Take time out from harried holiday shopping and immerse yourself in the spirit of the season with a visit to one of these eight U.S. amusement parks, which are all dolled up with twinkling lights and wrapped in winter festivities.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Christmas Town – Williamsburg, Va.
Dubbed the "Most Beautiful Park" for 22 consecutive years by the National Amusement Park Historical Association, Busch Gardens Williamsburg becomes even more stunning during the holiday season with more than 6 million lights and 1,500 fresh-cut Christmas trees. All of the park's flat rides remain open during Christmas Town, as does Williamsburg's newest roller coaster Verbolten and the Nacht Tower. Busch Gardens is a European-themed park year-round, separated into villages representing seven countries. Each area boasts attractions, shopping, cuisine and rides reflective of the country’s culture, with special touches added for the holidays, like Mistletoe Marketplace, a traditional outdoor German Christmas market featuring handmade crafts and gifts.
LEGOLAND California’s Holiday Snow Days and Winter Nights – Carlsbad, Calif.
Snow-deprived beachgoers get a taste of winter with piles of snow at LEGOLAND California. Families can build a real snowman and decorate him with LEGOS as an alternative to Frosty’s usual corncob pipe and button nose. An enormous Christmas tree made from LEGO bricks will make an impressive backdrop for your holiday card photo. On Dec. 31, kids will ring in 2013 without missing their bedtime at the LEGOLAND Kids’ New Years Eve Party. The world’s largest New Year’s celebration specifically for children features live music, entertainers like stilt walkers and unicyclists, and a spectacular fireworks display.
Sesame Place’s A Very Furry Christmas – Langhorne, Pa.
Three Christmas shows starring Elmo and other familiar friendly monsters will enchant the preschooler set at Sesame Place. The "Neighborhood Street Party Christmas Parade" and a 25-foot Christmas tree that lights up the night in sync with holiday tunes are sure to get park-goers of all ages in the holiday spirit.
Knott’s Merry Farm at Knott’s Berry Farm – Buena Park, Calif.
America’s first theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm hosts a holiday celebration complete with "A Peanuts’ Holiday Parade," visits with Santa Claus and even a Christmas ice skating show. Through Christmas Eve, artists peddle their one-of-a-kind crafts, jewelry, ornaments and more from temporary storefronts in Knott’s Christmas Crafts Village.
Hersheypark Christmas Candylane – Hershey, Pa.
Chocolate enthusiasts can sip steaming mugs of Hershey’s signature hot chocolate, while wandering through Christmas Candylane’s quaint shops and over two million lights on display. Thirty rides, a rock 'n' roll-themed Christmas revue and Hershey’s product characters decked out in their holiday-finest round out the festivities.
Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas – Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Dollywood offers more than 30 rides and attractions. But at a park named for its famous country song-crooning owner, Dolly Parton, it’s no surprise that live performances are the real stars at Smoky Mountain Christmas. There are seven holiday stage shows to choose from, like "Christmas in the Smokies," starring a 12-member cast performing hometown holiday favorites; or "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," a musical in which a family finds its own Christmas miracle.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World – Orlando, Fla.
This holiday party at Disney’s Magic Kingdom features faux snow falling on Main Street, the "Once Upon a Christmas Parade," a holiday fireworks display, photo opportunities with Disney characters and a boundless supply of cookies, cocoa, apples and other treats. Cinderella’s Castle in the new Fantasyland drips with snow and icicles, thanks to the magic of Disney. A limited number of tickets are sold for this nighttime event, making lines shorter for the park’s most popular rides.
"The Happiest Place on Earth" just got merrier at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure – Anaheim, Calif.
Throughout Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Park, everything is doused with greenery, ornaments and lights. Included with the price of regular park admission, visitors enjoy crafts, games and a live band at the "Jingle Jangle Jamboree" in Frontierland. Arrive early on special days to snag one of Disneyland’s massive handmade candy canes as a sweet souvenir of your holiday adventure.
Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor of TravelMamas.com, a site for anyone who wants to travel with children … and stay sane! Her book, “The Travel Mamas’ Guide,” will be available March 2013.