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The biggest Christmas events and light shows (that haven’t been canceled)

Some annual events are attempting to provide the lights and colors of the season in a safe atmosphere.
Hundreds of thousands of lights, holiday decorations and entertainers bring Christmas Town, pictured in 2018, to life this holiday season at Busch Gardens in Tampa.
Hundreds of thousands of lights, holiday decorations and entertainers bring Christmas Town, pictured in 2018, to life this holiday season at Busch Gardens in Tampa. [ Tampa Bay Times (2018) ]
Published Nov. 27, 2020
Updated Feb. 16

With Thanksgiving behind us, we have one more major holiday to go. Some of the annual favorites have been canceled this year, like the beautiful light display at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. But some Christmas events are attempting to provide the lights and colors of the season in a safe atmosphere.

Here are ways to celebrate the season, 2020 style:

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens: This is the eighth year that the Tampa theme park has turned its gardens and coasters into Christmas light backdrops, with nearly a million twinkling lights set up around the park. Some favorites are the pink flamingo light zone and Christmas trees made entirely of poinsettias that make a great setting for a family picture. Because of safety concerns, the ice show has been moved outdoors to Gwazi Park. Also new is a fireworks show on Saturday nights. More open-air entertainment and experiences have been added, as well as enhanced health, safety and sanitation measures, such as reserving a date to visit in advance, temperature checks, face covering requirements and physical distancing.

LED lighted flamingos inside Christmas Town at Busch Gardens in Tampa.
LED lighted flamingos inside Christmas Town at Busch Gardens in Tampa.

Holiday shopping and food and drink kiosks are set up around the park for Christmas Town. There are seasonally themed treats like Frozen Hot Cocoa topped with caramel sauce, Santa’s Sleigh Gingerbread Shake, turkey legs with fun flavors like a chipotle-cranberry glaze and mulled wine. It’s included with admission and runs daily through Jan. 3. A ticket deal allows you to buy next year’s Fun Card and use it now. buschgardens.com.

Wonderland of Lights and Santa’s Village: Running Thanksgiving Day through Dec. 27, you can drive through 1 mile of holiday lights and themed displays in the fifth annual event at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds in Brandon. It also has a variety show, wolf exhibit, camel and pony rides, amusement rides and a visit to Santa’s Village. $15-$25 per vehicle. 6-9 p.m. daily. 215 Sydney Washer Road, Brandon. thewonderlandoflights.com.

Christmas in the Wild: ZooTampa at Lowry Park is bringing back its annual Christmas event featuring twinkling lights, holiday treats and jolly adventures. The reservation-only event kicked off Friday and runs through Dec. 30. 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. $26.95. zootampa.org.

River of Lights: Tampa’s Pirate Taxi turns into a 45-minute tour of holiday lights and decorations along the Hillsborough River. The family-friendly event includes a visit from a jolly pirate elf, Christmas sing-a-longs and “snow” flurries. Kids can mail a wish list to Santa from a floating mailbox. Departs hourly from 6:20 to 9:20 p.m. select days. $25, $20 children. Tours depart from the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St. 813-223-7999.

People of all ages enjoy the ice rink at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa. It costs $15 for all ages, which includes skate rental, to skate at the 4,500-square-foot rink. Ticket are paperless this year so you need to reserve a time in advance.
People of all ages enjoy the ice rink at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa. It costs $15 for all ages, which includes skate rental, to skate at the 4,500-square-foot rink. Ticket are paperless this year so you need to reserve a time in advance. [ Times (2016) ]
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Winter Village in Curtis Hixon Park: Once again, there is an outdoor ice skating rink under a tent in the downtown Tampa park that is all dolled up for the holidays. A limited number of visitors will be admitted and skate sessions will last 75 minutes. There are also small cafes and coffee shops set up and a half-dozen local small businesses set up in a holiday market for shopping. The market is open Thursdays through Sundays for now, but will be open daily starting Dec. 23. Skating is $15 for all ages and includes skate rental. Ticketing is paperless, so reserve a time in advance at wintervillagetampa.com. Check the weather and extended hours on the Winter Village Tampa Facebook page.

Holiday Lights in the Park: Take a stroll through 70-acre Largo Central Park, which is decorated with more than 2 million LED lights. Guests are encouraged to wear holiday-themed face coverings and to social distance. Runs from Thanksgiving to Jan. 3. Free. 101 Central Park Drive, Largo. playlargo.com.

