One of the world's most beautiful theme parks has been transformed into a festive Christmas land with over five million lights, a 50-foot-tall Christmas tree, and a chance to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus. Come join me on a journey through Christmas Town and I'll show you what there is to see and do.
I know, the park entrance is in England, but that's where the crowds of people usually start. To bypass some of the crowds, let's head through England and bear right into Ireland. Here is one place where Santa can be found. The jolly old man is in the grand dining room of Castle O'Sullivan, at Santa's Fireside Feast. You will enjoy a delicious buffet, meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, and enjoy a Christmas story read by Santa himself.
If you join Santa for the 1:30 PM lunch time, you will enjoy early entry into Christmas Town. The hospitality and food are well worth the extra money that you will spend for this attraction and you certainly won't go away hungry. Be prepared for your admission price to Christmas Town to double if you would like to feast with Santa. If this sounds like something for you, I recommend making reservations for this event, which you can easily do on their website.
While in Ireland you won't want to miss the nativity story as it comes to life in Gloria! presented at various times throughout the day at the Abbey Stone Theatre.
Also in this area you will find a gift shop, a toy store, and numerous places to get food and treats. Don't forget to check out Europe in the Air, a high-tech simulator that takes you on a fun-filled journey over the seas and through the air over Europe.
Next, we head over to France and Ice Palace: A Penguin Paradise, an ice-themed world with lights, snow, and an encounter with live penguins. This is a popular attraction so be prepared for a wait to see the penguins.
Also in France you will find a café, a sweet shop, and surf and skate apparel at La Belle Maison. The architecture of the building makes it difficult to pass by without noticing.
Adjacent to France is the New France area of Busch Gardens. Here you will find a rustic atmosphere with shops where you can get customized gifts. If you don't have a problem with vertigo, take a spin on the scrambler style ride, Le Catapult. It may be time to have a bite to eat at Trappers Smokehouse where wood-fired slow-cooked meats are their specialty. The food is moderately priced and good quality.
In New France, you will also find Caribou Train Station, one of the two stations operating during Christmas Town. If you have time, take a ride around the park on the leisurely-paced train and you'll be sure to enjoy it. Grab some peppermint fudge hot chocolate and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season in the brisk winter air.
Moving over to the edge of the North Pole, we find the Ghost of the Alps, Alpengeist. It is the park's second roller coaster, a Bolliger & Mabillard inverted steel coaster, with a drop of 170 feet and a top speed of 67 mph. You never know what's around the next turn on this thrilling roller coaster! While Busch Gardens has a handful of coasters, Alpengeist is the only one operating during Christmas Town (weather permitting).
With the ride theming and wide open front view, it is well worth the extra wait to experience this roller coaster from the front seat. Make sure you hold on tight so you don't end up like this guy.
If there is a long wait, you may want to consider a Christmas Town Quick Queue Pass. It will give you unlimited rides on Alpengeist, Europe in the Air, and a one-time priority boarding on Flight of Lights. It also gives you reserved seating at three of the shows. Prices range from $20 - $30 per person.
Let's venture into the North Pole. As we arrive, there is little doubt who this area belongs to. Here you will enjoy sights and sounds of the North Pole and find gifts for your friends. If you are so inclined, feel free to satisfy your sweet tooth at German Pastry.
For a moment to remember, take a ride on the restored antique Herschell Carousel, Kinder Karussel, or have your picture taken with the jolly old man himself, Kris Kringle, at Santa's Workshop. The missus is also on hand to greet guests and make you feel welcome.
Continue on with me to Germany. Even in the daylight, the 50 foot tree is impressive and anchors Mistletoe Marketplace, where you can find unique gifts from local artisans . If you come through here early, don't forget to come back after dark to enjoy O Tannenbaum, a light show choreographed to music and showcasing this massive tree.
You should stop in Festhaus while you're in the area. You can see a live musical tribute to Christmas traditions with Deck The Halls. If you're hungry, don't pass up Das Festhaus or the Tastes of Christmas Town buffet. Like everything else in the park, they are moderately priced but the quality of the food justifies the price.
You really don't want to miss Beste Brezeln und Bier. It is what you expect in Germany, quality beer and pretzels. My family was in agreement that these pretzels were some of the best we had ever had.
You certainly can't miss the new ride for 2011, Mach Tower. It slowly spirals you up the tower and then drops you to the ground from 240 feet high in the air. What a thrill, with the frosty winter air rushing past your face! Other rides operating in Germany are Der Auto bumper cars, Der Wirbelwind swing rides, and other rides for the younger ones in your party. You'll be certain to find something for everybody at Christmas Town.
You'll also notice the big, green fence in this immediate area. The walls hide the magic that goes on with the building of a new roller coaster. Verbolten, an electromagnetic launched coaster, will debut in the spring of 2012 and be the park's sixth roller coaster. Busch Gardens claims that it will have many firsts when it opens.
Over the river and through the woods to Italy we go. Don't forget to set your pace at a leisurely stroll so you can take in the surroundings. I don't want to ruin the experience for you so I'll let you go by and see this view at night for yourself. It is truly inspiring.
Italy has shops, wine, and an Italian restaurant, Ristorante della Piazza, where you can get a traditional Italian Christmas dinner of great pastas, cheeses, herbs, and signature sauces. The atmosphere in this area of the park transported me back in time to my trips to Italy.
Be sure to check out Miracles, a spirited celebration of the Christmas spirit with contemporary dance and live vocalists. It is presented at select times in the open-aired Il Teatro di San Marco Theater.
Rides that are operating in Italy include some more rides for the younger ones as well as ones for the older kids and those of us who are still kids at heart, including The Flying Machine, DaVinci's Cradle, and The Battering Ram.
As we stroll through a path brightly lit with colorful trees we cross a bridge and the area opens up to a Polar Pathway. The amount of lights are truly breathtaking and the magic of this sight is remarkable.
Passing through the Polar Pathway brings us to England. Here we find another of the highly popular attractions at Christmas Town, Flight of Lights. You will soar through the sky at 80 feet in the air enjoying a scenic tour of the park from above. The only station opened for Christmas Town is the one in England so you get a full round-trip ride.
In this area is Tweedside Train Station, the second location in the park where you can catch the train. You will also find the Highland Stables nearby and can get your picture taken with one of the Clydesdales that Anheuser Busch is famous for maintaining.
We have arrived back at the main entrance to the park. As we stroll the streets feel free to browse the shops and satisfy your appetite with some tasty treats. The young and old in your group are sure to delight in A Sesame Street Christmas located here.
This brings us to the end of our journey, but the memories are far from gone. You will be sure to remember this for many Christmases to come!
Tickets are priced well for this event at $25 per person and it was certainly a value for everything we experienced. Be sure to bring some money for parking. At $13 ($18 for larger vehicles like buses and RVs) it is comparable to other parks of this size.
Please enjoy the video highlights of our day at Christmas Town, a Busch Gardens Celebration.