages, including some thrill rides and kid-friendly (or “KIDsiderate ®“) rides. At Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland in Holiday Hills, guests can take photos with Rudolph and his friends Clarice, Bumble, and Yukon Cornelius. Special add-ons include dining with Rudolph and friends. At Rudolph’s Movie Experience, you can see the classic tale come to life in a new, immersive experience. The special movie includes vibrant special effects, delicious scents, and dazzling lights. For little ones, the Sesame Street Forest of Fun has great rides, beautiful decorations, and beloved characters. At Santa’s Workshop, you can visit Santa and buy photo packages.
Coming in 2018:
Kings Dominion WinterFest
Kings Dominion WinterFest
16000 Theme Park Way, Doswell, VA 23047
Holidays at theme parks are becoming more popular: If you’ve heard that Kings Dominion has a winter event, it’s only partially true. Right now, Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia, is not open for the holiday season. But starting in 2018, Kings Dominion during the Christmas season will transform into a winter wonderland full of enchantment and holiday cheer. WinterFest will include music shows, lights, rides, ice skating on “Snowflake Lake,” a Crafters Corner for gift shopping, and seasonal treats. And if the 70-foot-tall Christmas tree wasn’t enough, the park’s iconic Eiffel Tower replica will turn into a 300-foot Christmas tree featuring a state-of-the-art light show. See more on the park’s website.
Six Flags Holiday in the Park
13710 Central Avenue, Bowie/ Mitchellville, MD 20721
Experience the most magical time of the year filled with enchanting experiences to help create those special family fun outings again and again at Six Flags America. This park is the closest one to most points in the DC area, making it a very easy place to visit, even if you’re short on time during this busy season. The park’s breathtaking winter wonderland features rides, music and stunt shows, two dozen rides, and interactive activities to help capture the holiday spirit. At 5 pm each night, enjoy the lighting of a 27-foot-tall Christmas tree and enjoy Looney Tunes entertainment. Holiday shows include Christmas Crashers, a stunt spectacular featuring Santa’s elves; Rockin’ the North Pole, a fun musical celebration; Home for the Holidays, a tribute to the troops; the Looney Tunes Christmas; light shows; and more. Kids also can visit Santa to take photos. For some nice, quieter family time, enjoy one of the fire pits or take a stroll in Reflections of the Season area.
- Schedule: Open on select dates (weekends and some other days) Nov. 18, 2017, to Jan. 1, 2018, 2-9 pm.
- Kids: During the holiday season, Six Flags America will have more than 20 kid-friendly or family rides, plus the chance to see and meet favorite Looney Tunes characters. And if you need to come in from the cold, head to the Looney Tunes Prop Warehouse. This totally-enclosed play place is a great place for little ones to run free and climb on, slide down, and explore soft and colorful places, with Looney Tunes characters there.
Dutch Winter Wonderland
2249 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, PA 17602
(866) FUNatDW (1-866-386-2839)
In operation since 1963, this theme park near Philadelphia has always focused on kids and family fun (in cast, it has been voted a top five Best Kid’s Park in the World by Amusement Today magazine). Dutch Wonderland, “a kingdom for kids,” turns into Dutch Winter Wonderland during the holiday season. The event, which includes rides, entertainment, and the Royal Light Show, is one of the lowest-priced options for holidays at theme parks. During the holiday season Dutch Wonderland features two dozen rides, a dinosaur park, a miniature train display, holiday shows, meet-and-greet events with the park’s royalty characters, and Santa photos.
- Schedule: Open on weekends and other select dates from Nov. 18-Dec. 30, 2017; times vary by day.
- Kids: This park is perfect for young kids (see our reviews from a visit in 2016 and one in 2015), especially those ages 12 and under, but has enough family rides to accommodates guests of all ages.
Hersheypark Christmas Candylane
100 West Hersheypark Dr., Hershey, PA 17033
Christmas is sweet at Hersheypark! The famous park becomes Christmas Candylane for the holiday season. Here you can enjoy more than 50 rides, including six roller coasters! For the first time ever during the holiday season, this means you also can ride the Hershey Triple Tower and Sidewinder. The park is beautifully decorated, with more than four million lights, and you also can enjoy live entertainment and more. A neat thing about visiting Hersheypark in winter is that you can visit not only Santa, but also all nine of his reindeer, including Rudolph, at the stables! All shows and rides are included with admission, but you also can add on special activities such as breakfast or lunch with santa, and the nearby Hershey Sweet Lights drive-through light show. There’s actually much to do in the area, including other Hershey-related attractions, so it’s a fun weekend trip. See our 2014 feature on nine places for families to visit in Hershey and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, during the holiday season.
- Schedule: Open on select dates Nov. 10, 2017, through Jan. 1, 2018. See operating hours online.
- Kids: There are many rides just for kids and families, and with the park’s easy-to-remember height parameters (based on their famous candies), it’s easy to know right away which ones even very young kids can enjoy. There are also Hershey characters they can take photos with.
A Very Furry Christmas at Sesame Place
100 Sesame Rd., Langhorne, PA 19047
(866) GO-4-ELMO (866-464-3566)
A Very Furry Christmas at Sesame Place® is a festive, family-friendly celebration with everyone’s favorite Sesame Street friends! Along with plenty of rides for all ages to enjoy, you can sing along at three special Christmas shows and a spectacular music and light show at the park’s giant 1-2-3 Christmas Tree. Guests can take a train ride tour through the Twiddlebugs’ Gingerbread Cookie Factory on the Sesame Place Furry Express, and every day enjoy the Neighborhood Street Party Christmas Parade with music and dancing. You can also meet Lightning, the adorable reindeer from the movie Elmo Saves Christmas, and visit Rudolph and his friends Clarice and Bumble for photos and to play themed games like Bumble’s Snowball Toss, Strike it Rich, and Reindeer Ducks.
- Schedule: Open select dates, Nov. 18-Dec. 31, 2017.
- Kids: This family-oriented event is geared toward young kids, so there’s plenty for them to do. With the Sesame Street theme throughout the entire park, kids will see many familiar, beloved faces.