Tournament, round one: Christmas at Busch Gardens, or Dollywood?

March 18, 2011, 7:10 AM · Christmas and theme parks go together so well thematically that I wonder why more parks don't schedule special Christmas events. Sure, the weather's tough at many regional parks, but embrace cold and even snowy weather around the holidays. Some creativity in design surely could allow even the most northerly park to pull off some Christmas event.

So that's why I'm showing some love today to two parks that have created their own special events for the Christmas season. And you'll vote today to advance one of them to the next round of the 2011 Theme Park Insider Tournament: America's Best Theme Park Event.

Christmas Town debuted in 2009 at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, featuring special holiday-themed shows, selected rides from the park, new walk-through attractions and a feast with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Not to mention more lights than I care to count, too.

Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood shares its name with an old Dolly Parton movie, and debuted in the park in 1990. Being Dollywood, the focus here is on live musical shows, and Smoky Mountain Christmas delivers with at least half a dozen special holiday-themed shows, as well as a parade and the Polar Express 4-D show (familiar to SeaWorld Orlando visitors).

Both parks provide an entertaining template for what other parks can do to extend their year into the holiday season, the same way that Knott's Berry Farm showed the industry how to extend the season into October with Halloween events. But only one of these events can move on in our tournament. Which will it be?

Please share your experience with either (or both) of these events, in the comments.

Replies (11)

March 18, 2011 at 7:22 AM · A Smoky Mountain Christmas is soooooo much bigger than just Dollywood, but Dollywood is the crown jewel. It's a tradition that goes back such a long time. It would be a shame not to do Dollywood since they "hold the patent" on the Christmas idea, lol. So many shows, lights, and the entire region comes alive with lights - it's amazing, you have to see it. Busch Gardens' isn't nearly that big at all!
March 18, 2011 at 9:49 AM · I'd probably have to give it to Dollywood, mostly on the scope of their event along with how long the park has been doing it. Busch Gardens is well on their way to building a great holiday tradition with Christmas Town. They really committed to the idea of a Christmas event, understanding that it takes time and continued effort to build an audience. It's unfortunate that Kings Island's Winterfest (the revived 2005 version had tremendous potential, but the 2006 was canceled shortly after the acquisition by Cedar Fair) didn't get the same chance.
March 18, 2011 at 10:11 AM · If Dollywood's Christmas event is anywhere near as good as the one held at her sister park, Silver Dollar City, then it definitely deserves the "W".
March 18, 2011 at 11:07 AM · Voted Dollywood.

-Celebrates the true meaning of Christmas
-4 Million Christmas lights
-Polar Express 4D
-7 Christmas shows
-Breakfast with Santa and Santa's Workshop
-Always changing and adding new things to see and do.

March 18, 2011 at 11:17 AM · Dollywood for sure - that park just screams Christmas in December!!
March 18, 2011 at 11:47 AM · I live closer to Busch Gardens, but I am a Season Ticketholder to Dollywood. I honestly can not start Christmas season without visiting the Smoky Mountain Christmas!!!

It has something for everyone, every age. Seriously, from Santa to Christian-themes programs. I love the park year-round, but their Christmas Festival is the best!!!

March 18, 2011 at 11:48 AM · My Family purchases season passes every year for Dollywood. Though DW is so much fun in the spring, summer and Fall, It absolutley ROCKS at Christmas. We have to go at least once every Christmas Season. It has become aa family tradition and its just not Christmas unless we go....LOVE DOLLYWOOD..
March 18, 2011 at 12:21 PM · Nowhere is Christmas more real then at Dollywood. The lights are beautiful, the food is delicious, the shows are great, and everywhere you will find evidence of the true meaning of Christmas.
March 18, 2011 at 12:48 PM · Dollywood puts the magic of Christmas into their celebration of Christmas.
March 18, 2011 at 7:05 PM · What about Hersheypark's Christmas Candylane event? It's been going on for YEARS, and has grown to include Santa's live reindeer! Not to mention the fabulous hot chocolate... Additionally, the whole Hershey community has events going on from November through January, so the Christmas spirit isn't restricted to the Park property. My family has been attending Candylane since the late 1980's, and it just wouldn't be the holidays without a trip there! As for this particular match-up, though, my vote is for Dollywood. BGW has only had two years of it's Christmas event (and even though it's pretty amazing)-- it has some catching up to do with Dollywood!
March 18, 2011 at 9:43 PM · Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas made our 2010 holiday...Seeing all the beautiful lights and shows, eating turkey dinners at the Backstage Restaurant...Riding The Polar Express...and the lights on the trees that looked like real icicles and snowflakes were awesome! Can't wait to go back again this year....Dollywood's definitely the Best!

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive