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Here it is, 2014, and Thanksgiving is already behind us. You know what that means right? Busch Gardens Christmas Town has begun! The park is ready to boost our holiday cheer.
But you know what the best part of that is?
Nestled amidst the hustle and bustle of the season, the familial obligations, and shopping chaos, Christmas Town offers up a chance to slow down and smell the roses; or in this case, soak in the beauty over 8 MILLION lights!
Relaxing at Christmas Town is, hands down, my favorite tradition.
This year was no different. I attended the opening day festivities and it was a rather cold evening; alright…… very, VERY cold evening. Nevertheless, the entire park looked stunningly beautiful that frigid, frosty November night.
Upon entering, several Marines were stationed outside collecting unopened toys for the Toys for Tots program. Their enthusiasm and smiles warmly greeted those entering the park.
There is still time to assist: Donations will be accepted through December 14th. Just drop new and unwrapped toys at the Busch Gardens Welcome center to support local families in need.
Going back to Christmas Town, here is what I wish to point out for those seeking something new based on my experience on opening day:
England’s decor along with the new show Scrooge no More is high on the list of what I adore. All the while, Banbury Cross (as us old-timer Park enthusiasts say), was adorned with floating wreaths and lights galore!*
* I changed that whole paragraph to rhyme on my third edit. You’re welcome.
In front of the Globe, snow falls from the sky at night and Carolers and a Brass Band wander through the crowds at various times each day. The Hamlet is simply dazzling at night!
Over where the portrait artists are during the regular season, the park has converted the area to a bar staffed with Victorian dressed baristas, who serve you all kinds of tasty beverages, spirits, and treats. In addition, Squire’s is now Dickens Tavern and serves guests traditional Christmas dinners.
The Globe now features a new show aptly named Scrooge No More. My review?
I was blown away! The show is an instant park classic and a hopefully a tradition for many years to come. As the title suggests, it is based on Charles Dicken’s classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his journey to rekindle his Christmas spirit. It is a perfectly balanced with music, dance, theater, and high tech special effects.
I promise to write a full review after this season. But for the sake of those who have yet to see it, I dare not ruin the magic and surprise!
*On a side note: My appreciation goes out to all those folks who worked diligently to put this together. It is a strong, well choreographed musical that as a local, I am honored to have showing at Busch Gardens. Love, Love, Loved it!
Outside the Globe Theater, there is a photo opportunity where you may take a picture of yourself with friends and family with very Victorian themed backdrop. Possibly with a Clydesdale! Keep in mind that the horses have a limited time range with guests, so try not to fret if you miss it. The Highland Stables will still offer photo packages.
This brings me to another bonus this year: the “Photokey” option. If you plan on making memories with all the photo ops around the park, you may want to consider purchasing a Photokey in order to save money. Here are the locations included:
- Front Gate Photo (Fountain)
- Highland Stables (Scotland)
- Polar Pictures (Polar Pathway in Italy)
- Frosty Friend Photo (Festa Italia)
- Christmas Carriage (Big Ben in England)
- O Tannenbaum (Oktoberfest)
- Verbolten (Oktoberfest)
- Pierre & Penelope Photo (France)
The park offers a Single Day Photkey and a Premium Photokey (good through the entire event – until December 31st) . There are differences in price and what is included, so please link here if you are interested in either deal and read more about exactly what each package includes, availability, and pricing: buschgardens.com/photokey.
* Some of my own personal Photokey pics taken that day:
Most of the park, as well as the shows, remain the same. The shows: Miracles, Gloria, and Deck the Halls return this year. As always, they are amazing. Since I have reviewed them all before, I will move on to some tips that may come in handy regarding the entertainment:
- Get to each show early as seats go fast! Gloria especially.
- On busy days the Festhaus may reach capacity, so if you wish to eat dinner and watch the show, plan your trip accordingly.
- Dress in layers. The Virginia weather is iffy, always. It is also very warm in the Festhaus and in the inside theater. So keep that in mind.
