Shorts and sunscreen have been replaced with jackets and scarves, and theme parks across the country have suited up to take the winter weather in stride. The gates are open for one last hurrah of the year as these parks offer the best of the holiday season. Warm up with the festive glittering lights, re-themed rides, seasonal treats, and, of course, the treasured opportunity to meet Santa. Though some of the bigger rides of these parks are closed for the winter, exploring the all-encompassing holiday worlds built in these parks is the main attraction.
Hersheypark, Hershey, PA
Bundle up and save room for dessert as Hershey’s chocolate-themed mecca transforms for the holidays. A summer mainstay, Hersheypark reopens its gates each November through December to feature its Christmas Candylane, a dazzling display of 2 million lights. Thirty rides are open for the holiday season; a majority of them focus on the kiddie rides. Though the 12 roller coasters are not in operation due to weather, the park offers a few thrillers including The Claw, a fast-swinging pendulum ride, as well as the Tea Cups, the classic self-controlled spinning pods. Seek out the incredibly fresh hot chocolate in the park to keep you warm, inside and out.
Silver Dollar City, Branson, MO
Silver Dollar City pulls out the stops for Christmas in great style. An impressive 5 million lights sparkle as guests stroll through the pine-scented air of the park’s 1,000 Christmas trees. Most impressive of all is the five-story “smart” tree that offers a light show timed to festive music. The park offers helpful information on what rides are in operation throughout the season, dependent on temperature. Plan accordingly and check the weather as any visit to this park is not complete without a ride on Outlaw Run, the world’s only wooden coaster that boasts three inversions. Worth noting, Silver Dollar City offers a unique weather guarantee – if you experience 90 minutes of continuous rain or weather interruptions that restricts rides, you can stop by guest relations for a complimentary return ticket.
Kennywood, Pittsburgh, PA
Just off Pittsburgh’s Monongahela River, Kennywood is an old-fashioned, classic American theme park with a lineup of thrilling classic coasters. Each November and December, the roller coasters and thrill rides take a back seat to the Holiday Lights festival, Kennywood’s tribute to the season. The park opens weekends from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., with its centerpiece Holiday Light Show, a 10-minute illuminated spectacle choreographed to holiday tunes, on the half hour. Though the coasters and thrill rides are closed, simple holiday joys such as the Gingerbread Express train ride complete the holiday experience.
Disney World, Orlando, FL / Disneyland, Anaheim, CA
The Mouse knows the score when it comes to the holiday season and he always gets it right. Anaheim’s original Disneyland and Orlando’s Disney World both go to great lengths to create a winter wonderland in their respective parks. Capitalizing on Disney’s mega-blockbuster hit Frozen, everyone’s new favorite princesses, Elsa and Anna take center stage for this year’s holiday parades in both parks. Expect countless Frozen tie-ins for the little ones that can’t seem to get enough of the new Disney classic. All rides and attractions remain open at these year-round parks, many with special holiday twists, sure to bring a smile to all.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Williamsburgh, VA
Christmas Town takes over Busch Gardens Williamsburg each year come November and brings a host of holiday activities and treats. Get the chance to see live penguins in their ice-themed habitat, akin to their North Pole origins, before heading over to the Polar Pathway. There, the Escape from Pompeii ride is a wonder to view, as it flourishes with ornate bright lights. Many of the park’s rides remain open for holiday park-goers, including the world-class Verbolten, the multi-launch coaster that simulates a fast drive on Germany’s autobahn.