Florida Travel

Holidays bring parties, parades and shows to theme parks

Toy soldiers parade down Main Street at Magic Kingdom during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.
Toy soldiers parade down Main Street at Magic Kingdom during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. Walt Disney World Resort

With Christmas still a month away, some of Florida’s theme parks already have launched their holiday celebrations. Others will begin in early December.

All the parks get dolled up in holiday finery during the Yule period, and most of their seasonal events are included in regular park admission.

Know that the parks are much busier during the week after Christmas than in the week prior.

Here’s a rundown on what awaits visitors at the parks:

WALT DISNEY WORLD

▪ Magic Kingdom: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, an evening event that is running for 20 nights this year, has already started. Open from 7 p.m. to midnight on certain nights, it is a ticketed event separate from daily park admission, with prices starting at $69 for kids age 3-9 and at $79 for adults.

Aimed mostly at younger guests, the party includes snow flurries on Main Street, a Christmas parade, dance party, fireworks and complimentary cookies and hot cocoa. Queen Elsa from the animated movie Frozen will transform Cinderella’s Castle into an ice palace, and the Jungle Cruise will temporarily become the Jingle Cruise.

Mickey’s party has started but still has many nights to go: Nov. 19, 20 and 29 and Dec. 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17 and 18.

▪ Epcot: Back again is the popular Candlelight Processional, which features celebrity narrators retelling the Christmas story, done three times each evening from Nov. 27 to Dec. 30. Each celebrity participates for two or three nights during the processional’s run. Scheduled are Gary Sinise, Nov. 27-29; Neil Patrick Harris, Nov. 30-Dec.3; Whoopi Goldberg, Dec. 4-5; Joe Morton, Dec. 6-8; Ana Gasteyer, Dec 9-11; Meredith Vieira, Dec. 12-14; America Ferrara, Dec. 15-17; Chandra Wilson, Dec. 18-20; Daniel Dae Kim, Dec. 21-23; Edward James Olmos, Dec. 24-26; Blair Underwood, Dec. 27-28; and Amy Grant, Dec. 29-30. Viewing is free; dining packages with guaranteed seating are extra.

Many of the Candlelight Processional’s celebrity narrators are veterans of previous shows but four celebs will narrate this year for the first time

Epcot’s various country pavilions will feature festivities and holiday traditions of their respective countries, and the Future World Fountain Stage will be the setting for performances of Joyful!, featuring gospel, inspirational and classic holiday tunes.

▪ Disney’s Hollywood Studios: This will be the last year for the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights, a spectacular display of millions of lights that will be on view until Jan. 3. Construction of Star Wars Land will take over the light show’s space.

Disney information: www.Disneyworld.com.

UNIVERSAL ORLANDO

▪ Universal Studios: Back this year is Macy’s Holiday Parade, featuring many of the balloons from Macy’s Thanksgiving parade in New York City. Two new balloons exclusive to Universal’s parade also will float down the parade route — Turkey Balloonicle and Holiday Lights Balloon.

Visitors can sing along with Mannheim Steamroller, which will perform Christmas music at the Music Plaza Stage Dec. 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20.

▪ Islands of Adventure: Grinchmas will come to life at Seuss Landing with a live show. Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular will retell the story of the Grinch and will feature the Whos from Who-ville. The Grinch and Friends also will appear at character breakfasts at Seuss Landing.

Universal’s Christmas events will run from Dec. 3 to Jan. 2. Grinchmas activities will take place throughout the day. Macy’s parade normally runs in the late afternoon. Holiday events are included in the parks’ regular admission, but there is an extra charge for the character breakfast: $29.99 adults, $16.99 ages 9 and under; reservations required, 407-224-FOOD.

Information: www.UniversalOrlando.com/holidays.

BUSCH GARDENS

New this season at Christmas Town, Busch Gardens’ salute to the holidays, is the Holiday Hills Band, which will perform Christmas music in traditional brass band-style music in the vintage town of Holiday Hills in Gwazi Plaza. Also new is the Christmas Time Tree Show, with a 150-foot Christmas tree that will light up with dancing lights every 10 minutes.

Returning to Christmas Town are the We Three Kings show, which tells the story of journey of the Magi to Bethlehem; Christmas on Ice; Christmas Celebration show; the Carol of the Bells light show; and Santa’s House.

Visits to Christmas Town are included in the park admission price. Dates are Nov. 27-28, Dec. 4-5,11-12 and 18-31. The event has new extended hours this year, staying open until 10 p.m. most nights.

Information: www.ChristmasTown.com.

SEAWORLD

The Polar Express will run again at Sea World this year. The Wild Arctic, a simulator ride, is temporarily reprogrammed with a Christmas theme (based on the book and movie of the same name) and takes guests to the North Pole, where they can meet Santa.

3 millionhousehold Christmas lights would be needed to create SeaWorld’s Sea of Trees

Also on tap this season: Shamu’s Christmas Miracles, a holiday water show featuring Shamu, the killer whale; O Wondrous Night, a story told through the eyes of animals, with carols, life-size puppets and a live nativity scene; Elmo’s Christmas Wish, a musical show event with Sesame Street characters; Winter Wonderland on Ice, with skaters and water fountains; a sea of more than 100 Christmas trees with lights that dance to holiday music; and The Christmas Village, an entertainment and culinary area with shopping, holiday treats, musicians and a model train village.

All Christmas activities are included in park admission.

Information: www.SeaWorldOrlando.com.

LEGOLAND

The Winter Haven theme park’s Christmas Bricktacular returns this year with an expanded fireworks show, a Lego Santa Scavenger Hunt and many holiday-themed activities featuring Lego and Duplo bricks. Among the creations are a 30-foot Christmas tree and a life-size Santa with reindeer and sleigh.

270,000 Lego bricks in Legoland’s 30-foot tall Christmas tree

Legoland, which is aimed at younger guests, also has meet-and-greets with Santa, a Lego Christmas mosaic that guests can assemble, and a station where young guests can write a Lego letter to Santa and send it to the North Pole. Each evening concludes with fireworks.

Bricktacular dates are Dec. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20 and 26-30.

Information: http://florida.legoland.com.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER

The KSC Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral will stage a Holiday Rocket Garden Light Show featuring a daily choreographed light and music program Dec. 2 to Jan. 4.

On Dec. 22, a second element will be added: a 3D show blending imagery of the future in space with images from past journeys, projected on the side of the 223-foot Saturn 1B rocket. That show will run through Dec. 20.

Finally, Dec. 26-31, the Visitor Complex will feature the Holiday Laser Light Spectacular, a music and laser light show.

Light shows begin at dusk. The complex is open later as Christmas approaches — 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Dec. 22-25, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Dec. 26-31. All holiday activities are included in admission.

Information: www.KennedySpaceCenter.com.

ICE! AT GAYLORD PALMS RESORT

Not a theme park, but unusual enough to deserve mention in the context of Christmas, this unusual hotel display in Kissimmee consists of more than two million pounds of ice sculptures, this year themed to Twas the Night Before Christmas. Also part of the holiday celebration are a Cirque Dreams show, snow tubing, a scavenger hunt, and a gingerbread decorating corner.

Parkas are provided to visitors. Regular admission is $29.99 adults, $28.99 seniors and $16.99 chidren 4-12; check online for discounted rates. Runs through Jan.4.

Information: 407-586-4423, www.christmasatgaylordpalms.com.

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