You may not build a carrot-nosed snowman or roast chestnuts on an open fire, but there’s plenty else to keep you enthralled in Florida during the Yule holidays. Theme parks, cities, parks and hotels all are gearing up with special holiday events.
For the first time, Busch Gardens this year will stage holiday events in the evening. More than 70 lighted boat parades are scheduled on waterways all over the state. Special concerts are in the works, along with Christmas markets, home tours and culinary treats like gingerbread creations. Santa Claus will make dozens of visits.
The fun starts in late November. Here are details of a sampling of special events:
THEME PARK & ATTRACTIONS• Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: For its brand new evening celebration of Christmas, a separate-admission event, the theme park will take on a festive patina with many thousands of sparkling lights, decorated trees, holiday music and shows, train rides, colorful flowers and topiaries, and other signs of the season — even real snowdrifts for kids to play in.
Sections of the park will be renamed for the evening. In Ice Wonder Way, guests can see a new ice-skating show. Elmo and his friends will greet kids in the Sesame Street Season of Fun. Children will board a pint-sized train at Jingle Bell Junction, and they and their parents can sing carols as the Christmas Express train circles the park. Jimmy Osmond and his family will sing each night, and in the Stanleyville Theater the Grammy-award-winning Jars of Clay will perform a closing concert every night.
Christmas Town will require a separate admission (daytime admission not included or needed) of $34.99 for ages 10 and up, $9.99 for children 3-9. It will be open 6-11 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 30 to Dec. 23. 813-987-5523, www.buschgardens.com.• Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom will again put on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, as it has for 25 years. Guests at this separate-ticket event will take in stage shows, parades and fireworks, meet costumed Disney characters and enjoy complimentary cookies and hot cocoa amid twinkling lights and wreaths, and decorated trees. Guests may even hunker down as snow flurries fall on Main Street. Dates for the party are Nov. 9, 12, 15, 16, 25, 27, 29 and 30, and Dec. 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 21. Admission ranges from $53.95 to $59.95 for kids 3-9, $59.95-$64.95 for ages 10 and up depending on the date.
At Epcot, a Candlelight Processional celebrates the holiday, along with a celebrity narrator, mass choir and 50-piece orchestra three times daily Nov. 23-Dec. 30. Neil Patrick Harris and Gary Sinise will appear on select nights at the America Gardens Theater. Disney’s Hollywood Studios will have the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, with millions of lights, animated displays and 3-D effects, Nov. 9 to Jan. 6. Disney information: 407-824-4321, www.disneyworld.com.• Universal Orlando: The Grinch comes back to this theme park in a stage show, Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular, which tells the Dr. Seuss story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Mannheim Steamroller, whose Christmas music has sold more than 40 million records, will perform eight times on Dec. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23. Macy’s Holiday Parade, with holiday characters, floats and balloons, will step off every evening from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1. 407-363-8000, www.universalorlando.com.
• SeaWorld Orlando: Guests can once again board the Polar Express for a virtual trip to the North Pole on select nights Nov. 17-Dec. 31. Also on tap: Angels and animals tell the story of Christmas in O Wondrous Night. An ice-skating show, Winter Wonderland on Ic e, plays amid water fountains and fireworks. Sesame Street characters like Elmo and Telly Monster sing and dance in A Sesame Street Christmas, and a Sea of Trees circles the park’s center lake with 100 lighted and choreographed trees. 407-351-3600. www.seaworldparks.com.
• Legoland: In its second year, Legoland in Winter Haven is again staging its Christmas Bricktacular from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in December. Events include lighting the park’s 30-foot-high Lego Christmas tree, helping to build a smaller Lego tree and a Lego scavenger hunt. Fireworks play Dec. 26-30, and on New Year’s Eve, the fireworks go off at a kid-friendly time, 7 p.m. 877-350-5346, www.florida.legoland.com.