- Download the Busch Gardens app or pick up a map upon entering the park to have an idea of the showtimes.
If you are a wine drinker (like me), you may wish to take advantage of the lovely wine glass set you can gather by visiting the France (Le Belle), Germany (German Gifts), and Italy (Bella Casa). These shiny goblets, etched with Busch Gardens on the base are sold as is, or as I prefer… (for a little extra cost), with wine in them!
They are so sparkly and festive with Busch Gardens softly etched on the base, that I was in complete “Must Have” mode when I saw them. So yes. Thank you Busch Gardens. I always wanted a themed sparkly wine glass set of my very own.
My Personal Wine Tips:
- Wines served at tastings vary through the seasons. Check them out periodically. There is a fan page dedicated JUST to wine at Busch Gardens. Did you know? Post your photos and keep in the loop here: https://www.facebook.com/OldCountryGrapevine
- Pace yourself. There are several places offering wine tastings. If you purchase a wine tasting you get a Christmas Town wine glass and when using the glass at the other locations, you get a discount.
- Don’t forget that if you are a season pass member, even wine has a 10% discount!
Christmas is also the season of giving. So don’t forget to peruse all the goodies at the gift shops this year. You may just find that perfect gift for your loved one.
For me, the Emporium is one of my favorites. You can get the latest Christmas Town items including the 2014 ornaments, Department 56 Colonial Williamsburg sets, and even personalized custom ornaments.
**They also had this mistletoe, frosty display that was so pretty. So yes, I had to get a picture of it.
So basically Christmas Town where you can enjoy, world class entertainment, lights-lights-and more lights, rides, seasonal foods and beverages, and visit jolly ol’ St. Nick all-in-one!
Speaking of Santa, I was finally able to enjoy Fireside Feast! If you want your family to get a unique experience with Santa, this is it. The dining extra is something best spent with the little ones, but I highly recommend it.
In case you are interested: The food was well seasoned and satisfying. During the meal, Santa recites the Night Before Christmas in a building that is both cozy and as warm as toast. After the recital, everyone gets a chance to go up on stage to visit with Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the Elves. It certainly made me feel like a kid again! Yep. Even I saw Santa…… and took my husband with me!
Click here for more info: http://seaworldparks.com/en/buschgardens-williamsburg/christmastown/dine-and-shop/santas-fireside-feast/
Overall, Busch Gardens tied Christmas Town up in an exquisite bow for all of us to open and enjoy. I wish I could cover every store, every show, every little thing; but my suggestion is to get out there and see it for your self!
May you all keep the spirit of Christmas in your heart always. “..and as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless us Everyone!”
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”
Another year has come and gone and I find myself staring in to the abyss of two long months without Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The cold dark winter sky looms over me as a coaster-less depression rolls in. Yet amidst the gloom and leafless trees, I reflect upon 2013 with fondness. I will declare 2013 as another new chapter in my experiences at Busch Gardens. Through the broad reaches of the internet, I will call it: The Year of Friends.
Before social media came around, it was a lonely road roaming around the park. A good analogy of this isolation would be as if I only person who showed up to a sci-fi convention in costume. No matter how many times I went with friends in years past, no one shared my level of enthusiasm. That is, until now.
Starting a community fan page was something I had wanted to do for quite some time and thank goodness I took the plunge! This year I connected with a family of enthusiasts that made me feel at home. At last, I could be myself and no one would think odd of me. It was refreshing and glorious!
The first event in 2013 was Pass Member Preview Day. It was a cold wet March morning, yet I was honored that so many fans gathered into a huddle to start the day off right.
For those who have never been to Pass Member Preview, it is scheduled the day before the park opens to the general public and usually features presentations scattered in various locations. The presentations are designed to inform season pass members of what to expect for the new operating season; call it a teaser trailer.
This past year’s preview consisted of promoting the new Food & Wine Festival; something I could barely contain my excitement about. When the event arrived, I was not disappointed!
