On Wednesday I spoke with Dan Dipiazzo, Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Vice President of Marketing, about the new dynamic ticket pricing structure for Christmas Town. It was clear that the park is making real changes in an attempt to address the extremely high crowd levels we have all experienced in recent years.

Since its inception in 2009, Christmas Town has grown into an incredibly popular holiday event. Unfortunately, as we saw last year, the park has also begun to struggle to keep up with the crowds: paths have become virtually unnavigable and cars have backed up onto Interstate 64. I believe, however, that the new, innovative ticket pricing, combined with improvements in crowd management, may mitigate some of these problems.

The biggest change implemented by Busch Gardens this year is the new, dynamic pricing structure. When Christmas Town tickets go on sale on November 1st, you will notice that the cost calendar varies by day. That is not, in and of itself, the solution to the overcrowding problems, but it does provide a cost incentive for people to attend on slower days. That said, the really interesting aspect of the ticket prices is that they are essentially responsive to demand.

If you buy tickets at the gate, you will pay $38. Depending on how soon you purchase single-day tickets on-line, you will be able to save as much as $22. For all of November 1st, tickets will cost between $16 and $24, depending on the day. Of the 30 days 13 will start at $16; three peak Saturdays will start at $24.

As people buy tickets, the prices will gradually increase up to $38. Price increases will be assessed once a day, so there shouldn’t be too much pressure on customers to purchase the second they spot a deal they want. Dan likened the system to airline and hotel pricing structures: there is an inventory of tickets at each price point. So, the earlier you buy tickets, the lower the price. It is important to note that these discounts are only offered on-line, but are available until they sell-out. So, in theory, assuming there is still inventory, you could purchase tickets at some discount the same day you plan to visit the park.

The one catch to these discounted tickets is that you must select a date when you make your purchase, and the ticket will only be valid that day. Obviously, you can ask customer service to change the date on your ticket in certain circumstances, like weather closures. You can find details here. Because the tickets are never linked to a specific name, anyone can use them, once they are bought.

This new pricing structure is replacing previous discounts, like last year’s Twinkle Tickets. The obvious advantage is that it manages how many cheap tickets are available each day and spreads them out over the entire event, both of which should prevent the massive overcrowding we have historically experienced on discount days. In fact, we expect crowd levels to be evened out, minimizing the number of both very heavy and very light days.

Thinking about how this system and calendar will work, we suggest that if you have either flexible days, or plan to use a multi-day pass, you wait and watch how quickly and high prices go up for each day. Because higher prices are directly correlated with the number of people who have bought tickets, you should be able to predict with a fair level of accuracy which days will have lower crowd levels.

There are other ticket options, as well. If you do not know what day you will want to visit, or if you expect to attend Christmas Town a few times, you might prefer a Christmas Town Fun Card, which is $38, like the single-day gate price. Current Pass Members can buy a Christmas Town Pass, which includes parking and discounts, for $32. Additionally, they may purchase undated single day tickets for $24 each.

There is also a holiday version of the Colonial Williamsburg/Busch Gardens Williamsburg Bounce Ticket, which allows you to visit both parks for three consecutive days with free parking for $62 for adults and $47 for children 6-12 years. Since Colonial Williamsburg tickets are $40.99 for single day and $50.99 for multi day tickets, this offer may or may not be a better deal, depending on what prices are available for the Christmas Town tickets.

In addition to adjusting their approach to discounted tickets, the park has made a variety of other changes, designed to increase the capacity of the event and to manage crowd flow. A few examples:

  • Gone are the 9pm closures; Christmas Town will remain open until 10pm every night this year.
  • The event will run more days than ever before (30).
  • On most days the park will open all the hamlets at once, eliminating the traditional staggered openings, which overwhelmed some areas of the park and frustrated guests.
  • Forest of Fun, including Grover’s Alpine Express and all of the other dry rides, will be open for the first time, providing an additional children’s area.
  • Both Verbolten and Tempesto will be running, giving adults a new ride, as well.
  • Marco Polo’s Marketplace will be open this year, as will the new character dining experience with Rudolph in Holiday Hills.

According to Dan, the park has also been working to set showtimes and streamline guest flow at the event to better manage how many people will be using the paths and when.

I should highlight the downside of the new system for Christmas Town Pass and Fun Card holders. Anyone with a dated single-day ticket is guaranteed entry into the park, barring any extreme circumstances. Because the park sets limits on guests per day, on dates when online tickets sell out, everyone else is theoretically slightly more vulnerable to being turned away at the gate.

That said, Dan assured me that because of the changes the Busch Gardens Williamsburg has put in place, the park does not anticipate reaching full capacity very often. Regardless, I, personally, have no interest in braving maximum crowd levels and will monitor the ticket calendar to keep track of ticket sales for the days I plan to visit.

It seems that the park is taking last year’s complaints seriously and making a sincere effort to improve guest experience. In fact, Dan closed our interview with an unusual request. He asked that we let him know, if our readers had any questions about the announcement. We’d love to provide him some feedback, so please share your thoughts below, in the official ParkFans thread, on our Facebook page, or via Twitter!

Also, one final note: Time is running out to enter our Halloween giveaway! If a full set of discontinued Unearthed: Scarlett’s Revenge trading cards sounds enticing, enter to win here!