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.
Share your LOVE of Virginia with a specialty holiday gift bag full of Virginia is for Lovers merchandise. Designed with someone special in mind, you can choose from the Baby Lovers, Dog Lovers, Wine Lovers, Tailgater, Premium gift bag, or Stocking Stuffer gift bag, each at a value-driven “bundle” price.
Surprising someone with a new puppy or have a dedicated dog lover to shop for? The Dog Lovers gift bag is packed full of fun and utility. Valued at $25 and priced at $18.30, the bag includes a collapsible travel food bowl, Virginia is for Dog Lovers bandanna, our scoop-and-serve dog bowl, frisbee for great outdoors fun, and doggie bag dispenser with carabiner for those long walks. >>Virginia is for Pet Lovers
The Wine Lovers gift bag is the perfect gift for your holiday hostess, new homeowner, or fellow wine sipper, and it’s a $29 value priced at $21.85. The flexi-bottle chiller has a snap closure at the top for BYOB. Pair that with a Virginia is for Lovers wine glass, corkscrew wine opener, and course, a bit of chocolate, for a really great gift. >>Wine Travel Packages
Any sports fan will love the Tailgater gift bag. It’s well equipped with two koozies – one for a bottle and one for a can, beverage wrench, 16 oz. tumbler, shot glass, 42″ umbrella, grilling apron, Virginia is for Lovers bumper sticker, and our very popular Virginia is for Lovers trucker hat. This bag is valued at $74 but bundled, it can be a fun gift from you for $56.75. >>Virginia Outdoors & Sports
For the boss or genuine Virginia is for Lovers fan, try the Premium gift bag. Included is a coffee mug, picture frame, snowman ornament, engraved heart keychain, heart magnet, 42″ umbrella, and navy Virginia is for Lovers hat. All of this is an $86 value priced at $64.75.
Dubbed the Stocking Stuffer gift bag, this pack o’ fun would be great as a “Secret Santa” gift or you could divvy the items up and indeed put them into stockings. Valued at $29.50 and priced at $21.95, this bag includes a black twill Virginia is for Lovers hat, stress ball pen, can koozie, coffee mug, peanuts, light-up keychain, and plastic shot glass.
Christmas delivery is guaranteed if your order is placed by December 23. Ordering outside of Virginia? Just select priority delivery.
Virginia’s historic homes are beautifully decorated this season. Truly, this is one of the key times to see your favorite historic home in all its period glory. Candlelight, fresh swags of greenery, pineapples, and really stunning Victorian spreads await.
Saturdays and Sundays in December George Washington’s Mount Vernon opens for candlelight mansion tours between 5 and 8 p.m. Fireside caroling and other festivities make it an appealing family affair. $22/adult and $15/child 11 and younger.
“Roaring 20′s” is the Christmas theme at Oatlands in Leesburg, so expect to see plenty of glitz along with the greenery and numerous Christmas trees in this 1804 mansion. Tours are offered every 30 minutes daily through December 30. $12/adult; $10/senior; $8/child 6-16.
Special candlelight tours are offered December 15, 20, 21, 22 from 5 to 7 p.m. Cookies, cider and musical performances are included. Rates are the same as the daily tour.
Celebrate the season at Maymont in Richmond and revel in Victorian holiday splendor! Major & Mrs. Dooley’s spectacularly decorated Gilded Age home brings the wonders and festivities of Christmas past to life. Tours are offered every half-hour daily (except Mondays) through January 5. $5 suggested donation.
December 6 – Come to Richmond to find out how people celebrated Christmas during the Victorian Era. Take a guided tour of the White House of the Confederacy, specially decorated for the holidays!$5 admission.
December 6, 7, 13, and 14 – Experience centuries of Christmas traditions at James Madison’s Montpelier during the Christmas candlelight tours. Visitors are greeted by the gracious hostess Dolley Madison in the Mansion’s Drawing Room as she speaks about early 19th-century Christmas customs. Linger in the duPont Gallery, enjoying light refreshments, wine, and wassail while listening to harp music and Christmas carolers. $25 in advance; $35 at the door; $10 for children ages 6 to 14.
December 7 – Get a glimpse of Christmas from the Colonial period through World War II when you experience Rippon Lodge in Woodbridge. Candlelight tours on the half-hour with a visit from Santa in the cabin. Santa is free for everyone; tours are $10/person with the exception of children younger than 6, who are free.
December 7 – Celebrate the holidays at Bacon’s Castle in Surry to learn about 17th century English Christmas traditions and decorations. Guided tours of the mansion and hot mulled cider will be offered all day. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. $8/adult; $6/senior; $5/student; children 6 and under are free.
December 7, 13, 14, 20-23 and 26-30 – Head to Charlottesville to take advantage of the unique opportunity to explore Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello after dark with a special small-group house tour. The tours, which include the Dome Room, offer visitors an intimate look at how the holidays were celebrated in Jefferson’s time, plus the rare opportunity to experience Monticello after dark. Tours begin at 5:30, 5:45 and 6:00 p.m. $45 in advance. Reservations required. Not recommended for children younger than 6. Portions of the tour are not handicapped-accessible.
December 7 and 8 – Seasonal holiday decorations and local entertainment will be featured at Centre Hill Mansion in Petersburg as part of their annual holiday open house. Refreshments will be served. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
December 7 and 8 – Don’t miss the annual Christmas weekend at Walton’s Mountain Museum in Schuyler. They’re decorated inside and out, with cookies and cider for your warmth and joy. These two days are the only two of the year when visitors are permitted to go beyond the roped areas.
December 7, 8, 14 and 15 – See the lavishly decorated Victorian house, Avoca Museum in Altavista, celebrating Christmas memories with light refreshments and hot cider, Santa on Saturday afternoons, and a silent auction to benefit education programs. $5/adult; $4/senior.
December 14 – Enjoy holiday candlelight, music and refreshments at Liberia Plantation in Manassas, the 1825 house that hosted both Confederate and Union forces, as well as President Lincoln. The house will be decorated as it would have been in the 1860s when the Weir family occupied it. Tours begin at Manassas Museum where guests will be bussed to Liberia. $15/adult; $7.50/child 12 and younger.
December 14 - Take a candle lit tour of the main house and slave quarter at Ben Lomond every half-hour between 5 and 7 p.m. to learn how the enslaved community celebrated the holidays and how they resisted the institution that kept them enslaved. $7/person; free for children younger than 6. Reservations suggested.
December 14 and 15 – Celebrate an 18th century Christmas holiday at Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown in Beaverdam. Enjoy the decorations, food, and holiday surprises. $5/person.
December 14 and 15 – Historic Berkeley Plantation in Charles City welcomes you to learn how the Harrison family celebrated Christmas during the 18th century. Partake in the festive atmosphere created by colonial music and decorations of fresh greenery and natural arrangements from Berkeley’s gardens. Costumed guides will add a special treat to your holiday season with stories about Christmas hospitality over 200 years ago. Holiday refreshments will be served. $11/adult; $7.50/student; $6 for ages 6 to 12. Reservations required.
December 15 – Enjoy period inspired holiday decorations and music, living history interpreters in the kitchen, storytelling, various children’s activities and demonstrations from craftspeople when you visit Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest retreat in Forest. Free with non-perishable food donation.
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