Your guide to Central Florida’s best seasonal events.
Christmas Spectacular at Stetson Mansion
John B. Stetson, the maker of the iconic Stetson cowboy hat, built Florida’s first luxury estate outside of Orlando in 1886. The mansion is a private residence and one of the first homes in the world built with electricity due to Stetson’s friendship with inventor Thomas Edison.
For the holiday season, the three-story, all-wood mansion is decorated with elaborate designer Christmas decorations in its annual “Christmas Spectacular!” The decorations are different from year to year, and this year’s theme honors the 200th anniversary of “Silent Night.” Tour guides will lead guests through the home’s first and second floors, providing insight to the history of the mansion as holiday music from a baby grand player piano sets the tone.
Christmas tours at the Stetson Mansion will take place three times daily until Jan. 15.
Nights of Lights
Nights of Lights in St. Augustine is a reflection of the city’s Spanish roots. The Spanish tradition of placing a candle in the windows of their homes was done to welcome the holiday season and guests into the home.
Now in its 23rd year, the illumination of the downtown area is a proud display of the city’s 450-year history. The award-winning display features nearly three million lights throughout the city’s historic district will run until Jan. 31.
To celebrate the holiday season, businesses in the downtown area stay open later, allowing spectators to view the lights as they dine and shop amongst the shining buildings. Trains, trolleys, boats and horse-drawn carriages are just some of the ways to view the lights.
Significant light displays are visible at Flagler College and the Lightner Museum. Plaza de la Constitucion, the main plaza in the historic district, has lights draped around every tree as well as a Christmas tree in the center for the perfect photo opportunity. Some businesses known for the dazzling displays are the Tini Martini Bar and the Casablanca Inn. A favorite viewing spot is the Bridge of Lions, overlooking the St. Augustine Bayfront.
Light up UCF
Snow is coming to Central Florida this holiday season with the ninth annual Light Up UCF. Running through Jan. 7 at the CFE Arena, the highly anticipated winter wonderland event will feature ice-skating, rides and an all-new light show with 30,000 more lights that will pulse and strobe to holiday songs in perfect synchronization while snow flies through the air.
Families will gather under the stars and watch beloved holiday movies on a two-story movie screen each Friday and Saturday night as part of the Holiday Film Festival.
On Dec. 10, the Light Up UCF Holiday Market “Under the Stars” will host local businesses and craftsmen to help attendees wrap up their holiday shopping while supporting small businesses as well.
After making its debut last year, the popular Light Up Lane returns, featuring a hands-on celebration in a Christmas tree forest with life size decorations and visits from Santa on select nights. Serving as the centerpiece of the event is another favorite attraction – Central Florida’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink. Other attractions include the new Winter Whirl, an upgraded Ferris wheel, the Light Up Express train and the Arctic Glide Ice Slide.
Christmas at Bok Tower Gardens
The 22nd annual Holiday Home Tour at Pinewood Estate will take place through Jan. 8. The estate will be decorated with time-honored poinsettia, amaryllis and bromeliad displays. The tour features a 15-foot-tall Christmas tree that was created with about 350 bromeliads – a picture perfect spot for any guest.
This year’s festivities at Bok Tower Gardens include Christmas concerts, walking tours through the garden and historically themed days taking guests back to the 1940s. Certain days throughout the holiday season will have scheduled events, such as Holiday Happy Hour and wreath tutorial for the holiday home. The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra will also be featured during this season, partnering up with the Singing Tower carillon to perform Central Florida’s favorite outdoor concert.
This year, the tower is introducing the first annual Gingerbread House with Mrs. Claus. Every participant will be provided with a house to decorate and a storybook to take home, this event will also include a tour of the house.
Christmas at Bok Tower Gardens is bright, colorful and the best place to unwind in the middle of the hectic holidays. With a variety of events suitable for all ages, there is no doubt that there is always something for everyone to enjoy this holiday season.
Seasonal Celebrations at the Parks
Play tourist in your own backyard with festive family fun at the Walt Disney World Resort. With each park decked out in its holiday best, you’re sure to get right in the spirit.
