From Busch Gardens to SeaWorld, 8 theme park festivals you can’t miss

More than half a million vibrant flowers make up mosiacultures throughout Dollywood — Photo courtesy of The Dollywood Company

Last spring, I visited Dollywood in Tennessee with my family during the Flower and Food Festival and was surprised by the beauty and peacefulness. Mosaicultures made with half a million colorful, live plants pay homage to Dolly Parton and the local wildlife and culture. The festival offers incredible entertainment and a tasting pass that allows guests to enjoy five items throughout the day from the special festival menu.

We spent the day playing, eating, and admiring the flowers, and, for possibly the first time, I left a theme park feeling relaxed instead of drained.

This experience made me wonder about other theme park festivals I should check out, so I reached out to the USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards panel of theme park experts and asked them to name their favorite theme park festivals. Their answers did not disappoint!

International Flower and Garden Festival

EPCOT at Walt Disney World

Stop to smell the roses at the International Flower and Garden FestivalStop to smell the roses at the International Flower and Garden Festival — Photo courtesy of Coaster Studios

Jessica Gardner of The Theme Parkette knows that EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival typically gets the most attention, but her favorite festival is the park’s International Flower and Garden Festival, held in the spring.

“I find the food to have a fresh, plant-forward spring vibe, the merch to be cheery and unique, and the park to be at its most beautiful with all the blooming flowers and topiaries, which, of course, are the star of the festival,” she says.

Gardner’s expert tip: Save room in your luggage for one of the Create Your Own Topiaries.

Tampa Food and Wine Festival

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Save your appetite for this theme park festival at Busch Gardens Tampa BaySave your appetite for this theme park festival at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay — Photo courtesy of NikkyJ /

Also in the spring, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, frequently named a Best Theme Park by USA TODAY 10Best readers, hosts one of the tastiest events in Florida: Tampa Bay Food & Wine Festival.

“Imagine enjoying a refreshing glass of wine from Argentina with a hearty dish of bobotie from South Africa while hearing the screams of guests on one of the country’s most intense roller coasters,” says NikkyJ of Theme Park Hipster.

“I love this food festival because it takes you ‘beyond the borders of the U.S.’ to try some of the most popular dishes from countries around the world,” she adds. “This is your opportunity to get a small sample of something you would’ve never tried. And you never know; you may walk away loving a new dish like I did when I tried the Timbits from Canada!”

Knott’s Boysenberry Festival

Knott’s Berry Farm

Knott's Boysenberry Festival is always a crowd favoriteKnott’s Boysenberry Festival is always a crowd favorite — Photo courtesy of Derek Perry / American Coaster Enthusiasts

A favorite among many USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards theme park experts, Knott’s Berry Farm’s Boysenberry Festival is a unique celebration of all things boysenberry. At this springtime food and wine festival at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California, guests can sample a variety of boysenberry treats.

Taylor Bybee of Coaster Studios recommends trying the boysenberry ice cream and Fun Bun. Victoria Wade of He Calls Me Pineapple Princess insists on not skipping the boysenberry brunch at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant.

Beyond the unique culinary creations, guests of the Boysenberry Festival enjoy live music and stage shows, learn about boysenberry history, join the pie-eating contest, and support local crafters and artisans. Theme park expert Derek Perry of Ride With Ace describes it best: “It’s always a berry good time!”

Grand Carnivale

Kings Island and Kings Dominion

Grand Carnivale brings a party to Cedar Fair parksGrand Carnivale brings a party to Cedar Fair parks — Photo courtesy of Coaster Studios

Grand Carnivale is celebrated in the summer months at select Cedar Fair parks like Kings Island in Ohio and Kings Dominion in Virginia. This theme park festival immerses park-goers in an international celebration of food, crafts, and live music. For theme park expert Bybee, the thematic décor, animated and goofy characters, delicious food, and high-energy parade set Grand Carnivale apart.


Busch Gardens and SeaWorld

Howl-O-Scream is an adult-focused theme park festivalHowl-O-Scream is an adult-focused theme park festival — Photo courtesy of Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Not for the faint of heart, Howl-O-Scream, celebrated at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens in multiple cities, attracts Halloween lovers from across the country. Haunted houses, creepy live performances, themed bars, scare zones with roaming zombies, and thrilling rides combine to create one unforgettable, chilling night in the park.

Voted the Best Theme Park Halloween Event of 2023, NikkyJ says: “It’s one of my favorite theme park haunts in America!”

Holiday in the Park

Six Flags

Six Flags' Holiday in the Park was voted one of the 10 best theme park holiday eventsSix Flags’ Holiday in the Park was voted one of the 10 best theme park holiday events — Photo courtesy of Derek Perry / American Coaster Enthusiasts

Holiday in the Park, voted one of the best theme park holiday events, transforms Six Flags theme parks nationwide into winter wonderlands. Dazzling Christmas lights, seasonal treats, Christmas carols, and visits with Santa get guests in the holiday spirit.

Perry says: “Riding the roller coasters high in the sky and looking down on the twinkling lights makes you feel like Santa Claus delivering presents and joy. The shows and parades are top-notch and are guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit!”

Christmas Celebration

SeaWorld Orlando

The food at SeaWorld Orlando's Christmas Celebration is not to be missedThe food at SeaWorld Orlando’s Christmas Celebration is not to be missed — Photo courtesy of NikkyJ /

Twinkling lights, snow machines, and festive shows transform SeaWorld Orlando into a winter wonderland. While the thrilling rides and opportunities to meet Santa and Rudolph are reason enough to attend one of the best theme park holiday events, NikkyJ shares that SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration is one of her favorites because of the food.

“Each year, they offer almost 20 booths with more than 40 Christmas-inspired dishes that put a cherry on top of this world-class holiday extravaganza,” she says. “Not only do you get lost in the majesty of the season, but you also get some of the best theme park food!”

NikkyJ’s expert tip: Don’t miss the All Grown Up Birria Grilled Cheese, made with Texas toast, sharp cheddar and smoked cheddar and served with tomato dipping soup.

Universal Mardi Gras: International Flavors of Carnaval

Universal Studios Florida

Guests can participate in the parades at this theme park festivalGuests can participate in the parades at this theme park festival — Photo courtesy of Jennifer Vasbinder / NBC Universal

“A great theme park festival must offer more than just a marketing campaign. It should deliver fun, unique stuff to do, see, eat, and drink in addition to all the regular attractions at the park,” says Robert Niles of Theme Park Insider. He believes Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras does just that.

“It’s a food festival with tastes from around the world, a music festival with big headline acts, and even a family-friendly Mardi Gras parade that keeps the good times rolling well into Lent and sometimes even until Easter,” Niles says.

NikkyJ adds: “Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras is the most epic party you’ll have at any theme park! Not only will you spend your time dancing to the soulful rhythms in the street and conquering the most amazing rides in the country, but you’ll also do this while eating your way through the most delicious food.”

NikkyJ’s expert tip: This is one of the only theme park festivals where guests can participate in the action by signing up to ride on a parade float.

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