Busch Gardens announced on March 1, 2012 that Christmas Town would be coming to Tampa for the holiday season with a variety of new experiences for guests to enjoy. A separately ticketed event, Christmas Town would feature more lights and decor than ever before along with a number of exclusive entertainment offerings.
On July 10, 2012, the park announced more details on exactly what Christmas Town would entail. From the press release:
Busch Gardens Tampa is getting ready to launch the biggest Christmas celebration ever! Christmas Town will transform the park into a nighttime holiday wonderland of wintery surprises and all things Christmas, filling guests’ senses with seasonal sights, sounds and flavors, and creating a beautiful new tradition for Tampa’s families.
For the first time in the park’s 53-year history, visitors to Christmas Town will experience all-new evening attractions, shows and shopping from 6 to 11 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, Nov. 30 through Dec. 23.
Even Busch Gardens’ most familiar fans will barely recognize the portions of the park that convert to Christmas Town through special entertainment, live music, festive treats, holiday shopping and thousands and thousands of twinkling Christmas lights:
- Celebration Village brings together the rich, warm colors of Christmas and heartfelt voices lifted in song to welcome guests as they enter Christmas Town. Draped in jewel-tone ornaments and glowing lights, the Moroccan Village comes alive with local choirs in the Marrakesh Theater and shops full of holiday gifts.
- Family and friends will cozy up to brave the chill in the air along Ice Wonder Way. The frozen pathway sparkles and shimmers in the night as snowflakes dance down the front of the Moroccan Palace, welcoming guest for special performances of the all-new Christmas Town ice show.
- Wild colors, exotic decorations and intricate animal patterns create the kind of Christmas found only in nature! Stretching along the Cheetah Hunt walkway, Jungle Jubilee welcomes guests to Florida’s only triple-launch coaster and the iconic Crown Colony restaurant, featuring special holiday fare and the new Carol of the Bells light show.
- Just around the bend, Candy Cane Lane gives Christmas Town a peppermint twist. Red and white lights twinkle in the trees throughout the Nairobi area, calling to mind the beloved Christmas confection and pointing guests down the path to the Christmas Town Express and Santa’s House.
- Experience the humble magnificence of that first Christmas night and remember the real “reason for the season” and along Miracle Way. Guests will marvel at a topiary representation of the Holy Nativity and illuminated angels, set along the Stanleyville Bridge in the warm glow of Christmas lights and sacred holiday music.
- Christmas has come to Sesame Street! Elmo and his friends are all dressed up in their holiday best at Sesame Street Season of Fun, ready to pose for pictures and plenty of hugs with kids of all ages who stop by to wish them a funny, furry Christmas.
- When it’s warm in December and there’s more sand than snow, celebrate a Floridian Christmas with a touch of the tropics in the Enchanted Flamingo Valley. Guests will be “thinking pink” as they encounter decorated palm trees and a flock of festive flamingos created from thousands of twinkling pink lights.
- Christmas is in full bloom along Poinsettia Parkway, where guests can lose themselves among hundreds of the traditional holiday flowers and feast their senses on delicious holiday treats.
- On your way to play in the snow, stop by Jingle Bell Junction and climb aboard a pint-sized train for a holly-jolly ride designed especially for young guests, located at the crossroads of Christmas Town in Gwazi Plaza.
- Guests can find the perfect holiday gift or indulge in a delicious seasonal treat as they explore Christmas Town Village. Set along the Gwazi Park walkway, tiny Christmas cabins will scent the air with seasonal treats like apple pies and strudels, gingerbread cookies, eggnog and roasting nuts, as well as a delicious array of flavored popcorns, roasted nuts, waffles with ice cream, fruit-filled crepes, rustic sandwiches, homemade potato chips and Starbucks coffees and hot chocolate.
- Enjoy a nostalgic white Christmas – in Florida! – in Christmas Town Park. Guests can experience real, frozen snowdrifts in the Snow Wonderland snow play area, meander among quaint cabin shops, pose for pictures with strolling snowmen, and finish off the night with an exclusive concert with the Grammy Award-winning group Jars of Clay.
