Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Christmas Town has hit its stride this year, as the event opened for its fifth season November 22. Every inch of the park, which used to sit dormant during the winter, is dazzling with lights and holiday cheer, and there’s a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy, regardless of how you celebrate the holidays. Although, there are not many new offerings this year, the attractions, displays, and shows have matured nicely and remain fresh and enjoyable for both returning and new guests.
Taking place in Il Teatro di San Marco in Italy, Miracles features live vocalists and the talents of contemporary and ballet dancers. Unlike the other live shows at Christmas Town, Miracles is not Christmas-themed but more of a celebration of the spirit of the season. However, this abstract story line hurts the show. The beautiful singing nicely compliments by the dancing, but the lack of familiar songs makes it difficult to feel fully invested in the show. Unfortunately, the dancing does not do enough to captivate the audience either. While the dancers are talented, the combination of ballet and contemporary dance only alienates the average audience member even further.
Deck the Halls
If Miracles in Italy makes audience members feel impressed but separated, Deck the Halls, set inside the Festhaus in Oktoberfest, will instantly make them feel at home. This high-energy musical revue is filled with familiar Christmas songs, both old (“Frosty the Snowman”) and new (“All I Want for Christmas is You”), that are sure to delight most guests. It’s a medley of how most people view Christmas – dancers and singers decked in red and green while they perform around a large, cozy fireplace situated on a stage in the center of the huge Festhaus. Guests can enjoy a holiday turkey platter or a sausage medley with a cold beer while they take in this energetic performance, which includes a live band, dancing snowmen and gingerbread men, and even Rockette-like high kicks.
While the other shows address secular holiday celebrations, Gloria gets to the heart of the matter. Performed in the Abbey Stone Theater in Ireland, Gloria tells the story of the Nativity through soulful gospel performances, accompanied by a live orchestra. While the cast sings religious songs of the seasons, they act out the Nativity story. The small stage space comes alive with simple but incredibly effective optical illusions.
Projectors, lights, and moving floors combine for a unique experience on a small stage. The floors work like puzzle pieces, as a hard-working backstage cast moves them apart and together, so performers move seamlessly through the scenes. Additionally, projectors and screens change the scenery eliminating the need for props. The moving (and brilliantly simple) set combined with passionate singing makes for a poignant performance. The only downfall to Gloria! is that its content might cause some visitors who are not religious or Christian to turn away. Because of this, it isn’t quite as accessible to as many people as Deck the Halls or even Miracles. Regardless, it is a unique and beautiful display that everyone can enjoy if they decide to attend.
There are a variety of attractions for guests to visit while in Christmas Town. Among them is Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole. A portion of Germany is transformed to host Santa for the event, and the big man, along with Mrs. Claus and his elf helpers, waits inside his workshop to hear guests’ holiday wishes. Santa’s magic even delights guests who don’t come in to visit him as snow falls right outside of his workshop.
After visiting Santa, guests can enjoy the Mistletoe Marketplace set up in Oktoberfest, where small local businesses set up shop to offer unique holiday gifts for purchase. Most of the gifts are homemade niceties, such as personalized dog collars, tile house numbers, custom art, and holiday wreathes. It is a nice way to pass the time, and it’s wonderful to see the parks supporting the community, but the offerings could use more diversity.
In Oktoberfest, Mach Tower offers a unique opportunity for daring guests. The tower – renamed Nacht Tower for the season – takes a break from plunging guests toward the ground at 60 mph. Instead, the tower operates in observation mode as it lifts guests slowly 236 feet into the air to get a “Santa’s eye view” of the park as it glistens with lights, and then, it gently lowers the guests back to the ground. While it offers an amazing opportunity, the park map warns guests that conditions might force the operators to lower the ride in “normal mode.” Even if you can get over the fear, you might not get the chance to ride at all. The ride frequently stops operating during the event, leaving guests grounded.
If Nacht Tower is a little above your ride-ability, the skyway transforms into the Flight of Lights and offers beautiful views of each section of the park. The boxes aren’t quite high enough to take in every inch at once, but if you ride every route, you’ll catch every twinkling light that adorns the park, and you’ll have more time to do it.
One of Christmas Town’s premier attractions borrows some feathered, flightless friends from its sister park, SeaWorld Orlando. This troupe of penguins creates quite the frenzy when they visit Williamsburg. Penguin-mania is apparent by the line that twists around the building the birds call home in New France and waits can be hours on busy nights. Despite their Beatle-like popularity, the Ice Palace is lack-luster. Although it’s much improved from earlier iterations, the display still leaves something to be desired. For the guests who will never see the penguin paradise in SeaWorld, this is a great opportunity to meet the little guys up close, but anyone who has visited the SeaWorld (or nice aquariums) will be under-whelmed.
If the penguins leave you wanting more time with fuzzy friends, the Highland Stables are also open during the event. Here, you can meet and take photos with the famed Clydesdales, black-faced sheep, and loveable border collies.
If the holiday offerings do not provide enough thrills, there are a variety of rides that remain open for the occasion. While Verbolten, which operates mostly inside, is the only of the furious five coasters open during the chilly weather, most of the park’s rides in the Oktoberfest and Italy sections are operational, and in Festa Italia (which transforms into Holiday Hills), rides are given holiday-overlays that add a little extra Christmas joy.
While the shows and attractions delight guests, the real stars of Christmas Town are the stunning light displays. Every section of the park has its own theme, and it’s hard to nail down a favorite. One of the definite highlights is Festa Italia, which becomes Holiday Hills and is adorned with retro decorations. Classic Christmas décor that lines the walkways and a massive countdown to Christmas sign greeting guests are enough to make even young guests feel nostalgic and ready to celebrate the season. The area also hosts Dasher’s Diner, which offers holiday favorites to nibble, and the Cocoa Café, where guests can guzzle gourmet Ghirardelli hot chocolate.
Right around the corner from Holiday Hills, Polar Pathway waits to amaze guests. Out of commission for the season, Escape from Pompeii offers a blank canvas for a spectacular light display. Decked from top to bottom in white lights, the building shines like a frosty palace, instead of a fortress ruined by a volcano, and where water flows in the summer, waiting to soak guests, blue lights sparkle in an icy river. Numerous polar bears – the namesake of the display – go a little unnoticed as guests marvel at the ice palace. It is a must-see and offers a preview of the event for guests entering Busch Gardens, who can see it sparkle from the highway.
Finally, if the stagnant lights aren’t enough, O Tannenbaum is sure to impress. The 50-foot Christmas tree in front of Festhaus comes to life every thirty minutes after dark as the lights dance along to Christmas tunes. Surrounding smaller trees adorned with dancing lights and a colorful light show on the Festhaus façade further compliment the stunning display.
Christmas Town in Williamsburg continues to delight guests with beautiful light displays, holiday fun, and energetic, seasonal shows, and while there is opportunity for improvement and expansion, all guests will have something to enjoy. Offered on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights until December 31, Christmas Town welcomes guests from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m., or 10 p.m. on select nights.
More photos from Christmas Town 2013 at Busch Gardens Williamsburg: