FLORIDA, USA — After facing months-long closures and economic hits due to the ongoing pandemic, Florida's theme parks are still putting on a show for the holiday season.
Though many popular annual events have been canceled or modified, all of the state's major theme parks are hosting some type of holiday event.
Here's a guide to all of the attractions in the Tampa Bay area and Central Florida:
When Disney does holiday decorations, it goes ALL OUT. That means Christmas and wintry decor at every park and hotel around Walt Disney World in Florida. And while Magic Kingdom won’t host Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party this year because of the pandemic, there are still holiday-themed attractions, events, food and merchandise around the parks and hotels.
Magic Kingdom: Character cavalcades throughout the day, including with the iconic Toy Soldiers and Santa Claus, holiday tunes by the Dapper Dans and Main Street Philharmonic, and nightly festive projection designs on Cinderella Castle.
Animal Kingdom: In addition to holiday decor around the park, there are festive flotillas on the Discovery River with Disney characters dressed in their holiday best. That includes “Donald’s Dino Bash Festive Flotilla,” Chip ‘n’ Dale, the Discovery Island Drummers and even Santa Claus.
Hollywood Studios: In true Hollywood fashion, Santa and his elves will ride down Hollywood Boulevard in a red convertible filled with presents. And, the popular Frozen Sing-Along Celebration attraction will have new holiday tunes featuring Olaf the snowman.
EPCOT: Nov. 27 through Dec. 30, the park will have Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays, a scaled-down version of the annual event. There will still be several outdoor kitchens around World Showcase offering holiday bites and treats, as well as the Holiday Cookie Stroll and a Frozen-themed scavenger hunt. However, because of the pandemic, there won’t be the annual Candlelight Processional.
Disney Springs: The Christmas Tree Stroll won’t be in just one part of the shopping district, but rather themed trees will be scattered around Disney Springs. Later in November, Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive at Disney Springs to cruise Lake Buena Vista in colorful pontoon boats.
Yes, there’s more going on at Disney for the holidays. Find more information here.
Universal has holiday decorations and attractions at both of its theme parks this season, but with some changes due to the pandemic. Here are some new and returning favorites:
Holiday Experience featuring Macy’s Balloons, Universal Studios: A new take on the beloved parade that lets guests walk through and get up close to the iconic Macy’s balloons and holiday floats. Santa is also there to pose for photos.
Holiday Character Celebration, Universal Studios: Keep an eye out for characters from Shrek and Madagascar along with the Minions appearing in their holiday attire around the park.
The Grinch and The Whos, Islands of Adventure: It’s all about The Grinch and the people of Whoville, who will make appearances in the festively-decorated Seuss Landing.
Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Both parks have special holiday celebrations, including the return of hot Butterbeer. In Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees perform wizarding world holiday classics. At Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure, Hogwarts’ Frog Choir serenades guests with school favorites.
Holiday Tribute Store: For the first time, Universal has made over its Tribute Store in the New York area of Universal Studios. During Halloween, the store is full of Halloween Horror Nights décor and merch, but during the holidays it’s covered with immersive rooms themed after The Grinch and other holiday-themed characters and stories. Inside, guests can buy new Christmas merchandise and treats.
Universal’s Holiday Tour: A separate ticket package that includes priority access to the Holiday Experience featuring Macy’s Balloons, a tour of the new Holiday Tribute Store, a meet and greet with The Grinch and a hot cocoa bar, an exclusive showing of the Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle light show and a commemorative gift. $59.99 per person.
Universal has even more holiday festivities at its resort hotels and at City Walk. Learn more about those here.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay brings back its popular Christmas Town event daily Nov. 20 through Jan. 3. It’s a parkwide event that’s included with general admission, featuring millions of Christmas lights and displays around the 335-acre park. Also, holiday shows, themed food and drinks and meet and greets with Santa and characters from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Christmas on Ice: The ice skating show this year is on the Festival Field and features yuletide melodies and seasonal costumes and stories.
Three Kings Journey: Inside Dragon Fire Grill, find a magical take on the famous story of the Three Kings’ journey to Bethlehem.
Elmo’s Christmas Wish: Elmo, Cookie Monster, Zoe, Rosita and Grover take the stage to learn the meaning of Christmas at Sesame Street Safari of Fun.
Holiday fireworks: On select nights this season, Festival Field will have Spark the Night fireworks synced with classic Christmas songs.
Christmas Town Village: Christmas Town Village near the new Iron Gwazi coaster is decked out in lights and outdoor food and drink cabins. There are twists on holiday classics like deep-dish cookies with Christmas Town’s beloved hot cocoa, cider and mulled wine, gingerbread shakes, loaded mashed potato bowl and Impossible meat-free chili. There are more than a dozen different cabins in the Christmas Town Village along with two other stands in Stanleyville and Cheetah Hunt Plaza.
There are also holiday shopping areas at Xcursions, Marrakesh Market, Emporium and Painted Camel.
