Where Locals and Visitors Celebrate Holidays in Orlando
**This post is updated for 2020 as new information is received. Bookmark it for future reference as updates are added. As always please verify information with the business prior to booking in case of any changes we may not be aware of.
Locals and visitors alike can have their sense of wonder and merriment sparked with holiday festivities of every kind around Orlando. It’s not just the theme parks, although they do go all out this time of year to wow kids and kids at heart.
Orlando is ranked as the best winter family vacation spot among destinations across the globe by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top warm-weather destination for winter travel by Wallethub. I’m lucky to live here and share my favorite Holiday and Christmas celebrations in Orlando.
If you like hands-on fun, try decorating your very own gingerbread house or chocolate ‘gingerbread’ house. Take in a holiday movie at a local park or let out your best ‘ooohs’ and ‘aahs’ over dazzling holiday-themed firework displays, incredible parades and even a pyrotechnic-enhanced Nutcracker performance.
Orlando pulls out all the stops for the most magical yuletide possible, including cheerful hotel packages and unforgettable holiday events to warm the soul, through New Year’s Day.
Theme Parks Fun!
Walt Disney World® Resort
All four of Disney’s Orlando theme parks have special holiday events to enjoy.
- Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom®: On select nights from Nov. 8 to Dec. 21, Disney’s Magic Kingdom hosts an all-ages, separate-ticketed event that will put everyone in the holiday spirit. It’s a dance party fueled by sugar – from cookies and hot chocolate, to snow cones and eggnog. Cinderella Castle dazzles in white lights, snow falls magically on Main Street, the Frozen show has everyone oohing and aahing as we can’t Let it Go! Live entertainment, fireworks and a spectacular holiday parade are all in store.
- Epcot® International Festival of the Holidays: From Nov. 18 to Dec. 30, all guests can enjoy this celebration of holidays around the world, included with regular admission. Eat and drink your way around World Showcase at various Holiday Kitchens serving seasonal dishes and lots of sweets. The Candlelight Processional, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks show, and live musical performances are also not to be missed. On select nights during the Festival of the Holidays, you can also opt for the Candlelight Processional Dining Package which includes reserved seating at the Candlelight Processional show and a three course meal. The Frozen Ever After Dessert Party, provides an unparalleled view of the park’s IllumiNations holiday fireworks, plus seasonal desserts. Paid entry is required for both in addition to regular park admission.
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios®: If you think this park is a bit ho-hum after (my favorite) Osborne Family of Lights show retired a few years ago, think again. This park is including a flurry of fun with regular admission from Nov. 8 through Jan. 6, 2019. The stars of ABC’s Prep & Landing lead the merrymaking in Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!, which features fireworks, music and incredible projections. Sunset Boulevard also becomes a winter wonderland courtesy of Sunset Seasons Greetings. And for an additional cost, you can join the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Holiday Dessert Party, with exclusive sweets and an unbeatable view of the fireworks.
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom®: Celebrate Diwali, India’s famous Festival of Lights, courtesy of a special edition of UP! A Great Bird Adventure, running from Nov. 8 to Jan. 1, 2019.
We all know Harry Potter is the main attraction at Universal Orlando Resort, and rightfully so, because Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ is spectacular! From Nov. 17 through Jan. 6, this magical party gives a holiday makeover to Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida™ and Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure™, which together comprise The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Included with regular admission, Wizards and Muggles alike can watch in awe as Hogwarts Castle is illuminated with dazzling projections, savor seasonal treats and drinks (hot Butterbeer is MUST DRINK!), while listening to the famed Frog Choir and the wizarding world’s famous “Singing Sorceress” Celestina Warbeck and other live performances.
But let’s not forget about The Grinch! The furry green guy is not to be missed either at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The “mean one” himself takes over Seuss Landing for The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular, running from Nov. 17 through Jan. 6, complete with a live, musical stage show and the chance to meet The Grinch. It’s complemented by The Grinch & Friends Character Breakfast, which requires reservations and regular park admission.
