Advertisement

Tips for affordable Christmas outings in Tampa Bay

Enchant Christmas, Busch Gardens and Tampa’s zoo can be pricey, so we have some shortcuts. Plus magical outings that are free or cheap.
People stroll through 1 million LED lights during the nightly Holiday Lights in the Gardens event at the Florida Botanical Gardens on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Largo. The event, which only asks for a donation, will run from 5:30 to 9:30 nightly through Jan.1.
People stroll through 1 million LED lights during the nightly Holiday Lights in the Gardens event at the Florida Botanical Gardens on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Largo. The event, which only asks for a donation, will run from 5:30 to 9:30 nightly through Jan.1. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Published Dec. 6, 2022|Updated Dec. 7, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — The LaGrow family was 21 members strong as they approached the gates of Tropicana Field last week to make a holiday memory at Enchant Christmas, a makeover that uses 4 million lights to turn the ballfield into a holiday wonderland.

Tickets start at $35, and parking costs $15.

“I thought Santa was buying this for us,” said Denny LaGrow, the patriarch of the Michigan-to-Sarasota brood. “It’s worth every penny.”

David Smith, 35, of Clearwater winked as he sipped on a glowing lightbulb-shaped drink that cost $22 and entered an arch made of lights where home plate used to be. His young daughter sipped on a similar non-alcoholic version that cost $16.

People will shell out a lot to make holiday family memories worthy of Instagram. We found some ways to save money on the pricey excursions to Enchant Christmas, Busch Gardens and ZooTampa at Lowry Park. And we also found some free and cheap outings that can be just as magical.

A must-see at Enchant Christmas at Tropicana Field is to take the escalator up to the second-floor concourse for a view of the light display from above.
A must-see at Enchant Christmas at Tropicana Field is to take the escalator up to the second-floor concourse for a view of the light display from above. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Enchant Christmas

Returning for a third time, Enchant Christmas has transformed Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg into a wonderland with more than 4 million twinkling lights, ice skating, festive food and holiday shopping.

It’s set up like a maze where you can get a “passport” stamped by friendly elves when you find one of eight stars, with a big sign noting whether you found Pelarus or Sirius. They don’t hand out maps, to enhance the bewildering maze factor. But that means you might miss out on one of the best tips: Take the escalator up to the second floor of the concourse area so you can look out over the whole landscape from above. It’s an astonishing view of the 100-foot tree and sparkling lights.

Tickets are $35 each on weekdays and $41 on a Saturday night. Ice skating costs $18, which includes skate rental. Here’s how to get a better deal. You can get a family four-pack of tickets for $88. On Wednesdays, kids are free, which is a $20 savings. They also have a Night Owl Ticket — $25 if you book your visit for the last two hours of the night. Parking costs $15, but you can avoid that by parking in the neighborhood and walking over. Or park downtown or west of Tropicana Field and take the city’s free Sunrunner or Downtown Looper trolley that runs right past the stadium. See enchantchristmas.com for tickets.

The event runs Wednesday through Sunday from 4:30 to 11:30 p.m., and then it runs nightly Dec. 19-Jan. 1.

For the past 10 years, Busch Gardens has drenched its many lands in lights and tropical-themed trees for Christmas Town, a nightly display that is included with admission.
For the past 10 years, Busch Gardens has drenched its many lands in lights and tropical-themed trees for Christmas Town, a nightly display that is included with admission. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2021)  ]

Busch Gardens Christmas Town

For the past 10 years, the Tampa theme park has drenched its many lands in lights and tropical-themed trees for Christmas Town, a nightly display that is included with admission. Take note of the Christmas trees decorated in tiger- and leopard-print ornaments. There are also visits with Santa, story time with Mrs. Claus, a train ride where you are invited to sing along to Christmas carols, Elmo’s Christmas Wish and the Christmas on Ice show in the Moroccan Palace Theater. You can also get pictures with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and his friends, and they have some very fun holiday shirts and merchandise in the shops. There’s a mini food and wine festival with kiosks throughout the park selling themed cocktails and food like a spiked bourbon cider mule and a chocolate peppermint brownie.

