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Busch Gardens Christmas Town: A Tip-Filled Review

 

Like it or not, the holiday season is upon us.  Personally, I really like it.  Yes, I’m one of those people.  The humming-carols-under-their-breath people.  The dedicating-an-entire-night-to-gift-wrapping-and-hot-chocolate-drinking people.  The traveling-really-far-just-to-see-some-silly-lights people.

Which brings me to the subject of this post.  You see, the day after Thanksgiving my husband and I hit the road again, but this time we headed south (because really, this time of year, north is a bad idea!)  Our destination was Colonial Williamsburg, and while I will write multiple posts about that portion of the visit, I feel compelled to discuss a more pressing topic–Busch Gardens’ special holiday event, Christmas Town.

As soon as I read about Christmas Town, I knew I had to go.  I mean, come on–a whole park dedicated to the most wonderful time of the year?  Count me in!  Add to that the fact that they offer what I consider to be a really good deal on combination tickets for Colonial Williamsburg and Christmas Town, and the deal was sealed.  After spending two days in colonial times, I fa-la-la-la-laed my way to the Busch Gardens turnstiles at 3:00 on Sunday afternoon.

Now, if you are a devoted reader of The Suitcase Scholar, you know about my love for Walt Disney World.  If you’ve stumbled upon this post by Googling ‘Busch Gardens Christmas Town review’ (and I hope you have), then let me tell you–I love Walt Disney World.  Feel free to click on the word Disney in large letters over there in the right hand column and you can see for yourself.  Anyway–one of the many things I love about Disney World is how much information there is on the subject.  If you chose to be an informed guest, you can arrive knowing how to work the entire Disney system and truly have a magical time.

I arrived at Busch Gardens having absolutely no idea how anything worked.

And so, in the spirit of The Suitcase Scholar’s quest to bring lessons big and small to the world of travel, I would like to share with you, dear reader, everything I learned about Christmas Town so that you, too, can have a very merry visit.

Arrive promptly at 3:00

Look how empty! This is 30 minutes after park opening.

This is one of the lessons I learned from my many trips to Disney World, and it applies here, too.  My husband thought I was crazy when I insisted we arrive immediately upon park opening.  But then, as we showed up for attraction after attraction just before a giant crowd of people, he knew–yet again, his wife was right.

Dress in layers

On a chilly evening, this would be one freezing spin!

You will be outside for most of the evening.  Again, basing my theme park experience on Disney World, I assumed that most attractions would be inside.  Not so.  Busch Gardens is a lovely park–but it’s not Disney World.  It has very typical amusement park-esque attractions, most of which are outside.  We enjoyed almost all of these attractions–the traditional ‘sit in a little car and be spun around’ ride, the swings, the one insane coaster that was running.  And we enjoyed them so much more than we would have had we been shivering.  Yes, there are heat lamps located around the park–but you didn’t come to huddle around a heat lamp, now did you?

As a side note, if layers somehow offend you, consider going earlier in the season.  We were there the day before yesterday, and I don’t think it went below 60 degrees.  But don’t worry–they still manage to make it snow.

Avoid the Ice Palace and think twice about the Flight of Lights

This little guy makes me so sad…

The Ice Palace is a Christmas Town-specific attraction that features a penguin display.  It was the saddest, most cruel thing I’ve ever seen.  After standing in a sizable line, you will enter a tiny room with photos of lots of different penguins on the wall.  You will then see three–count them, three–little penned in areas with a total of six penguins huddled sadly inside, standing on what could only be described as ‘snow cone ice’.  It is so sad–and so cruel–that it seriously begs to be protested.  I don’t know how animal rights groups can possibly be ok with this.

Additionally, we stood in line for Flight of Lights–the little ski-lift type ride–for a good half hour.  Our thought (and, apparently, the thought of everyone else in line) was that it would provide a stunning view of the admittedly very lovely holiday decorations.  Nope.  After the first thirty seconds of the ride, you’ll be enjoying a lovely view…of pitch blackness.  To be fair, this attraction still would have been worth doing–if not for the painfully long wait.  Which brings me to my next point…

Consider purchasing the Quick Queue Pass

I did not know that this option existed.  Had I known, I would have purchased it.  Why?  Because to me, time is money.  And I’d have gladly paid $29.25 to not have to stand in line for the Flight of Lights.  Though really, this is a personal preference thing.  No one else around me looked as miserable as I did standing in that line.  I fully admit to being insanely impatient!

EAT BEFORE YOU ARRIVE

The Festhaus is beautiful–but serves gross-looking food.

This bit of advice is in capital letters for a good reason–not following it almost ruined our visit.  Because I was so excited about seeing everything, I waited until very late in the evening to eat.  Bad idea!  Additionally, I tried to eat food served in the park.  Another bad idea.  We decided to forgo the admittedly very good-smelling smoke house restaurant in France in order to dine in The Festhaus in Germany.  While the space is stunning, the menu is not.  We left without ordering and ended up at the ‘restaurant’ in Italy–in quotes because restaurant implies that said establishment serves food.  This ‘restaurant’ served slop the likes of which I’ve never seen–and I spent the last eight years of my career eating middle school cafeteria food.  If you must eat in the park, get junk food–a ‘smore or chocolate fondue or a caramel apple.  Do not–I repeat, DO NOT–order the chicken parmesan.  Oh god…I shudder just thinking about it!  I did not take a photo.  You’re welcome.

Adjust your expectations

Bare trees can still be beautiful!

I’ve never been to Busch Gardens before.  If you have and you are expecting it to be the same just with pretty decorations, you will be disappointed.  I’d say more than half of the attractions were closed for the season.  I saw an empty wolf habitat, countless empty theaters, and one very cool looking coaster that wasn’t running.  A whole section of Germany was fenced off for what I’m thinking was some sort of construction, given the giant crane hovering over the park.  Additionally, Busch Gardens is, well, a garden.  It’s definitely the most wooded theme park I’ve ever seen (with the possible exception of Animal Kingdom–but really, Busch Gardens is VERY wooded!) and during this time of year, you’re looking at a lot of bare trees.  As a first-time visitor, I can only imagine how lovely it is during the spring and summer months.

Go for right reason–the beautiful lights and decorations

A store window in the Italy section of the park. Lovely!

So, basically I’ve just told you that two of the attractions kind of suck, many of the others aren’t even running, the lines can be long and the food is terrible.  Has this become a Christmas Town bashing post?  Not at all.  In fact, I’d had an amazing time.  Why? The lights displays were stunning.  And that is why you should visit Christmas Town.  If, like most people, you enter in England and travel counter-clockwise around the park, the lights will only get more stunning as you travel around.  If you’ve taken my ‘arrive at park opening’ advice, you’ll likely find it getting dark somewhere around Germany.  But worry not–because you arrived so early, you should have enough time to do what we did–take a second loop around the park after it is fully dark.  I promise, you won’t regret it.  We walked around the historic area for two days and our feet were throbbing–but it was completely worth it.

Plus, it was a welcome change to the extreme lack of electricity in Colonial Williamsburg proper!  If you’d like to read about Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, please click HERE.  Thanks, and merry travels to you!

An update for 2012:  This post is getting a LOT of traffic this year, mainly from people searching for ticket information and reviews for Christmastown.  If you are one of those people and you found this post helpful, think about scrolling up to the top right of this screen and following me on Twitter or Facebook, or subscribing to my RSS feed.  I post tip-filled reviews for many, many destinations, and I’d love to have you visit The Suitcase Scholar again in the future.  I also love comments, so feel free to ask questions or give feedback in the comment section below!

 

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