Theme park holiday celebrations you won't want to miss
Theme park holiday celebrations you won't want to miss
Every November across the country, roller coasters turn into sleigh rides as theme parks celebrate the holiday season. You may know that Disney World and Universal Studios host special parades, fireworks and shows for the Christmas season, but there are plenty of other places where you can meet Santa Claus, see countless Christmas lights and take a relaxing ride on a carousel or Ferris wheel. If you're totally and completely obsessed with Christmas, there are few better places to visit during the holiday season than a theme park, and these are the ones you don't want to miss in 2019.
Courtesy of Silver Dollar City Attractions
Busch Gardens (Williamsburg, Virginia)
Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, won the distinction of Most Beautiful Park at the Golden Ticket Awards in 2019. This always-gorgeous amusement park gets a stunning makeover in order to be transformed into Christmas Town, with over 10 million lights displayed throughout the park. Bush Gardens Williamsburg also has one of the best Christmas train rides in America; festive songs play in the locomotive as you travel through a 1.5-mile loop festooned with over 2 million lights. Other must-do experiences at Christmas Town include shows such as Elmo's Christmas Wish, Scrooge No More and Deck the Halls, all of which feature Christmas tales and music. This season, Christmas Town will run on select dates from Nov. 16 through Jan. 5.
Aimee Gravgaard | Dreamstime.com
Disneyland Park (Anaheim, California)
Some of the best Disney theme park attractions of all time get a festive makeover during the holiday season at Disneyland Park. Though Disneyland doesn't have a separate holiday celebration, throughout the months of November and December, It's a Small World and The Haunted Mansion get layovers with Christmas music, characters and lights added in. Disneyland also has Christmas fireworks at night, decorations throughout the park and special holiday-time food. The most popular Christmas treats are the hand-pulled candy canes. These classic holiday sweets are only available on select days and are so coveted that there's a wristband system in place to keep the line orderly.
Courtesy of Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort
Disney California Adventure (Anaheim, California)
Across the walkway from Disneyland Park at Disney California Adventure, the Festival of Holidays will run from Nov. 8 to Jan. 6, 2020, with specialty food booths throughout the theme park offering vintage holiday foods as well as twists on classic holiday foods. Paradise Gardens Park also gets extra festive with ¡Viva Navidad!, a street dance party featuring the Three Caballeros and mariachi music. Across the way, Cars Land turns into a winter wonderland with holiday layovers on Mater's Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters. If that isn't enough holiday cheer for you, you can also meet Santa Claus and his elves at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail or see the tree lighting on Buena Vista Street.
Courtesy of Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort
Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee)
Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood has won the Golden Ticket Award for Best Christmas Event every year since 2008, so it's definitely worth checking out. In true Dolly Parton style, the shows are the best part of this annual event, with new spins on "A Visit From St. Nicholas," "It's a Wonderful Life" and the biblical Christmas story. Be sure not to miss the Parade of Many Colors, which does indeed feature brightly colored Christmas floats as well as dancing snow globes, candy canes and elves. As if the parade didn't have enough Christmas lights, the Glacier Ridge gets illuminated nightly with a 50-foot video motion Christmas tree that is so bright, you swear you can see it from hundreds of miles away. Smoky Mountain Christmas will run from Nov. 9 through Jan. 4, 2020.
Courtesy of Dollywood
Dutch Wonderland (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
On weekends from Nov. 23 to Dec. 30, Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, transforms into Dutch Winter Wonderland. Over 20 of the theme park's attractions are open during this special event , and there are thrills far beyond roller coasters and bumper cars here. The highlight of Dutch Winter Wonderland is the Royal Lights Show, where thousands of twinkling lights are synced to festive holiday music. Of course, no Christmas celebration would be complete without Santa Claus. Jolly ol' Saint Nick meets in Merlin's Restaurant to hear what good little girls and boys want this year for Christmas. This magical event is just one of the many reasons why Dutch Wonderland is one of the best theme parks you've never heard of.
Georgesheldon - Dreamstime.com
Epcot (Orlando, Florida)
There's never a shortage of things to do or places to eat at Epcot, but this Walt Disney World theme park only gets better during Christmastime thanks to the International Festival of the Holidays, which runs from Nov. 29 through Dec. 30. This monthlong event features specialty food booths highlighting traditional holiday foods from around the world, including latkes, buche de noel and slow-roasted turkey with stuffing. When you're not eating your way through the park, take in stories of how the world celebrates holidays in World Showcase. The absolute must-see show during the holiday season at Epcot is the Candlelight Processional, where celebrity narrators such as Neil Patrick Harris, Whoopi Goldberg and Gary Sinise tell the biblical nativity story while backed by a 50-piece orchestra and full choir. It's one of the most moving experiences you can have at a theme park.
Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Kent Phillips, photographer
Magic Kingdom (Orlando, Florida)
Walt Disney World's biggest holiday bash is the Magic Kingdom's Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. This separately ticketed event takes place after normal park hours on select nights from Nov. 8 through Dec. 22. The most popular thing to do during this party is snap pictures with Disney characters like the seven dwarfs, Winnie the Pooh and Santa Goofy, all decked out in their most festive holiday outfits. There's plenty to keep you busy and spirited, including special parades, stage shows and more dance parties than you can imagine. The best part of MVMCP, however, is the free cookies and drinks. At special locations throughout the park, cast members hand out various holiday cookies and seasonal beverages like hot cocoa and cider. This party is just one of the many reasons you should visit Disney World at Christmas.
Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Ryan Wendler, photographer
Hersheypark (Hershey, Pennsylvania)
On select dates from Nov. 15 through Jan. 1, 2020, Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania, becomes Christmas Candylane. The best way to experience this event is to just stroll through it all. More than 4 million lights illuminate the park, some of which are synced to a holiday soundtrack. You can also get into the spirit by eating breakfast or lunch with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus at Hersheypark Place, which is the perfect way to fuel your day as you ride the 49 rides still open during the Christmas season. Of course, you're at a chocolate-themed park, so you're going to want to get your cocoa on. Fortunately, Hersheypark has an all-day souvenir mug, which gives you unlimited refills on hot beverages for $12. Pair your cocoa with a s'more, and you're good to go.
Courtesy of Hersheypark
Kennywood (West Mifflin, Pennsylvania)
This West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, destination boasts that it has the state's largest Christmas tree, which has over a quarter million lights on it, a fraction of the 2 million-plus lights that shine throughout the amusement park. In addition to the gleaming lights, Kennywood's Holiday Lights celebration also features a 55-foot long model train display and a "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" show in a 4D theater. Past editions of this event have also featured dinner with Santa, a reading of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" and more classic holiday fun.
Courtesy of Jake Mysliwczyk
Carowinds (Charlotte, North Carolina)
On weekends and select dates from Nov. 24 through the end of the year, Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina, holds its WinterFest. There's an insane amount of things to do during this annual event. Not only are some of the amusement park's most popular rides open (including Afterburn, Rock N Roller and Peanuts Pirates), but there are also dozens of holiday shows and events happening. Highlights include a nightly tree lighting, the Wonderland Parade and live music across the park playing holiday tunes from every genre imaginable. Charlie Brown's Christmas Town is also a must-see for any fan of "Peanuts." In this charming area, you can wander through a maze in Charlie Brown's Christmas tree lot, eventually meeting the boy and his buddy Linus, with plenty of holiday surprises along the way.
Courtesy of Carowinds
Kings Island (Mason, Ohio)
Carowinds' sister park, Kings Island also has its own version of WinterFest. From Nov. 22 through Dec. 31, this southwestern Ohio park gets an old-fashioned holiday makeover, complete with carriage rides, ice carvers and local artisans selling holiday fare. There are also plenty of festive themed eateries, including Claus Confectionery, where you can get holiday-themed funnel cakes and other treats. Also, don't forget to take in the sights of the Winter Wonderlands across the park, including Candy Cane Lane with larger-than-life peppermint drops, lollipops, icing and cookies lining the streets. The signature area, however, is International Street, where a 314-foot-tall Eiffel Tower is transformed into a brightly lit Christmas tree and it snows in the streets.
Knott's Berry Farm (Buena Park, California)
For the holiday season, Knott's Berry Farm transforms into the jolly Knott's Merry Farm. Though 2019 information has yet to be released, on select nights in November, December and January, there will be seasonal shows, attractions and foods at this Southern California theme park. The 2018 edition included the adorable "A Peanut's Guide to Christmas," where Charlie Brown and the gang told their versions of classic holiday tales with a few festive songs thrown in for merry measure. If an old-fashioned Christmas is more your speed, consider seeing the Calico Carolers in Ghost Town as the Victorian-era themed quartet sings classic carols. And because no holiday is complete without Christmas cookies, decorate your own pastries with Mrs. Claus in her kitchen.
