17 Theme Park Holiday Events That Are Totally Worth the Cost

From Halloween to Mardi Gras, these theme park special events appeal to all audiences.
Last updated Nov. 20, 2022 | By Kat Tretina
Visitors riding a roller coaster at a theme park

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If you’re a theme park fan, you know the holidays are something special. Most parks decorate for the season or hold special events, offering new shows and unique attractions for Halloween, Christmas, and more.

While many of these events have an extra fee, they can be well worth the added cost. Here are some of the top events being held this fall and winter.

17 theme park holiday events you can’t miss

Theme parks all over the country host special events throughout the year, transforming their grounds into haunted destinations, bountiful fall harvests, and winter wonderlands. We selected our favorite events at different amusement parks based on their unique features and cost.

Disney World — Orlando, FL

One of the most popular theme parks in the world, Disney World operates two major events each year.

Disney After Hours Boo Bash

Disney After Hours Boo Bash is a special event held on select nights between August 10 and October 31. It’s a separately ticketed event, meaning you’ll have to buy a special ticket beyond the general admission fee. There’s trick-or-treating, a Halloween-themed parade, and watch for an appearance by Maleficent as a fire-breathing dragon!. Tickets start at $129.

Disney Very Merriest After Hours

Between November 8 and December 21, Disney World’s Magic Kingdom hosts Disney Very Merriest After Hours, another separately ticketed event. Mickey and Minnie light up Cinderella's castle with special lights, the park is elaborately decorated, and there are special shows, parades, and a fireworks display. Tickets start at $169.

Disneyland Paris — Marne-la-Vallée, France

If you’re going to be in Europe this winter, consider visiting Disneyland Paris between November 13 and January 9. The park is decorated with millions of lights, and there are elaborate holiday decorations throughout. You can also access special shows, parades, and character greetings, and children can get their pictures taken with Santa. Ticket prices start at $63.72.

Disneyland & California Adventure — Anaheim, CA

Disney’s first theme park holds two special events at its parks in California:

Oogie Boogie Bash

The Oogie Boogie Bash is an event that requires a separate ticket from the standard admission and is only available on select nights. It’s held in the California Adventure Park between September 9 and October 31 and features a special night laser show, a dance party, and a Halloween-themed parade. Tickets start at $114 and tend to sell quickly. In fact, tickets are already sold out for 2021.

Holidays at Disneyland Resort

Between November 12 and January 9, both Disneyland and California Adventure are decorated with millions of lights and Christmas decorations. The parks host special shows and parades, and there are holiday-themed special treats. Each evening, the castle is transformed with dazzling lights, and even the Haunted Mansion gets decked out in the holiday spirit, with characters appearing from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Tickets start at $104 for a single-day ticket.

Universal Orlando — Orlando, FL

Universal Orlando is made up of two theme parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, the home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. While the parks host several events, the most well-known are Halloween Horror Nights and Mardi Gras.

Halloween Horror Nights

Designed for adults, Halloween Horror Nights isn’t recommended for children under the age of 13. Available on select nights between September 3 and October 31, there are 10 detailed haunted houses, five themed scare zones, and live entertainment with special effects. This year’s attractions stand out thanks to “The Haunting of Hill House” haunted house based on the popular Netflix series. Tickets start at $70.99.

Mardi Gras

From February 5 until April 24, Universal operates a Mardi Gras celebration. The event features a gigantic New Orleans-style parade with performers, authentic Cajun food, and a special concert series. Past seasons have included performances from artists like Pitbull, Macklemore, and the Steve Miller Band. Mardi Gras festivities and concerts are included with a park general admissions ticket; tickets start at $115.

Cedar Point — Sandusky, OH

Cedar Point is known as the roller coaster capital of the world, with jaw-dropping coasters for thrillseekers. Its biggest event is HalloWeekends.

Tricks and Treats Fall Fest

On select dates between September 18 and October 31, families can enjoy the Tricks and Treats Fall Fest, a child-friendly event. There are special arts and crafts activities, trick-or-treating, and a Halloween-themed parade. Tickets start at $49.99.

Haunt at HalloWeekends

If you’re feeling brave, check out the Haunt at HalloWeekends between September 18 and October 31. Not only will the rides be open after dark, but there are also haunted mazes and outdoor scare zones with costumed actors. Tickets start at $49.99.

Hersheypark — Hershey, PA

Originally designed for employees of the local Hershey Chocolate Factory, Hersheypark is now a theme park open to the public, offering rides and attractions for the whole family. Two of its most popular events are Hersheypark In The Dark and Christmas Candylane.

Hersheypark In The Dark

During weekends between October 15 and October 31, Hersheypark stays open after dark. You can ride your favorite roller coasters and attractions at night, enjoy a glow dance party, and take a night tour of Creatures Of The Night at ZooAmerica, an 11-acre zoo. Adult tickets cost $54.95.

