As the last of the Thanksgiving dishes are cleared, it's time to look at the holiday season ahead.
There are hundreds of parties, shows and parades in the coming weeks that can be found at tampabay.com/holiday for you to plan your calendars accordingly. We have sifted through the pile and came up with our top picks for can't-miss holiday fun in the coming weeks:
Christmas Town at Busch Gardens (Select nights through Dec. 31)
The Tampa theme park transforms with twinkling light sculptures of flamingos and palm trees, but also towering Christmas trees and dancing lights as well as holiday-themed entertainment, attractions and shopping. Christmas Town, now included with admission ($97, $92 for ages 3-9, and you can buy your 2016 Fun Card early), features shows during the day, but really, the fun is at night when the lights come on and stay on until 10 p.m. Every 10 minutes, a 150-foot Christmas tree comes alive with dancing lights, and the Christmas Time Terrace and is a great spot for this year's family photo. The event is held Fridays and Saturdays for the next month, then every day Dec. 20 until the end of the year.
Neil Patrick Harris at Epcot's Candlelight Processional (Monday-Dec. 3)
The bench of celebrity narrators is deep for this moving presentation of the Christmas story told with a huge choir and orchestra as backup at Epcot. Gary Sinise kicks things off today to Sunday, and singer Amy Grant brings it home Dec. 29-30. But NPH is a diehard Disney nut and a favorite of fans, so he brings extra oomph to a show that's already overwhelming. It's free to attend, but the lines start forming at least two hours early with visitors packed elbow-to-elbow. If you want to skip the line and guarantee a seat, you can buy dining packages at select restaurants: $34.99-$74.99 for adults, $12.99-$28.99 for children. Call (407) 939-3463 or make a reservation online at wdwinfo.com.
Florida "snow" (Dec. 5)
Even sweaty Florida kids get a chance to play in a white winter wonderland on Dec. 5 in both St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The day starts in St. Pete with the annual Santa Parade downtown and ends with 65 tons of snow blown into North Straub Park. A $5 wristband, available in advance at rec centers, gets kids all the activities. See stpeteparksrec.org/centers.html. Over in Clearwater, Winter's Miracle on Cleveland Street will also be on Dec. 5 from 5 to 10 p.m. with ice skating, snow falling, carriage rides and entertainment. Some activities require an $8 wristband. See wintersmiracle.com.
m Boley's Jingle Bell Run (Dec. 9)
It's a fun night in downtown St. Petersburg as runners with jingle bells on their shoes will be dashing through the decorated course with live music keeping the crowd jumping to benefit Boley Centers, which provides mental health services. Registration is $25 advance, $30 day of; $20 ages 11 and younger advance, $25 ages 11 and younger day of at boleycenters.org.
Florida Orchestra Holiday Pops (Dec. 11-13)
Conductor Bob Bernhardt will be the merry host of the orchestra's family tradition, with Sleigh Ride, sing-along carols and a jolly rendition of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Shows will be at Tampa's Straz Center, St. Petersburg's Mahaffey and Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall. $15-$45 at floridaorchestra.org.
Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney (Nightly through Jan. 3)
This will be the last year for the 20-year-old holiday tradition, so expect more crowds than usual getting extra sentimental about the millions of lights lining the Streets of America in Hollywood Studios. The week before Christmas will be mobbed, so think about making a trip in early December or waiting until after the new year when crowds tend to be lighter. It's included with daily admission: $97, $91 ages 3-9, 2 and younger free at wdwinfo.com.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra (Dec. 13)
Amalie Arena will be barely big enough to contain this year's Yuletide tale, The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. The arena rock show brings a string section, a light show, lasers, pyro, video screens and synchronized effects set to music. Tickets are $33-$70.25 at amaliearena.com.
A John Waters Christmas (Dec. 16)
The legendary filmmaker (Hairspray, Pink Flamingos) will be at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre to poke fun at the holiday season with adult appropriate humor that "puts the X in Xmas." Tickets are $35-$45 and $100 for a meet and greet at rutheckerdhall.com.
A Christmas Carol (Dec. 20)
The Nebraska Theatre Caravan's two shows at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater bring the longest-running U.S. production of the Dickens classic, with ghosts of Christmases past, present and future guiding Scrooge on a journey of redemption. Tickets are $38.75-$78.75 at rutheckerdhall.com.
Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker (Dec. 26)
With three shows in one day, the day after Christmas is the time to turn to Russia for the ultimate Nutcracker experience at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. The internationally touring, critically acclaimed ballet company brings 40 dancers performing Olympic-worthy leaps in lush costumes and scenery. Tickets are $32-$97 at themahaffey.com.
Candy Cane Acres, Hernando County Fairgrounds (Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 19)
The annual Christmas event in Brooksville includes sleigh rides, crafts, light displays set to music, photos with Santa and games. It's $10 per carload, includes 10 free tickets. Additional tickets are 50 cents each.
Symphony in Lights (Nightly through Dec. 31)
The Shops at Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel has an all-new holiday light show this year, with more than 250,000 LED lights choreographed to the music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and holiday favorites. This year, it even snows and they've added ice skating. Shows at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. nightly through Dec. 31. Ice skating available through Jan. 3.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] or (727) 893-8595. Follow @SharonKWn.