Florida’s theme parks are magical throughout the year. By adding an overlay of holiday cheer, the parks supersize the magic and fun between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Of course, supersized fun can also mean supersized crowds. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is among the busiest–if not THE busiest–of the whole year at Orlando‘s theme parks. But bustle is part of the holidays, right? Besides, the parks extend their hours, increase the capacity of attractions, and offer a bunch of special events. So, put on your Santa hat and your matching red shorts while we check out the holidays, Florida-theme-park style.
Santa meets Mickey: It’s a perfect partnership based on warm nostalgia and unabashed corniness. Like some idealized Currier and Ives vision tucked away in our collective conscious, Walt Disney World delivers a holiday wonderland of epic proportions. Dozens of impossibly perfect Christmas trees (they used to be real, but Disney replaced them with artificial ones a few years ago), miles of garland, millions of twinkling lights, and other holiday signposts appear overnight and transform every corner of the resort.
2008 dates: Evenings, Nov. 10, 11, 14, 16, 20, 21, 30, Dec. 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 19.
Separate admission. Advance purchase price is $48.95 for 10 and older and $42.95 for ages 3-9. Day-of-event price is $55.95 for 10 and older and $49.95 ages 3-9. Discounts available for advance-purchased tickets on select dates.
2008 dates: Nov. 28 to Dec. 30, several performances nightly. Included with admission. The solemn retelling of the Christmas story includes a choir, symphony orchestra, and celebrity narrators such as Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser or How I Met Your Mother’s Barney, depending on your age and TV IQ), Abigail Breslin, and John O’Hurley.
2008 dates: Nov. 28 to Dec. 30
Included with admissionIn the multiculti spirit of the park’s World Showcase, Epcot’s pavilions present holiday traditions from across the globe. The park also features a synchronized light show, a nightly tree-lighting ceremony, and storytellers.
2008 dates: Nov. 28 to Jan. 4
Included with admissionThe megawatt light display fills the Studios’ backlot with 3-D and animated displays, giant Santa Claus displays, and–whoulda thunk?–a giant Mickey Mouse made out of a zillion or so twinkling lights.
2008 dates: Nov. 28 to Jan. 4. Included with admission. Simba meets Santa when the colorful parade winds through the Animal Kingdom. Other holiday features include a decked-out Dinoland U.S.A. and carolers strolling through Camp Minnie-Mickey, renamed “Santa Goofy’s Wild Wonderland” for the season.
You’ll just have to take my word on this, but I used to go to Universal Studios Florida around the holidays, saw the few measly decorations, and thought that the park really should have done something more to get into the spirit of the season. Its New York backlot area was just screaming for some tinsel. “And there’s a (faux) Macy’s department store,” I’d ponder. “What a perfect tie-in for…a Christmas parade!” Well, they must’ve read my mind. Universal has been going all out the past few seasons…and Macy’s has figured prominently in the holiday hoopla.
2008 dates: December 6th through January 1st. Included with admission. It’s Universal’s version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The theme park rendition includes some of Macy’s signature giant balloons, including Uncle Sam and a toy soldier, plus floats, clowns, and guest marching bands. Santa Claus and his reindeer wrap up the parade with a big ho-ho-ho (and not just any Santa, but the actual, authentic, Macy’s-certified one, straight from the Big Apple).
Included with admission. A musical presentation of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will be performed in the park’s Seuss Landing. The furry green Grinch will also meet and greet guests.
2008 dates: Nov. 14 to Jan. 4
Included with admission. SeaWorld adds some holiday cheer to its marine park in the form of festive decorations and live holiday music from classical musicians and carolers. The Wild Arctic motion simulator ride gets a holiday makeover into The Polar Express Experience. Scenes from the film are repurposed for the ridefilm attraction. SeaWorld Orlando also features special nightly presentations of the Shamu Christmas Miracles stadium show, a Christmastide Holiday Fountain Show, and a nightly snow shower over the park’s waterfornt shopping area. Maybe you can request some fruitcake to go with your poi at the Makahiki Christmas Luau (extra fee).
2008 Dates: November 28 – December 30. Included with Admission. Cypress Gardens features a “Home for the Holidays” theme this Christmas. The theme park will get into the holiday spirit with millions of lights, choreographed light show to music in the Plantation Gardens every evening. Santa Clause, carolers and other festive characters will appear throughout the park, creating a cozy Christmas celebration for all. Special holiday meals and holiday crafts will also be available.