Florida Travel

Fireworks or Rudolph? Ice palace or the Grinch? Here’s what theme parks are doing

Queen Elsa, lower left, uses her special powers to turn Cinderella Castle into an ice palace for the holidays.
Queen Elsa, lower left, uses her special powers to turn Cinderella Castle into an ice palace for the holidays. mlambert@miamiherald.com

Cinderella Castle looks elegant in royal blue and periwinkle as night falls over the Magic Kingdom, but Anna and Kristoff fret that it lacks snow and ice.

“There is nothing as magical for the holidays as a kingdom that’s covered with ice and snow,” says Anna of “Frozen,” and pleads with her sister, Queen Elsa, to use her icy powers. Elsa says it’s not her castle. She can’t do what Anna wants without the permission of the townspeople.

Anna turns to the crowd standing in the plaza in front of the castle. “Wouldn’t you all like to see Elsa cover the castle in ice and snow,” she cries. The crowd responds with a loud “Yes!”

With that, Queen Elsa launches the theme park holiday season, turning the castle pink and purple and blue, snowflakes and pictures flashing across its facade, until it settles into a deep blue with ice sparkling from its turrets and towers like ropes of diamonds. The crowd oohs.

The nightly icing of Cinderella Castle is part of the show at Magic Kingdom, first of the parks to kick off its holiday celebrations earlier this month. It’s just a sampling of the parades, parties, music, dances, sweets, character meet-and-greets, and displays that the parks will offer their guests in a Central Florida competition that gets more elaborate every year.

Here’s a rundown: 

DISNEY

▪ Magic Kingdom: With Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on select days until Dec. 22, Magic Kingdom is the only park to close in the late afternoon, then reopen at 7 p.m. with a separate admission charge for a party that runs late into the night. Features: Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration, with holiday music and holiday projections on the walls of Cinderella Castle; Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade; the “Frozen” transformation of Cinderella Castle into an ice palace; holiday fireworks.  

▪ Epcot: Nov. 25-Dec. 30. Most events are included with regular admission. Marketplaces around the world offer holiday foods and entertainment; the Candlelight Processional features a retelling of the Christmas story by celebrity narrators (dinner packages available at extra cost); and the IllumiNations show adds a seasonal finale. 

▪ Hollywood Studios: The new “Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!” nighttime show, which runs through Dec. 31, combines Disney animated characters with fireworks, projections and Christmas music. A dessert and beverage party to accompany the show is available for an extra charge. The park also offers guests the chance to meet Santa. 

▪ Animal Kingdom: The park has an animal-themed holiday tree and special character meet-and-greets. 

▪ Disney Springs: “Starbright Holidays,” a twice-nightly light show by 300 drones equipped with LED lights; Stitch’s Holiday Gift Hunt; dance party; and tree-lighting ceremony. 

Information: www.disneyworld.com/holiday. 

SEAWORLD

SeaWorld’s Christmas festivities open Friday with a new addition: Rudolph’s Christmas Town, where guests can meet Rudolph and the other characters from the TV story — Clarice, Bumble and Yukon Cornelius — and see life-size vignettes from the story. Also new is Santa’s Workshop, joining returning features that include “Clyde & Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas,” a (mostly) sea lion show; “Shamu Christmas Miracles”; “O Wondrous Night,” a live nativity in which the Christmas story is told through the eyes of animals; Sesame Street’s “Elmo’s Christmas Wish”; an ice skating show; the Sea of Trees display and more. Holiday events take place Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 11 and then run daily Dec. 16-31.

Information: http://SeaWorldOrlando.com.

BUSCH GARDENS

Christmas Town returns to Busch Gardens on 23 dates between Friday and Dec. 31. New this year, similar to sister park SeaWorld, is Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland, featuring meet-and-greets with Clarice, Bumble and Yukon Cornelius; holiday games; and scenes from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that come to life. Other activities include Santa’s House and several shows: “Christmas on Ice,” “Carol of the Bells” light show and the Holiday Hills Brass Band.

Information: www.christmastown.com.

UNIVERSAL 

▪ Universal Studios: The Macy’s Holiday Parade, including some of the trademark giant balloons that appear first in the Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, will run nightly Dec. 3-Jan. 1. 

▪ Islands of Adventure: The Grinch returns to Seuss Landing in a live show, “Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular,” the story of how the Grinch stole Christmas. For an extra fee, guests can book breakfast on select dates with the Grinch and other Dr. Seuss characters. In addition, Mannheim Steamroller will perform Christmas music on certain Saturdays and Sundays in December. 

Information: www.UniversalOrlando.com/holidays. 

LEGOLAND

Christmas Bricktacular, Legoland’s annual holiday party, will run for nine days: Dec. 17-18 and Dec. 24-30, although some premium activities will start earlier. Bricktacular activities include a fireworks show over Lake Eloise; meet-and-greet with Lego characters Santa and Toy Soldier; and a scavenger hunt. New additions are a live stage show starring the Lego Friends; Storytime with Mrs. Claus; and Christmas music by the Lego Brickettes. Two premium experiences are available for an extra fee: breakfast with Lego Santa and Lego Toy Soldier (Saturday-Sunday Nov. 26-Dec. 18, daily Dec. 24-31); and Lego Santa’s Christmas Workshop (Saturday-Sunday Nov. 26-Dec. 24, daily Dec. 26-31), where guests create a Lego Christmas model under the guidance of a Master Model Builder.

Information: www.legoland.com/florida.

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