Tuesday, August 9, 2022

WYDaily Revisits: A holly jolly holiday: An insider’s look at Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Christmas Celebration

(WYDaily/Photo by Gabrielle Rente)
(WYDaily/Photo by Gabrielle Rente)

Editor’s Note: During the first full week of April, WYDaily will revisit some of our favorite pieces over the past year. This story was originally published on November 20, 2020. To see the original publication, click here.

WILLIAMSBURG — It’s the most wonderful time of the year — despite 2020 being shrouded in a pandemic.

Somehow, Busch Gardens Williamsburg seems to be keeping the holiday spark alive, and it’s all thanks to their Christmas Celebration.

WYDaily checked out the park Friday.

After Gov. Ralph Northam amended restrictions and guidelines for COVID-19 safety last week, WYDaily asked Kevin Lembke, president of Busch Gardens Williamsburg, about the park’s current safety regulations.

“Based on our current theme park guidance, and the enhanced safety protocols we already have in place, generally we shouldn’t be impacted,” he said. “As of right now, we continue forward with our regular regulations.”

Upon entering the park, guests are greeted at the security checkpoint where each person must get their temperature checked. Signage and loudspeaker announcements remind park guests to socially distance and wear their facemasks.

Each store and venue in the park has stickers and signs directing foot traffic. This reporter accidentally entered the Emporium in England the wrong way and got reprimanded by an employee.

And rightfully so.

But the ambience of the park is a huge distraction from the current state of the world — the lights, the music, the wreaths, the smell of barbecue from the venue in New France.

It’s a reminder of a former normal.

RELATED STORY: Get in the holiday spirit with this new event from Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Matthew Edwards, event manager of the Christmas Celebration, said the park had roughly three-and-a-half weeks to decorate the entire park. Usually, the decorating team has more time in between Howl-o-Scream and Christmas Town to get the park ready.

“I’m thankful we have a chance to contribute to a holiday event,” Edwards said.

He wore a festive holiday suit just for the opening of the event.

All the villages, save for Italy, are open for the Christmas Celebration, and each one has its own theme.

England is decked out in Christmas wreaths and red bows, reflecting a traditional Dickens Christmas. In Scotland, soothing music plays along with blue lights, creating a Starry Night effect. The Sesame Street area is adorned in primary colors. Cool hues and giant snowmen are found through the France Village, while Germany is the epicenter of Santa’s operations.

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Speaking of Santa, he’s found some new real estate in the park in what was formerly known as Curse of DarKastle.

Don’t believe it? Just watch this video:

Aside from Santa, other characters family can meet in the park include Frosty the Snowman, found over by the Griffon, and Grover and Cookie Monster over in Sesame Street.

Families can also interact with some furry friends as well.

“For the Christmas event, we have the horses on display, we have our cows on display, and the sheep,” said Tim Smith, curator of Zoological Operations.

The park also has their bald eagles out in their enclosure to greet families. During the daytime events, guests can also visit the wolves, but during the evening events, Smith said they have typically gone to bed for the night.

The park offers a tour several times a day during the daytime hours, where guests can learn how park officials train the horses, dogs and sheep.

“It gives people the opportunity to learn more about the depths of what happens here,” Smith said.

Throughout the year, animal handlers work to prepare the animals for any event. Each event has been a little different this year, Smith said, adding they train the animals to do what works best for each of their personalities.

“Dustin’s a pro. He’s been with us for a long time,” Smith added, speaking of the tall Clydesdale Stallion standing behind him.

Busch Gardens Christmas Celebration event admission starts at $39.99. To book tickets, visit the park’s website. Guests can receive the latest information on hours of operation for Busch Gardens Williamsburg by visiting the park’s website or Facebook.com/BuschGardensVA.

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