Busch Gardens' Christmas Town has more snow, shows, lights, nights

By SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE

Times Staff Writer

Unlike a certain song, there will be snow in Africa this Christmas when Busch Gardens brings back Christmas Town, a series of holiday-themed evenings that dress up Tampa's tropical theme park in more than 1 million lights, hundreds of Christmas trees and a supersized snow play area.

The big surprise in the park's first Christmas Town last year was the huge popularity of the snow. You could walk right onto the SheiKra ride, but there was a two-hour wait to throw a snowball.

This year, the park has added more nights for Christmas Town and expanded the snow play area, giving suntanned visitors 15,000 square feet of specially made snow to play in, with eight snow slides in 108,000 cubic feet of ice crystals to make a snowman or two.

"It's going to be in a completely different area and triple the size, so we anticipate the crowds moving much more efficiently than last year," said Busch Gardens spokesman Travis Claytor.

The separate-ticket attraction runs from 6 to 11 p.m. for 18 nights through Dec. 23. Part of the park will go dark, so the only coasters open will be SheiKra, Gwazi and Cheetah Hunt. The Sesame Street kiddie rides will be open, as will some of the smaller rides in Timbuktu such as the Scorpion, Sand Serpent and the Sky Ride.

New this year is a cashless wristband system to make paying easier. The Jungala area, which was dark during last year's festivities, will have a new huge Christmas tree that comes alive every 15 minutes with dancing lights.

There is also a new show, Elmo's Christmas Wish, and Madagascar Live! Operation: Christmas Vacation features Gloria, Alex, King Julien and the penguins. What the park describes as "fun and colorful holographic ornaments" fill the trees overhead on the plaza pathway leading to the show.

Returning this year are the Christmas carol sing-along train and the Claus family's North Pole home, with Mrs. Claus in the kitchen baking holiday treats and Santa taking photos with families in his study. The Christmas Town penguins will be at the newly expanded Penguin Point, complete with a giant penguin photo opportunity in the Nairobi area.

The ice skating show Angels of Peace: A Christmas Journey on Ice also returns this year.

Local church choirs, school choruses and professional performance groups from around Florida will perform at the Marrakesh Theater. Performance groups will change nightly and feature traditional, classic and new holiday ballads.

If you go

Christmas Town

The Busch Gardens event runs

6-11 p.m. on select nights Friday through Dec. 23. Admission is $60 for adults, $20 for children plus tax (but you can save $10 to $20 buying tickets online). Annual pass member pricing starts at $25. Discounts are available online, at Publix, AAA locations and through promotional codes from Coca-Cola at Dunkin' Donuts and Fantastic Sam's. New this year, unlimited admission to all 18 nights of Christmas Town is $89 for adults and $29 for children. See christmastown.com.

6,000

candy canes will be used to make specialty drinks; that's enough to cover the length of the

2,800-foot-long

Sky Ride.

350

Christmas trees adorn

the 300-acre

park.

108,000

cubic feet of snow fill SnowWorld; that's enough to make

3,000 6-foot snowmen.

30,000

cookies will be baked for Christmas Town. When stacked, they would be the height of five

SheiKras.

More than

1 million lights illuminate Christmas Town. That's more than 80 miles of lights.

17,000 poinsettias transform

Poinsettia

Parkway.

Source: Busch Gardens

Tips

• Bring gloves to play in the "snow," since it's the consistency of the shaved ice of a snow cone. And don't think you can get away with lobbing a snowball at your loved one's head. The grinches at the gate warn against throwing snowballs at people.

• Speaking of snow, go there first because even with the expanded play area, this is likely to be the most popular feature with the longest lines.

• Pass holders or those with a Fun Card or ticket to Busch Gardens during the day can get into Snow World an hour early at 5 p.m.

• Discovery Dollars, a new cashless wristband, can be preloaded with cash or linked to a credit card so your kids don't have to have cash to pay for food or souvenirs. Unspent money will be returned at Guest Relations upon exit.

• Avoid the biggest crowds by going on a weeknight.

Busch Gardens' Christmas Town has more snow, shows, lights, nights 11/25/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 26, 2013 3:22pm]

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