Holiday Magic at SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration and Busch Gardens' Christmas Town
Central Florida is definitely not short on places to spend the holidays! From the theme parks to the zoos, aquarium, and large resorts, there is something for everyone. Last weekend, I experienced Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Christmas Celebration at SeaWorld Orlando. Both events feature Rudolph and his friends as well as Santa and his elves; however, the parks differ in the shows and other offerings. So, even though you can meet Rudolph and Santa at both parks, you will find that both are well worth a visit and will both contribute uniquely to your Christmastime celebrations! Since SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay are only one hour from each other, they both essentially pull on the majority of the same local population. Therefore, as similar as many of the experiences are, the offerings have to be different enough in order to convince locals to visit both. Having experienced them within the same weekend, I've been able to analyze the similarities and differences while both are fresh in my mind. If I had to sum up the experience at both Christmas Celebration and Christmas Town respectively, the one word that best encapsulates the overarching theme is nostalgia. From the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer characters to the music, shows, and lights throughout the parks, the individual elements are combined to showcase a more traditional Christmas blend of carols, [Florida] snow, light-covered buildings, nativities, and live shows.
Such a variety! I think that is what I like best about how Busch Gardens and SeaWorld created this year's Christmas limited engagement events. Whereas Disney's Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is a pricey hard ticketed event, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and even Universal's holiday celebrations are included with with either your annual pass or day-ticket. That in and of itself, makes the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens events that much more fun! Why? Because it is quite difficult to fit everything in one night. Although the Christmas Celebration and Christmas Town events ARE included with your annual pass or day admission, the majority of the magic does not begin until the latter part of the afternoon. Unlike during Howl-O-Scream when Busch is opened until 12-1am, it closes at 9-10 during Christmas Town. SeaWorld keeps similar operating hours at Christmas to that of the Spooktacular. With the relatively abbreviated Christmas hours (as compared to Halloween), you may find yourself planning a return trip to the parks respectively or contemplating an annual pass. Since I go to the parks regularly, I have efficient time management down to a science and even I cannot get it all in. Even as I write this, there are some offerings I was unable to experience at both parks this past weekend. So, I am definitely going back! If you are only planning one trip to one or both, get there early and do your best to plan out the order in which you and your friends/family are going to experience everything.
Christmas Town at Busch Gardens is an annual event that has been going on since 2012. For the first two years it was a separately (hard) ticketed event but since 2014 has been included with day admission and annual passes. Since the event went from hard ticketed to complementary, there has been a mitigation in specialty offerings; however, the event is still full of holiday cheer and a great assortment of character meet and greets and limited engagement shows. There are so many wonderful photo opportunities throughout the park with beautiful and fun backdrops. The entire park is open with a few exceptions, meaning that you can ride all your favorite rides at night! For those who are familiar with the late Pinky [the dancing flamingo], there is a tribute to her near the front entrance with lots of pink Christmas lights. If you enjoy hearing traditional Christmas hymns, then be sure to stop by Christmas From the Heart in the old Madagascar stage. It's a classy show with small band, and a moderately sized chorus. Perhaps you prefer traditional and contemporary pop hits! Then, stop by the Christmas Celebration show in the Pantopia Theatre. With a wide range of hits featuring some of your favorite singalong tunes and of course Santa himself, this show is incredibly fun and festive. The cast and crew at the Moroccan Theatre put a Christmas spin on the daily iceskating show that is certainly not to be missed. Don't forget to stop by the Crown Colony restaurant across from Cheetah Hunt to watch thousands of dancing lights move to the beats of Trans-Siberian and Mannheim Steamroller. Think of it as Osborne Lights lite. An incredible assortment of shows that feature lots of different kinds of music and acts with the central theme of Christmas. I love the variety of shows because they do not feel like something that you can get everyday. Feels truly like a special seasonal event.
Headlining Christmas Town (and Christmas Celebration) this year is Rudolph and his friends from the Rankin-Bass holiday classic. Even before meeting the characters, the queue is filled with little vignettes from the movie--great for photo opportunities. You get to meet Yukon Cornelius, Bumble, Clarice, and Rudolph! There are also some wonderful plushies (I bought one) and ornaments to choose from in the gift shoppe. A staple at Christmas Town is Santa'a House sponsored by Coca-Cola. Appropriate because the whole idea of the red jolly Santa we all know and love comes from a Coca-Cola ad campaign. Even before meeting the big man himself, you get to spend time with elves and Mrs. Claus. One elf in particular--Curley--she was incredibly friendly and created a warm inviting atmosphere from the time she opened the door! It's more than a meet and greet, there is an entire show element to the Santa experience. Lastly, no review of Christmas Town would be complete without mentioning the Singalong Train! Boarding at the North Pole station outside of Santa's house, park guests can ride the train (normally used for the safari) and ride around signing Christmas carols and songs with one another. Takes the idea Christmas caroling to the next level! The singalong train is always my favorite activity at Christmas Town.
Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Busch Gardens is SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration. At Christmas Celebration you'll find Rudolph and his friends as well as Santa Claus but there is so much more that is truly different from Christmas Town. SeaWorld transforms their seasonay operating Ports of Call into a Christmas Village! From a miniature train sets to live acts, the Christmas Village is incredibly festive and fun! Be sure to get some hot cocoa. So many wonderful places to take selfies and group photos. I love all the lights! Speaking of lights, you will definitely be able to watch the Sea of Trees light up and dance to some of your favorite Christmas songs. You can either catch the show shoreside or take a stroll along the boardwalk across the lagoon. Over one million lights! Much like Busch Gardens, SeaWorld also has some stunning seasonal show offerings to delight everyone young and old. Although not part of daily operations, SeaWorld also has an iceskating show at Christmastime. Winder Wonderland on Ice is a terrific show featuring talented figure skaters moving to many different carols and songs. Preceding the show is SeaWorld's answer to Straight No Chaser. The male quarter entertains the audience for about 20mins with excellent harmony and jokes. If you're lucky, you'll time it just right to watch the Sea of Trees while you are waiting on the ice show to begin. Although I miss The Polar Express overlay on the Arctic Adventure, there are still many other rides available when you want a break from shows and character meet and greets.
Both the Clyde & Seamore and Shamu shows receive holiday overlays during Christmas Celebration. Since I did not experience the Christmas Miracle show at Shamu Stadium, I am unable to comment on that, but the Clyde and Seamore show's Countdown to Christmas was fantastic! Even on a regular park ops day, it is one of my favorite shows at SeaWorld. Clyde and Seamore are back and funnier than ever in this holly jolly holiday show. Countdown to Christmas is about Clyde and Seamore's goal to meet several requirements so Santa can visit! The most popular Christmas show a SeaWorld is not Clyde & Seamore nor Shamu, but O Wonderous Night located in the Nautilus Theatre. Not your typical nativity story, O Wonderous Night centers around the animals located in the stable where Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus more than two thousands years ago. We get to here the nativity story from the perspective of the animals who each played a special part in that wonderous night. If you plan to watch that show, you need to know that it is important to queue up at least an hour before showtime. It consistently fills up prior to curtain. Although Busch Gardens also has a Christmas Village in Gwazi Field, the village at SeaWorld seems to have more to offer.
Well, there ya have it! Two phenomenal ways to spend the holidays with your friends and family. Or, be like me and experience it Han style--solo. Although you might think that it isn't as much fun on your own, you can still have a blast celebrating Christmas at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment this holiday season. Lots of opportunities to sing, dance, and even meet some favorite characters along the way. Especially for those who enjoy a more traditional Christmas, these parks are the place to be. I guarantee that it will feel Christmassy from the time that you enter the park. It is so important that the parks make seasonal events feel special and unlike what you can typically get as part of daily/regular operations, and Busch Gardens and SeaWorld know how to create that holiday magic to warm your heart.Reference Link(s): SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration (Orlando, FL) Busch Gardens' Christmas Town
Ryan (right) is a theme park enthusiast living in Central Florida, and loves going to the parks as often as possible! He's an annual passholder to Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens, and SeaWorld. In the Fall of 2017, his Thrillz article on Turn it Up: the Hottest Show on Ice at Busch Gardens was cited in a massive ad campaign. He also loves horror films and just movies in general! If you see him out and about in the Florida parks, stop him to say hi!
Ryan holds a Master of Arts degree in Media Studies (with a concentration in cinema and themed entertainment) from the University of South Florida. His research area is on the convergence of cinema and theme parks. He explores ideas such as narrative, spectacle, setting, and setting in terms of movies and themed entertainment. Learning how to successfully translate an idea of intellectual property from one medium into another is the primary goal of his predictable model for creative design that affects both theme parks and the cinema.
Although he loves to write for Thrillz, his "day jobs" are working as a video editor for Disney on Ice and teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa.
He is also a figure skater.
Ryan's Favorite Ride(s):