At Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort, getting into the Christmas spirit is easy – especially for those with young ones. Walt Disney World hosts a kiddie-themed Christmas Party, parade, fireworks show, and winter ‘snowfall,’ while Universal Studios puts on a live Grinchmas show, tree lighting ceremony, and nightly holiday parade. And in case you missed it, real balloons and floats from New York’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will make an appearance.
Snowbirds can get their share of a winter wonderland at ICE! at Gaylord Palms: a 20,000-square-foot park kept at a chilling nine degrees. Once inside, revel in thousands of hand-carved ice sculptures and massive ice slides two stories high. Meanwhile, Light Up UCF, Orlando’s largest ice-skating rink, puts on 50 days of holiday light shows, film festivals, and ice skating.
For those looking for a more traditional take on the holiday, The Holy Land Experience – a sort of a living nativity and museum – recreates actual stories from the Bible. For the nontraditional, Brevard Zoo – about an hour from Orlando – puts on Santa-themed festivities with night hikes and weekend camps for the youngins.
But don’t forget to head to Christmas, Florida, where hundreds of people flock to the local post office to send their holiday cards and letters. Because who wouldn’t want to receive a letter from ‘Christmas’ during the holidays?
St. Petersburg is where sun worshippers and boaters come to experience Christmas. During the annual Holiday Festival and St. Pete Illuminated Boat Parade, there is live entertainment on the Pier and boats decked out with Christmas lights. Busch Gardens, a theme park-turned-Christmas town, hosts holiday shows and an actual snow-filled playground (snowmen and penguins included). Who said you couldn’t have a white Christmas in Florida? Now you can.
There’s no smell more reminiscent of Christmas than freshly baked gingerbread. Every year, the Jacksonville Historical Society hosts a Gingerbread House Extravaganza: a bake sale fundraiser meets gingerbread competition. Here, see the incredible creations made with just gingerbread, icing, and a bit of imagination. Plus, proceeds go to children’s programs. There are also holiday plays and performances, a lighted boat parade, and fireworks.
St. Augustine hosts what is said to be one of the most spectacular lighting displays in the world. The Nights of Lights, which begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving, features millions of tiny white lights that turn the town into a magical holiday spectacle. This mid-16th-century town, considered to be the nation’s oldest city, is already brimming with charm and lure, so the festive lights are just an added bonus. There are hundreds of homes to see, which can be done by foot, bicycle, pedicab or horse and carriage. But for a truly festive experience, take a ride on the Old Town Trolley Tour or Ripley’s Red Train for the best views. To kick off the Nights of Lights, don’t miss the annual Christmas parade, culminating with visits to Santa in the Plaza de la Constitucion.
Even Santa comes to the beach. At Santa’s Enchanted Forest, considered to be the world’s largest Christmas theme park, there are over 100 rides decked out in millions of colored lights, shows and games for the kids, and a climbing wall amongst other adventure activities. There’s also a series of Christmas-themed happenings such as karaoke, a light show, and a massive Christmas tree.
The Panhandle does Christmas just as well as the rest of the state. In Pensacola, find a bit of snow and a whole lot of Christmas cheer at the Pensacola Winterfest. A ride along the Performance Tour reveals 16 different scenes of traditional Christmas memories, from the Living Nativity to the Polar Express, while Santa’s Holiday Express details various stories of Christmas, accompanied by Santa and Rudolph, music, and a singing Conductor.
Down in Key West, the yuletide season is welcomed with festive decorations and twinkling lights. The Holiday Lights Conch Train Tour and Holiday Historic Inn Tour are a good way to catch a glimpse of the lights, while the Harbor Walk of Lights and Key West Lighted Boat Parade feature a nautical version of the celebration. There’s also a festive parade, holiday jazz, and Nutcracker performances.