The kids are surely stoked to have their winter break creeping ever closer, and it’s your chance to do something awesome with them without missing time from school. So what to do, what to do … I have a few ideas.
Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town
1. If you haven’t yet, you must see all of the Christmas lights. I don’t mean your neighborhood lights (although some of those are pretty awesome), I mean the big boys that make up Virginia’s 100 Miles of Lights (Virginia Beach Boardwalk, anyone?), or large displays like the Elks National Home in Bedford or Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna.
2. Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town is a winter wonderland sensation. Stroll through the lights and decorations to get a flavor of each country, literally. Specialty foods and drinks are a highlight, not to mention the seasonal shows and rides.
4. Board a boat in Virginia Beach and try your hand at whale spotting. Both Fin and Humpback whales migrate off the coast of Virginia between late December and mid-March.
5. Virginia’s ski resorts have more than skiing. Plop down on a snowtube and let the good times roll. Or try snowboarding or a trip down a zipline (brr!). When you’re ready for a warm-up, find great restaurants on site, as well as other kid fun centers.
6. Celebrate New Year’s Eve as a family at a fun celebration. There are daytime activities as well as events built with families in mind. They’re called First Night celebrations. See the list.
7. Have a little lady who’d love some pampering with her mom? Slip off for a girls’ spa day at one of Virginia’s famed destination spas.
Downtown Richmond Ice Skating
8. You might be surprised at the fun exhibits you’ll find in Virginia’s museums. Spend a few hours testing your mental and physical agility at Boost! or browse quite a collection of clothes worn in popular movies at Hollywood Costume.
9. Ice skating is a favorite pastime for some. If this is your thing and you want to share it with the kids, Virginia has quite a few rinks to choose from.
Behind the eight ball with regard to Thanksgiving dinner? Never fear. Here are seven places serving hot, traditional Thanksgiving meals for you and your family to enjoy. Reservations may be required; call in advance of your trip.
Bedford – Peaks of Otter Thanksgiving Buffet - The Thanksgiving Day buffet will include fresh salad and homemade salads, turkey, honey glazed ham, hand-carved prime rib, seafood scampi medley, and herb roasted pork tenderloin. Traditional sides, desserts and bread included. $28.95/adult; $15.95 for children 12 and under. Menu
Glen Allen – Thanksgiving at Wyndham Virginia Crossings – Treat your family to a special Thanksgiving of pine nut crusted pork cutlets, turkey, seared salmon, pomegranate and brown sugar glazed ham, roasted acorn squash soup, surry sausage cornbread stuffing, steamed prawns, and the “Holiday Beverage Extravaganza.” $42/adult; $21 for children 6-12. Menu
Luray – Thanksgiving Day Buffet in Shenandoah National Park – Celebrate with a bountiful buffet. More than 12 relishes, soups, salads, starters and sides are available for five entree selections and seven dessert selections, plus bread and beverages. $29.95/adult; $14 for children 6-12. Menu
Natural Bridge – Natural Bridge Thanksgiving Buffet – Give yourself a break this year. Make the afternoon with friends & family a relaxing, easy, memorable get together. Enjoy a scrumptious meal and live entertainment at the Natural Bridge Hotel. $25.95/adult; $12.98 for children 5-12
Newport News – Thanksgiving at the Boxwood Inn – This historic inn is the perfect place to gather and enjoy a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. Come for the oven roasted turkey, beef tenderloin, sliced ham, traditional stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, and so much more! $28.95/adult; $14.95 for children under 10. Menu
The lights glisten, dance and twinkle at Busch Gardens during their annual Christmas Town event. In a matter of three weeks the park is transformed to remove the frights of Howl-O-Scream and introduce merriment for Christmas Town, which just opened Friday, November 22. Here’s what you can expect and what’s new this year.
Carolers in England
About Christmas Town
Nearly seven million lights bring a holiday feel to the countries of Busch Gardens beginning at 3 p.m. and lighting the night through 9 or 10 p.m. (see schedule below)
The tone is set by the carolers of England as you enter the park and then you’re on your way to The Polar Pathway. This area offersa moment of serenity. Pose on a polar bear as you by pass.
