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14 Theme Parks that Go All-Out for the Holidays

Theme parks are fun any time of year but there's something extra special about visiting during the holidays. Here are how the best theme parks go all out during the holidays!

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Moscow, Russia. Christmas holidays, winter. Christmas fair on red square. Snowman, colored flags and Christmas treeSergey Gordienko/Shutterstock

Why a theme park for the holiday?

Theme parks can be just as fun in December as they are in the middle of the summer. In addition to all the usual fun, you can expect meet and greets with Santa, holiday parades, festive holiday treats, and more. Looking to go even further away from home? These are the best holiday cruises to take

Great Wolf Lodge Christmas courtesy Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge

Every holiday season, each Great Wolf Lodge location transforms into Snowland, a magical place with festive trees, twinkling lights, and daily indoor snow showers in the Grand Lobby. Also included free with every overnight stay are visits with Santa on holiday weekends, family holiday movies, caroling, nightly lobby Christmas shows, and Snow n’ Glow dance parties. But the coolest things happening at Great World Lodge at the end of the year is the chance to enroll your tiny tots in North Pole University. That’s where kids can complete fun “courses” to receive a snowplow and special Rowdy the Reindeer trading card for their childhood scrapbook. These are more of our favorite indoor water parks around the country.

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Sesame Place ChristmasSeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Sesame Place

A Very Furry Christmas at Sesame Place is a family favorite holiday tradition in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia because what’s better than celebrating the most wonderful time of the year with Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Elmo, and Zoe?! The popular thrice-daily Neighborhood Street Party Parade takes on a festive glow, Elmo the Musical Live gets decorated for Christmas, and the brand-new music and light show “1-2-3 Christmas Tree,” featuring a 30-foot fully-illuminated tree, will leave the whole family in awe as the tree projects animated holiday images. Even the food and shops get in the spirit, with the Merry Marketplace, located in Oscar’s Wacky Taxi courtyard. There, you can indulge in tasty winter treats, including specialty hot chocolate and kettle corn, while shopping for Sesame Street-themed holiday gifts that will make kids happy on Christmas morning. Taking a trip at the holiday is a tradition for many families—here’s the history behind some other favorite Christmas traditions.

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1105ZU_0384KP-1courtesy Disney

Disney World

Every park in the most magical place on Earth goes all out for the holidays, including Disney’s Animal Kingdom which offers a brand-new Tree of Life Awakening featuring a series of wintry tales complete with a beautiful musical score, plus kitschy Christmastime decor at Pongu Pongu in Pandora—The World of Avatar. Over at the Magic Kingdom, Queen Elsa transforms Cinderella Castle in A Frozen Holiday Wish, there’s the stunning Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show, and on most nights during the season, your magical day concludes with Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. That’s when the whole park is filled with music, characters dressed in their holiday best and enchanting surprises that will have kids and adults alike grinning from Mickey ear to Mickey ear. Before you go, you’ll want to know the things you need to book in advance of your Disney vacation.

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Epcot Christmascourtesy trip advisor


A true one of a kind Christmas experience happens at Epcot every night from the end of November through the conclusion of the year, as the biblical story of Christmas is told by a celebrity narrator and accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra and choir. This year, those celebs include Neil Patrick Harris, Whoopi Goldberg, Gary Sinise, Edward James Olmos, and Isabella Rossellini. In addition to the Candlelight Processional, Epcot offers up a tasty Holiday Cookie Stroll, the beloved international yuletide extravaganza showcasing traditions of 11 nations, and JOYFUL! a gospel and R&B musical celebration of Christmas and Kwanza. It’s a one-stop-shop for experiencing these Christmas traditions from around the world.

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Universal Orlando Resort Christmascourtesy Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Studios Florida

Sure, there’s Grinchmas at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and a Holiday Parade sponsored by Macy’s at Universal Studios but if you’re going to Orlando during the festive season it’s for Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Both sides of this immersive park are transformed into a wizarding wonderland during the holidays with no special spells required to activate the fun. Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley will be decorated with garland and strung with lights, and the sounds of special holiday-themed performances—Muggle Christmas carols from the Frog Choir which consists of Hogwarts students and their croaking frogs as well as unique holiday hits from Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees—will ensure all are merry and bright at Universal Studios Florida. Bonus: hot Butterbeer on tap! Find out 10 key differences between Universal Studios and Disney World.

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Legoland ChristmasTada Images/Shutterstock

LEGOLAND Florida Resort

Constructing a family Christmas at LEGOLAND is a memorable experience, what with the world’s largest LEGO Christmas tree, photo ops with LEGO Santa, and the LEGO Friends Holiday Show at the Winter Haven, Florida property. But watching the LEGO brick drop on New Year’s Eve with a rockin’ dance party and fireworks at LEGOLAND Florida is the greatest way in America to ring in a new year with your kids.