Join Santa Claus, the Minions and other beloved characters for Universal’s Holiday Parade Featuring Macy’s, which is included with regular admission at Universal Studios Florida from Nov. 17 through Jan. 6. Also included are live performances by Mannheim Steamroller, who will perform their best-selling holiday hits on select days.
SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration, features the joyous Sea of Trees, special shows, seasonal food, drinks and merchandise at the lakeside Christmas market. Included with regular admission to SeaWorld Orlando, from Nov. 17 through Dec. 31. Kids can meet Santa Claus and characters from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. For an additional cost, the whole family can dine with Santa at Shamu Stadium and get reserved seating for the Winter Wonderland on Ice live show.
Christmas Celebrations Throughout Orlando’s Neighborhoods
Orlando is more than theme parks. Just make your way around town into all the unique and distinctive neighborhoods and main districts and you’ll find plenty of holiday cheer.
- Christmas at Bok Tower Gardens: Gorgeous and historical, Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, about an hour south of downtown Orlando, offers an annual Holiday Home Tour at Pinewood Estate from Nov. 23 through Jan. 6, 2019. Other festivities include carillon concerts, garden tours and poinsettia displays.
- Eola Wonderland Christmas Tree Show: Taking place nightly at Lake Eola Park’s Walt Disney Amphitheater in downtown Orlando from Dec. 1 through Jan. 6, 2019, marvel at a 72-foot Christmas tree that comes alive with synchronized light and music while the Lake Eola fountain displays seasonal lights. The event will kick off with an official tree-lighting ceremony on Dec. 1.
- Festival of Trees: This event fills the Orlando Museum of Art (OMART) with sparkling trees and hand-designed holiday décor from Nov. 10-18, and each piece is available for purchase. OMART is in Loch Haven Park, about 10 minutes from downtown Orlando.
- Holiday on the Drive: Featuring a visit from Santa Claus, this family-friendly event will take place from 5-9 p.m. on Dec. 6 in the heart of the charming College Park neighborhood, about 10 minutes from downtown Orlando.
- Light Up the Holidays: Starting at 5 p.m. on Dec. 1, Cranes Roost Park in Altamonte Springs, about 20 minutes north of downtown Orlando, kicks off the holiday season with this free event. Enjoy train rides, holiday performances and an evening fireworks display.
- Now Snowing: Hosted by the town of Celebration, just minutes from Walt Disney World and based on a concept from Walt Disney himself, this event features nightly faux snow, train and carriage rides, seasonal entertainment, and photo opportunities with Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Running from Nov. 24 through Dec. 31, it also offers free admission.
- Central Florida Ballet’s Pyrotechnic Nutcracker: The Central Florida Ballet’s fire-enhanced, Cirque du Soleil-influenced take on The Nutcracker returns to the Orange County Convention Center’s Linda Chapin Theater on Dec. 15-16.
Holiday Fun at Orlando Resorts
Orlando’s resorts go all out during the holidays with festive decorations, events and specialty dining!
- Check out my recommendations of top Hotels for Christmas Dining. You’ll find lavish brunch buffets, fancy multi-course dinners and more to please the whole family.
- ICE! Featuring A Christmas Story: From Nov. 16 through Jan. 6, 2019, the Gaylord Palm Resort & Convention Center’s annual holiday celebration will feature more than 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures based on A Christmas Story, as well as two-story ice slides.
- The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes Gingerbread School invites guests of all ages to join the Pastry Team and build your own gingerbread house. Select dates. Reservations required (407) 393-4648. For more info click here.
If you’re planning for New Year’s Eve, click here for The Most Festive New Year’s Eve Celebrations in Orlando!
I wish you a most wonderful holiday season in Orlando! Go #MakeSomedayHappen and celebrate one delicious bite, sip and trip at a time!