When most people think of Christmas, spending time at theme parks and zoos probably isn't at the top of the list. However, that doesn't stop these 20 awesome parks from hosting some of the coolest Christmas celebrations ever. From fantastic Christmas shopping to lights shows or other fun holiday events, Christmas can be a great time to see a different side of your favorite parks. Whether you're entertaining in-laws or traveling this holiday season, these are definitely worth a look!
Easily the best part of Christmas (aside from gifts) has to be the lights, and if you're looking for somewhere to see some fantastic ones in Washington, then Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium simply can't be beat. With more than a half a million sparkling lights, fun 3D moving animal light displays and tons of holiday cheer, this awesome zoo simply can't be missed. Visitors who brave the cold can have the chance to ride a camel, pick up some spectacular holiday gifts and even see Santa scuba dive!
Grinchmas at Universal Studios in Hollywood and Orlando
Hollywood and Orlando
Celebrate the most Wonderful Time of the Year with the Grinch from "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" at Universal Studios theme parks. During the holiday season, visitors can snap a photo with the green grump himself and listen to carols from the cheerful Whos of Whoville as they gather around the "Grinchmas" tree, which winds a full 60 feet in the air. In addition to the regular theme park events, during Grinchmas visitors can snuggle in for storytime from Cindy-loo, decorate Christmas cookies, send letters to the Grinch and design and personalize their own "Grinchmas" ornaments to take home, making this a Seuss-lover's holiday dream.
While everyone knows that Christmas is a busy time for Santa, that doesn't stop him from making an appearance at Santa's Village in New Hampshire throughout the year. This fun Christmas theme park is open year-round, but the real magic happens when the weather starts to get cold. Children will be personally greeted by the jolly man himself and can make sure that he knows exactly what they want. The park is festooned with more than 400,000 brilliant Christmas lights and visitors can ride rides, drive bumper cars and even meet a real reindeer!
Silver Dollar City is a popular theme park year-round, but Christmastime is when this old-fashioned park really shines. With more than 1,000 decorated Christmas trees and a whopping 5 million Christmas lights adorning nearly every tree and building in the park, it's impossible not to get in the holiday spirit while walking through this winter wonderland. In addition to rides, the park has two Broadway-style productions for visitors including the popular "Dickens Christmas Carol." There are also numerous shops where visitors can pick up some last-minute gifts.
If you're going to Disney World Theme Parks, then you simply can't miss seeing how Christmas is celebrated around the world at Epcot. During the holiday season, Epcot is filled with the sights and sounds of the holiday season including a fireworks and light display in the evenings and a gospel showcase with fantastic singing. Visitors should be sure to not miss the Candlelight Processional, where a choir and a 50-piece orchestra will tell the Biblical story of Christmas every night. There are various international holiday experiences to be had including Christmas traditions from countries like China, France, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Norway and Mexico.
Visitors can join Mickey and his friends on a quest to celebrate Christmas right at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This attraction is located in the Disney World Theme Park, but requires its own separate ticket. There are tons of ways to celebrate the holiday season with all your favorite characters including a parade, a sing-along with Anna and Elsa from Frozen, and a fun version of "The Nutcracker" by none other than Mickey and friends. Aside from the shows, the whole area will be alight with more than 5,500 twinkling Christmas lights and decorations. There is also hot cocoa available for purchase and, of course, plenty of shopping opportunities for last-minute gifts or souvenirs to commemorate this unforgettable holiday event.
Disney theme parks are brimming with holiday cheer, and Disney's Hollywood Studios is no exception. Anyone who is a fan of Christmas light shows won't want to miss the Osborn Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, which decorates the whole park with colorful twinkling lights that go off every ten minutes after dark. There are plenty of holiday shows and dinner events so that your family can relax and take in the dazzling light display in comfort. The regular events that make the park a treat are, of course, also still available.
Buena Park, CA
While Knott's Berry Farm is slightly less well-known than some others, that doesn't mean that it isn't worth visiting during the most jolly season! During the winter, the theme park is transformed into "Knott's Merry Farm" and features tons of lavish holiday decorations, a fun tree-lighting ceremony and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit with Charlie Brown characters including Snoopy at this fun holiday park. Visitors can enjoy shows and shop for fun Christmas souvenirs at the Knott's Christmas Crafts Village, which has unique gifts for the whole family.
It might not seem very Christmassy, but The Animal Kingdom Park still has some Christmas events for everyone as well. Some fun events include the Adventurer Post where visitors get to meet and take a postcard-perfect photo with Mickey and Minnie as they put on their holiday sweaters in preparation for the winter weather. Guests can also enjoy the Christmas holiday decorations including an animal themed tree displayed outside the entrance to Animal Kingdom. Various holiday goodies are also offered at the Kusafiri Bakery where guests can pick up some tasty sweets.
San Diego Zoo Jungle Bells
San Diego, CA
San Diego has the best Christmas events for the animal lover in your family. While the zoo has are many holiday things you can find at other parks, such as meeting Santa and marveling at millions of twinkling holiday lights, the San Diego Zoo also has some fun holiday animal attractions including a raccoon that opens presents. Fun animal characters and elves wander the park, ready to take photos, and there are Christmas carols everywhere you turn. Ride the Polar Bear Express or take the Instagram challenge to compete for cool prizes! The Jungle Bells event is definitely worth a visit this holiday season, no matter your age.
Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival at Dollywood
Pigeon Forge, TN
Dollywood is a great choice anytime, but during the holidays it's especially memorable. The park will be transformed into a winter wonderland with millions of lights, special holiday performances of popular Christmas songs, a stunning parade of lights and a giant tree lighting ceremony complete with festive music. Younger children will enjoy Santa's Workshop where they can see huge toys and take part in other fun activities such as gazing through the oversized view master. Rudolph and his friends also wander the park giving hugs and photo ops to fans, and there are plenty of shopping opportunities as well.
While the Zoo isn't normally as much fun in the winter, the whole family will love getting into the holiday spirit with the spectacular ZooLights at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in D.C. This event starts after Thanksgiving and goes through the entire month of December. Visitors will be dazzled by the fun light displays as they walk around the park after dark. There are numerous events including train rides through the Farm Exhibit, holiday shopping, and more than 500,000 twinkling holiday lights. Kids will love getting to see nocturnal animals while they are active and there are plenty of holiday treats like hot chocolate, mulled cider and s'mores to enjoy!
Holidays at Disneyland
Decorated with more than 300,000 dazzling Christmas lights, Disneyland makes the perfect destination for the Christmas holidays. Visitors will be delighted by the festive Christmas Fantasy Parade that winds through the streets of the park with holiday music and fun costumes. Disneyland's candle procession features a complete orchestra and is a can't-miss event that will remind everyone the reason for the holiday. There is a Christmas Tree Chorus nightly where visitors will be regaled with renditions of old Christmas songs, and a Disney Winter Village that has everything you could possibly want to make magical Disneyland Christmas memories with your family.
Whether or not you're a lover of chocolate—and, really, who doesn't love chocolate?—Hersheypark has some fabulous Christmas cheer just waiting for visitors. It might seem like an odd place to go for a holiday experience, but this little park is filled with holiday activities including ice skating, holiday shows and a visit from Santa and his live reindeer! The entire park is aglow with more than two million twinkling lights, and there are plenty of holiday shopping opportunities. Hershey Park also features rides, many of which will still be open during Christmas.
Holiday Snow Days + Winter Nights at Legoland California
LEGOLAND is always a hit with the kids, and the Christmas season is no exception. Christmas activities include the Nightly Christmas Tree Lighting, where kids will marvel at the holiday lights adorning the 30 foot tall tree. There will also be the Christmas holiday fireworks choreographed with Christmas songs from all over the world. Guests will be able to enjoy live entertainment shows performed by the LEGOLAND friends. Be sure to snap a photo with LEGO Brick-Santa and his cheerful Reindeer.
Atlanta, GA; Vallejo and Los Angeles, CA; Jackson, NJ; San Antonio and Arlington, TX
While Six Flags is fun any time of the year, at Christmastime these theme parks are decked out for the holiday season with thousands of lights, a massive illuminated Christmas tree and various holiday attractions like Santa's House and Jack Frost's Magical Christmas, which is filled with breathtaking acrobatics stunts. Adults can catch their sweetie under the mistletoe and kids will be able to hear a stories read by Mrs. Claus. If weather and temperatures permit, many of the rides will also be open, so adrenaline-lovers can get their fix.
SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration
San Diego, CA; San Antonio, TX
SeaWorld theme parks provide guests with quite a few fun Christmas activities this holiday that are sure to help everyone make some great Christmas memories. Visitors will be able to walk through a veritable sea of lighted Christmas trees that dance across the water, clap and cheer on Shamu in a special holiday performance, hear Christmas carols around the park and even see real professional ice skating. Kids will get the chance to see Santa, and, of course, there are still plenty of shows and stores to pick up some last-minute holiday gifts.
Christmas Town at Busch Gardens
Williamsburg, VA; Tampa, FL
The Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town helps its guests make the best Christmas memories with plenty of holiday Cheer. Its Christmas Town features several heart-warming holiday shows, delicious mouth-watering Christmas delicacies, several Christmas attractions as well as plenty of shopping opportunities to pick up gifts for that special someone. Guests can stay warm with a delicious mug of Busch Gardens’ signature hot chocolate as they revel in the more than 8 million lights that decorate the entire park. Kids can even get a chance to visit Santa at his workshop located at the North Pole.
The Sesame Place Theme Park is one-of-a-kind destination during the Christmas holidays. This kid-centric park has been decorated with a myriad of twinkling lights and whirling rides. Visitors can enjoy exclusive Christmas shows, mouth-watering Christmas menus, holiday shopping and also pay Santa a visit at his Furry Workshop. Also, all of your child's favorite Sesame Street characters, including Elmo, will be at the park ready for photos and laughs. This theme park is geared towards smaller children and features tons of ways for toddlers and children to have fun and make Christmas memories.
The North Pole is, of course, a little hard to reach so it's no surprise that Santa has a few outposts—one of which is conveniently located in Colorado Springs. The North Pole theme park is a little on the small side, which makes it perfect for smaller children. Kids can visit Santa's home and get their photo taken with him. There are plenty of shops where parents can pick up some fantastic souvenirs and toys for the kids as well as various shows and rides to try out. The park has limited hours in December, so make sure you check the hours before heading out!
Which of these fun Christmas celebrations do you want to see? Do you have a favorite holiday theme park event? Tell us in the comments and don't forget to share with your friends!