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Busch Gardens Christmascourtesy SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

Busch Gardens

This popular theme park in Williamsburg, Virginia comes to life with Christmas spirit each year. Christmastime at Busch Gardens means gawking at multi-colored light shows around a majestic 50-foot tree, listening to a rousing yuletide acapella concert, watching the ‘Twas the Night ice show with World Champion figure skater Elvis Stojko, and enjoying the Das Festhaus Christmas musical featuring festively-outfitted performers, animated toy soldiers, and classic holiday songs like “Frosty the Snowman.”

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Sea World Christmascourtesy SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment


All three SeaWorld locations go all out for Christmas every year. Take the kiddies to see Clyde And Seamore’s sea lion and otter holiday comedy shows, and city-specific sights including a 40-foot, illuminated Christmas Tree in Rudolph’s Christmastown (San Diego), Santa’s Christmas Village and all-new Sesame Street Christmas Parade (Orlando), and over 9-million twinkle lights plus an angelic choir singing the story of Christmas (San Antonio). Discover the best Christmas town near you.

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Dollywood ChristmasCourtesy Dollywood

Dollywood Smokey Mountain Christmas

This country music theme park in Tennessee is often considered the best park to experience Christmas, because Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas is lit by 5 million holiday lights and features special holiday performances on stage and a friendly down-home Christmas atmosphere. Thanks to Dollywood’s Parade of Many Colors, holiday shows like It’s a Wonderful Life and Christmas in the Smokies, Christmas-themed menus, and the chance to climb on board 20 of Dollywood’s signature rides and attractions, it is hard to imagine any place merrier during the holidays.

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Silver Dollar City Christmasvia

Silver Dollar City

Starting the first week in November, people from all over the country flock to Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri for their spectacular Old Time Christmas bathed in over six million lights! A pair of theatrical productions take center stage during the holidays as A Dickens’ Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life delight audiences of all-ages, and twice-nightly during the festive period, Rudolph leads his famous Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade featuring 45 costumed characters including everyone’s favorite, the Bumble, 12-foot tall elves and 10-foot candy canes illuminated by 200,000 LED lights. These are the best cities in the world to experience Christmas.

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Hershey Park ChristmasGeorge Sheldon/Shutterstock

Hershey Park

The Sweetest Place on Earth transforms into Santa’s North Pole during the Christmas Candylane celebration that sees roller coasters upgraded for holiday thrills and choreographed light shows with 4 million twinkling lights that will dazzle your sugar buzzed kids. But that’s not all, as Santa and all nine of his reindeer are at Hersheypark too. Stroll the stables for an up-close look at your favorite famous flying reindeer. If the weather is too frightful this winter, crank up the heat in the car, spin the best Christmas songs ever, and drive the Hershey Sweet Lights to gaze upon 600 illuminated, animated displays set along two miles of wooded trails.

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American Dream Christmascourtesy American Dream

American Dream

This brand new, immense Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park officials opens in late October but come December 5th when Santa arrives, the Big SNOW portion of the park will be awash in Christmas spirit. Expect to see festive decor and enjoy holiday programming every bit as impressive as the property itself to go along with skiing and snowboarding at North America’s only indoor real-snow park featuring a trail for every skill level, from bunny hill beginners to black diamond experts. Expect to see a lot of red and green at American Dream this holiday season—here’s why are those the colors of Christmas.

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Conner Prairie Christmas Courtesy Conner Prairie

Conner Prairie

Located in Hamilton County Indiana, just a short drive up from the state capital is this Smithsonian affiliate historical park that goes all out at Christmastime with the Merry Prairie Holiday celebration. Listen to carolers sing, take the Polar Bear Plunge by going down the dry snow tubing hill, play at the Reindeer Games Midway, watch artists make seasonal crafts, ride on a winterland wagon across the grounds through thousands of twinkle lights, and stroll around the new 400 Reynolds Christmas light structures. Stay closer to home with the best Christmas market in every state.

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Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts Christmascourtesy Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts

Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark

Water parks beneath the still-warm Texas sun may seem an unusual place to spend your holiday season but Schlitterbahn Galveston is hosting Holiday Splash on weekends this year starting at the end of November, and you should go. Let the stress of the Christmas season melt away in the heated indoor water park in a Snow Globe Float Conquer the waves of the Torrent River while watching snow fall around you, making you feel like you’re in a magical snow globe. After your time chilling out on the water, enjoy the Bahn Borealis Light Show, a cool indoor display animated to classic Christmas songs that runs every hour on the hour. Next, read on to discover 20 of the best small towns for Christmas lights.

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Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.