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Busch Gardens Williamsburg Brings Holiday Joy with Christmas Town

November 26, 2014, 11:35 AM · As temperatures begin to drop in northern climates, and families begin their preparations for their annual Thanksgiving feast, some theme parks are also treating guests to holiday-themed events. Just as Halloween has become a lucrative business of hard-ticketed and full-capacity events for many parks, Christmas is becoming nearly as profitable. Year-round operational parks have been hosting Christmas events for years, but even some seasonal parks are getting into the act. Many parks located in colder parts of the country are limited to simply light displays and holiday themed shows, but in its sixth year, Busch Gardens Williamsburg has continued to expand its Christmas Town event. This event requires a hard ticket — it is not included in any season pass level, even Platinum Passholders.

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My family and I were invited to experience opening night of Christmas Town as a contributor to Theme Park Insider and Busch Gardens Williamsburg Ambassador Blogger. Those who have experienced the event in the past will see much of the same, with millions of lights scattered around the park. Many of the familiar lands are tweaked, with Christmas theme like France overlaid with a 12 Days of Christmas theme and Germany accented with an O’Tannenbaum theme.

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Only one of the park’s roller coasters, Verbolten, operates during Christmas Town, along with a number of the flat rides, but Christmas Town is not really about the rides; it’s about the decorations, lights, and shows. The shows cater to a wide variety of audiences, with a gospel-inspired retelling of the Biblical Christmas Story (Gloria) to the new Broadway-caliber staging of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, "Scrooge No More." The new show, staged in the recently renovated Globe Theater, takes advantage of the theater’s high-tech projection system and delivers some strong original musical numbers to present the famous story of the miserly man and his search for redemption. The excellent cast, particularly the lead, are engaging, and the staging is unique. "Scrooge No More" is likely to be extremely popular and is almost singlehandedly worth the price of admission.

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Similar to last year, I was invited to experience Santa’s Fireside Feast, which is a buffet-style meal hosted by none other than St. Nicholas, along with Mrs. Claus and two of his elves. In addition to the all-you-care-to-eat dinner, guests are entertained by a rousing rendition of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and the opportunity to meet Santa. The buffet includes turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, salad, and more. The cost ($31 for adults and $20 for children 3-9) is a bit pricey, but well worth it when compared to character buffets at many other theme parks.

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Also new this year, Busch Gardens is launching a service called PhotoKey during Christmas Town. We had seen the service being offered at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa last month, and it seems as if SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment is pushing the service to all of the parks in its chain. We were given access to the service during our visit, which is somewhat similar to Disney’s PhotoPass/Memory Maker. Guests can currently purchase access to the service for a single day or for the entirety of the Christmas Town event. Users are provided a lanyard with a unique QR code printed on it that links to their PhotoKey account. As guests walk around the park, there are numerous opportunities to have pictures taken, and park photographers shoot the QR code prior to taking the guest photo. Guests have the opportunity to view their photos at many of the PhotoKey locations, and can also view them through the PhotoKey app (currently available for both Android and IOS mobile devices). From our experience during the first night PhotoKey was being used, the park has a lot of bugs to work out. Because of the technology used, we experienced significant delays in being able to view photos within the app (we’re actually still waiting for a couple to show up), and we also ended up with a lot of photos in our account that were not ours. The service has promise, but at a price of $35 per day ($60 for the entire Christmas Town season), that’s a lot of money for a service that still seems like a work in progress, and is limited to just eight different staged photo locations around the park. It is interesting to see other parks attempt to compete with Disney’s popular and profitable PhotoPass/Memory Maker, but PhotoKey and Universal’s Photo Connect still have a long way to go.

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Despite the chill in the air, our trip to Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Christmas Town was an enjoyable one, and the weather actually helped to enhance the feel of the event. The event runs on select days through New Year’s Eve.

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