While you’ll find plenty of Christmas-themed concerts and special events at all the area’s major theme parks (Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World), you’ll find even more holiday adventures outside the more tourist-driven attractions. Check out these popular holiday events that draw in the locals year after year.
Visit the Indoor Winter Wonderland at Gaylord Palms
If you’re looking for ice-cold fun and beauty, don’t miss ICE! (Nov. 24, 2015 – Jan. 3, 2016) – a frozen Christmas paradise inside one of Central Florida’s most elegant resorts. The Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center flies in a talented ice-carving team all the way from Northeast China to transform two million pounds of ice into hand-carved works of frozen art. In addition to beautiful ice sculptures (including a breath-taking Nativity scene), this annual holiday tradition features enormous, eight-lane, snow-tubing ice slides; six decked-out rooms themed to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas; The Frostbite Factory (where you can watch ice artisans at work); and (for an additional fee) an adults-only bar called On the Blocks with specialty cocktails designed to warm you up from the inside.
Tips: Bring a warm coat to wear as you tour through ICE!, which maintains a frigid temperature of 9 degrees. Also, Florida residents get a discount on ICE! tickets by booking online and using the promo code FLR15. Even better, first responders (police, fire, military) and their families receive discounted ICE! admission as well.
Where: 6000 West Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee, FL 34746
Celebrate an Old-Fashioned Christmas in Celebration
Snow falling in Florida? Yes, every night on the hour from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. when you visit Celebration Towne Center (Nov. 28 – Dec. 31, 2015). Jump back in time with a quaint horse and carriage ride through the town, catching glimpses along the way of the beautiful Christmas tree, ice skating rink, Celebration Express train, community performers and Santa’s photo-op workshop. Take a walking tour of the festively decorated residences of Celebration as Charles Dickens carolers stroll the streets, filling the air with the sounds of the season.
Tip: Check the website for various holiday concerts sprinkled throughout the month.
Where: 701 Front St., Celebration, FL
Get Your Culture On at Dr. Phillips Center
Christmas comes to the big stage in Orlando with must-see theater and a classic holiday ballet at the Dr. Phillips Center in downtown Orlando. First, watch your favorite TV holiday classic transform to a larger-than-life production in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical (Dec. 8-13, 2015) as the Whos try to teach that mean ol’ Grinch the true meaning of Christmas. Next, get wowed by the beauty of The Nutcracker (Dec. 17-20, 2015) – the enchanting Christmas Eve tale of Clara’s toy nutcracker – performed by the Orlando Ballet with the outstanding musical backdrop of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.
Where: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 445 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando, FL
Check out the Neighborhoods like a Local
Dubbed “the neighborhood for locals,” the Thornton Park District features a monthly Wine & Art Walk, with this month’s event (6:30 pm – 9:30 pm, Dec. 10) starting at Old Towne Brokers. For $10, you’ll get a glass, event stamp and neighborhood guide of participating locations that will give you a free libation tasting (wine, beer or cocktail) as you tour Thornton Park’s diverse restaurants, bars, shops, and galleries.
Tips: Parking can sometimes be challenging so you might want to pay the $5 fee at Old Towne Brokers or head to nearby parking garages (Post Parkside on S. Osceola Ave. or Thornton Park on N. Eola Dr.). Also, check out the nearby Lake Eola area, with a month-long line-up of holiday concerts, outdoor movies, and special events. For details, visit http://www.downtownorlando.com/visitors/downtown-holidays/#.VmGg6P-FPIV.
Where: Thornton Park District, beginning at Old Towne Brokers, 11 N. Summerlin Ave., Orlando, FL
Locals also flock to the upscale Park Avenue neighborhood in Winter Park, which transforms into a winter wonderland during December. Check out the creative holiday window displays featured in many shops along tony Park Ave., enjoy a great meal at one of the fabulous restaurants or stop in a wine bar for drinks. Sitting at the hub of the area, Central Park features a small ice skating rink and various concerts and special events throughout December.
Tip: If you don’t want to fight the family crowds, avoid visiting on Fridays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., when Central Park features free family holiday movies.
Where: Park Ave., Winter Park, FL