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  1. Life & Culture

Mark your calendar: The best shows and holiday events coming to Tampa Bay area

From Nutcrackers to theme parks, here are the holiday highlights worth putting on your calendar.
Christmas Town at Busch Gardens in Tampa a variety of colorful elements.
Christmas Town at Busch Gardens in Tampa a variety of colorful elements. [ Tampa Bay Times (2018) ]
Published Nov. 21

Before the Thanksgiving leftovers are packed away, it’s time to think about making some Christmas memories with tickets to a show or a visit to a light-drenched attraction.

Plenty have already sprung up with many more coming starting the weekend after Thanksgiving. Here are some highlights to consider.

Shows

The Night Before: This comedy at Freefall Theatre is reminiscent of classic holiday TV specials, but with a modern twist in its depiction of “one fabulous night with the family you choose,” created by Matthew McGee and Michael Raabe. McGee calls the show a mix of “Andy Williams meets ‘Pee Wee’s Playhouse.’” It runs Nov. 25-Dec. 24. Tickets cost $25-$55 at freefalltheatre.com or 727-498-5205. 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.

Florida Orchestra: Holiday Pops: One of the most popular shows of the year has the orchestra playing all of the favorites, from “Sleigh Ride” to “Ave Maria” and “White Christmas,” with audience sing-alongs to “Joy to the World” and other Christmas carols. Bob Bernhardt conducts with Denzal Sinclaire, vocalist, and the Tampa Oratorio Singers. Tickets are $18-$60 for five shows Dec. 9-11 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Mahaffey Theater and Ruth Eckerd Hall. floridaorchestra.org.

Next Generation Ballet's "Nutcracker" will be at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa from Dec. 16-18.
Next Generation Ballet's "Nutcracker" will be at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa from Dec. 16-18. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2020)  ]

Nutcrackers: The popular ballet is found on calendars across the Tampa Bay area, including Next Generation Ballet’s “Nutcracker” at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa from Dec. 16-18. And at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, the show has been renamed in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Talmi Entertainment announced that its flagship production, “Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker,” has been renamed “Nutcracker! Magic of Christmas Ballet” for three shows Nov. 25-26 at the Mahaffey.

Theme parks and attractions

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens: Marking its 10th year, the Tampa theme park will once again be covered in lights beginning Nov. 13. But new this year is a holiday-themed fireworks show beginning Nov. 19 on select nights, and also a daily projection show on the Serengeti Overlook building, a 32-foot-tall Christmas tree in the Jungala area of the park and live stage shows from a “Christmas on Ice” to “Elmo’s Christmas Wish” and a live show featuring Christmas carols and Irish dancing. Running Nov. 14-Jan. 9, included with admission. buschgardens.com/tampa.

Thousands of lights decorate Christmas Town at Busch Gardens. The event, now in its 10th year, runs through Jan. 9.
Thousands of lights decorate Christmas Town at Busch Gardens. The event, now in its 10th year, runs through Jan. 9. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2021) ]
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Enchant Christmas: Tropicana Field has been transformed into a huge light maze including the new “Santa’s Magic Timepiece” created from more than 4 million sparkling lights. There’s also a 100-foot-tall holiday tree, an ice skating trail, live entertainment, Santa visits and a village marketplace. Kids are free on Nov. 30 and Dec. 7 and 14. Opens Nov. 25-Jan. 1. $35 and up, $20 ages 3-17, $32 seniors and military at enchantchristmas.com.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: This after-hours, extra-ticket event at the Magic Kingdom began Nov. 8 and there are already several sold-out nights. It features a themed parade, fireworks, stage shows, dance parties and characters in merry getups. Also look for holiday overlays of attractions such as Jungle Cruise (renamed the Jingle Cruise), Space Mountain, Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, Mad Tea Party and Tomorrowland Speedway. Ticket prices range from $149 to $199, depending on the date. disneyworld.disney.go.com.

Max, the faithful and reluctant companion of the Grinch, is among the ice sculpture displays at ICE at Gaylord Palms from Nov. 18 to Jan.1.
Max, the faithful and reluctant companion of the Grinch, is among the ice sculpture displays at ICE at Gaylord Palms from Nov. 18 to Jan.1. [ Gaylord Hotels ]

Holidays at Universal Orlando: The nightly event at Islands of Adventure stages Grinchmas and the light display “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle,” plus Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s giant parade balloons winding through the streets of the park. Festivities are included with park admission Nov. 12- Jan. 1. Over at Universal Studios, Mannheim Steamroller performs at the park Dec. 3, 4, 10 and 11. Included with admission. universalorlando.com.

ICE at Gaylord Palms, Kissimmee: The fantastic ice sculptures return after a two-year absence that was prompted by the pandemic and travel restrictions on the Chinese artisans who construct them. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will be the centerpiece, with a dozen scenes from Dr. Seuss’ classic story in a display that uses food coloring and LED to enhance the sculptures and settings. There also will be snow tubing, gingerbread decorating, an escape room and stage shows including storytellers and “Cirque: Spirit of Christmas.” The exhibit space is kept at 9 degrees, so bring your mittens and use the provided parkas. It runs daily Nov. 18-Jan. 1. Admission prices vary by date, ranging from $29.99 to $39.99 ($19.99-$26.99 for ages 4-11) at christmasatgaylordpalms.com. 6000 W Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee.

ZooTampa at Lowry Park will be glowing with thousands of lights across holiday-themed areas throughout the zoo on 16 select nights Nov. 25 through Dec. 30.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park will be glowing with thousands of lights across holiday-themed areas throughout the zoo on 16 select nights Nov. 25 through Dec. 30. [ ZooTampa ]

Christmas in the Wild: ZooTampa at Lowry Park will be glowing with thousands of lights across holiday-themed areas throughout the zoo on 16 select nights Nov. 25-Dec. 30. This year brings expanded light displays, including a new Asian paper “Lantern Lullaby,” and festive entertainment such as the new Gingerbread Jubilee, starring Mayor Molasses and the citizens of Gingerbread Village. There will also be two light shows at sunset with twinkling lights and festive music, animal encounters and special holiday-themed food and drinks. Admission is $29.95 at zootampa.org. Members and those with a “Pay for a Day, Come Back All Year” are free, though there is a $5 reservation fee that will be reimbursed upon entry in the form of a $5 voucher for food and merchandise. Event capacity is limited, so online reservations are encouraged. The event runs 4-10 p.m. on event nights Nov. 25-Dec. 30. 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa.

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