And while Christmas Town will offer guests the opportunity to ride some of Busch Gardens’ most popular roller coasters, including Cheetah Hunt, SheiKra and Gwazi, the special event will also offer some equally special rides and attractions exclusive to the nighttime experience:
- All aboard the Christmas Town Express for the biggest Christmas carol sing-a-long on wheels! Friends and family are invited join in singing traditional songs of the season like “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” while circling the park on a beautifully lit vintage-style steam locomotive.
- The Claus family invites you into their North Pole home at Welcome to Santa’s House. While the elves are busy preparing for Christmas, Mrs. Claus is in the kitchen baking holiday treats, but even Santa himself will take a break from his busy holiday schedule to meet and take photos with families in his private study.
- Straight from the South Pole, the Christmas Town Penguins have brought a bit of ice and snow all the way to Florida! Come chill with these dapper little creatures and marvel at their underwater antics at the penguin habitat, located near Candy Cane Lane in the Nairobi area.
Guests who have come to love Busch Gardens’ traditional holiday shows will still be able to see Christmas on Ice, Christmas from the Heart and Christmas Celebration during the day. But at Christmas Town, new shows and surprise guests who will provide a very special evening of family-friendly entertainment:
- Busch Gardens’ Crown Colony House restaurant sets the stage for an stunning ballet of music and light each night under the stars. The Carol of the Bells features tens of thousands of Christmas lights covering the façade of the stately building, set in motion to a choreographed presentation of stirring seasonal songs.
- World-class skaters will bring to life favorite Christmas songs both traditional and contemporary, in a cool, all-new snow-inspired ice show, produced especially for Christmas Town by the creators of Christmas on Ice and Iceploration.
- Jimmy Osmond’s Christmas Jukebox features Jimmy Osmond and his family singing favorite Christmas tunes and sharing special holiday memories each night in the Stanleyville Theater. In the true spirit of Christmas, Busch Gardens is joining Jimmy in his work with the Children’s Miracle Network, and will be making a donation to local Tampa Bay-area kids in need.
- Grammy Award-winning contemporary Christian artists Jars of Clay will provide an uplifting finale each evening with an exclusive concert in Gwazi Park. Performing both original hits and holiday favorites, the group will send guests on their way with music in their hearts and the spirit of Christmas in their souls.
For those who can’t wait to get their night at Christmas Town started, guests are invited to pull up a chair at Mrs. Claus’ Family Feast for a special evening filled with stories, songs, a delicious buffet of traditional holiday fare, plenty of opportunities for holiday hugs and photos with Mrs. Claus and her favorite elves, and exclusive no-wait access to Welcome to Santa’s House and Snow Wonderland after dinner.
“When Christmas Town opens in November, it will be the beginning of a unique holiday tradition for Tampa Bay area,” says Jim Dean, Busch Gardens Tampa’s park president. “We are creating a season-long celebration for family and friends unlike any other event our guests have ever seen – the kind of Christmas fun only Busch Gardens can provide.”
Similar to the park’s popular Halloween event, Christmas Town will be a separate-ticketed night event, and regular daytime admission is not required or included. General admission for Christmas Town is $39.99 plus tax. Busch Gardens annual pass members will receive the deepest discounts, and special offers are available for guests wishing to upgrade their paid daily admission to Busch Gardens and through promotional codes from select retail partners. Families with children ages 3 to 9 will enjoy a special advance-purchase price of $9.99 for their youngest members.
A special Christmas Town Preview Center opened inside Desert Traders in Timbuktu, and annual pass members could purchase tickets for the event for only $10 during a special sale from July 10 to 17, 2012.
Also in July, local choirs were invited to audition to perform at Christmas Town, including shows at one of the park’s venues and “the opportunity to participate in the evening’s grand finale, featuring live musicians and special celebrity guests.” In exchange for performing, choir members would received free admission to the event and the option to purchase discounted tickets for family and friends.