Planning your weekend?

Planning your weekend?

Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter

We’ll deliver ideas every Thursday for going out, staying home or spending time outdoors.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Now here’s how to save. You can buy next year’s Fun Card and use it now, giving you a month free, and that includes admission to Christmas Town. One trick many families employ is to get the more expensive Silver or Gold pass for a parent, giving you free parking and discounts on food and park purchases, and then buy the cheaper Fun Cards for the kids. Just be aware of black-out days on those cards. Busch Gardens currently has its Fun Card on sale for $99, which is the price of a single-day ticket if you buy it online at buschgardens.com/tampa.

ZooTampa at Lowry Park's Christmas in the Wild event runs 16 select nights in 2022.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park's Christmas in the Wild event runs 16 select nights in 2022. [ Lowry Park Zoo ]

ZooTampa at Lowry Park

The zoo’s “Christmas in the Wild” has the park decked out with thousands of twinkling lights and holiday-themed areas in an event held mostly on weekends through Dec. 30. Some new events this year include the Lantern Lullaby, a beautiful walk through the Asia section filled with paper lanterns and holiday lullabies, and the Gingerbread Jubilee show.

General admission is typically $45.95, but you can get in for $29.95 after 4 p.m. Kids under 3 are free. The park’s “pay for a day” deal is $45.95 and $35.95 for ages 3-11. You can buy that ticket now and use it for unlimited admission through the end of the year in 2023. It includes essentially free admission to the holiday events: You pay $5 to reserve a ticket then get a $5 food or drink voucher when you visit. 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. zootampa.org.

It is held on select nights Nov. 25-Dec. 30 from 4 to 10 p.m.

A performer dressed up as Star Wars character Ahsoka Tano dances in a lit up costume during the nightly Holiday Lights in the Gardens event at the Florida Botanical Gardens on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Largo. The event is free and will run through Jan.1 every night 5:30-9:30 p.m.
A performer dressed up as Star Wars character Ahsoka Tano dances in a lit up costume during the nightly Holiday Lights in the Gardens event at the Florida Botanical Gardens on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Largo. The event is free and will run through Jan.1 every night 5:30-9:30 p.m. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

Free and cheap holiday outings

Holiday Lights in the Gardens: The Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo has dressed up what is already a lovely boardwalk stroll with nearly 1 million LED lights. It runs nightly through Jan. 1; they’re asking a suggested donation of $10. You’ll find lighted figures throughout the gardens set next to large walkways that easily accommodate wheelchairs and strollers. Leashed pets are welcome. There’s free parking at the gardens at 12520 Ulmerton Road and also at 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo. It runs 5:30 to 9:30 nightly. flbgfoundation.org.

Symphony in Lights: If you are out shopping anyway, you can also take in a show at the annual choreographed dancing light display that runs at the top of every hour at The Shops at Wiregrass. The 12-minute show is set to the music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and includes falling “snow.” Free. 6-9 p.m. daily through Dec. 31. 28211 Paseo Drive, Wesley Chapel. 813-994-2242.

From 5 to 11 each night through Jan. 1, Largo Central Park glows with more than 2 million LED lights, a carousel and a seven-story Ferris wheel from which you can view the entire park.
From 5 to 11 each night through Jan. 1, Largo Central Park glows with more than 2 million LED lights, a carousel and a seven-story Ferris wheel from which you can view the entire park. [ Times (2016)  ]

Holiday Lights in the Park: Largo Central Park is already a favorite of many families for its great playgrounds and shady setting. For Christmas, it’s even better. From 5 to 11 each night through Jan. 1, the park glows with more than 2 million LED lights. It also has a stunning carousel and a seven-story Ferris wheel that offers a bird’s-eye view of the 70-acre park and more than 2 million LED lights. It’s free to stroll through the lights. Rides cost $6 for one ride, $20 for a four-pack. Largo Central Park, 101 Central Park Drive. playlargo.com.