Meet and greets: Though contact-free and socially-distance, guests can still see Santa Claus and reindeers Rudolph and Clarice. Characters begin meet and greets at 3 p.m. daily.
Christmas Town is included with park admission, but food and drinks are purchased separately. Busch Gardens offers tasting lanyards and character meet and greet upgrades. Learn more about the event here.
Similar to Busch Gardens, SeaWorld has its Christmas Celebration from Nov. 14 through Dec. 31. The event is included with park admission, but food and drink are separate.
Happy Holidays from Sesame Street Land: A new show has Sesame Street characters celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa with singing and dancing in everyone’s favorite street.
It’s A Wonderful Night: A New Story to Tell: SeaWorld bills this show as a reimagining of an old favorite at the Nautilus theater. It features more than 30 popular Christmas carols with some surprises and laughs.
Winter Wonderland on Ice: This year’s ice skating extravaganza has physically distant seating arrangements alongside a sea of sparkling trees and dancing fountains.
Sea of Trees: Located in SeaWorld’s lagoon, the Sea of Trees dance to holiday music and light up the water around a towering lighted centerpiece display. The Sea of Trees itself is the Christmas Celebration centerpiece and can be seen from around the park.
Rudolph’s Movie Experience: The Sea Port Theater features a special effects movie starring Rudolph and his friends from the classic short. The movie is about 10 minutes long and starts every 30 minutes.
Ice Skating at Bayside Stadium: Yes, you’ll get to ice skate. In Florida. Outside. Guests can skate alongside the central lagoon throughout the day. Additional ticket purchase includes skate rental. Socks and gloves are available for purchase.
Photos with Santa: Santa Claus lands at SeaWorld’s Wild Arctic for socially-distant family photos in his sleigh. Available 12:30 p.m. to park close.
Meet Rudolph and friends: Rudolph’s ChristmasTown has pop-up vignettes showing scenes from the classic tale. Guests can also meet Rudolph and his pal Bumble. Available 5 p.m. to park close.
Shopping and dining: There are pop-up holiday markets and food cabins around the park featuring classic dishes and twists on holiday treats. There are 18 areas to indulge around the park and on select dates there will be shopping at the Christmas Market on the Bayside Pathway.
More information about holiday events at SeaWorld here.
The Holidays at LEGOLAND events are weekends and Dec. 24-31 at the theme park in Winter Haven. There are new holiday LEGO sculptures around the park, themed characters to meet and greet, fireworks on select nights and festive shows and food.
Builds and Models: The 30-foot all-LEGO Christmas tree also has an ongoing light show set to seasonal tunes. Also, be on the lookout for LEGO builds of reindeer and a sleigh, a countdown to Christmas model, Santa and his reindeer and a snowman.
Character experiences: Meet and greets are a mix of LEGO-fied holiday characters and popular LEGO characters dressed in their Christmas best, including Gingerbread Man, Santa, Unikitty, Toy Soldier and more.
Shows: “The Very Merry Mix Up” and “Northpole Nonsense” shows are tweaked this year to allow for better social distancing while also featuring new tales about what Santa’s elves are up to this holiday season.
Other activities: Take a ride on the two-story Carousel in a holiday sing-along, mail a letter to Santa from the LEGOLAND post office and give Master Builders a hand with the Santa Toy Build.
The holidays at LEGOLAND are included with park admission. More information about the events here.
Gaylord Palms Resort
There’s no ICE this year because of complications from the pandemic, but there are still many Christmas activities at the resort in Kissimmee. And, these festivities aren’t just for those staying at Gaylord Palms.
I Love Christmas Movies: The resort’s signature attraction this year is this immersive, pop-up experience that puts guests inside iconic scenes from favorite Christmas movies. There are more than a dozen life-sized vignettes of scenes from The Polar Express, A Christmas Story, Elf and Christmas Vacation. Get selfies with characters from The Year Without A Santa Claus and the narwhal from Elf and step inside a train car for a virtual ride on The Polar Express. $28.99 adults; $14.99 children 4-11.
Snow Flow Mountain: One of the few places you can snow tube in Florida is inside Gaylord Palms at the Snow Factory. The slides are themed like frozen-over factory conveyor belts and have two levels: speed slide and the “ice coaster” plummet. $21.99 per person includes unlimited rides on the day of purchase.
Cirque Dreams Unwrapped: The colorful, quirky show returns this year with 25 minutes of acrobatics and theatrics set to dreamy holiday music. $15.99 adults, $11.99 children 4-11.
Mrs. Claus’ Christmas Traditions: Join Mrs. Claus in her cottage to hear her read classic Christmas stories and sing along to holiday tunes. After the show, treat yourself to some milk and cookies. $12.99 per person.
#Lit Light Show: Head to the resort’s tropical atrium to see a towering tree decked out in thousands of lights dance to Christmas classics and pop holiday music. Nightly shows are free; 8:45 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.
Photos with Santa: Meet the big guy himself at this socially-distant experience with photo packages starting at $35.
More information and tickets to Gaylord Palms holiday events here.