Christmas Events Make Spirits Bright at Florida Theme Parks

Disney World, Universal Orlando, Legoland, Busch Gardens, and SeaWorld Orlando

Holidays at Disney World

Charlie Champagne, photographer

Disney World and Florida’s other theme parks are magical no matter the season. But it could be argued that November and December are, well, the most wonderful time of the year to visit. By adding an overlay of Christmas and holiday cheer, the parks supersize the magic and fun.

Of course, supersized fun can also mean supersized crowds. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is among the busiest—and typically THE busiest—of the whole year at Florida’s theme parks. It’s not unusual for the Magic Kingdom at Disney World to reach capacity and to restrict admission on some days during the holiday week. If you’d rather avoid crowds, you probably should stay away from the parks that week. Then again, crowds and bustle are part of the holidays, right? Besides, the parks extend their hours, increase the capacity of attractions, and offer a bunch of special events.

The parks are also decked out for the holidays earlier in December, and attendance can be relatively low at that time. For more information about crowds, check out the best time of year to visit Universal Orlando. The predictions and recommendations for Universal hold true for the state’s other parks.

Put on your Santa hat and your matching red shorts (temperatures in Florida during November and December tend to be quite mild) while we check out the holidays in the theme park capital of the world.

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Holidays at Walt Disney World Resort

Christmas fireworks at Disney World Magic Kingdom

Ryan Wendler, photographer

The entire resort gets decked out for the holidays. Lights are strung, trees are decorated, miles of garland and other festive finery are displayed. All of the parks present special programming, entertainment, and events. Even Disney Springs and the hotels get in on the action.

At the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella Castle gets an icy makeover. The Jungle Cruise transforms into the Jingle Cruise with a holidays overlay. On select evenings starting November 8, the park presents Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The specially ticketed event includes the fireworks show, Holiday Wishes as well as Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade. Characters convene in the Magic Kingdom’s retro-future land for A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas.

Epcot gets into the spirit as well with its International Festival of the Holidays. Highlights include Candlelight Processional, a nightly recitation of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator along with a choir and orchestra, Chip & Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree, a scavenger hunt, and holiday-themed presentations at many of the World Showcase pavilions. Kiosks offer holiday fare for sale throughout the park.

The Chinese Theater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios lights up each evening for the multimedia show, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam. The Sunset Boulevard section of the park gets a special dose of holiday whimsy with projections, special effects, and a sprinkling of Disney-engineered snow. Disney’s Animal Kingdom will celebrate Diwali, India’s holiday festival of lights.

The massive shopping, dining, and entertainment complex, Disney Springs, offers a Christmas Tree Trail and visits from Santa Claus. Many of the hotels will have special holiday presentations such as a walk-through gingerbread house at Disney’s Grand Floridian and a full-size carousel made of chocolate at Disney’s Beach Club. 

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Holidays at Universal Orlando

The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando

Both of the Wizarding Worlds get holiday makeovers with special shows and decorations. The highlight is the projection presentation of The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle. Universal Studios Florida offers Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s, complete with floats and balloons from the famous New York parade. Mannheim Steamroller will perform holiday classics on select weekends. At Islands of Adventure, visitors will be able to celebrate Grinchmas at Seuss Landing which features a musical retelling of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

  • 2018 dates: November 17 to January 6, 2019
  • Included with admission
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SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration

Christmas at SeaWorld Orlando
SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld adds some holiday cheer to its marine park in the form of special shows, festive decorations, and live holiday music from classical musicians and carolers. "O Wondrous Night" tells the Christmas story. Younger kids will enjoy the show, "Elmo's Christmas Wish." The skating show, "Winter Wonderland on Ice," promises holiday cheer. (It must be expensive to keep the ice frozen in sunny Florida!) Visitors can meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. and Santa Claus

Other features include Sea of Trees, a display of decked-out Christmas trees with lights that are synchronized to carols. The park also presents "Shamu Christmas Miracles," a nightly holiday-themed show featuring the killer whale.

  • 2018 dates: November 17 to December 31
  • Included with admission
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Happy Holidays at Legoland

Christmas Bricktacular at Legoland Florida
Legoland Florida

The park offers a low-key holiday event with a huge Christmas tree made out of Lego blocks, the show, A Lego City Christmas, appearances by a Mr. S. Claus, and a Kids' "New Year's Eve" (that will actually take place at a kid-friendly 7 p.m.) featuring fireworks and music.

  • 2018 dates (Christmas event): Select days, December 1 to 31. New Year's Party event is December 26 to 31.
  • Included with admission
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Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Tampa

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Tampa
Busch Gardens Tampa

As at sister park, SeaWorld Orlando, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will fly into Busch Gardens (led by his nose-so-bright). Visitors can meet him and his friends at Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland. They can also meet Rudolph's boss, Santa, and check out loads of twinkling lights and other festive decorations.

  • 2016 dates: Select days, November 17 to December 31.
  • Included with admission
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