Busch Gardens Christmas Town vs Kings Dominon Winterfest

There are two outstanding theme parks in Virginia that go all out for Christmas — Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and Kings Dominion in Doswell. Busch Gardens calls their celebration Christmas Town and Kings Dominion’s festival is known as Winterfest.

Both celebrations open this month. Christmas Town is open select days and weekends beginning November 11 and Winterfest is open select days and weekends beginning November 16.

I really like both parks – they offer enchanting holiday experiences that are not to be missed. But which is better? Well, that depends on your preferences…

 

  • Holiday hours – Tie! Because it really depends on when you want to go. Winterfest offers a New Year’s Eve celebration with fireworks which Busch Garden Christmas Town does not. Christmas Town is open until 10 pm on New Year’s Eve but the seasonal offerings are the same as on other days.  On the other hand, Christmas Town is open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, while Winterfest is closed. Both parks offer November preview days in November before Thanksgiving, which I highly recommend, as the crowds are typically far less.
  • ShowsChristmas Town wins! The Christmas Town shows are fantastic and there are more of them, including an outdoor figure skating show when it is not too warm for the ice. If you did nothing at Christmas Town but go to shows, I think you would still leave thinking you had enjoyed a very good value for your entertainment dollar. They really get you into the spirit of Christmas. The trick with seeing the shows is to pick up a show schedule just as you enter the park (or download from the website) and plan your visit around the shows (f you like shows, versus rides, that is). It would be really hard to see all the shows in one visit. But you could see all of them in two or more visits, and I’d recommend splitting them up and visiting twice because otherwise, it’s a bit much to take in. Overall, the more relaxed you are about visiting Christmas Town and really taking your time, the better, because there is quite a lot to see and it’s better to have fun than become exhausted and cranky, right? Again, keep in mind that the ice skating show is usually cancelled if it is too warm. So if it is a cold day, definitely make plans to see that one. Show up at least ten minutes before the shows begin to get good seating.Winterfest has fewer shows and most are indoors. I can’t speak to the quality of the indoor shows at Winterfest, since I avoided those during the pandemic, but the musical performances I saw outdoors were entertaining.
  • LightsChristmas Town wins! Both theme parks have enchanting light displays. But Christmas Town’s light displays are more impressive and varied, depending on what section of the park you are visiting. The lights and shows are the major draws for me at Christmas Town.
  • RidesChristmas Town wins! Busch Gardens has more open thrill rides in the winter months. If you love high speed thrill rides, you’d probably prefer Christmas Town to Winterfest. I am not a fan of thrill rides but I am a huge fan of trains. Christmas Town has a full-sized train that moves around the park at a slow pace while passing by outdoor lights. That train ride is such a nice break for your feet! Christmas Town also has a sky ride that gives you a spectacular bird’s eye view of the Christmas lights below. Winterfest does offer some thrill rides and if you enjoy nostalgic, carnival-style rides like Dodge’em cars, swings, carousels and Ferris wheels, you might enjoy the Candy Apple Grove rides at Winterfest. Winterfest also has an excellent children’s rides section.
  • Food: Christmas Town wins! Let me put it like this. Skip the dining plan. The food at both parks is pricey and you’d be better off eating outside of the parks. Christmas Town has more food options than Winterfest, including German fare at Festhaus and smoked meats at Trapper’s.  Christmas Town also has some charming baked items and sweets. The one place I will stop and have a treat in Christmas Town is in France…there used to be crepes and coffee but I think the offering may be different now. It has an outdoor seating area that is relatively quiet and uncrowded, usually. It is just adjacent to the ice skating show.However, the food service throughout Christmas Town simply isn’t great, nor is the cleanliness of eating areas. In particular, the Squire’s Grill in England and Grogan’s Pub in Ireland are a hard pass (messy, mediocre food, indifferent service and really expensive for what you get). So, you’d be better off spending your time taking in the shows and lights and getting a quick snack. And if you get really hungry, I’d opt for the German food or pizza at Festhaus or the smaller setting of Trapper’s Smokehouse. Winterfest offers fewer and less varied dining options, and while expensive, the service is more friendly and the eating areas are better maintained. You’d still be better off having a good meal before visiting Winterfest. But dessert? Save room. Because Winterfest has funnel cakes with ice cream on them, which pretty much beats anything you’d order at Christmas Town.
