The holiday season is all about traditions. Putting milk and cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Driving through the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights. Picking out a tree and decorating it with ornaments. For us frogs, we hop to all of the Orlando theme parks! And this year, we started a new tradition. We took a short road trip to Tampa and went to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s Christmas Town for our very first time.
Even with this year’s modified event, we still had a merry first time and we’re hoppy to share all of the details. Christmas Town has a lot to offer — sparkling lights, seasonal shows, special character greetings (including Santa himself!), festive food and more. On select nights, there’s even a special fireworks show to light up the night! Overall, it's best to make a plan if you wish to accomplish as much as possible — something we learned on the fly. If you have the extra time to hop over to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay during this holiday season, here’s what you can expect.
General Information about Busch Gardens Christmas Town
This year, Busch Gardens Christmas Town festivities began Nov. 20, 2020, and will continue through Jan. 3, 2021. While the event takes place daily (with the exceptions of Dec. 2, 9 and 16, which are dates that the park is closed), some experiences may only be available on select nights. For instance, the Spark the Night fireworks show only hoppens on Saturdays until it occurs daily from Dec. 25, 2020, to Jan. 2, 2021. Christmas on Ice also does not run during the week, until it takes place every day from Dec. 24, 2020, to Jan. 3, 2021. If you want to see showtimes for a specific day, check the park hours and entertainment schedule on Busch Gardens’ website.
Best of all, the Christmas Town fun is included with park admission, a Fun Card or an annual pass. All guests will also need to make a reservation in advance. The weekends feature extended hours, aka more time to ride roller coasters at night and drink hot chocolate! Most of the Christmas Town festivities take place after 3 p.m., but we highly suggest arriving early, especially if you plan to go over a weekend or during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day as there are a lot of things to do! A good problem to have, right?
Busch Gardens Christmas Town Entertainment and Lights
The majority of Christmas Town activities can be found on the left side of the park, specifically Pantopia, Sesame Street Safari of Fun and the Bird Gardens, but there are lights in every land!
Christmas on Ice
Christmas Town’s signature ice skating show takes its biggest stage yet. Instead of its usual home at the Moroccan Palace Theater, Christmas on Ice is hoppening on select nights at a new outdoor stage on the Festival Field. Watch ice skaters glide to yuletide melodies with impressive choreography, as soloists, couples and group performers.
If you want to watch the fireworks show from the Festival Field, catch the last Christmas on Ice show of the night, and arrive at least 30 minutes beforehand to get a good seat. An employee shared a hopful froggy tip that the first show is actually the busiest, but the last show attracts crowds last-minute due to the fireworks, so it’s best to arrive early, which is exactly what we did! We were among the first families to line up for the 8:30 p.m. show at around 7:50 p.m. They were just letting the crowds out from the 7:30 p.m. show (which is the least crowded) and eventually let us onto the field right around 8 p.m. We found the perfect centered spot right behind the reserved seating. Score!
Three Kings Journey
Located in Dragon Fire Grill, the Three Kings Journey show unites magical voices in perfect harmony, unfolding the famed journey to the humble town of Bethlehem. We recommend skipping the shows around dinner time, or arriving at least 30 minutes early, to grab a table. On the Saturday that we visited, we went to the first showing at 5 p.m., and it was hard to find a spot due to a lot of people grabbing dinner at the same time. We didn’t want to take over a table since we weren’t eating, so those who had food could snag an empty one, but there wasn’t much room for spectators only. We ended up catching the beginning of the show and leaving halfway through due to this situation, but we imagine it’d be much easier to find a seat later in the night.
Elmo’s Christmas Wish
Join Elmo, Cookie Monster, Zoe, Rosita and Grover as they learn the meaning of Christmas during this tadpole-friendly show in Sesame Street Safari of Fun. The Sesame Street gang gets all of the tadpoles — and tadpoles at heart — into the Christmas spirit as they each share their own Christmas wishes. Cookie Monster stars in his “All I Want for Christmas is You” solo … which to no one’s surprise, “you” really means cookies, and Rosita teaches the crowd how to sing “Jingle Bells” in Spanish. The show concludes with Elmo and friends singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” which made for a fitting finale! The characters remain on the stage after the show for a brief photo-op.
We suggest catching the first show of the day (either 1 p.m. or 1:30 p.m., depending on the day), so you have more time in the evening to explore the Christmas lights and catch the other shows.
Spark the Night Fireworks
End the night with a bang (literally) as you watch colorful fireworks burst into the sky during this new pyrotechnic display, which is synced with everyone’s favorite Christmas songs and holiday tunes. This was our first time watching a full-length fireworks show since any of the theme parks have opened, so we were soooo hoppin’ excited to watch the bursts of color explode in the night sky. Plus, Iron Gwazi is lit up in red and green, adding a jolly backdrop if you’re viewing the fireworks from the Festival Field. However, you can easily see them from anywhere inside the park. There are even designated alternative viewing areas in the Bird Gardens, Stanleyville, Pantopia, Nairobi and Egypt (by Cheetah Hunt).
Wander in awe of the millions of dazzling Christmas lights displayed throughout all corners of the 335-acre park. From the entrance’s festive projections to animal-shaped light sculptures, there are plenty of opportunities for merriment and photos.
