As is tradition, the holiday season starts early at the theme parks, and Busch Gardens is no exception.
The Tampa park and Florida roller coaster king kicked off its annual Christmas Town event earlier than ever on Nov. 12. Besides the parks signature millions of lights and dozens of holiday displays, there are outdoor kitchens serving up sweet and savory treats plus classics, bars with boozy beverages and three new attractions to get your jolly on.
New this year is the Holiday in the Sky fireworks show at Festival Field around the corner from the new Iron Gwazi coaster, which is decked out for the holidays in red and green lighting (it will officially open in March 2022).
Another reason to light up the sky over Tampa and blast Christmas music, the Holiday in the Sky show is still an impressive display to cap off an evening of stuffing yourself with peppermint hot chocolate and whiskey-spiked bread pudding.
Speaking of indulgences, part of the draw of Christmas Town are its holiday-themed food and drink kiosks in the festival center and special menu items at restaurants around the park. The go-to items are, of course, deep dish cookies, hot chocolate (classic, peppermint or gingerbread) and a selection of local seasonal brews from Big Storm, 3 Daughters and Coppertail.
Many of the menus are new this year, with the most eye-catching and mouthwatering options being a chicken and maple bacon doughnut sandwich, sweet potato totchos with smoked brisket and beer cheese and a giant soft pretzel twisted into the shape of the Busch Gardens coaster logo.
There are also new mixes at the Jack Frosty Cocktails kiosk from the new Christmas Town punch (cranberry, orange, Titos Vodka) and Mistletoe Margarita (lime sour, cranberry, Milagro tequila) to an apple brandy hot toddy (brandy, cinnamon, honey, lemon).
You can even ask to make your hot cocoa jolly with Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlua or Peppermint Schnapps and get a kick of Jack Daniels in the caramel and brown butter bread pudding, which is spiked with a pipette of Winter Jack Tennessee Cider.
Beyond the booze and bites, theres a Storytime with Mrs. Claus show in the new Coke Canopy near the Christmas Town Village area. Shows are at various times throughout the night along with chances to visit Santa at the North Pole Experience in the Nairobi area of Busch Gardens.
That same area of the park (near the elephant habitat and the Penguin Point light display) also has the Holly Jolly ExpressBusch Gardens signature train decked out in holiday lights and blasting classic Christmas tunes as it takes you around the darkened animal habitats.
Other returning favorites include the long-running Christmas on Ice skating show in the Moroccan Palace Theater, the Three Kings Journey in the Stanleyville Theater and Elmos Christmas Wish at the Sunny Day Theater in the Sesame Street Safari of Fun area of the park.
Like in past years, Busch Gardens also gets appearances from the most famous reindeer of all at Rudolphs Winter Wonderland, which opens at 5 p.m. during Christmas Town dates.
Christmas Town is included with admission to Busch Gardens, though food and drink items are separate. Holiday dishes are $6.99-$9.99 and drinks are $10.99. Sampling lanyards are available starting at $44.99 for eight items.
Christmas Town runs daily through Jan. 2, 2022.
For more information and tickets, visit christmastown.com.Chelsea Zukowski