Busch Gardens Christmas Town 2023

A Parent’s Review of Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Busch Gardens Christmas Town is celebrating its 11th anniversary in Tampa Bay with ALL-NEW holiday light displays, a NEW 40-foot tall Christmas tree, NEW food and drinks, and more! Christmas Town kicked off on November 11 and will run for 58 consecutive nights through January 7. 2024.

This is one of our favorite Christmas events in Tampa Bay because it truly appeals to all ages and stages whether you’re a young family with a little one or you simply want to escape for a date night. We also like that this event is included with admission, so if you have an annual pass or Fun Card, you can go back more than once and not feel as pressured to do everything.

We attended on opening night so we can help you plan your most magical night ever among the millions of twinkling lights! So, let’s dive in on what to expect this year.

What’s NEW at Christmas Town in 2023

We want to start this guide by sharing what’s NEW in 2023!  Here’s what they’re sharing with us so far:

  • NEW light displays will take over the Jungala area, extending through Pantopia featuring a light-up walkthrough dragon.
  • NEW 40-foot pixelated tree at Cheetah Plaza lights up to the tune of your favorite holiday tunes! This is a great place to hang and out and dance with younger ones while big kids go on rides like Cheetah Hunt.
New walk through light up dragon at Christmas Town
New walk-through dragon lights in Pantopia. This is a great stop as you make your way to pictures with Rudolph and friends! Photo by Laura Byrne. 2023.

Don’t Miss the Character Meet and Greets at Busch Gardens Christmas Town

There are some fun character meet and greets exclusive to this event along with a very special visit with the jolly old elf himself!

Santa begins his meet and greets at Santa’s North Pole Experience in the Nairobi area at 3 pm and Rudolph and Friends in Pantopia at 5 pm. The lines can get long, but there are options to purchase a priority access ticket.

You ABSOLUTELY MUST Meet Santa at Busch Gardens Christmas Town

Santa's House at Busch Gardens Christmas Town elves
The kids loved chatting with Santa’s elves while we waited our turn to visit the jolly old elf! Photo by Laura Byrne. 2023.

Busch Gardens does an awesome job of creating a magical meet-and-greet experience with Santa which begin at 3 pm each day.

You’ll find him over at Santa’s North Pole Experience in the Nairobi area across from the Holly Jolly Express train stop. The elves make the experience extra magical. You’ll step inside his workshop where all the planning is in action for the big night. Once it’s your turn, the elves lead you to Santa for a magical moment when the door opens and you get to see the big guy!

It’s a really cool moment as the anticipation builds and makes it a bit more special.

Pictures with Santa at Busch Gardens Christmas Town
Pictures with Santa at Busch Gardens Christmas Town. Photo by Laura Byrne. 2023.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and friends are a MUST-SEE!

Pictures with Rudolph at Busch Gardens Christmas Town
Pictures with Rudolph at Busch Gardens Christmas Town. Photo by Laura Byrne. 2023.

Get ready for the Christmas nostalgia to kick in! This is one of our favorite holiday meet and greets in Tampa Bay because it brings back so many Christmas memories and it’s one that appeals to all generations.

This is your chance to snap a photo next to Rudolph and Clarice and even meet a photo opp with Bumble! You’ll find them over at Pantopia Theater beginning at 5 pm.

Bumble at Busch Gardens Christmas Town 2023.
Bumble at Busch Gardens Christmas Town. Photo by Laura Byrne. 2023.

Christmas Fun at Sesame Street Safari of Fun

If your kiddos are big fans of Sesame Street, they’ll love the meet and greets with their favorite characters dressed in their holiday best at Sunny Day Theatre. This opportunity at Christmas Town is at various times earlier in the day, so around lunchtime.

There is also an adorable holiday-themed live show, ‘Elmo’s Christmas Wish’ that will have everyone up on their feet dancing to the tunes at the outdoor Sunny Day Theater. This is a good time to check out the rides in Safari of Fun just for the little ones.

Elmo's Christmas Wish at Christmas Town
Elmo’s Christmas Wish at Christmas Town. Photo by Laura Byrne.

The Holiday Princesses are Back at Christmas Town

The holiday princesses are also back this year! You’ll notice the Ice Princess, Poinsettia Princess, and Sugar Plum Princess.

Over in the realm called Land of Sweets where the newest characters to join Christmas Town can be found, the Sugar Plum Ballerina on stilts and her cavalier soldier.

Land of Sweets Sugar Plum Ballerina at Busch Gardens Christmas Town
Sugar Plum Ballerina at Busch Gardens Christmas Town.

They’re available throughout the evening for photos beginning at 5:00 pm throughout the park–at least this has been the case in years past. Signs will be posted at each photo stop to let you know when they’ll be out for photos.