We frogs unanimously agree that our family’s favorite display was Luminosity Lane, a tunnel of dancing lights that coordinate with music. We just stood off to the side for a solid ten minutes to watch the lights turn into festive colors and patterns. The tunnel connects the Congo and Stanleyville areas.
Holly Jolly Express
Hop aboard the Holly Jolly Express! Celebrate the holiday season with a scenic ride into the safari while listening to popular Christmas tunes. We suggest getting on the train at the Nairobi station so you can catch the animals in the Serengeti Plain, though you can hop on or off in Stanleyville.
Character Greetings at Busch Gardens Christmas Town
A couple of guests from the North Pole have traveled a great distance to make a special appearance at Christmas Town. Meet Santa and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer accompanied by Clarice and pose with each of them for a physically distanced photo. Both of the greeting locations open daily at 3 p.m. You can find Santa’s Merry Meet and Greet in the Bird Gardens near Christmas Town Village and Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland in Pantopia.
When we stopped by Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland around 4:15 p.m., the queue was so busy that the employees at the entrance were handing out physical tickets for a return time (for us, it was about a half-hour later). Once we returned, the wait only took about 10 minutes, and the line had decreased so significantly that the employees weren’t handing out return times anymore. The line for Santa was long whenever we stopped by, and we ran out of time to see him. Since Tad and Lily have paid him a visit at all of the other theme parks, they weren’t too upset about missing him, but if we could do things differently, we’d arrive earlier and get in line to see him before his meet and greet opens up at 3 p.m.
You can also meet additional Christmas Town characters throughout the park, starting at 5 p.m. Find the Ice Princess in front of the Moroccan Palace Theater, the Poinsettia Princess in the Bird Gardens, the Sugar Plum Princess in Nairobi and the Jolly Snowmen by Zagora Cafe.
Busch Gardens Christmas Town Dining and Shopping
Indulge in holiday treats and pick up any last-minute Christmas gifts at Christmas Town Village and Xcursions. The options are endless at the Christmas Town Village cabins offering seasonal flavors and festive beverages. A cabin just for cookies and cocoa?? Guess where I stayed all night! Christmas Town Village opens at 4 p.m. daily. There are also Christmas Town food booths right outside Christmas Town Village, and as far as by Cheetah Hunt. The cabins close right at 9 p.m., so if you’re hoping to grab one more cup of hot cocoa on your way out after the fireworks, you’re out of luck. Get your last snack or drink before the park officially closes!
Xcursions, located right outside of Christmas Town Village, is the one-stop shop for all things Christmas. The gift store has personalizable ornaments, nutcrackers, unique apparel and more. For special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer merch, visit Marrakesh Market. The Emporium and Painted Camel also have holiday shopping available.
New Year’s Eve Celebrations During Busch Gardens Christmas Town
In order to manage capacity and maintain physical distancing, there will be two reservation sessions on New Year’s Eve. If you’re planning to ring in the new year at Busch Gardens, you must choose between daytime access (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or nighttime access (6 p.m. to 1 a.m.). Both reservation sessions are included with regular park admission.
During the day, you’ll be able to celebrate with your favorite thrill rides, animal encounters and select elements of Christmas Town such as Christmas Town Village (which opens at 1 p.m.) and Elmo’s Christmas Wish. Meanwhile at night, you can experience all of the Christmas Town offerings and the countdown to 2021.
That night, you’ll have TWO opportunities to watch the Spark the Night fireworks show! If you want the best views, a separate reservation for premium viewing at the Festival Field is required. The reserved fireworks field access also includes the Christmas on Ice show, which precedes the fireworks. Starting at $6.99 per person, you can select either the 8:30 p.m. or the 11:30 p.m. showings. If you’d rather watch the fireworks elsewhere in the park but would still like to see the Christmas on Ice show, be sure to catch the 7 p.m. showtime. We suggest arriving at least a half-hour before, or earlier, for good seats!
Additional Tips for Busch Gardens Christmas Town
- Aside from the pretty, sparkling lights, we stopped at several photo-op stations, such as the one pictured above. We have so many great photos and memories from the night!
- If you’re like us and want to try ALL of the yummy treats and drinks, consider purchasing a Food & Beverage Sampler. Choose between a 5-item sampler for $34.99 or a 10-item sampler for $49.99.
- Tadpoles and adult frogs alike can participate in a brand-new scavenger hunt. Purchase a sticker map at the Emporium, Marrakesh Market, Xcursions or Painted Camel to begin searching for stockings hanging near your favorite animal habitats, and marking each location with the correct sticker. When you’ve found them all, bring your completed map back to the Emporium to collect a special pin!
- As far as crowds go, the park was busy due to attending on a Saturday. We missed out on riding any of the roller coasters because wait times ranged from 50 to 90 minutes long. Instead, we mainly focused on hitting all of the Christmas Town festivities since we arrived at the park around 3 p.m. Tad was a little bummed, but he has tackled them during previous visits to Busch Gardens so he wasn’t too upset. If it’s your first visit or if the rides are a big priority, arrive early and focus the first half of the day on hitting as many rides as possible.
We're so hoppy that we went to Busch Gardens Christmas Town this year, and we look forward to continuing this new Frog Family tradition! Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions.