America's Top 14 Theme Parks for the Holidays

Celebrate the season with glittering castles, holiday markets and festive events.

By Dave Parfitt, ContributorDec. 1, 2017
U.S. News & World Report

America's Top 14 Theme Parks for the Holidays

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Busch Gardens Williamsburg Christmas Town
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(Courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Resorts)

Busch Gardens

Williamsburg, Virginia, and Tampa, Florida

More than 8 million lights, hundreds of Christmas trees and wreaths and lots of holiday garland make up Busch Gardens Christmas Town, held each year at the Williamsburg and Tampa theme parks. Busch Gardens Tampa recreates a European-inspired Christkindlmarket, with the Christmas Town Village selling a variety of wood carvings, ornaments and paintings. Meanwhile Busch Gardens in Williamsburg offers holiday photo ops with its famous herd of Clydesdale horses. In addition to bright light displays, most of the parks' roller coasters and attractions remain open with little to no wait.

Disneyland Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure
Credit

(Courtesy of Disneyland Resort)

Disneyland

Anaheim, California

Disneyland's two theme parks, on-site hotels and shopping and entertainment district go all-out for the holiday season, and Sleeping Beauty Castle is a sight to behold draped in festive greenery. During this year's Festival of the Holidays, families can enjoy concerts and live performances, from swing bands to mariachi to acapella groups. There's also the Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party, filled with music, dancing and Disney characters. What's more, a Festive Food Marketplace offers holiday flavors from around the world at 12 marketplace kiosks. Festival of Holidays concludes with the celebration of Three Kings Day, from Jan. 4-7, 2018, honoring the arrival of the three wise men bearing gifts on Epiphany.

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The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts
Credit

(Courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort)

Get into the holiday spirit with plenty of cheer at state-of-the-art amusement parks.

Potterheads looking to experience a little magic this season can celebrate at top amusement parks. At Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, families on both coasts can enjoy bewitching seasonal spectacles, a light show and a decked-out Hogwarts. In addition, all areas of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will feature holiday decor and special seasonal food and beverages like butterbeer. But the Wizarding World isn't the only theme park getting into the holiday spirit. If you enjoy the occasional roller coaster along with seasonal events and light displays, check out one of these holiday events coming to a theme park near you this season.

Next:

Get into the holiday spirit with plenty of cheer at state-of-the-art amusement parks.

Potterheads looking to experience a little magic this season can celebrate at top amusement parks. At Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, families on both coasts can enjoy bewitching seasonal spectacles, a light show and a decked-out Hogwarts. In addition, all areas of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter will feature holiday decor and special seasonal food and beverages like butterbeer. But the Wizarding World isn't the only theme park getting into the holiday spirit. If you enjoy the occasional roller coaster along with seasonal events and light displays, check out one of these holiday events coming to a theme park near you this season.

Busch Gardens

Williamsburg, Virginia, and Tampa, Florida

More than 8 million lights, hundreds of Christmas trees and wreaths and lots of holiday garland make up Busch Gardens Christmas Town, held each year at the Williamsburg and Tampa theme parks. Busch Gardens Tampa recreates a European-inspired Christkindlmarket, with the Christmas Town Village selling a variety of wood carvings, ornaments and paintings. Meanwhile Busch Gardens in Williamsburg offers holiday photo ops with its famous herd of Clydesdale horses. In addition to bright light displays, most of the parks' roller coasters and attractions remain open with little to no wait.

Disneyland

Anaheim, California

Disneyland's two theme parks, on-site hotels and shopping and entertainment district go all-out for the holiday season, and Sleeping Beauty Castle is a sight to behold draped in festive greenery. During this year's Festival of the Holidays, families can enjoy concerts and live performances, from swing bands to mariachi to acapella groups. There's also the Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party, filled with music, dancing and Disney characters. What's more, a Festive Food Marketplace offers holiday flavors from around the world at 12 marketplace kiosks. Festival of Holidays concludes with the celebration of Three Kings Day, from Jan. 4-7, 2018, honoring the arrival of the three wise men bearing gifts on Epiphany.

Dollywood

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Dollywood's Christmas event is legendary. In 2016, Dollywood added a $2.5 million Parade of Many Colors celebrating the holidays with lights, floats and decked-out characters. The park also offers live entertainment, with a cast of singers and dancers performing hometown holiday favorites accompanied by a band of musicians in "Christmas in the Smokies," as well as a musical version of "It's a Wonderful Life." Dollywood is at its glittery finest with 4 million Christmas lights adorning the buildings and grounds, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and all of his friends.

Hersheypark

Hershey, Pennsylvania

If Christmas means sugar plums, candy and fudge, then Hersheypark's Christmas Candylane is the place for you. During the holidays, the park is decorated with 4 million lights, plus a light show that's choreographed and synchronized to music. Take the aerial tram for a peaceful sky-high ride above the lights. Over 50 candy-themed rides like the Hershey Triple Tower, Cocoa Cruiser and five other roller coasters are open for the Christmas Candylane event. Even better, Hersheypark has added a new holiday show, The Enchanted Journey. Outside the theme park, in the town with Hershey Kiss-shaped street lights and the whiff of chocolate in the air, a 2-mile Hershey Sweet Lights drive-through attraction brightens the night.

