They may not have snow, but Florida attractions make up for it during the holidays with over-the-top displays, parades, fireworks and stage shows. Here are some of our favorites.
Christmas Town: Busch Gardens in Tampa is drenched in lights, filled with music and has characters to meet and greet at its nightly holiday event that runs Nov. 11-Jan. 7. There’s a fireworks show on the weekends, a new 40-foot pixelated tree at Cheetah Plaza and some new menu items such as a Holiday Poutine and a Mistletoe Margarita. It’s included with admission: $89.99, ages 3 and younger free; $134.99 for Fun Card offering unlimited admission. Parking is $30; $35 for preferred lot. 10165 N. McKinley Drive, Tampa. 813-884-4386. For information and tickets, visit christmastown.com.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Christmas in the Wild: Tampa’s zoo this year promises its biggest Christmas in the Wild yet, with the park decorated in thousands of lights, including illuminated animal sculptures. There will also be visits with Santa Claus, performers singing holiday music, a decorated Candy Cane Carousel, close encounters with zoo animals, festive food and beverages, and the zoo’s Ituri Pass pathway will be lined with interactive lighted Christmas wreaths.
It opens Nov. 24 for a members night, and after that it is open on select nights from 4-10 p.m. Nov. 25, Dec. 1-2, 8-10, 15-17 and 20-23. It is then open 4-9 p.m. Dec. 26-30. Admission is $29.95. Members and those with pay-for-a-day tickets get in free. 1101 W. Sligh Ave., Tampa. zootampa.org.
Walt Disney World
Christmas week at Walt Disney World is one of the busiest times of the year, so get a jump on the crowds and check out the decorations and the elaborate hotel gingerbread houses before the crowds arrive for the holidays. Every theme park and Disney resort hotel is decorated, so a fun day could be had just taking a monorail hop around the area.
Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff and the Snowgies have been placed in front of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom for “Frozen Holiday Surprise,” a brand new “Frozen”-inspired entertainment experience that illuminates the castle. Also, the new Disney Jollywood Nights holiday party at Hollywood Studios is a separate-ticket nighttime event running Nov. 11-Dec. 20. It is more adult-oriented with live bands, a musical variety show and the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! nighttime spectacular.
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Epcot has a Festival of the Holidays starting Nov. 24 that, like its famous food and wine festival, has holiday flavors, decorations and traditions from around the world. The main event is the Candlelight Processional, with celebrities like John Stamos and Neil Patrick Harris reading the Christmas story in front of a choir.
For another separate-ticket event, at the Magic Kingdom, you can find lighter crowds and themed parades and fireworks at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on select nights from Nov. 9-Dec. 22. $149-$199.
See disneyworld.com for tickets and schedules.
You can get a mini version of New York’s famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at Universal Studios Orlando. The iconic balloons float by along with a parade of Minions, characters from “Madagascar” and “Shrek,” and Santa himself. Meanwhile, over at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the whimsical world of Dr. Seuss is embraced in Grinchmas. The “Who-liday Spectacular” features the favorite characters in Dr. Seuss’ Landing and, yes, even the Grinch himself.
For Harry Potter fans, don’t miss the nightly glistening snow that falls periodically atop Hogwarts Castle. Enjoy holiday treats and drinks, as well as performances by Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees or the Frog Choir.
Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort will take place Nov. 17-Jan. 1. See universalorlando.com for tickets and schedules.
Over in Winter Haven, the holidays are celebrated with bricks at Legoland. There will be holiday-themed shows, a giant Lego Christmas tree, opportunities to take photos with Lego snowmen and a sleigh and reindeer made of bricks. Leading up to the New Year, the Kids’ New Year’s Party takes place. It features nightly fireworks, special building activities and dance parties.
This year’s holiday events take place on select days from Nov. 24-Dec. 31. legoland.com/florida.
Like its sister park Busch Gardens, SeaWorld is home to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and his friends during the Christmas season. Of course, Santa will be there as well. The park is transformed by over 3 million lights and special shows and performances. There will be a Christmas parade, snow flurries, an expansive Sea of Trees in the SeaWorld lagoon, ice skating and fireworks throughout the season. This year’s Christmas event takes place Nov. 10-Jan. 2. seaworld.com/orlando.