The Best Kid-Friendly Theme Park Christmas Celebrations in the U.S.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in theme parks across the country, and in many of them, families will find festive experiences for a memorable holiday season. For example, you can hop on board a singalong steam train in Missouri, watch Santa review his naughty and nice list in Tennessee, decorate ornaments at large indoor theme park in New Jersey, make cookies with Mrs. Claus in Ohio, and more.
Visit one of these nine American theme parks for a holiday experience sure to put parents on the "nice list" in their kids' eyes.
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Nickelodeon Universe — East Rutherford, New Jersey
For some kid-friendly Christmas cheer, consider visiting the largest indoor theme park in the Western Hemisphere! Your kids can hang out with a Santa SpongeBob, Christmas hat-wearing Paw Patrol pups, and more during one of the hourly holiday dance shows. Watch out for giant toy soldiers on stilts, and take family photos in front of the decorated trees — complete with orange and green disco ball ornaments, of course. Later, go for a ride on Blaze's Monster Truck Rally or hang out with Marshall and Chase on the Pup Pup & Away Ferris wheel. Then head to Santa's Elf Workshop, where elves will help kids write a letter to Santa and decorate ornaments.
After time in the theme park, families can venture into the American Dream mall to see the double-decker candy cane chute. Keep an eye out for Santa himself riding around in a gold cart with his elves!
Walt Disney World — Orlando, Florida
What better way to spend the holiday season than at "the most magical place on Earth?" You'll find festive fun at each of the resort's parks, as well as over-the-top decorations—both for the holidays and Disney World's 50th anniversary. Go on a cookie stroll at Epcot, watch the big man ride in a "candy-apple red convertible" as part of the Santa Claus Merry Motorcade at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and visit the Merry Menagerie at Disney's Animal Kingdom (complete with life-size sculpted animal puppets!)
At night, head to the Magic Kingdom for the Disney Very Merriest After Hours celebration. It features a Christmastime parade with your favorite characters, a fireworks show set to Christmas carols, complimentary treats like ice cream, and shorter wait times at favorite rides.
Dollywood — Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
At Dollywood, families can visit Santa in his Smoky Mountain cabin (he's good friends with Dolly Parton, of course). Kids can peek inside to watch him reviewing the naughty and nice list before toasting the holidays with a chilled cocoa made with chocolate milk, chocolate sauce, a hint of peppermint extract, and cinnamon dust topping. Catch one of the Christmas-themed shows at the park, or join in with the candlelight carolers.
After the sun sets, gather round for the "Merry & Bright, Holiday Light!" fireworks show with festive songs, or stroll through the Glacier Ridge light display to find a 50-foot-high tree with a synchronized light show.
Knott's Berry Farm — Buena Park, California
From musical shows to an ice skating spectacular with the Peanuts gang, this year's Knott's Merry Farm event is sure to delight kids of all ages. Shop the Christmas craft village for gifts (plus demonstrations of chainsaw wood carving and glass blowing) and participate in the nightly tree lighting ceremony. Don't forget to snack on favorites like Donner's chocolate cranberry macarons! Plan a visit to Santa's Christmas cabin and watch "snow" fall each evening as sparkling lights illuminate the park to complete the experience.
Silver Dollar City — Branson, Missouri
This 1880s-style theme park puts up more than 6 million lights and decorates 1,000 trees for a bright experience that will put anyone in a festive mood. Kids can hop aboard the Christmas-themed Frisco Sing-Along Steam Train for a ride through the Ozark Mountain countryside, or head to Santa's Cottage to discuss their wish lists. Later, stop by Rudolph's Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade and wave to marching wooden soldiers, penguins, 12-foot-tall elves, and more. Getting hungry? Try the traditional holiday feast, a buffet full of indulgent favorites like glazed ham, fried chicken, and mac and cheese.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg — Williamsburg, Virginia
More than 10 million lights will greet park goers at the festive "Christmas Town" celebration in this European-themed park. Gather for the 'Twas that Night ice skating show, or take advantage of holiday-themed rides like the Christmas Town Express and the Reindeer Run bobsled ride. Fans of Grover and Elmo will love the Sesame Street Forest of Fun (featuring kid-friendly rides), and they'll enjoy photo opportunities with Frosty the Snowman and Santa. Later, visit the Mistletoe Marketplace for stocking stuffers and handmade gifts, or let the kids indulge in some sweets while parents treat themselves to a wine tasting.
Universal Orlando Resort — Orlando, Florida
Missed the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade? Catch a mini encore at Universal Studios Florida, including oversized Minions balloons and favorite characters from the Shrek and Madagascar movies. Continue the fun on the streets of Diagon Alley with a hot Butterbeer before heading over to Hogsmeade in Universal's Islands of Adventure, where Harry Potter fans can see the Hogwarts castle lit up for the holidays. Later, join the Grinch in Who-ville for photo opportunities and a live show, and hang out with the resident Whos.
Six Flags Magic Mountain — Valencia, California
Families can travel back in time this holiday season with HollyRock, a 1950s-themed area with thousands of lights, classic cars, oldies music, a fire pit for s'mores, and more. Several other "Winter Wonder Lands" keep the fun going, including in the Gleampunk District (you'll find a holiday twist on the industrial revolution) and Santa's Village (kids can take photos with St. Nick and Mrs. Claus). And don't forget to go for a stroll down the Peppermint Path to see snow falling every 15 minutes—in California! Kids can feast on festive sweets like Mrs. Claus' Banana Pudding and Rudolph's Thrill Shake, while parents will love the more adult treats like the 21 Merry Mimosa.
Kings Island — Mason, Ohio
This park's WinterFest celebration invites guests to ride in a picture-perfect horse-drawn carriage, join Mrs. Claus for a cookie decorating session, and mail letters to Santa at the North Pole post office (though the park does note that "Santa will not be accepting wishes of coal for little brothers and sisters."). Kids will love gliding around the Snow Flake Lake ice skating rink or racing down the sledding hill, while families who want to warm up can book some time in one of Jack Frost's luxury igloos. Get into the holiday spirit even more when you help Charlie Brown pick out the perfect tree by making your way through a maze of Christmas trees.