Knott's Berry Farm/Yelp
Lake Compounce (Bristol, Connecticut)
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 29 until Christmas Day, Bristol, Connecticut, theme park Lake Compounce has its Holiday Lights celebration. Admission is only $16.99 for adults and includes a ton of holiday fun and hundreds of thousands of holiday lights. Classic Christmas fun at Holiday Lights includes a ride on the North Pole Railway, storytime with Mrs. Claus, cookie decorating and specialty food and beverages. If you're looking for classic amusement park fun, select rides are open during this event including Twister, Flying Elephants and Kiddie Coaster.
Lakemont Park (Altoona, Pennsylvania)
Lakemont Park in Altoona, Pennsylvania, transforms into Holiday Lights on the Lake every holiday season, and it's one of the most breathtaking Christmas light displays in America.While no attractions are open, over 1 million lights take over the amusement park's 50 acres. If you want to explore beyond the displays, at Santa's Gift Shop, you can meet the jolly man in red himself and buy holiday-themed gifts and baked goods. There's also a holiday model train display. Lakemont Park's Holiday Lights on the Lake will run from Nov. 15 through Jan. 5, 2020.
Legoland (Orlando, Florida)
On weekends and other select dates from Nov. 29 through Dec. 31, Legoland in Orlando, Florida, hosts its Christmas Bricktacular. Seasonal Lego characters such as Santa and a toy soldier greet good boys and girls, and there are plenty of other photo opportunities with LEego snowmen, reindeer and wreaths. The decor doesn't end there, as twinkling lights take over the toy brick displays and you can build your own holiday Lego statues. Legoland also hosts a holiday show, the "Holly Jolly Jubilee," a family-friendly show with elves singing favorite holiday songs. From Dec. 26 through 31, the Bricktacular turns into a New Year's Eve party with special nightly fireworks, dance parties and Lego-building activities.
Courtesy of Legoland
SeaWorld (Various locations)
SeaWorld's three locations in America (Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio) turn into a snow world with their Christmas Celebrations throughout November and December. The San Antonio spectacle is the biggest and brightest of them all. While all three parks feature millions of dazzling lights, the SeaWorld in Texas has over 9 million lights and claims to be the biggest Christmas light display in the Lone Star State. While experiences vary by location, each SeaWorld features special holiday shows, including a festive layover to the seal show starring Clyde & Seamore. Guests can also expect to meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and his friends at all three SeaWorld locations.
Courtesy of SeaWorld Orlando
Sesame Place (Langhorne, Pennsylvania)
Get to Sesame Place from Nov. 23 to Jan. 1, 2020, to celebrate A Very Furry Christmas with Elmo, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Zoe and the rest of the residents of Sesame Street. The entire park is lit up with millions of lights, and that celebratory atmosphere continues into the four musical shows, including the walkthrough 1-2-3 Christmas Tree! Show with illuminated evergreens, animations and holiday songs. There's also the Neighborhood Street Party Christmas Parade featuring classic Christmas songs like "Sleigh Ride" and Elmo rapping to "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."
Courtesy of Sesame Place
Six Flags (Various Locations)
From November through January, Six Flags locations across America hold annual Holiday in the Park celebrations. The oldest one of these events is held at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, which has been held every year since 1985. The highlight of this event is the Lone Star Lights show, which features hundreds of thousands of dancing lights. Experiences and times differ depending on which of the 12 Six Flags parks you go to, but no matter the location, you're bound to find holiday lights, cocoa, Santa Claus, festive entertainment and theme park thrills.
Courtesy of Six Flags America
Universal Orlando Resort (Orlando, Florida)
Universal Orlando Resort goes all out for its holidays celebrations. Both the Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade sides of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter get holiday layovers with special Harry Potter-themed holiday treats and drinks. The Hogwarts Castle gets an extra dose of magic during the season with a Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle projection show. At Islands of Adventure, guests can also celebrate Who-liday season with the Grinch, who has a special character breakfast. And if you plan your trip right, Mannheim Steamroller performs at Universal Studios Park on weekends from Nov. 16 through Dec. 15, and entrance to the concert is included in your park ticket that day. Holidays at Universal Resort Orlando run from Nov. 16 through Jan. 5, 2020.
Silver Dollar City (Branson, Missouri)
Silver Dollar City is host to An Old Time Christmas from Nov. 2 until Dec. 30, and this year, the event is going to be bigger, better and brighter than ever with an 8-story Christmas tree, dancing lights and animated imagery in the middle of Main Street. That's only the beginning of the spectacle of sights - over 6.5 million lights are on display throughout the park. Silver Dollar City also has Rudolph's Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade, a holiday-themed steam train ride, an adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" and hearty holiday fare. This massive, old-fashioned celebration is just one of the reasons why Branson, Missouri, is one of America's most festive Christmas towns.
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