Planning a special trip during the Yule holidays? Be warned: Florida has so many celebrations this month that it may be difficult to choose where to go and what to do.
Florida’s theme parks put on extensive holiday celebrations that gladden the hearts of millions of visitors. Dozens of lighted boat parades brighten evenings on Florida waterways. Cities and resorts mount seasonal programs and holiday exhibits, including a few quirky ones.
You may even get a touch of winter in several locales as theme parks and cities create man-made snow flurries and snowbanks where kids can frolic.
The fun has already begun in some places, rising to a climax on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Some words to the wise:
Here’s a rundown on some major holiday happenings:
WALT DISNEY WORLD
BUSCH GARDENS TAMPA BAY
On 18 select evenings through Dec. 23, the theme park will once again transform itself into Christmas Town. The separately ticketed evening event debuted last year and features several new displays and shows:
Holiday Hills is a nostalgic town with a live brass band playing Christmas songs and Mrs. Claus cooking holiday fare. Christmas Tree Terrace has a 40-foot Christmas tree that comes alive every 15 minutes with dancing lights. Romantic flowers and white lights set the scene for a kiss in Mistletoe Memories.
Also new: Sesame Street Cookie Monster, Zoe and Big Bird help Elmo get his desires in a new show, Elmo’s Christmas Wish. Gloria, Alex, King Julien and the penguins go on a vacation in Madagascar Live! Operation: Christmas Vacation.
Back again are Santa’s House, Penguin Point and SnowWorld, which has been tripled in size and now has 15,000 square feet of snow to play in.
Christmas Town admission is $40-$50, $10 for children; discounts available for advance purchase.
The Grinch and Grinchmas return to Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park Dec. 7-Jan 4 in a live show, Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular. Guests will be able to meet the Grinch and the Whos daily.
Mannheim Steamroller also will be back, performing holiday music Dec. 7, 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22 at Universal Studios. Also at that park, Macy’s Holiday Parade will step off every evening starting Dec. 7 with some of the same balloons seen in the famous New York parade.
All Christmas events are included in regular park admission. www.UniversalOrlando.com/holidays.
Once again, guests can “board’’ the Polar Express to the North Pole on select dates through Dec. 31. The holiday classic comes to life in a simulator ride in the park’s Wild Arctic attraction.
Sesame Street characters are back this year in a new show that has Cookie Monster, Rosita, Grover and Zoe helping Elmo find his desire in Elmo’s Christmas Wish. Life-sized puppets and live animals tell the Christmas story in words and music in O Wondrous Night and ice skaters leap and twirl in Winter Wonderland on Ice, on an outdoor rink.
More than 100 decorated trees choreographed to holiday music will line the park’s center lake, which also is the site of SeaWorld’s evening finales featuring dancing fountains, lights and fireworks.
Christmas events are included in regular park admission. www.SeaWorldOrlando.com.
Every Saturday and Sunday in December, Legoland will celebrate the holidays with its third annual Christmas Bricktacular. Events at the Winter Haven park include building a 20-foot Lego Christmas tree, photo ops with a life-size Lego Santa Claus, scavenger hunt, a 30-foot Christmas tree made with 270,000 bricks, and decorating live Christmas trees. All events included in regular park admission. http://florida.legoland.com.
ELSEWHEREBoat parades: www.winterfestparade.com St. Augustine: Jacksonville: Tampa: Toys Then and Now Gaylord Palms, Orlando: Ritz Carlton Amelia Island: Swan and Dolphin Hotels,
NEW YEAR’S EVE
All theme parks have special programs and fireworks on New Year’s Eve, and many cities will mount fireworks displays. But the quirkiest celebrations are Florida’s parodies of the celebrated ball drop at New York City’s Times Square.
Key West, for example, stages not one but four ball drops on New Year’s Eve. On Duval Street, a six-foot high-heel shoe descends carrying a lavishly gowned drag queen. Further along the street, a huge man-made conch shell, symbol of the Florida Keys, is lowered to the roof of Sloppy Joe’s Bar as an outsized clock counts down. At Key West’s Historic Seaport, a pirate wench descends from the top of a tall ship’s mast as cannons boom. And Ocean Key Resort at Mallory Square plans to drop a huge replica of a key lime wedge into a larger-than-life margarita glass.
Other odd ball drops in Florida include an 18-foot pelican in Pensacola, a pineapple in Sarasota, an 800-pound beach ball in Panama City Beach, a 35-foot orange in Miami and a 200-pound tangerine in Brooksville.
Florida hosts several major college bowl games during the holidays, as well as parades, golf and tennis tournaments and other related events. Bowl games include:Russell Athletic Bowl Gator Bowl Capital One Bowl Outback Bowl, Tampa Orange Bowl