After Howl-O-Scream ended, the Shop of Horrors was converted into Santa’s Christmas Workshop, occupying the interior of Sahara Trading Company through the holiday season. A pass member exclusive pin was available for $7.95, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Also available at Santa’s Christmas Workshop and other gift shops around the park were Holly Adler’s Hollywood Nutcrackers with unique safari themes. Guests could meet the artist at the workshop on December 8, 2012 from 4 to 8 p.m.
Several artisans offered their creations in cabins, including Judy Derench with her art made from driftwood, branches and stumps; Donna DiGiorgio with items made from old bottles, cans and other scrap materials; and fine glass collectibles from professional Egyptian glassblowing artists.
Guests with Christmas Town tickets could enter the park beginning at 5 p.m., although most of the festivities and special activities began at the official opening time of 6 p.m. General admission for Christmas Town is $39.99 plus tax. Busch Gardens annual pass members receive the deepest discounts with advance online priced at $24.99 for adults and $9.99 for children, and special offers are available for guests wishing to upgrade their paid daily admission to Busch Gardens. Gift cards are available at Bay area Publix locations and additional discounts are offered through promotional codes from Chick Fil-A, Coca-Cola at Wal-Mart and Fantastic Sam’s. Families with children ages 3 to 9 can still enjoy a special advance-purchase price of $9.99 for their youngest members.
A portion of the proceeds from the event were donated to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
At the end of October, the park released a special offer via their facebook page for $29.99 Christmas Town tickets, a savings of $10 off the full gate price.
On opening night, November 30, the park hosted a VIP event for Yelp Tampa Bay members which included a scavenger hunt.
Along with the all of the lights and shows described in the press release above, there was also Angels of Peace, a special ice skating show available only during Christmas Town, and Journey of the Three Kings.
The park released some interesting facts about the event in a blog post in early December 2012. Christmas Town 2012 featured 12 different styles of holiday music throughout the park, and 19 area choirs were scheduled to perform at Marrakesh Theater. Some 50 miles of lights, when strung end to end, totaling more than a million individual bulbs were hung around the park. Six different types of garland stretching 17,000 feet, 270 holly trees, and 27,500 ornaments ranging in size from 2.4 to 25 inches were used in the decor. 300 tons of snow were used to fill the Snow Play area.
SnowWorld, where guests could play in the snow and try their hand at making and throwing snowballs, would end up being sponsored by Coca-Cola.
As with any brand new offering, there were some issues that caused some negative guest experiences. The park made an official apology on Sunday, December 9, 2012 for the issues from the previous evening, specifically the high volume of traffic. Comments on the park’s blog post from guests who were there that evening detailed very heavy traffic entering the park, inconsistent communication, lack of staff both inside and outside the park, and extremely overcrowded conditions throughout. A few comments of those who ended up attending on that Sunday evening said crowds were much lighter and the issues guests the night before were not present.
Some of the changes made included adding an extra night to the event on Thursday, December 20 from 6 to 11 p.m. An additional hour, with closing at midnight instead of 11 p.m., was added on December 15, 21, 22, and 23. The full service Crown Colony Restaurant was opened for dinner during Christmas Town on December 21, 22, and 23. An additional train was added for the Christmas carol sing-a-long. The Skyride opened on Saturday December 22 to allow guests a way to see the lights from the air. Unspecified improvements to parking and traffic flow were also announced by the park.
Advance tickets would end up selling out for the last two event nights on December 22 and 23.
Special “holiday meals” were offered at several of the park’s restaurants. At Zambia Smokehouse, a turkey dinner was available with sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce. Zagora Cafe had a Creamy Turkey Pot Pie on the menu.
As part of the event, a signature non-alcoholic drink was offered: Candy Cane Sprite. The park posted the recipe on its blog for guests to enjoy at home:
- 1 16-oz bottle of Sprite
- Dash of Peppermint-flavored syrup
- Crushed ice
- 1 candy cane
- Fill half of a regular-sized cup with crushed ice
- Combine Sprite and a splash of peppermint syrup to taste
- Stir with red and white candy cane; drink will turn pink
Additional details on Christmas Town 2012 will be added in the future.
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