I instantly feel in love with the event, the food, and the atmosphere. The Food & Wine festival was almost like a special gift given to the loyal guests of the park. I would even say it was a very successful enticement for many locals to come out to enjoy the spring weather by tasting European themed dishes and to pair them with various wines and beers. Hello? Awesome!
As a local and an avid park goer, this event was my favorite all year. I felt a constant draw to the park just to enjoy the simple pleasures of food, wine, and the company of dear friends. It almost brings to mind the TV show cheers, where everybody knows your name; where the bar is Grogan’s Pub and the entertainment was Celtic Fyre and the Killarney Village Band.
My friends and I also acquired a new favorite place to congregate during the event; Aquitaine, France! Before the Food & Wine Festival, the hamlet of Aquitaine consisted of a brief stop for a ride on Griffon. Yet with the wonderful addition of the Aquitaine Village band, a lovely reinvention of Le Belle Maison shop with the best wine expert in the area, and the charming French Waiters, my friends and I found a new home! So many hours were spent enjoying wine, singing Oh la la with the band and taking in the scenery of twisting vines while the enticing smell of crepes and coffee lingered in the air. Oh la la indeed!
I felt that the Old Country had returned from these small touches of unique experiences. Our group felt full of anticipation for each day that we would all converge upon our favorite table to discuss life and Busch Gardens.
I would also like to mention my other favorite addition during the Food & Wine Festival: the Wine on the Rhine cruise. The price of the cruise was extremely affordable and included a sophisticated snack of cheeses, chocolates, and a wine of your choice. A charming band serenaded your journey. It is romantic and a relaxing way to your evening with friends or that special someone.
With the new event, let us not forget a coaster legend reached another milestone in 2013. The Loch Ness Monster, celebrated its official 35th anniversary. I planned a mini gathering of fans and even had a poster made for Nessie’s birthday to honor the old girl.
That anniversary morning, the “usual suspects” as I call us, ran into the gates to be the first to ride Nessie that morning. The park had also decided to celebrate this moment by offering the first 100 people an anniversary tee shirt as well as a chance to be recorded on the celebratory 1st ride of the day. I was so extremely honored that my best friend and I made it to the front seat! Trust me, we ran hard to earn that spot!
Looking at that photos taken that day, it is easy to see the love and appreciation for Nessie. May she live long and remain forever in our hearts!
I would like to randomly insert another favorite memory of 2013; one of my favorite performers took the time to come take a photo with me in his Big Bad Wolf costume. Anyone who has read my blogs knows my love the classic coaster that once traveled at the “speed of fright” but also for the singer that played the part in the show Entwined. It remains one of my favorite pictures of the season!
During the summer, I took several behind-the-scenes tours that I highly recommend. Attending the Bird of Prey Tour, The Ultimate Insider Tour, and the Coaster Tour with fellow park enthusiasts was well worth my time and money. Our tour guides were fantastic and the memories that were made will last forever. I have written reviews of all the tours on my Blog and please read them at your leisure!
The regular season still held more adventures! My friends and I were able to catch the last show of “This is Oktoberfest.” For me, the show is a true representation of the Old Country era of traditional German Festhaus music. My favorite memory was being selected to dance the Polka one last time with one of my favorite performers; again- another one for the memory books! It was a touching and fitting way to say goodbye to a show I loved so much for the 2013 season.
Not only did our band of park enthusiast brother’s and sisters enjoy the last of “This is Oktoberfest” and “Entwined”, but we also gathered to enjoy the final performance of Celtic Fyre. We had so much fun and the cast was so touch by the showing of love and support from their fans. Many of the 2013 cast has moved onto new ventures but their place in our hearts will never be forgotten.
Thanks for the memories to all who made the regular season shows full of joy and magic! Best of luck to all of you who are returning and those moving on. Our love and wishes go out to you all.
