I’ve not previously been to Busch Gardens Tampa for their Christmas decorations. It’s a private party with an upcharge ticket you have to buy, mimicking the Magic Kingdom’s model, and it seems on almost every level to be worth the price. Plus, it had a few things Disney could learn from.

The party goes by the name Christmas Town. The party runs from 6pm-11pm on select nights only, but you can enter starting at 5pm.¬†Costs vary by day, but $40 or $50 per adult seems the usual price, and only $10/child. This is very clever pricing, as it makes children seem almost free, and the party would be hard to pass up. As annual passholders, we got a discount on top of that (we paid $25/adult)–which makes sense, because we don’t really *need* the rides due to our ability to return in any future week, so the event ought to be valued differently for passholders.


One immediately noticeable attraction (and one you should do first, to avoid crowds) is Snow World, where they have real snow to play in, make snowmen, throw snowballs (at targets), and slide down on hills with inner tubes, which was immensely fun. Skip the winter jacket (unless the outside air is cold anyway); this tent is not cold in the slightest. But *do* bring mittens. Your hands will freeze making snowballs otherwise.

There are decorations galore in the park, which helps justify the cost. As do the attractions. Most things were open and had essentially no lines.


I was pleasantly surprised by the Santa’s House attraction. After a themed queue room, we meet Mrs. Claus in the kitchen to eat a free cookie, and then we go down a hall toward a room where Santa awaits (there were obviously several rooms, maybe four or six in total). It was very well done and they seemed to spare no expense.


The event lacked a punctuation mark, like Disney’s parade or fireworks. Disney has both, but arguably Disney is nothing *but* punctuation marks, as the rest of the park isn’t much dressed up compared to Busch Gardens.


I wish Disney would copy Busch Gardens Tampa’s pricing structure for annual passholders, but I can see financially why they might not. Disney’s events are always crowded, and many are sold out, while Busch Gardens had much emptier walkways. It made the experience more pleasant as a visitor, but the park probably wished it was more crowded.

One thing Disney should definitely do is copy the idea of smaller overlays. The use of the train to do caroling is brilliant. Couldn’t the Magic Kingdom’s train do caroling around the riverbend section? They could add lights back here, or maybe the artificial snow, and make it a real must-do attraction. Just make it a round trip experience (meaning they’d have to board in Fantasyland, since the water tower is there). It would cost all of a few thousand dollars, tops, and they would have a new ride for next year’s Christmas parties.



Keeping up with the Joneses

We noticed something new while at Christmas Town–a restaurant-style pager system in use for key holiday attractions like Snow World or Santa’s House. There’s no need for that during the regular operating day, as they have their own line-skipping upcharge available, but for these “special” experiences they came up with a way to avoid standing in a long line. You could instead go grab something to eat in a nearby booth selling special foods, which we in fact did.


We were also handed a pamphlet about their pay-with-(paper)-wristband they are pushing. Think of it as a room-charge (or MagicBand if you will) tied to your credit card. No complex technology, just a barcode, but still harnessing the impulse buying Disney is hoping to get, with none of the slowdown (but also none of the tracking that Disney hopes to data-mine toward increased profit and better service).

They even had a PhotoPass type card used with all the photo opportunities. Add that to the pay-wristband and the pager to skip lines, and you’ve got an experience inching toward what Disney does, though lower-tech across the board. There are several ways to look at this. One way might be to note that Disney *had* to innovate with the MagicBand because the competition is always right behind, nipping at their heels, and this is confirmation of it. Had Disney not moved in an new direction, Busch Gardens could look like they are fully equivalent to Disney with these additions.

You could ALSO look at it from the perspective of privacy. For better or worse, Disney’s system is going to track people with fine granularity, and Busch Gardens Tampa’s system won’t.



WDW Clicks: Diagon Alley Update, Disney Springs Progress, More Christmas Town Pictures

This week in WDW Clicks, we zoom in on the exterior walls of Diagon Alley at Universal, still under construction, watch the first stages of demolition of Cap’n Jack’s restaurant in Marketplace, and look around the finer details of Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Tampa.

Direct link: http://youtu.be/OnZtbEGgpNg

  • Razor Roman

    I just went this past weekend to the Williamsburg, VA, Christmastown. It was very well done and a lot of fun. It seems a little less like a Disney party copy there because the park is normally closed this time of year anyway, so it’s open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from late afternoon til the evening. Really enjoyed it.

  • Algernon

    I wish they still had a Busch Gardens here in California, especially with a Christmas Town.

  • Thank you Kevin! It has long bothered me that the Magic Kingdom only does minimal Christmas decorations in the park. A tree and some garland on Main Street really doesn’t cut it. All of Fantasyland, Frontierland and Main Street are simply perfect candidates for the fully holiday treatment. Disney makes money hand over fist on the holiday parties, they need to funnel some of that money back into park decor. They certainly have some lessons to learn from Busch Gardens, Disneyland, Universal, Knott’s Berry Farm . . . (even my local mall has more impressive decorations than the Magic Kingdom). Step it up Disney!

  • StevenW

    I don’t understand the argument that if another theme park does a better job, Disney must follow their example. No, Disney doesn’t need to learn a lesson. A theme park does a better job in one area because they don’t have the resources to do the other things that Disney does so well.

    We are largely spoiled by Disney for what we perceive as their best, but most of that is an illusion. We think they are the best, but we are judging Disney subjectively and our memory fails us.

    Instead of suggesting that Disney should pick-up its game, which is unnecessary, we should instead be telling our friends to visit Busch Gardens. Support another park. There is absolutely no way Disney will ever charge $10 for a child’s ticket.

    • jcruise86

      OK, then don’t imitate Busch Gardens. Imitate Disneyland.

      Disney World won’t improve much as long as long as the current leaders can point to their #1 17 million visits a year. They are apparently not scared of that ever dropping down to 16 million. Disney’s CEO is also the chair of its board and the chair of the board wants the CEO to keep earning 30 million a year for as many years as possible. That short-term goal is currently the ultimate goal of the Walt Disney company.

      • jcruise86

        ^ ^ I meant “the Magic Kingdom,” not “Disney World.”

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    Just wanted to touch on the Christmas Town early entry thing. If you’re an AP holder or already have a day ticket to the park and you’re attending Christmas Town, you can access Santa’s house starting at 3pm and Snow World & the Christmas Town Village starting at 5pm.

    And Disney DOES need to pick up its game. They got Universal nipping right at their heels and while I think the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will surprise a lot of people, it’s got NOTHING on the Harry Potter expansion coming. Plus Busch Gardens is re-theming an entire section of the park and bringing a crazy drop tower ride next spring as well. That’s not a Potter-killer either but will be a big hit with the thrill seekers.

  • BradyNBradleysMom

    I just love WDW Clicks. In fact, everyone I know is talking about how much they love these videos. We can finally hear Kevin Yee’s voice and hear him talk expertly on all things Disney and theme park related. I love it. So informative!!!