Busch Gardens has ‘upped’ its Yuletide game in the last few years, and the entire park gets involved. The Christmas Town celebration covers 12 distinct areas, re-themed with holiday names: the entry plaza of Celebration Village; Holiday Hills (formerly Gwazi Plaza); Jungle Jubilee (Cheetah Hunt); Ice Wonderway (Morocco); Three Kings Oasis (Bird Gardens); Christmas Town Village; Sesame Street: A Very Furry Christmas (Sesame Street Safari of Fun); Miracle Way and Mistletoe Memories (Stanleyville); Christmas Time Terrace (Jungala); Celestial Crossings (Pantopia); and, of course, the North Pole (Nairobi).
But the central attraction is Christmas Town Village, with decorated ‘cabins’ selling tasty treats, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to keep you warm as you explore the ‘wintery wonderland’, and seasonal merchandise to decorate your home or to wrap and put under the tree. The kid-sized Jingle Bell Express delights youngsters (who doesn’t love a train ride?), or you can just enjoy the model train display while nearby carollers fill the air with songs of the season.
Several other dining locations around the park offer special seasonal meals and treats, including turkey sandwiches and turkey pot pies at Zagora Café, Holiday Craft Brew at Twisted Tails Pretzels, and hot cocoa, sweet treats and more at the Christmas Town Village Cabins.
Nutcrackers, ornaments, gifts and holiday décor can also be found at Santa’s Christmas Workshop in Marrakesh Market. Build-A-Bear style cuddly toys are als just waiting to be filled, for the little ones on your shopping list.
New in 2015 were the brass-band seasonal sounds of Holiday Hills Band, entertaining guests in the Holiday Hills area of the park. Jazz-style tunes create a lively twist to traditional Christmas favourites, and it’s okay to dance if you’re suitably inspired. They won’t mind!
Christmas Time Tree Show brings dancing lights to life on a 50 foot tall tree in Christmas Time Terrace, every 10 minutes. The show is fairly spectacular, with lighting choreographed to high-energy music, reminiscent of SeaWorld’s Sea of Trees show but with a single giant tree instead of several smaller ones. It’s high-tech stuff, and again, dancing is fine. You certainly won’t be the only one.
We Three Kings Show tells the story of the Magis’ journey to find the Christ child, through live musical renditions that both inspire and delight. With magnificent costuming and beautiful sets, it’s worth making time for the show that reminds us of the ‘reason for the season’.
Local schools and churches also get in on the act, taking to the stage at Marrakesh Theater for the Hallelujah Showcase, a musical performance that adds a cheerful Floridian touch to the proceedings. Gospel choirs perform here, too, in the inspirational gospel and Christian music show, Christmas From the Heart. Dragon Fire Theater features Christmas Celebration, an elaborate and immensely cheerful song and dance show with Yuletide tunes in a festive, homey setting. When Santa shows up and invites the children in the audience to come up on stage, the merriment cranks up to Eleven.
Using a building as the canvas for a light show is inspired, and Carol of the Bells does just that. Music by Trans-Siberian Orchestra and choreographed lights combine, with Crown Colony as their backdrop, and this one is a joy to ‘happen upon’ as you’re strolling around looking at the park’s decorations, or after a wild ride on nearby Cheetah Hunt.
Youngsters, whether they’re fans of the television show Sesame Street or not, can’t resist Elmo’s Christmas Wish, a cute stage show with Elmo, Zoe, Rosita, Grover and Cookie Monster exploring the true meaning of Christmas. Elmo’s friends help him decide what his Christmas wish should be, with lots of singing, lots of dancing (some of it by kids in their seats!), and a gentle message designed just for children.
The must-not-miss show, however, is Christmas On Ice, a winter wonderland of ice skating, traditional and modern holiday music, live singers, aerialists and some lovely backdrops to set it all off to perfection. It’s impossible to leave this one without being firmly in the spirit of the season, especially after the Rockette-style finale, with snow.
Also new for 2015 was Holly Jolly Christmas Party, with Mrs. Claus and her helper elves. Guests can enjoy all the pizza and salad they care to eat, write a letter to Santa, decorate cupcakes, make the Yuletide merry with Christmas carol sing-alongs, and seasonal activities. Dinner and all activities are $29 for adults, $23 for children ages 3 and up, infants attend for free.
While Mrs. Claus is serving up dinner, Santa is hearing children’s Wish Lists and posing for family photos at Santa’s House presented by Coca-Cola over in the North Pole (really the Nairobi area of the park). Once Santa has the low-down on what the kiddies are hoping to find under the tree, head over to Penguin Point for a humorous photo op with a giant penguin.
The new Christmas Town VIP Experience includes front-of-the-queue access for a visit with Santa; a picture with a penguin; the Holly Jolly Christmas Party (or, for a little bit extra, dinner at the Crown Colony restaurant); plus priority seating for Christmas on Ice, and a refillable hot cocoa mug. The experience is $89 per person age 3 and up, or $99 with dinner buffet at Crown Colony.
It’s easy to take in the entire celebration in a clockwise or anti-clockwise route around the park, and we highly recommend walking the full circuit. Each ‘land’s’ decorations are themed to that area, and while they are beautiful during the day, they really come into their own after dark. Plan to stay at least until dusk to enjoy the full experience. It’s one of our favourite annual events.
Christmas Town is open on 20 select dates from late November through 30 December, until 10pm (8pm Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Shows run throughout the day, Santa arrives at 1pm, and the spectacular lighting and other elements begin at 4pm.
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