Before the end of the summer, another Pass Member special announcement was made in the Festhaus. The family of avid fans made their way to be the first to hear what we can look forward to for HOS and for 2014. We learned about the new format of Howl-O-Scream (HOS) and got to see special look at the new show set to be in the Globe Theater in 2014 called “London Rocks.”
After the presentation, the performers came out in a vintage double-decker bus to have a meet-and-greet with the fans. Obviously, this was my favorite part.
The last event I attended in the summer was Wild Days. A ticketed event of either a breakfast or lunch will include meeting Jack Hanna and a close encounter with exotic animals. I have never missed this event and plan to continue the tradition every year!
After the summer, Howl-O-Scream seemed to arrive overnight. Truth be told, I loved the new Terror-tory Concept and the more adult themed atmosphere. Entertainment was key in 2013 with classic shows, bars, and a new location worthy of a special note.
My absolute favorite was Blood Banquet! The concept of a “dinner theater” has been something I have wished for! Luckily, it far exceeded my expectations!
In fact, my friends and I became regular attendees. I adored the cast and their enthusiastic portrayal of an eccentric band of vampires, gypsies, and glamorous beauties. The food was the best in the park and I pray that next year the concept continues to expand with our lovely cast of characters.
Of course the shows Fiends and Night Beats were our other favorite haunts. Our group tended to enjoy the warmer indoor aspect of the shows and the quirky arrangement of tunes catered to fabulous vocal talents.
OK, I have to mention the highlight of my Howl-O-Scream entertainment experience. I was called up to have none other than Night Beats lead star, the vampire host with the most, Ulrich himself! I totally made me swoon with delight! For the record, he is an enchanting vocalist. Wow.
* I wrote two Blog Articles about Howl-O-Scream this year if you wish to see more of the event in greater detail!
After Howl-O-Scream ended, Christmas Town began. As always, friends gathered for the opening day without disappointment. The weather was perfect and the park looked lovely as always. Our first destination was to see the very first show of Gloria! Two words; BLOWN AWAY!
We all were in quiet awe before erupting in a standing ovation. The power of the vocals brought chills and even caused me to shed a few tears.
Aquitaine France had a new look for Christmas Town, and for the better. My favorite addition was the roaming performers, The “Royals of Aquitaine.” Her Majesty Queen Florette, His Majesty King Francois,, and the lovable Jester Harlequin with his sidekick Jester junior, brought smiles to everyone! This kind of entertainment sets Busch Gardens apart from the competition and never fails to create fond memories for guest. Bravo to the trio! They were certainly the crowd favorite this year!
Moving on from France, the show Deck the Halls in Oktoberfest has always been another fan favorite. So much so, the the park had to close the Festhaus frequently as it would continually reach capacity. The talent is always top notch!
Christmas Town is also more than entertainment, shopping, and lights. I would like to mention that an outside the Festhaus a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet was open on occasion. Tucked away; I found it a very affordable hidden gem. My only complaint was that I wished it had been open every night as I would have gone everyday. The food was so good and I even met a few new friends while waiting in line. Oh, and there was ham. Glorious Glazed Ham!
From Germany and continuing into the San Marco Theater of Italy, the show Miracles was performing with the usual flair of inspirational music and talent. My favorite is always the vocal solos, the ballet dancer, and the finale! One can never leave without feeling that Christmas is more than gifts; it is about love and togetherness.
Speaking of togetherness, a friend of mine decided to embrace the Christmas season of giving to a family who normally could not have enjoyed Christmas Town.
On behalf of the anonymous donor and representing BGWFans and BGW Memories, I was there to welcome them to the park and see them off with the blessing bestowed upon them off with a package of VIP parking, park admission, quick queue passes, photos with Santa, complete meal packages, a cashless wristband with pre-paid spending money for additional gift purchases as well!
They were a military family whose father was stationed overseas during the holidays. It was an honor to witness such an act of generosity. I was told they had a wonderful time and were very grateful. For me, that is the spirit of giving!
