TAMPA — Forget the 90-degree heat. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Busch Gardens.
On Tuesday, the theme park announced plans for its new Christmas Town celebration running Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights Nov. 30 through Dec. 23.
This separate-ticket event will have nightly concerts by Jars of Clay, a holiday ice show, a train ride for kids and a Christmas village with 50 tons of snow. It will snow every night and, of course, Santa Claus will come to town.
Like the park's popular Howl-O-Scream, Christmas Town will be open extra hours from 6 to 11 p.m. and cover most areas of the park. Many, but not all, attractions will stay open, including the Cheetah Hunt, Gwazi and SheiKra roller coasters.
Christmas Town has been in the works for some time and marks Busch Gardens' first foray into a Christmas celebration similar to Lowry Park Zoo's Wild Wonderland and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Disney World.
"This is something that we should have done a long time ago,'' said Busch Gardens president Jim Dean. "We're about making memories for families every day of the year and especially at Christmas time. This is going to be an annual tradition.''
The details might win over even the Grinch: 300 Christmas trees, a mile of garland and 1 million lights — enough to stretch 50 miles from end to end.
About 600 glowing lanterns will light Miracle Way, which also will have a nativity scene made of topiary. Jingle Bell Junction will have a Christmas train for kids; the main train ride will turn into a big Christmas carol sing-a-long.
During the holiday season, Busch Gardens will replace its popular Iceploration show at the Moroccan Palace Theater with a Christmas on Ice show during the day and another skating show at night. Elmo and his friends will wear their holiday best in Sesame Street Safari of Fun.
Poinsettia Parkway will feature 4,000 flowered plants arranged as Christmas trees, and the Crown Colony House will have 3,000 twinkling lights synchronized to seasonal songs. Even the flamingos will get into the spirit in a sea of pink lights adorning Enchanted Flamingo Valley.
In a nod to the South Pole, Busch Gardens is adding penguins to its animal attractions. They will take up residence in the current otter exhibit in Nairobi and will be on display only at night during Christmas Town.
Gwazi Park will transform into a winter wonderland with snow, ice slides, tunnels and party pictures with giant snowmen. Kiosks will sell roasted nuts, fudge, hot chocolate and other festive foods. Santa, Mrs. Claus and elves will invite friends to tour their home. Jimmy Osmond of Osmond family fame will perform at the Stanleyville Theater.
Admission to Christmas Town is $29.99 in advance for adults and $9.99 for children ages 3 to 9. Tickets the night of the event are $39.99 for adults and $14.99 for children.
Through next Tuesday, premium pass holders can buy tickets for $9.99 at the Christmas Town Preview Center now open in Timbuktu or online at christmastown.com. Otherwise, premium pass members get $5 off adult admission.
For an additional $20 for adults and $14 for children, guests can have dinner with Mrs. Claus at the Desert Grill. The ticket also gives people front-of-the-line privileges at the snow play area and Santa's house.