Christmas Candylane

On select dates from November 12 to January 2, Hersheypark hosts Christmas Candylane. The park is decorated with over four million lights, and there’s a special visit from Santa and his reindeer. Because it’s cold in Pennsylvania in the winter, you get a discount on tickets; tickets for Christmas Candylane in 2020 were $31.95, ticket prices have not been announced yet (as of Oct 26, 2021) for 2021.

Six Flags Great Adventure — Jackson, NJ

Six Flags Great Adventure is known for its world-class roller coasters and special events. The location in Jackson, New Jersey hosts two major holiday-themed events:

Fright Fest

Fright Fest is held on select nights between September 10 and October 31. After the sun goes down, there are haunted mazes and scare zones located throughout the park. Tickets start at $39.99 and need to be purchased or reserved (for season pass holders) online ahead of time.

Holiday in the Park

Between November 13 and January 2 Six Flags hosts Holiday in the Park, a Christmas-themed event. There are special shows, acrobatic performances, incredible decorations, and special holiday foods. You can enjoy Holiday in the Park starting at $39.99.

Busch Gardens — Williamsburg, VA

Located in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, Busch Gardens is home to incredible rides and Jack Hanna’s Wildlife Reserve, which houses many wild animals. The park hosts two fall-themed events:

Howl-O-Scream

For the brave of heart, Howl-O-Scream offers unique thrills between September 10 and October 31. The kid-friendly attractions close at 5 p.m. so the park can focus on adult-level scares. There are elaborate haunted houses, scare zones, spooky escape rooms, and special (and gruesome) live shows. Tickets are usually $89.99, but you can save up to 40% by buying your tickets in advance online.

The Count’s Spooktacular

If you have young children, the Count’s Spooktacular is a great alternative to the grown-up Howl-O-Scream. Between September 25 and October 31, Busch Gardens hosts a child-friendly Halloween event, allowing kids to see their favorite Sesame Street characters and enjoy special activities and trick-or-treating. Tickets for the Spooktacular cost $49.99 if purchased online for children between the ages of three and nine.

Silver Dollar City — Branson, MO

Silver Dollar City is a theme park like no other. Styled after the 1880s, it features rides, attractions, craftsmen, and unique shops. It has many seasonal events, but two of the most popular are the Harvest Festival and An Old Time Christmas.

Harvest Festival

A kid-friendly event, the Harvest Festival features thousands of glowing pumpkin displays, pumpkin carving stations, character meet and greets, and fun photo opportunities. Select attractions will stay open late, so you can go on your favorite rides after dark. Tickets start at $74 per person, with a special price of $45 for admission after 5pm, and the Harvest Festival runs from September 24 until October 30.

An Old Time Christmas

During An Old Time Christmas, the park is decorated with over 6.5 million lights. You’ll also enjoy a nightly parade featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and a living nativity scene. The event runs from November 6 until December 30, and tickets start at $74.

How to save money on your trip

Visiting the theme parks and enjoying their special holiday events can be costly, especially for families. However, there are some ways you can save money:

  • Check for discounts: Some theme parks, including Disney and Universal, offer special discounts throughout the year. You could score deals on packages if you book hotel stays and park tickets together. And if you buy your special event tickets in advance, you can often get a lower price than if you pay at the gate.
  • Redeem credit card rewards: If you have a rewards credit card, redeem your points or cash back for travel. You could redeem your rewards for discounted flights or free hotel stays, hopefully leaving you some spare cash to spend on theme park admission and souvenirs.
  • Use your credit card to earn points: Once you’re at the theme parks, use one of the best travel credit cards to earn valuable rewards. For example, theme park purchases often code as either entertainment or travel, so using a credit card that offers bonus points in these categories can help you max out your rewards.
    Die-hard fans may even opt for theme-park branded credit cards such as those offered by Disney, which can offer extra perks at correlating parks.    
  • Use your AAA membership: If you have a AAA (American Automobile Association) membership, you could get discounted tickets to parks like Disneyland, Universal, or Busch Gardens. To get the savings, purchase tickets through your local AAA office or online through the AAA site.

Enjoying the holidays at theme parks

If you love theme parks, the holidays are a great time to visit. The special events and decor make it a very different experience from the rest of the year. By doing some research and exploring available discounts, you can indulge in these special events without blowing your budget.

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Author Details

Kat Tretina Kat Tretina is a freelance writer based in Orlando, Florida. Her work has been published by publications like The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, MarketWatch, and more. She specializes in producing content around paying down debt, increasing income, and maximizing credit cards. You can view her work at www.KTretina.com, or contact her on Twitter @KatTretina.