If all you want for Christmas are your two front seats – on a roller coaster – you’re in luck. Theme parks used to call it a season soon after Labor Day, but many of them now remain open through the end of the year and offer holiday events (as well as rides aboard their coasters). Let’s go over the river and through the woods to see what some parks have in store this year.
Holidays at Walt Disney World Resort
Through Jan. 1; some attractions available through Jan. 5
There’s plenty stirring – even Mickey Mouse – throughout the mega Florida resort. It’s not uncommon for the parks to get so busy during the week between Christmas and New Year’s that at least one of them reaches capacity and closes its gates to guests staying off property.
Highlights include Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, a separately ticketed nighttime event at the Magic Kingdom. It features a new show, Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks. Disney’s Hollywood Studios, meanwhile, gets into the Christmas spirit with the hyperactive projection and pyrotechnics presentation, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam. It is presented nightly at the park’s Chinese Theater through Jan. 5.
Festival-crazy Epcot marks the season with the International Festival of the Holidays (through Dec. 30), which includes the food, music, and traditions of different cultures. The park also recounts the Christmas story with celebrity narrators, a choir, and an orchestra for its Candlelight Processional.
The holidays go intergalactic when Disney’s Animal Kingdom presents a new addition, Christmas at Pongu Pongu in Pandora – The World of Avatar.
More information: disneyworld.disney.go.com
Holidays at Disneyland Resort
Through Jan. 6
Not to be outdone, Mickey’s West Coast theme park home decks its halls as well. The original Disneyland Park presents A Christmas Fantasy Parade, Believe…In Holiday Magic Fireworks (which concludes with the Southern California version of “snow”), and seasonal overlays on two of its classic attractions: “It’s a Small World” Holiday, and Haunted Mansion Holiday, the latter inspired by Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Sister park Disney California Adventure offers Disney Festival of Holidays, an Epcot-esque ode to many cultures. The park’s Cars Land, which never met a pun it didn’t like, transforms for the “haul-idays” and re-themes some of its attractions, such as Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl.
More information: disneyland.disney.go.com
Holidays at Universal Orlando
Through Jan. 5
Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s (which includes character balloons like the retailer’s legendary Thanksgiving parade) steps off in the New York section of Universal Studios Florida. The musical, “Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular” (through Dec. 30) based on the Dr. Seuss book, TV special, and film, wows audiences at Islands of Adventure.
Christmas decorations adorn both parks’ Harry Potter lands, and Hogwarts Castle comes alive each evening with a holiday-themed projection show.
More information: universalorlando.com
Holidays at Universal Studios Hollywood
Through Dec. 29
Visitors can enjoy a tree-lighting ceremony and other fun at the Grinchmas celebration held on the actual movie set of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Like its Florida counterpart, Hollywood’s Wizarding World also presents The Magic of Christmas projection show at its Hogwarts castle.
More information: universalstudioshollywood.com
Holiday in the Park at Six Flags
Dates vary at each park
Most of the Six Flags parks crank up their coasters, offer crackling fires to make s’mores, and celebrate the season with special shows, gazillions of twinkling lights, visits from St. Nick, and other holiday hoopla. At Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, for example, visitors can hop aboard a sled and tackle the snow-covered Frosty Snowhill.
More information: sixflags.com
WinterFest at select Cedar Fair parks
Dates vary at each park
Like Six Flags, the coaster-crazy regional amusement park chain, Cedar Fair, also invites visitors to mix thrills and literal chills at its midways during the holidays.
The WinterFest event at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina, continues on select days through Dec. 31. Among the activities, visitors can navigate the maze through Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree Lot, enjoy the show, “Holiday in Harmony,” and shiver a bit as they ride the new coaster Copperhead Strike.
Other Cedar Fair parks presenting WinterFest include Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughan, Ontario; California’s Great America in Santa Clara; Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia, Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, and Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Missouri.
An Old Time Christmas at Silver Dollar City
Through Dec. 30
With 6.5 million lights, the Branson, Missouri, park really glows for its holiday event. And speaking of really glows, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the grand marshal of the park’s Christmas Lights Parade. New this year is an eight-story, tricked-out Christmas tree that integrates music, color, lights, and animation for the presentation “Joy on Town Square.” Silver Dollar City’s Broadway-style shows, which include “A Dickens’ Christmas Carol” and “It’s A Wonderful Life,” are among the festival’s highlights.
More information: silverdollarcity.com
Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood
Through Jan. 4
It should come as no surprise that Dolly Parton’s theme park, located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, features spectacular holiday-themed, music-filled shows. The productions include “Christmas In the Smokies” and “’Twas The Night Before Christmas.” The nightly Parade of Many Colors offers light-bedazzled floats, and the park’s Glacier Ridge area includes a canopy of lights through which guests can walk.
More information: dollywood.com