  • Shopping: Winterfest wins! Busch Gardens Christmas Town does have a few stand-out shops. The gift shop in England has lots of Beatles and English-style merchandise I really liked. The German shop had Steiff animals, cuckoo clocks and a model train, in addition to German treats. While I enjoyed browsing in the shops at Busch Garden’s Christmas Town, I found more affordable and better quality (overall) merchandise at Kings Dominion’s Winterfest. And lots of Snoopy gifts! Plus, the sales staff were very nice.
  • Other attractionsWinterfest wins! While Christmas Town may have an edge over Winterfest in terms of rides and shows, Winterfest does offer more activities; some for a fee. There is a place where you can write to Santa Claus and read letters others have written, cookie decorating ($23 extra), ice skating at a huge rink ($20 extra), a petting zoo area of of Nativity animals, and a nightly parade. Winterfest also has walk-around characters, like Jack Frost and others who greet you and pose for pictures, which Christmas Town does not have. And Winterfest has fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
  • Meaning of Christmas – Winterfest wins! Winterfest displays a large Nativity scene and live animals from the Nativity. Busch Gardens Christmas Town is the place to go for Santa Claus, on the other hand. Christmas Town boasts not one but two experiences – Santa Claus in Germany and a more woodsy Father Christmas in England.
  • CrowdsWinterfest wins! The layout of Kings Dominion is more open and spacious. The layout of Busch Gardens unfortunately can lend itself to congestion.
  • Accessibility – Winterfest wins! You’ll encounter some hills while navigating Christmas Town at Busch Gardens and that can be tough for those with mobility challenges. But Kings Dominion is a mostly flat park. There are also more places to sit and rest and the pathways are better lighted. Overall, Winterfest feels a bit more accessible, so important for a night festival. Taking the weather into consideration is always a factor when visiting an outdoor theme park. If it begins to rain, ducking into a gift shop is about your only retreat. But at Winterfest, you can rent an igloo with seating for your party for the night, situated next to the Eiffel Tower. They are a pricey add-on ($229 to $259) but waterproof and heated. New’s Eve igloo rentals are already sold out! Another nice perk is that Kings Dominion offers a discount for seniors ages 62 and up.
  • FriendlinessWinterfest wins! From the greeting you receive on entering the park to the cheery farewell, Winterfest is staffed with demonstrably friendlier workers. Service was friendlier and more efficient in the shops and eateries.
  • Kid-FriendlinessWinterfest wins! Both parks feature rides and shows designed for children and the young at heart. Kings Dominion Winterfest features Snoopy characters. It’s important to note, however, that many of the children’s attractions were closed in the evening, at least on New Year’s Eve. Admission for kids to Winterfest is $20. A single day ticket ON SALE for Christmas Town is $60, for anyone ages 3 and up. Busch Gardens really caters more to teens and adults; there is more alcohol there then at Kings Dominion. The problem, according to many Trip Advisor reviews this years, is that, in addition to the high priced tickets, Busch Gardens is not really a kid-friendly park. It’s frankly exhausting to navigate as an adult; little legs can’t keep up. First, just navigating parking, as mentioned, adds so much time to the day. It’s chiefly a night event so kids are already tired. The lines for food and rides are very long. There aren’t a lot of food options for kids other than pizza and what they have is pricey. It becomes crowded and the staff isn’t known for their friendliness. I really can’t recommend Christmas Town for the young ones, unless they go during daylight hours — even then, it’s just too expensive.
  • Cleanliness – Winterfest wins! During my visit, I found that Winterfest bathrooms were noticeably cleaner and better maintained than the ones at Christmas Town, as were the eating areas and grounds.
  • Parking – Winterfest wins! Winterfest has a significant edge over Busch Gardens in terms of parking. You park in the lot and walk straight in. The entry is flat and well-lighted. Christmas Town’s parking system is more complex and you have to ride a bus to your car’s lot, which means waiting in queues before you even get into the park. There’s also a significant  and dark uphill climb back to the lot as you leave Christmas Town that feels like Mount Everest when your feet are tired. And more waiting for a bus to get back to your car.
  • Adjacent attractions – Christmas Town wins! Busch Gardens Christmas Town is located near Colonial Williamsburg, so you can easily see both on a weekend trip. On the other hand, Kings Dominion’s Winterfest is very close to Richmond, which has the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens holiday lights, museums and other attractions.

So which is better? Well, why choose? Both parks are better BEFORE Thanksgiving. Christmas Town is a a safe bet for adults on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or after Jan 1. Winterfest is magical for all ages on New Year’s Eve. 🙂

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