As for my holidays, I spent Christmas Eve with my dearest of friends at Christmas Town. The day was absolute perfection.
I was also at Christmas Town on New Years Eve. My college buddy, who came all the way from San Diego to spend the day with me and my close friends at Busch Gardens, was a delightful way to say goodbye to 2013.
Of course it was sad to see the season come to an end. I will miss my Busch Gardens family of friends but look forward to being reunited in 2014.
Perhaps I may run into you in the park as well. Please introduce yourself and feel free to share your favorite moments and memories with me! I would love the chance of making a new friend.
Best wishes for a Happy New Year and a fun filled adventure at Busch Gardens in 2014!
>>> A Special Thanks to all those who worked Christmas Town and spent their Holidays providing families with beautiful memories! It is hard work to keep up a smile during cold weather and provide great service and perfect performances every night! Thanks for the memories and being such wonderful, beautiful people. Happy New Year to you all!
While turkey leftovers are still in the fridge and families are together, many will set out to enjoy the joy of Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Already reaching the fifth year, Christmas Town has firmly established a yearly tradition for most of us. Every year the event brings friends, families, and even complete strangers together to celebrate the season with lights, fun, food, music, inspiration, and entertainment.
When Christmas Town opened on November 27, 2009; I was there; ready to go and see what Busch Gardens had to offer! Through the crowds I navigated with my brown coat and fuzzy earmuffs, bedazzled by decorations and the smell of hot cocoa and peppermint in the air! The Christmas music playing in the park gave me the warm fuzzies as I held my husband’s hand and just took the time to enjoy a lovely moment in time.
I am glad to know that five years later, I still have that warm fuzzy feeling at Christmas Town. This year the grand opening of the event was the weekend before Thanksgiving; a smart move on the part of Busch Gardens.
Having the event begin a week before the Thanksgiving weekend is brilliant when it comes to efficiency; performers get a little extra practice, retail shops make sure the registers are up and running, the rides operators are getting used to the cold, and the entire park gets a “test run” before a huge crowd lines up to enter the park after the Holidays.
I decided to go on both Friday and Sunday in order to capture all I could before the Holiday rush and to provide an overview of the ChristmasTown experience. Laughably and in typical Virginia fashion, one day the temperatures reached into the 70s the other, the 30s. Yet despite the temperature fluctuations, my experience remained the same on both days. For your enjoyment, here is an overview of what I consider the must see points of interest while visiting ChristmasTown this year.
This year France sparkles with a new look of silver and violet. The theme is the 12 Days of Christmas and the first thing one sees upon entering is a very large and beautiful tree with the numbers and corresponding “gift” for each day.
Also new in France is the roaming Royals of Aquitaine. Her Majesty Queen Florette, His Majesty King Francois, and their court Jester Harlequin loves to greet you and pose for a photo. The performers are fabulous and their improvisational humor will be sure to make wonderful memories for years to come.
Besides seeing the Royals, France offers a fabulous gift shop full of French themed merchandise, soap, and what else- wine! Le Belle Maison Gift Shop hosts one of the three locations in the park where guests can partake in wine tastings. The store sells the wine tasting package, bottles of wine, wine themed merchandise, clothing, jewelry, chocolate, Christmas ornaments, bags, French themed décor, and more.
Going past the gift shops and around the Royal Palace Theater is the Ice Palace Penguin exhibit. The ever popular exhibit features an up close look at the adorable penguins in a themed enclosure. The park also offers a behind the scenes penguin tour, but be aware that the tour must be purchased and booked in advance.
Here we come a Caroling!
Penguins and Roaming Royals are certainly entertaining, and so are the shows at Busch Gardens. This year features three returning classic shows: Gloria!, Deck the Halls, and Miracles.
Located in the Abbey Stone Theater, Gloria! set my holiday off right. It was the first show I saw this Christmas Town and even though the theater was toasty warm, the beauty and power of the performance gave me chills! Even the grouchiest humbug will admit that the soaring vocals of the music, accompanied by a live orchestra will make your season bright. The show is extremely popular and if you want a good seat, it is best to get there early.
