What better way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Christmas Town at Busch Gardens than with 10 million lights?
That’s what Busch Gardens manager of events Matthew Edwards said as he listed the highlights of the annual holiday celebration, which will also feature a train tour around the park, and new and returning holiday-themed stage shows.
Christmas Town will be open on select dates from Nov. 17 to Jan. 5, beginning with weekend dates and ramping up to daily operation as the Christmas season gets closer. New for this year is the Christmas Town Express, which transforms the Busch Gardens Railway train that wraps around the park into a festive tour through the park’s light displays.
“We have a railroad system in the park that we’ve had forever, and now we are decking that out and it’s going to be a lighted Christmas experience,” Edwards said. “Passengers will get to sing along to some Christmas carols that they know and love and they’ll get to see some really incredible light displays.”
The Sesame Street-themed Forest of Fun area of the park also will get a new addition in the form of a stage show called Elmo’s Christmas Wish. Other Christmas Town stage shows include Gift of Harmony in the park’s Italy area, Scrooge No More! in England, Gloria! in Ireland and Deck The Halls and a 50-foot Christmas tree light show called O’Tannenbaum at Germany’s Festhaus. Finally, guests can go to the park’s Royal Palace Theater to see Twas That Night, which features a performance from former Olympic skater Elvis Stojko.
Other highlights include photo ops with costumed characters from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, along with the Santa Fireside Feast, which gives guests an opportunity to have a meal with Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and their elves.
Along with the new additions to the festivities, Edwards said that elements including the O’Tannenbaum show and the decorated Escape from Pompeii ride building have been going strong since the first year of Christmas Town.
“It’s really neat seeing guests come year after year,” Edwards said. “They share photos with us and you can see their families grow up taking their photo in front of that Pompeii building, and it’s a really cool thing that it’s resonated with guests so well like that.”
Guests looking to get active while enjoying the holiday-themed park can also participate in the 9th annual Christmas Town Dash 8K on Dec. 2. The dash is split into two races, the Running of the Cows Fun Run and the 8K race. Both start and end at the Busch Gardens toll plaza, according to spokesman Nathan Warters.
The 8K course takes runners through the Busch Gardens parking lot before entering the Ireland area and looping through the park. The Christmas Town Dash 8K starts at 8:30 a.m. and had around 3,000 runners participating in 2017 and 2016. Casual runners and families can join the Fun Run, which starts at 8 a.m.
Racers are also encouraged to bring toy donations for the Marine Toys for Tots program, Warters said, which will enter participants into a raffles for race prizes. For more information about the Christmas Town Dash 8K, visit: christmastowndash.com.
Busch Gardens is open from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on most Christmas Town operating days and noon to 10 p.m. on Saturdays from Nov. 17 through Jan. 5. For scheduling and pricing information, visit christmastown.com/va.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.