Experience the Returning Favorite Things to Do at  Christmas Town 

Holly Jolly Express at Christmas Town
Holly Jolly Express at Christmas Town. Photo provided by Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

The Holly Jolly Express is a must-experience for families. You can board the open-air train for a ride around the park as you sing along to your favorite Christmas tunes. This is a great opportunity to sip on your hot chocolate while you enjoy the scenery of the park and listen to the music!

Over at Dragon Fire Grill, you can see the musical tale of the Three Kings Journey as it brings the journey to Bethlehem to the stage. This will be performed on select nights from November 11, 2023, through January 7, 2024.

And of course, there’s the beloved ice-skating show “Christmas on Ice” at the Moroccan Palace Theater, one of the longest-running holiday shows at Christmas Town. We recommend getting there early on busier nights since this is a super popular attraction.

We don’t want to forget Storytime with Mrs Claus which is super cute. You’ll find this experience at the Coke Canopy not too far from the Christmas Town Village in the Festival Walkway area.

Finally, on Saturdays and select days, you can enjoy the Holidays in the Sky: A Fireworks Spectacular. The best spot to watch is in the Festival Field area near Christmas Town Village.

Taste and Sip the Sweets and Treats at Christmas Town

Make your way over to the Christmas Town Village to sip and taste your way through holiday treats! While the line can get long for the hot cocoa here, keep in mind that there are several Cookies & Cocoa stops throughout the park during the event. This is one of them not inside the village area.

treats at Christmas Town Busch Gardens

Here’s what’s NEW on the menu in 2023:

  • Chicken coq-au-vin served with red bliss mashed potatoes
  • Holiday Poutine, served with gravy, cheese curds and cranberry relish
  • Smoked turkey, stuffing, cranberry relish, gravy and Texas toast
  • Seared scallops, ruby red couscous, and goat cheese crumbles

If you’ve designated a driver, the non-driving adults will love some of the themed cocktails in Christmas Town Village like a spiked hot cocoa with Kahula, Peppermint Schnapps or Bailey’s Irish cream. There a several other specialty cocktails, wines and brews too!

The best and most cost-effective way to taste your way through Christmas Town is with a Christmas Town Sampler Lanyard which starts at $44 for a 5 punch card. If you’re a pass member, you can pick up a 12-punch lanyard for the price of a 10-punch.

The Lights! So Many Lights!

One of our favorite things about Christmas Town is the millions of lights that light up the park! They usually begin the installation process in the summertime, but the pandemic changed that so it was super fast mode as installation began a couple of months ago.

Millions of holiday Lights at Busch Gardens Christmas Town
There are so many beautiful light displays throughout Christmas Town. You’ll find these lights as you make your way toward Santa’s house.

Christmas Town Village is beautifully lit up and we LOVE the colors and rainbow of trees in Sesame Street Safari of Fun!

The kids loved running through the light tunnel near Jungala. It’s so cool to stand in the middle as the lights dance along to the music. It’s a great selfie spot too!

light tunnel at Busch Gardens Christmas Town
The Light Tunnel at Busch Gardens Christmas Town.

How much are tickets for Christmas Town at Busch Gardens?

If you are an annual pass holder or have a Fun Card, it’s included with your pass!

If not, Christmas Town is included with park admission, so you can stay and play all day with a single-day ticket which are on sale now for $84.99 (price subject to change). This may be a good option for out-of-town guests.

Another option for out-of-town guests is the CityPass which gets them into 5 local attractions starting at $129. It’s always worth checking Groupon too.

However, if you are local or you don’t live too far from Tampa Bay, this is a great time to consider purchasing an annual pass or Fun Card if you think you’ll come back more than once throughout the year. One of the reasons we prefer the Silver level and above annual passes is the free parking, because that can get expensive. You can learn more about the pass options here.

When is the best time to go to Christmas Town?

If you’re able, a weekday visit is best since crowds will be lower than on weekends. We went on a Wednesday night last year and it was great! We stopped for dinner at Chick-fil-A in Jungla and then easily walked in for all of the character meet and greets.

Parking was also a lot easier and we didn’t wait more than a few minutes for anything that night.

If you do go on a weekend, consider upgrading to the Priority Access pass to get front-of-line access for Santa and Rudolph & Friends.

Upgrade your experience at Christmas Town

You can make it even more memorable with by upgrading your day if you go early and book Animal Encounters we’ve come to love over the years like the Aldabra Tortoise Insider Tour which is great for kids ages 5 and older.

You can also pick up a Priority Access ticket to Santa’s North Pole Experience & Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland for a starting price of $49.99. If you want an up-close view of Christmas on Ice and Fireworks viewing, you can upgrade to VIP seating. 

You can also book a Christmas Town VIP Tour for a four-hour guided tour that includes reserved seats at Christmas on Ice and access to see Santa and Rudolph!

That’s a wrap!

Christmas Town is a must-experience family event. With this year’s event being celebrated for 58 nights, it will be hard to miss too!

The shops even have an awesome selection of holiday-themed gear, so don’t sweat it if you don’t have anything handy at home! You just might find the perfect holiday gift too.