Visitors tour "The Polar Express," one of 15 scenes from five iconic films in the "I Love Christmas Movies" exhibit at Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee. People can also walk through scenes from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and "Elf," among others. Each of the 15 scenes features props and special effects.
Visitors tour "The Polar Express," one of 15 scenes from five iconic films in the "I Love Christmas Movies" exhibit at Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee. People can also walk through scenes from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and "Elf," among others. Each of the 15 scenes features props and special effects. [ DOUGLAS_SCALETTA | Gaylord Palms ]

Christmas at Gaylord Palms: The coronavirus forced the Kissimmee resort to skip its annual over-the-top ice sculpture display because the Chinese artisans couldn’t travel here. Instead, this year features “I Love Christmas Movies.” This walk-through exhibit features iconic movies, from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to Elf to a train car from The Polar Express. Each of the 15 scenes features props and special effects. There is also snow tubing and a snowball toss inside the Snow Factory and a Snow Bar, which serves holiday-themed cocktails. The resort has a Cirque Dreams Unwrapped stage show, a holiday light show in the atrium and a Gingerbread Decorating Corner. The event runs through Jan. 3. $14.99-$28.99, plus $24 for parking. Gaylord Palms Resort, 6000 W Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee. christmastatgaylorpalms.com.

Visitors can walk through a scene from "Elf," as part of the "I Love Christmas Movies" exhibit at Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee. There is also snow tubing and a snowball toss inside the Snow Factory and a Snow Bar, which serves holiday-themed cocktails.
Visitors can walk through a scene from "Elf," as part of the "I Love Christmas Movies" exhibit at Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee. There is also snow tubing and a snowball toss inside the Snow Factory and a Snow Bar, which serves holiday-themed cocktails. [ DOUGLAS_SCALETTA | Gaylord Palms ]

Give Kids the World Light Display: The venue, which is normally closed to the public to make dreams come true for sick children, has opened for the season for a giant holiday light display featuring 3.3 million lights borrowed from Walt Disney World. The mile-long winter wonderland features a 150-foot glittering tunnel, 50 holiday-themed structures, a massive gingerbread arch and 45 holiday villas. Tickets for the event start at $15 for kids and $25 for adults. Go to gktw.org/lights. Give Kids the World Village, 210 S Bass Road, Kissimmee

Walt Disney World: Mickey has canceled his Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom this year, but the Toy Soldiers will be marching down Main Street, U.S.A. Instead of scheduled parades, the park is putting on impromptu holiday-themed cavalcades that pop up at various times of day in the Magic Kingdom. The park is decorated in festive finery and the Jungle Cruise has undergone its annual makeover into the Jingle Cruise. The park has suspended fireworks shows to help its social distancing efforts, but you can see a light show at Cinderella Castle each evening with holiday-themed projections. Over at Epcot, the beloved Candlelight Processional is on hiatus, but the International Festival of the Holidays includes the food, music and traditions of different cultures from now through Dec. 30.

Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse wave from a cavalcade down Main Street, U.S.A., as part of the holiday celebrations at Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Instead of announced parades, there are popup cavalcades of characters that appear unannounced throughout the day in this year's Christmas celebration.
Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse wave from a cavalcade down Main Street, U.S.A., as part of the holiday celebrations at Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Instead of announced parades, there are popup cavalcades of characters that appear unannounced throughout the day in this year's Christmas celebration. [ KENT PHILLIPS | Walt Disney World ]

SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration: SeaWorld Orlando’s holiday plans for 2020 include a new Christmas carol show, celebrations for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and visitors being able to ice skate at Bayside Stadium. The park will observe Hanukkah from Dec. 10 through Dec. 18 with a lighting of the menorah. Skating requires a surcharge, and participants must wear crew length socks and gloves. There is also a “Winter Wonderland on Ice” show featuring prancing fountains. Rudolph’s Movie Experience, a 10-minute show, will be performed multiple times daily at Sea Port Theater. To maintain a distance and still see Santa Claus, the park has arranged to have families enter one at a time and Santa is seated above and behind the family as they sit in a sleigh, with a plastic partition between them. SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration runs through Dec. 31 and is included in regular admission, with the exception of ice skating. The park requires date-specific reservations, temperature checks and face coverings. seaworld.com.

Universal Orlando: There won’t be a Macy’s parade this year at Universal’s holiday celebration, but the famous Macy’s balloons are inflated and on display inside a sound stage at the theme park, ready for selfies. New this year is a holiday Tribute Store located across the street from the park’s giant Christmas tree. It’s not just for shopping. It’s more like an experience. It features a snowy German room, an area devoted to the Grinch and a room for Harry Potter fans. The final space is devoted to Earl the Squirrel. Legend has it that years ago, a squirrel climbed to the top of the tall Christmas tree in front of Macy’s and may have even chewed on some cords. He caused a power outage in the huge tree and a legend was born. There are stuffed toys and ornament versions of Earl, and in true squirrel fashion, the store is also offering hot sticky buns and roasted nuts.