On select nights through Dec. 22, Magic Kingdom will host Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, an after-hours event complete with dressed-up characters, cookies, hot cocoa and snow flurries throughout the evening. During the party, guests will enjoy the all-new Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration, a castle show filled with classic and contemporary holiday songs, as well as Mickey’s Once Upon a Time Christmastime Parade where Santa Claus, gingerbread men, elves, reindeer and toy soldiers join Mickey and the gang in a route along Main Street U.S.A.
Enjoy the holidays around the world at Epcot by tasting traditional seasonal fare from five new marketplaces around the World Showcase. Bites include duck confit and dumplings from the Alpine Haus Marketplace and shredded beef tamale from the Three Kings Feast Marketplace. A beloved annual event, the Candlelight Processional features celebrity narrators, who are accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra and choir, telling the Christmas story. Performances are scheduled for 5 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. at America Gardens Theater through Dec. 30.
Disney Springs joined the celebration by decking the halls in each of its neighborhoods to the delight of shoppers. Fun extras include the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail, featuring 15 custom-decorated trees dedicated to popular Disney themes located throughout the Marketplace, as well as the Festival of Toys dance party at the Once Upon a Toy Fountain.
A SeaWorld Tradition
SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration transports guests to a wintery, watery wonderland with live shows and festive entertainment.
Returning favorites include Shamu Christmas Miracles, a nighttime show that features dazzling lights while Christmas carols ring out and Shamus splashes into the season; O Wondrous Night, a live nativity based on The Christmas Story; and an ice-skating extravaganza called Winter Wonderland on Ice. Families can immerse themselves in the Sea of Trees, which sparkles on the water to festive tunes, and stroll through The Christmas Market eating holiday cuisine and shopping for artisan-crafted gifts for everyone on their list.
This year’s celebration also features brand new experiences. At Rudolph’s ChristmasTown, popular characters from the timeless television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” are on hand to meet with visitors as they stroll past life-size storybook vignettes of the classic Rudolph story. Over at Santa’s Workshop, presented by Coca-Cola, guests can share their Christmas wishes with Santa Claus.
SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration takes place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 11 and daily from Dec. 16 to Dec. 31.
Christmas at Gaylord Palms
Every year, Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center carves a chilly playground out of 2 million pounds of ice. Throughout ICE! featuring A Charlie Brown Christmas, you will find ice sculptures and displays featuring your favorite characters from the classic story including Snoopy’s decorated doghouse and Charlie Brown choosing the perfect tree. There is also a slide made completely out of ice that the whole family can take turns sliding down.
Christmas at Gaylord Palms doesn’t just stop with ICE! There is also a Cirque Dreams UnWrapped Stage Show where you will see seasonal characters come to life amidst stunning acrobatic skills. The show is free but seats are distributed on a first come, first served basis. New this year, the Christmas at Gaylord Palms Light Show takes place at various times on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. This free show includes a six-minute light show with narration and classic holiday music, all centered around the new, 60-foot LED Christmas tree in the resort’s atrium.
Families will also enjoy an Elf on the Shelf Scavenger Hunt, Mrs. Claus Christmas Traditions and Story Time Sing-a-Long, visits with Santa Claus and more. This event takes place through Jan. 1.
Holy Land Experience
In honor of the Christmas season, the faith-based theme park Holy Land Experience is introducing three new theatrical productions to complement its variety of interactive exhibits.
“Come to the Manger” tells the story of a young couple who arrived in the village of Bethlehem in time to witness a dramatic miracle and “Journey to Bethlehem” is the tale of Mary and Joseph as they make their way to the little town of Bethlehem. Finally, “The Lost & Found Agency” is whimsical play that tells the story of a group of specialists who help people find things lost to them, including one of their own agents who reclaims his lost Christmas spirit.
All the plays are family friendly and look to reinforce the message of faith at the heart of the holiday.
These new productions are in addition to the many interactive exhibits at Holy Land Experience including the Dead Sea Qumran Caves, a replica of the place where many Bible manuscripts were discovered; the Great Temple, a recreation of the Jewish holy place that stood on Mount Moriah; Golgotha, a model of the place where Jesus was crucified and died; and several other displays and exhibits.
The park has also updated its Smile of a Child Adventure Land, an especially kid-focused area with rock-climbing walls, mini-golf, face painting and inspirational Bible stories.