Over in Oktoberfest Germany, Deck the Halls takes center stage at the historical Festhaus. The show brings back the classic Holiday Favorites that will get you tapping your toes. Kids will love the energy and fun of the performance and adults will appreciate the nostalgic flair. I never tire of seeing Frosty “thumpity-thump-thumping around the stage, but I do wish I could watch the show without singing “Heat Miser” for the rest of the day.
At the San Marco Theater in Italy, Miracles returns to inspire guests with moving music and contemporary dance. Located outdoors, I am always amazed at how well the performers dance and sing in downright frigid temperatures. They make it seem effortless and their hard work warms the heart and soul.
Unfortunately no times are given for three “roaming” musical performances, but be aware that there are Dicken’s style Christmas Carolers in England, a bagpiper plays in Ireland, and a Brass band performs in Holiday Hills. The musicians are amazing and if you are lucky, you may run across a performance.
Here Comes Santa Claus!
OK. I shouldn’t even have to mention it, but anyone wandering through Rhinefeld a.k.a. The North Pole, shouldn’t pass up the chance to see Santa, Mrs. Claus, and all the super cute Elves! Who cares what decade you were born in, no one is too old to see Santa and the photo op the park offers just screams Holiday Photo 2013! Even if you are too afraid to see Santa, at least peek into the window and give him a little wave.
“Please have snow and mistletoe and presents under the tree.”
Christmas is the season for giving, and there are plenty of places to find unique gifts for friends and family at Christmas Town. The stores are always so beautifully decorated that they become an attraction themselves. It is hard not to get inspired to go home and put up Christmas Decorations after walking through the gift shops.
Each shop offers guests something different, but a few stand out as being the most unique:
Artisans of Italy: Here one can purchase authentic Capodimonte Porcelain flowers created on site by master sculptor Nino Galoppo and hand painted by master painter Antonio Aprea. There are so many lovely choices of flowers; it is hard to choose just one.
Right next door is Bella Casa Gift shop where Italian wines, wine tastings, Italy, and Wine themed merchandise are sold.
German Gifts: No trip to BuschGardens is complete without a stop to German Gifts. The store harks back to the days of the “Old Country” era and features traditional authentic gifts from Germany including high quality, hand painted steins and carved wooden cuckoo clocks. In addition, hand Blown glass sculptures, German themed merchandise, Christmas Décor, Glasses of Glühwein, German Wine, and German wine tastings are also sold here.
Emerald IsleGift shop: A place to find authentic hand woven Irish sweaters, clothing, Waterford Crystal, and fine jewelry; as well as Ireland and Guinness themed merchandise.
Mistletoe Marketplace: Located in Oktoberfest, this open air market hosts numerous local vendors that offer guests the chance to buy locally made gifts.
These are a Few of My Favorite Things:
Of course there are rides and many other fun things to see. Lights and decorations are shining in every corner and smiles and laughter are found everywhere. Here are a few of my favorite things at ChristmasTown:
I never turn down a round trip ride on the train, where treetops glisten along your magical ride around the park.
The Flight of Lights turns the Aeronaut Skyride into a Santa’s Sleigh ride perspective of BuschGardens; alight with twinkling lights and the faint echo of Holiday music reaching every swinging cabin.
The feeling of riding the swings in the cold icy air never fails to make me feel like a kid again.
Sitting down with a bottle of bubbly with friends to toast to what we are thankful for.
Knowing that every time I come out to Christmas Town, memories will be made that will last a lifetime.
There really is so much to see and do around Busch Gardens during Christmas Town, that I could write a book. Just remember to take your time and enjoy the atmosphere of all the sights and sounds. Besides shopping, shows, food, and the rides; Christmas Town is a place to reconnect you to your childhood and to connect the young to their imaginations!