Busch Gardens Williamsburg is already one of the prettiest theme parks in the country, so it doesn’t really take much to make it truly spectacular. Millions of sparkly Christmas lights and decorations?
Yep, that’ll do it.
From late November through the end of the year (check calendar here), the park transforms into Christmas Town. Everything is draped in lights and other decorations, shops turn into Christmas stores, and all of the shows switch to different holiday-themed shows, among other changes.
On the surface, these are all remarkable changes that really beautify the park and put you in the ol’ holiday spirit. But are all of the changes good? Is the event worth it? Let’s dig a little deeper.
The Christmassy spirit is immediately on view in the park’s entrance area: England. The street is draped in lights, the building facades are covered to look like Scrooge’s London, and Big Ben is all-a-twinkly. The restaurant here is now Dickens’ Tavern, and the store is the Christmas Town Shoppe.
Once the sun goes down, there’s even “snowfall” right in front of the Globe Theater, which is very cool since it falls down on the carolers stationed there.
Two other lands underwent significant rethemes. Germany has become the North Pole, and the shop here is transformed into Santa’s Workshop. Also, Festa Italia is now Holiday Hills. Similar holiday dining and shopping are in both.
The remaining lands—Scotland, Ireland, France, New France, Oktoberfest, and Italy—are certainly decked out for the season, but they haven’t been rethemed.
Unfortunately, both of the kids areas—Land of Dragons and Sesame Street Forest of Fun—are closed off completely. We were very disappointed in that.
The Escape from Pompeii ride has been turned into the Polar Pathway—which is, admittedly, a fairly impressive sight.
Scrooge No More is showing in the newly refurbished Globe Theater (normally home to London Rocks). It is probably the best of all the park’s holiday shows. It’s a musical retelling of A Christmas Carol, and it takes advantage of all of the Globe Theater’s impressive technological updates. It’s also just darn entertaining. This one is highly recommended.
We’re huge fans of Busch Gardens’ regular show Celtic Fyre, which is in Ireland’s Abbey Stone Theatre. The holiday show here is Gloria!, which is a choral presentation of the first Christmas (also with a live band). We had heard rave reviews of this one, but it just didn’t do it for us. Maybe it was the crush of people, maybe it was because the heat was turned all the way up, maybe it was because it was so overtly religious…whatever it was, this one just turned us off.
A Christmas version of the regular Celtic Fyre show would be amazing. Sadly, that’s not what we’ve got.
Unfortunately, I can’t even comment on the other two shows since we never even had a chance to see them (see The Crowds below). Miracles is in Italy’s Il Teatro de San Marco Theatre, and it’s a music-and-dance show set to traditional and contemporary Christmas tunes. Deck the Halls is in Oktoberfest’s Das Festhaus and is “a live musical tribute to Christmas traditions.” This one sounded promising, but we couldn’t even get in to the building. (Again, see The Crowds).
Finally, something new and unique for Christmas Town is Ice Palace: A Penguin Paradise. It’s the in the France area of the park and is basically a zoo attraction with a few penguins. The line snaked around the area for an hour and a half. We asked a few people coming out if it was worth the wait, and we got an emphatic no. Way too long of a wait to only see a handful of penguins in a small, crowded exhibit.
Only 20 of the park’s rides are open during Christmas Town, and almost all of them are for little kids. Only 1 of the 5 roller coasters (Vebolten) is running. And since there are so few rides up and running, the lines for all of them are unbelievably long. Don’t go to Christmas Town to experience the rides. Visit during the regular season for that.
A full list of open attractions is here.
Ah, now we come to it. We visited on the first weekend of the season, and there was relatively mild weather for it. Perhaps this factored into the crowd situation. Either way, the crowds were horrendous. It was busier than any day I’ve ever visited—more so than any summer day.
Absolutely everything had a long line. Remember how we couldn’t even get into Das Festhaus for the Deck the Halls show? That’s because there was a one-hour snaking queue outside just to get inside the building.
There was literally nowhere in the park to escape the crowds even for a moment and just breathe. In the end, we just didn’t have fun. And we weren’t alone.
I talked to a few other families, and they had similar complaints: too many people, too many long lines, too many frustrations.
A lighter crowd would absolutely make the situation better and would even make this event a surefire recommendation. However, I’m not sure when/if there are lighter crowds. As it is, we love Busch Gardens and are Platinum Pass holders, but I doubt we’ll return to Christmas Town.
Christmas Town is a specially ticketed event, meaning that even season ticket holders need to purchase separate admission. Thankfully, there was a promotion on deeply discounted tickets for the first few weekends. Otherwise, single-day tickets are $32 per person (slightly cheaper online).
Sadly, I can’t recommend this one out of hand. If the crowds are manageable, it would be a great time. If the crowds are like they were during our visit, I can’t recommend it.