Kennywood

West Mifflin, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh's Kennywood Park embraces its history as a National Historic Landmark. The park dates back to the turn of the 20th century, founded in 1898 as a "trolley park," enticing residents to ride to the end of the line. Kennywood houses the tallest Christmas tree in Pennsylvania, rising 90 feet, with a 10-foot tree-topper ornament and decked with approximately 250,000 LED lights. However, the headliner is the Kennywood Holiday Lights show that takes place every half-hour around the lagoon. The flashing lights are choreographed to holiday songs, culminating with Trans-Siberian Orchestra's classic rock version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

Kings Island

Warren County, Ohio

With 5 million lights, ice skating and an Eiffel Tower-inspired Christmas tree, Kings Island's WinterFest aims to delight and awe. What's more, 17 rides and attractions will be open including Mystic Timbers, the park's wooden roller coaster. Shows will include a Cool Yule Christmas, holiday singalongs, music, a Charlie Brown's Christmas Spectacular and more. Kings Island is part of the Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, and WinterFest can be found at other Cedar Fair parks, including Carowinds in North Carolina and Worlds of Fun in Missouri.

Knott's Berry Farm

Buena Park, California

Southern California's Knott's Berry Farm transforms into Merry Farm around Christmastime, filled with delicious food options and festive shows. The farm's Ghost Town is gussied up and transformed into a Christmas Crafts Village with pop-up shops and merchants selling greeting cards, leather goods and artwork. Carolers also roam the grounds singing Christmas classics. Inside Santa's Christmas Cabin is jolly ole Saint Nick himself, with fantastic treats like Santa's homemade cookies and milk, cupcakes, warm roasted nuts, eggnog and hot chocolate. The Birdcage Theatre also offers two holiday shows: the Charles Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol" and "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry.

Legoland

Carlsbad, California, and Winter Haven, Florida

Towering Christmas trees, bright lights and a life-size Lego Santa, sleigh and reindeer all make up Legoland's Christmas Bricktacular in California and Florida. The 30-foot-high Christmas tree is constructed out of more than 245,000 forest green bricks and adorned with more than 400 ornaments and 11,000 LED lights. In Florida, Christmas songs are performed by the Lego Brickettes, and California features the Lego Friends live holiday show in Heartlake City, along with a live bluegrass brass band. Legoland California also offers a German-style Christmas market with traditional treats, including breads, grilled sausages, giant Bavarian pretzel and more.

SeaWorld

Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego

SeaWorld's marine parks offer a unique perspective on Christmas. SeaWorld Orlando's Christmas Celebration includes a Sea of Trees blinking to synchronized music in the lagoon, San Antonio features the Merry Mariachis, and San Diego offers Santa's Christmas Village. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and friends find time to visit all three SeaWorld parks, as well as the Shamu Christmas Miracles killer whale show. In Orlando and San Diego, visitors will also find O Wondrous Night, a retelling of the nativity story with puppetry and live animals.

Sesame Place

Langhorne, Pennsylvania

Sesame Place is the only theme park in the U.S. devoted entirely the preschool television staple, "Sesame Street." For the holidays, Jim Henson's Muppets celebrate A Very Furry Christmas with millions of twinkling lights, holiday decorations, festive shows and character dining. Little ones will find their favorite friends, including Elmo, Rosita, Grover, Cookie Monster, Rudolph, Santa and more. The 1-2-3 Christmas Tree Show features a countdown to the lighting of a spectacular Christmas tree, and there's a nightly Neighborhood Street Party Christmas parade loaded with characters and dancing. For New Year's Eve, The Count takes over the party for a countdown to the new year.

Silver Dollar City

Branson, Missouri

The new Christmas in Midtown Light Spectacular will include 1.5 million lights, plus tunnels, flying angels, running reindeer, moving trains, a 90-foot tree and giant turning globe. In addition, families can enjoy Rudolph's Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade, musical adaptations of "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life" and Tinker Junior's Toy Shop show. Plus, you can pick up special holiday items, including hand-blown glass ornaments and a bounty of holiday foods, ranging from prime rib to fruitcakes.

Six Flags

Many Six Flags amusement parks across the country celebrate Holiday in the Park, including New Jersey's Six Flags Great Adventure. Holiday in the Park includes lights, shows, rides and festive character meet-and-greets. Other Holiday in the Park events can be found at Six Flags Magic Mountain, Discovery Kingdom, New England, St. Louis and Fiesta Texas, among other Six Flags locations. Six Flags has partnered with the Hallmark Channel to host Six Flags Snow Day on Dec. 9, and invites families to participate in the world's largest snowball fight across the country.

Walt Disney World Resort

Orlando

If there's one thing Disney does well, it's Christmas. In the theme parks, there are plenty of ways to get in the Christmas spirit, including Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot's Candlelight Processional, over-the-top decorations at the resort hotels and Disney Springs' Christmas Tree Trail. In 2017, Walt Disney World enhanced the holiday offerings at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park with a light extravaganza along Sunset Boulevard. There's also the Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam! yuletide show, songs from "Olaf's Frozen Adventure" added to the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, character meals and meet-and-greets with Santa Claus in the Once Upon a Time toy shop.

Universal Orlando Resort

Orlando

In addition to Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, visitors can experience a holiday Who-bilation. The Grinch makes a ruckus at Islands of Adventure theme park in the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular, a live retelling of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." At Universal Orlando Resort, the streets come to life with the floats and balloons direct from Macy's Holiday Parade in New York City. Plus, Universal Studios Florida has floats and balloons designed specifically for the park, including Donkey from "Shrek" as well as characters from "Despicable Me." Even better, you can end your holiday celebration at Universal Orlando Resort with a live concert in the music plaza.

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Dave Parfitt, Contributor

Dave Parfitt is a reformed academic with a PhD in neuroscience, and began writing about his ...  Read more

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