6 amazing holiday shindigs at America's theme parks

If you’re looking for an over-the-top holiday celebration this year, America's theme parks have got it covered. From extravagant light displays to cleverly themed food, chances are you’ll be thoroughly entertained.

1. Christmas Town, Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Va.

©2014 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 (Busch Gardens)

The "world's most beautiful theme park" gets even more gussied up this time of year with 1,500 decorated trees, miles of garlands, twinkling snowflakes and the occasional snowfall. One tree in particular has 100,000 lights alone. Stroll through the massive park’s rolling hills among carolers and carnival-style games (one involves throwing real snowballs). Be sure to arrive with an empty belly; there's a buffet-style dinner at Festhaus, complete with a turkey carving station, mashed potatoes and gingerbread cheesecake. And make time for entertainment, including Scrooge No More!, a Broadway-style show with original music. (Note: Parking can be hectic, so plan accordingly. Also, many rides are not open.)

2. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Disney World, Orlando, Fla.

Disney characters dressed in their holiday finest parade down Main Street, U.S.A., at Magic Kingdom during "Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade." The festive processional is one of the happy highlights of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, a night of holiday splendor with lively stage shows, a unique holiday parade, Holiday Wishes: Celebrate the Spirit of the Season nighttime fireworks, and snow flurries on Main Street, U.S.A. The special-ticket event takes place on select nights in November and December in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Ryan Wendler, photographer)


This event is insanely popular, and for good reason. For starters, guests are treated to an unlimited supply of hot chocolate and sugar cookies throughout the night. Plus, you'll get to see a special Christmas parade, a holiday version of the impressive "Wishes" fireworks show and a new show called "A Frozen Holiday Wish,” featuring Elsa and Anna from Frozen, during which Elsa transforms the castle into an ice palace. Special effects and 200,000 white lights give the castle a frosted-over appearance. And the big bonus: Almost all the rides are open and tend to have shorter wait times.

3. A Very Furry Christmas, Sesame Place, Langhorne, Pa.

 (SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment)

This family-focused event offers impressive light displays, festive decorations and loads of rides, including the new Cookie’s Monster Land, featuring five rides, a three-story net climb and a toddler play area. There are Christmas shows, savory Christmas menus, super holiday shopping and a visit with Santa in his Furry Workshop. It’s warm and fuzzy to the nth degree.

4. Smoky Mountain Christmas, Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.


With 4 million twinkling lights and lots of quality musical performances, it's no surprise that this Christmas spectacle has won award after award over the years. Kids will love meeting Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and crew, and adults will love the food offerings. Dolly Parton even makes an appearance (and sings seven songs) in the form of a hologram during a musical presentation of A Christmas Carol. If the weather's good, most rides will be open.

5. Grinchmas, Universal Studios Florida, Orlando, Fla.

At Grinchmas at Islands of Adventure, the popular Dr. Seuss book ÒHow the Grinch Stole ChristmasÓ is brought to life in the heartwarming live stage show, ÒGrinchmas Wholiday Spectacular,Ó starring The Grinch and the Whos from Whoville. Grinchmas is part of Universal Orlando ResortÕs Holidays celebration, running from Dec. 3 to Jan. 1 and featuring live entertainment that the whole family can enjoy.


Score some one-on-one time with the mean, green one himself as Grinchmas comes to life throughout Seuss Landing in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Guests can explore every nook and cranny of the whimsical, wintry wonderland and experience the “Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular,” a heartwarming live retelling of Dr. Seuss’s classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” featuring The Grinch and the Whos from Who-ville. What’s more, if you've never seen New York’s Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in person, here's your chance to see a mini version, and without the cold weather. Some of the same larger-than-life balloons from the Macy’s parade are showcased at Universal Studios Florida every night, along with colorful holiday characters, fantasy-filled floats and a tree-lighting ceremony by Santa Claus. New this year, Chloe The Clown “Balloonicle” is a very impressive self-powered vehicle.

6. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, Disney Hollywood Studios, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Santa Goofy joins the fun during The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Making nightly appearances on the Streets of America, this jovial character greets guests in Goofy's Winter Wonderland. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights sparkles nightly throughout the holiday season at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kent Phillips, photographer)


Disney has a way of transforming you into a kid again during the holidays. This is especially true at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Beginning each night at dusk, you’ll see millions of dancing lights, lots of snow and Santa Goofy dressed in his holiday best. It all began when Jennings Osborne and his family set up a modest collection of holiday lights. Year after year, it kept growing — until 1995, when the family decided to share their decorations with the world. Disney stepped in and became the permanent home for this crazy collection.