• Edison and Ford Winter Estates: Millions of colored lights will decorate both homes in Fort Myers during December. Last year the American Bus Association, a trade association for the motorcoach and tour group industry, named it one of the nation’s top 100 events. Nightly entertainment is presented by school and community groups. 239-334-7419, www.edisonfordwinterestates.org.
Many hotels will mount Yule displays and stage holiday-oriented events. Here are three with unusual exhibits.• Gaylord Palms, Orlando: Once again, this hotel will mount its spectacular holiday exhibit, ICE! Using two million pounds of ice, the attraction this year will feature characters from the animated TV show, Merry Madagascar. The display has four two-story ice slides, a nativity set and many ice sculptures. Admission ranges from $13.99 to $27.99. ICE! is open daily from Nov. 10 through Jan. 1. The hotel also offers several other Christmas-oriented programs. 407-586-4423, www.ChristmasAtGaylordPalms.com.
• Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island: S.S. Amelia, a huge gingerbread pirate ship, will greet guests in the lobby of the hotel. Made from more than 1,200 pounds of sugar and 3,000 eggs, the creation will be on view from Nov. 21 to Dec. 28. Tree lightings, home tours and visits by Santa also are planned at several Amelia Island locales. www.ritzcarlton.com/ameliaisland.
• Swan and Dolphin Hotels, Disney World: You can’t eat it, but the hotels will mount a Santa Claus display made entirely of chocolate for the holidays. The lifesize Santa will weigh 1,200 pounds and he’ll be joined with a chocolate fireplace, Christmas tree and toy train. The display goes up the weekend after Thanksgiving, runs through December. www.santasfavoriteresort.com/chocolate.html.
More than 70 lighted boat parades will be staged on Florida waterways this year. The biggest is Fort Lauderdale’s Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade, which motors off on its 12-mile journey from downtown Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. An estimated million spectators will be on hand, some in grandstands. 954-767-0686, www.winterfestparade.com.
Elsewhere in southeast Florida, boat parades are scheduled in Boca Raton Dec. 8; Boynton Beach Dec. 7; Fort Pierce Dec. 8; Jupiter Dec. 1; Key Largo Dec. 8; Key West Dec. 15; Lower Florida Keys Dec.15; Marathon Dec. 8; Key Colony Beach Dec. 9; Miami Dec. 15; Palm Beach Dec. 1; and Pompano Beach Dec. 9. For a complete list and details of all Florida boat parades, go to http://floridabywater.com/component/content/article/1647-boat-parades.
Cities small and large stage various Yule displays and other events. Here are a few:• St. Augustine: Chosen by the National Geographic in 2011 as one of the 10 best lighting displays in the world, the annual Night of Lights will feature millions of tiny white lights Nov. 17-Jan. 31. Winter Wonderland offers ice skating, sleigh rides, ice slide and elf village Nov. 26-Jan. 1. The city has scheduled more than a dozen other holiday events.www.floridashistoriccoast.com.
• Tampa: Victorian holiday traditions come to life in the Victorian Christmas Stroll Dec. 1-31. More than a million twinkling lights illuminate Lowry Zoo’s Wild Wonderland Dec. 8, 14-23 and 26-30. 813-342-4052, www.visittampabay.com.
• Orlando: The Orlando Citrus Parade (formerly Fresh From Florida Parade) Dec. 29 features floats made from more than 100,000 citrus fruits. It’s part of Orlando Bowl Week, featuring two college bowl games. The Orlando Ballet performs the Christmas favorite Nutcracker Dec. 20-23. www.visitorlando.com.
COLLEGE BOWL GAMES
All bowl games have other events associated with them, among them parades, photo ops and other sports events.• Orlando: Russell Athletic Bowl (formerly Champs), Dec. 28. Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1.
• Tampa: Outback Bowl, Jan. 1.
• Jacksonville: Gator Bowl, Jan. 1.
• Miami: Orange Bowl, Jan. 1. BCS College Championship, Jan. 7.