If you haven’t been to Orlando during the holidays, you’re in for a treat. Come December, it’s not uncommon to see snow flurries (not real ones, of course), hundreds of ice sculptures and even the Grinch himself. And, as you might suspect, everything is over the top and packs a wallop of fun.
1. Gaylord Palms Resort
Two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures, four ice slides and a live ice-carving station. Enough said. The award-winning ICE! featuring Frosty the Snowman attraction is always a crowd pleaser. On Dec. 8, guests were able to do the Polar Bear Plunge where brave participants went through the attraction wearing only their swimsuits. But you can leave your clothes on and just enjoy the hotel’s 2 million twinkling lights and the 54-foot-tall Christmas tree. Or, visit with Santa, watch a musical or try the Fire and ICE! facial at the spa.
2. Universal Orlando Resort
Start the day by saying hello to the mean, green one himself. At Islands of Adventure, the Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular features all your favorite Whos from Who-ville. At Universal Studios Florida, the Macy’s Holiday Parade will have you feeling like you are in New York City. (Keep an eye out for Happy the Hippo, a recreation of a 1940s Macy's Parade balloon; she will make her debut this year). Following the parade, Mannheim Steamroller takes to the Music Plaza stage in Universal Studios to perform memorable holiday hits.
3. Walt Disney World Resort
Disney has a smorgasbord of holiday events. For starters, there’s the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom Park, with its complimentary hot cocoa and cookies, snowflakes on Main Street, U.S.A and an extravagant Christmas parade. Holidays Around the World at Epcot features the Candlelight Processional, which retells the Christmas story through live performances with a massed choir and 50-piece orchestra. And the dazzling Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios features more than one million lights.
This year, Glow with the Show Mickey ear hats actually light up in synch with the beat of the fireworks and spectaculars. Overall, the parks have more than 1,300 decorated trees and 8.5 million lights strung throughout the property.
4. Harry P. Leu Gardens
Take a step back in time as you waltz through nine themed rooms at the Leu House Museum. It was built in the late 1880s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside the museum you will see many antiques, which reflect the four families that once lived in the stately home. Afterward, stroll around the 50-acre botanical garden, which is Orlando’s equivalent to The Secret Garden: a maze bursting with color and unusual greenery. Take a guided tour of the Southern-styled grounds, or just run amok through the giant bamboo stalks, hyper-manicured lawns and camellias (they have the world’s largest collection).
5. SeaWorld Orlando
Enter the park and you’ll hear holiday carols, see loads of Christmas trees (more than 100 lighted are choreographed to classic holiday tunes) and admire the skaters dancing on ice. Head to the Christmas Market, located on the park’s Bayside Pathway, for a smattering of unique artisans and culinary delights, including s ‘mores and freshly-made donuts. Special shows and attractions include Shamu Christmas Miracles, Winter Wonderland on Ice and The Polar Express Experience. Elmo's Christmas Wish is a new this performance this year that features several Sesame Street characters. If you still have energy left at the end of the day, catch a light show at various times throughout the night.
6. LEGOLAND Florida
The Christmas Bricktacular at Legoland has daily appearances by Santa Claus, scavenger hunts and character meet and greets. Don’t forget to snap a photo with the life-size LEGO Santa Claus and the 30-foot-tall LEGO Christmas tree made with a combination of 270,000 forest green LEGO and DUPLO bricks. And, as if that wasn’t enough, fireworks light up the sky every night. (Note: A special family is chosen to help light the Bricktacular tree each night.)
7. Holy Land Experience
At Holy Land Experience, guests are transported back thousands of years ago to visit Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' birth. Guests are treated to a variety of holiday-themed dramas, musicals and programs that make for a faith-filled Christmas. Through Jan. 1, the park is free (and so is parking) in the evenings from 6 to 10 p.m. Guests may roam around and enjoy Christmas decorations, lights and music. Just keep in mind that retail shops, food kiosks and exhibits are closed during that time.
8. University of Central Florida
The popular Light Up UCF event has an 8,000-square-foot outdoor ice skating rink (complete with Rinkmaster DJ spinning holiday classics and top 40 hits), rides and holiday attractions. And there’s a scheduled snowfall every night. The holiday light show has thousands of lights choreographed to seasonal musical selections. Bring along a blanket and chairs to watch holiday film favorites on a giant two-story screen.