The lights are on in Orlando this Christmas season, and there’s a LOT to see and enjoy about this year’s high-profile festive decorations.
And the best thing of all – you don’t need to go to a single theme park to appreciate them.
Yes, that’s right. For all the creativity and sparkle of Disney, Universal and SeaWorld, some of the best light-up extravaganzas for all the family to enjoy are either in downtown Orlando or the city suburbs that surround it.
And we thought, as we head into December, it would be a good idea to highlight all the alternatives to the obvious seasonal glitter if you’re heading this way in the next few weeks.
So, with no further ado, here are our Top 10 of fabulous lighted Christmas events and venues that either won’t cost you a penny or are worth the extra investment!
10. Dazzling Nights at Leu Gardens: At just $22/adult and $20 for children, this might just be the best value of all the extra set-piece happenings. With the whole of the majestic Gardens to play with, the Dazzling Nights creators have conjured up an epic scene of lanterns, lights and interactive features that are guaranteed fun and wonder for all the family. This year, they have added a stunning light show featuring 100 10ft tall beacons, a show-stopping 30ft tall tree covered in gold sequins and a winter Florida display created by the resident horticulturalists, and that’s on top of the traditional snow, light tunnels and laser displays. A true Christmas original.
9. A Merry Winter Garden Light Show: As well as Winter Garden being a truly super place to visit at any time of the year, it really turns up the festive spirit from December 1st with its signature Christmas Tree lighting, special Parade (December 2nd) and daily light show on the façade of City Hall on Plant Street. This spectacular animated display happens multiple times from 6-9pm daily and is well worth staying after dark for.
8. “Oh What Fun” Holiday Festival, Lake Nona: Head to Lake Nona Town Center – the rapidly-developing high-tech town just south of Orlando International Airport – and enjoy the Peppermint Forest Tree lot, Santa’s cottage and starlight stage from December 7th-23rd. Don’t miss a chance to capture the perfect family photo in front of a 24ft Christmas tree at Peppermint Square and soak up the brilliant light display after dark.
7. Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll: Don’t overlook the attraction of Walt Disney World’s extensive shopping, dining and entertainment area, which is all beautifully dressed for Yuletide. The highlight, though, is the glittering Christmas Tree trail, an extravagant display of nearly two dozen highly decorated trees throughout Disney Springs, each sporting a different theme, such as Moana, Frozen, Guardians of the Galaxy, Haunted Mansion and plenty more Disney favorites.
6. ICON Park: The fab 20-acre entertainment and dining complex transfoms into a classic holiday wonderland from December 1st-31st, centred on International Drive’s 50ft decorated tree, nightly snowfall (7-8pm) on the Central Lawn, the super-cute Santa Workshop Experience, The Wheel’s holiday light and music show, carolers and, of course, Santa himself.
5. Christmas in Mount Dora: Another of our favourite local towns, Mount Dora comes alive for the Holidays with seasonal family activities like the Lighted Boat Parade, Christmas at the Market and snow in Elizabeth Evans Park, along with eye-catching and extensive decorations throughout the downtown area (see www.mountdorabuzz.com/holidayevents.html for full details).
4. Lake Eola Park: Downtown Orlando’s signature 72ft tree will be lit up in striking fashion at Lake Eola Park’s Washington plaza entrance. Walk the one-mile lake circuit and soak up more lights, tunnels and set-pieces, and look out for holiday-themed performances at the Walt Disney Amphitheater, as well as food trucks and a holiday market at weekends.
3. Light Up The Holidays at Cranes Roost Park: The lovely lake setting at Altamonte Springs features live music, fireworks, train rides and Santa throughout the month. Here’s where you can take a lakeside stroll surrounded by fully 200,000 lights and pay a visit to the town’s brilliant 60ft Christmas tree, decorated with thousands of ornaments.
2. Night of a Million Lights: This has become a must-see Orlando highlight in recent years as the 89-acre charity complex of Give Kids The World Village sets out a festive tableau of immaculate proportions. From 8-11pm each evening, this glittering ticketed event features a sparkling Christmas tree trail, seasonal music, holiday treats, tram rides and a winter marketplace. The event will run until January 1 and ticket prices vary by date (www.gktw.org/lights/tickets.php).
1. ICE! At Gaylord Palms: There’s no real argument among locals about the biggest, brightest and iciest seasonal extravaganza in Central Florida. The superb Gaylord Palms Resort goes full throttle for a multi-feature cavalcade of Yule splendour, topped off by the magnificent ICE! presentation, which this year features A Charlie Brown Christmas. There’s also the Alpine Village, snow-tubing, snowball-throwing, seasonal treats and the Cirque: Spirit of Christmas stage show (ICE! Tickets required at https://christmasatgaylordpalms.marriott.com/ice).
As a bonus Christmas element, we would also recommend a drive around the Disney-inspired town of Celebration (just off Highway 192 in Kissimmee), where the locals REALLY go to town with their decorating and individual houses and even whole roads get into the festive spirit!