Theme park companies usually don’t divulge attendance and revenue numbers during the holiday period, but with fresh and varied holiday programs and wide-reaching marketing campaigns, the holiday season is important to parks.
This year, many parks are focusing on millennials in their marketing campaigns: surveys have found that millennial parents and non-parents alike are more likely than all parents to express interest in holiday theme park visits, and rationalize the costs involved in a visit, some 78% to 59%, respectively.
So what do millennials want? Beloved characters, variety, and a way to integrate their smart phones and other personal devices into their holiday visiting experience. Disneyland has created Instagram-friendly photo spots; while other parks offer holiday hashtags.
But most importantly of all, it’s the holiday experience, surrounded by beloved characters they can share with their own children, that draw millennials according to studies. So, with that in mind, major theme parks are going all out to deck the halls as usual.
Both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are offering a wide range of holiday entertainment, including A Christmas Fantasy Parade, Believe...In Holiday Magic Fireworks Spectacular, a seasonally decorated It’s A Small World, and a decorated Haunted Mansion in Disneyland. Disney California Adventure showcases Mater’s Jingle Jamboree, Luigi's Joy to the Whirl, a Festive Foods marketplace, and Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Events are included with the price of admission.
Also in California, Knott's Berry Farm: Knott's Merry Farm presents a holiday ice show, “Merry Christmas, Snoopy,” a Christmas Crafts Village, regular snow falls in Ghost Town, and holiday stage shows such as “A Christmas Carol,” as well as festive decorations throughout the park.
Legoland California adds two holiday stage shows and a lighting of its Lego-made Christmas tree, as well as a Santa and reindeer crafted from Legos. Additionally, the park has moved its tree to create a more central draw.
SeaWorld San Diego:
SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration features characters drawn from the original Claymation classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as well as both sea lion and dolphin holidays shows and appearances by Santa, Mrs. Claus and a live nativity show.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom:
Holiday in the Park presents a synchronized light show and new presentations of their Winter Wonderland and Merry Marketplace, along with other attractions, such as the return of their popular Six Flags Dazzle synchronized light show, and s’mores fire pits.
Six Flags Magic Mountain:
Holiday in the Park holds its own synchronized light show set to holiday tunes in Magic Mountain’s DC Universe area.
At Universal Studios Hollywood, snowfall and projected images create seasonal delight in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle.” Grinchmas, an on-going live- action celebration in the park’s Whoville movie set will stage a holiday show and a tree lighting ceremony. In Orlando, Universal Studios offers these attractions plus a new holiday parade featuring Macy’s – which means giant balloon floats.
In Silver Dollar City, located in Branson, Missouri, this year brings two Broadway-style holiday musical productions and a whopping 6.5 million holiday lights to the theme park, along with a bevy of holiday food treats from wassail to hot chocolate and roast beef buffets, as well as an evening light parade and five-story Christmas tree.
In Orlando, Fla. at Walt Disney World, for an additional fee, guests can enjoy Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party in the evening, or simply enjoy elaborate holiday décor throughout the park by day. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, the Sunset Seasons Greetings projection show returns, as does the Jingle Bell, and Jingle BAM! Productions.
There is something new afoot at Disney's Animal Kingdom, with a celebration of the Hindu Diwali Festival of Lights; while at Epcot, the Festival of the Holidays food and drink event is joined by IllumiNations holiday finale, and a candlelight processional in the America Gardens Theater.
In Tennessee, Dollywood adds over one million lights to its Glacier Ridge expansion of Smoky Mountain Christmas, along with a recreation of the northern lights and a return for the park’s musical productions, including Christmas in the Smokies. A Parade of Many Colors is also a festive draw.
Hershey Park in Hershey, PA., will be especially glittery this year as the Christmas Candylane event celebrates its 35th year. There will be Santa and his reindeer, a NOEL lightshow, a musical presentation titled “Up on the Rooftop,” and over four million lights throughout the park. And of course, the park’s signature hot chocolate. As an additional attraction, Hershey Sweet Lights is a 2-mile drive-through attraction just outside the park. And at the Hershey Museum, interactive fun for little ones include Chocolate Lab holiday themed chocolate-making classes and Snowball Saturdays for gentle indoor, snowball-tossing.
At SeaWorld Orlando, Dine with Santa at ShamuStadium is an added food attraction with a festive holiday buffet, while returning features such as the Sea of Trees, Winter Wonderland on Ice, and Sesame Street's Elmo’s Christmas Wish show, are consistent crowd-pleasers. Also a part of the jovial mix this year are Rudolph’s ChristmasTown and The Christmas Market, filled with seasonal crafts.
Tampa’s Busch Gardens showcases a new contemporary musical, “Christmas Is…” as well as continuing holiday fare such as Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland, the Sing-A-Long Train, and Christmas on Ice. Also new is Brunch with Santa, which includes unlimited mimosas or “build your own Bloody Mary” as additional offerings for adults.
Regardless of the attractions offered, the holiday season is big for theme parks, and drawing crowds to celebrate the holidays is important – particularly eager-to-spend millennials familiar with theme parks as a vacation destination.
Summer is always still the pinnacle of theme park attendance, so to get guests into parks during the winter holidays, creating multiple themed seasonal attractions, refreshing them, and adding new selections from stage shows to lighting are all key ways to boost visits, according to industry analysts.
From Disneyland and California Adventure to Hershey Park, every large park is pulling out all the celebration stops this year.