Meander on toward Holiday Hills, a 1950′s retro area laced with big bulbs, plastic, and vintage-style Coca-Cola billboards. Take a whirl on Peppermint Twist or Snowman Summit. Dasher’s Diner serves up your childhood favorites if you find that you’re hungry.
Depart Holiday Hills for Italy where The Battering Ram, The Flying Machine and DaVinci’s Cradle are all operational. Ristorante Della Piazza is serving dinner and you can take in a beautiful show called “Miracles” at Il Teatro di San Marco Theatre. The ballerina in your midst will love this one!
Soak in the moment as you cross the bridge and look to your left for the “Peace on Earth” art suspended from the train trestle. It’s perfect for a family photo.
As you approach Oktoberfest you’ll notice that Mach Tower has been dubbed Nacht Tower for Christmas Town. Glide up and sail back down before or after your spin on Verbolten. Der Wirbelwind and Der Autobahn are operational in Germany, and you’re invited to a fantastic dinner and “Deck the Halls” show at Das Festhaus. Toy solders and Frosty the Snowman are just a few of the fun characters you’ll find inside.
O Tannenbaum is a sight to behold as lights dance in animation on the 50-foot Christmas tree. If your timing is right, a choir will sing to you from the balcony of Das Festhaus. Find more gifts – many handcrafted by Virginia artisans – to take home from Mistletoe Marketplace.
Ho, ho, ho! Santa’s near! The North Pole is home to Santa’s Workshop, of course, as well as the Kinder Karussel and gift shops. By the way, it snows at Santa’s workshop, making the experience all the more amazing.
New France has fun shops for carved candles, metal art, and paint-your-own pottery, not to mention the comfort food of Trappers Smokehouse. Le Catapult is ready to give a spin, too. (Careful with eating and spinning!)
Tinted in blues and purples is France, and this is where you’ll find the Ice Palace: A Penguin Paradise. The penguins of Sea World San Antonio made their way to Virginia for your enjoyment. The line can get long to see these sweethearts, so plan accordingly. New to France are the King, Queen and Court Jester. They’re available for photo ops and interacting with them is a ton of fun!
The walk to Ireland is a peaceful one complete with the nostalgic smell of Christmas trees. At Abbey Stone Theater you’ll find “Gloria!,” the re-telling of the first Christmas. Magi, a manger, and amazing musical and dance talent bring home the true meaning of Christmas. If you purchase the add-on for Santa’s Fireside Feast, Ireland is where you’ll rendezvous with the Jolly ol’ Elf.
Before you know it, you’re to Highland Stables where white and blue stars twinkle just out of reach and the famous Clydesdales are waiting.
Christmas Town is nothing if not stunningly beautiful. Each country has its own flavor (literally), and as cliche as it sounds, there is absolutely something for everyone. Both secular and non-secular shows, fantastic dining, and some of your favorite Busch Gardens rides will make you want to come again.
Visiting Christmas Town
Christmas Town Fun Card (unlimited visits): $30
Busch Gardens Annual Pass Holders: $20
HOURS 3 to 10 p.m.: November 29-30, December 6-7, 13-14, 16-23, 26-31
3 to 9 p.m.: December 1, 8, 15, 24
Some have green thumbs and others have fingers that can make something extraordinary from scraps. Is that you? I enjoy the challenge of crafting during the season of merriment and have identified 12 places for you to knock out some Pinterest inspiration and get your Picasso on.
Let’s Paint, Virginia Beach
Paint-your-own pottery is a hit for those who don’t own a potter’s wheel and a kiln. Walk in, pick the piece you’d like to paint, and get to it. Some studios offer a flat fee where the price tag on the piece includes firing. Others offer a flat firing fee that applies to all of the pieces you paint that day.
All Fired Up has three locations in the metro Richmond region – Midlothian, Carytown and Short Pump
Keep your eye on art centers for class offerings geared toward adults or kids. You’ll find glass fusing, whittling, basketry, glass blowing, watercolor painting and more. You just need to know where to look!