But the fact is, this amazing Christmas line-up is all packed into just four acres that all happen to be under the massive air-conditioned atrium that is the Gaylord Palms Resort, and their annual festive celebration is better than ever this year.
The Gaylord Palms is a wonder in its own right but, at this time of year, it takes on a special air of the season with a magnificent array of decorations underneath its vast roofed arena. Then you add in the Yuletide events, and this is quite simply one of THE must-see places in the whole Central Florida pantheon of fun for the Ho-Ho-Holidays.
Here’s our Fab Five things you can’t miss at the Resort this festive season, counting down to No.1.
5. The Alpine Village
While other attractions may get more publicity, the extensive ‘Village’ that is spread out throughout the resort’s convention centre is really the heart of everything Christmassy, housing as it does a whole range of exciting options, all with the Alpine theme that transports you from the Sunshine State to a truly wintery vista.
Here you’ll find the large Gift Shop with an excellent array of themed apparel, decorations, trinkets and more, including the Build-A-Bear Workshop, the Gingerbread Decorating Center (from $22.99/person) and the Alpine Café, where hot cocoa is the drink du jour (especially if you’ve just been in the ICE! exhibit!).
Other options include Mrs Claus’ Christmas Traditions – a 30-minute show, story-telling, carols, milk and cookies with Santa’s other half ($14.99/person) – and the two big activities of Snow-Tubing (an 8-lane indoor hill with real snow; $19.99) and the new Snow Throw (a bucket of snowballs and a series of targets to aim at; $9.99). Finally, Santa’s Workshop is a chance to meet the Main Man himself and tell him what you want this Christmas (with photo packages from $34.99).
4. The Elf on the Shelf Scavenger Hunt
Fans of the well-known children’s picture-book (and those who enjoy interactive hunts and puzzles) will want to try this activity, spread out throughout the main atrium, looking for the various ‘scout elves’ who have found their way into different places. The scavenger hunt includes a clue booklet and a special prize at the end ($9.99/person).
3. A Christmas Wish Light Show
This free show is held four times every evening in front of the main stage, with the whole atrium coming to life in a grand presentation of lights and music. It lasts just six minutes but the array of lighting and sound effects is impressive as the centrepiece 60ft Christmas tree becomes the focal point for some visual razzle-dazzle.
2. Cirque Dreams Unwrapped
After being the surprise hit of 2015, the inventive Cirque Dreams company from Pompano Beach are back with a whole new stage show of acrobatics, aerial tricks, juggling and comedy, performed twice a day at 1 and 6pm (three times at weekends with a matinee show). Specially created for the Gaylord Palms with a Christmas theme, it features the kind of modern circus acts we have come to expect from the Cirque brand.
The new Cirque Dreams Unwrapped is a 25-minute presentation on the main stage that mixes the fun style of a juggling footballer with a series of trapeze artists and daring aerial performers, all overseen by a comedic MC who alternately plays the violin and harasses the audience with cow-bells (yes, really, and it is quite hilarious!).
It all adds up to a spell-binding performance that is free to attend (although you can buy an upgrade for VIP seating for a slightly better view) and an absolute joy to watch. The music alone is quite compelling and as an entertainment spectacle it takes some beating. The Resort seems to have a special relationship with the company, and this should definitely be on your Orlando Christmas wish-list this year.
1. ICE! Featuring a Charlie Brown Christmas
Okay, so it’s no secret any more, but this glorious multi-scene display – it’s hard to call it just an ‘exhibit’ – is without doubt one of the highlights of the year. And, for fans of the Charlie Brown Christmas TV show, it is even better as the whole theme of the 2016 presentation is taken from the Schulz cartoon character and his friends, including Snoopy, Linus and Lucy.
Just to recap, ICE is a superlative creation using vast amounts of block ice that is shaped and arranged by master artisans from Harbin in China, where their annual winter carnival features acres of their extraordinary craftsmanship. Here in less-than-snowy Florida, the Resort’s convention centre has to be artificially reduced to a distinctly chilly -13C, and that makes for a pretty startling transition when it can be 24C outside!
Therefore, our top tip for ICE! is to bring thermal socks, gloves, scarves and hats to ensure you can enjoy the exhibit for as long as possible. They do provide long, heavyweight parkas for everyone to wear, but they don’t have pockets, and you will definitely feel the chill long before the end if you don’t at least have gloves. And, once you step through the doors of this artificial freezer, you will definitely want to linger through the many scenes.
The whole story of Charlie Brown’s Christmas is told in ice form, with a series of larger-than-life displays featuring all of the Peanuts gang, with the obligatory ice-slides half way around and the deep-freeze of the On The Blocks ICE Bar as another attraction (21 and over only, for an additional $15.95, which includes three select drinks). It is a totally enchanting set-up, and it is all accompanied by the unforgettable soundtrack that has made the Charlie Brown Christmas so popular since its debut in 1965.
It culminates in the traditional nativity scene crafted from pure, crystal clear ice and completes another winter wonderland journey that simply has to be seen (and felt!) to be believed. ICE! costs $28.99 for adults, $26.99 for seniors (55-plus) and $14.99 for children 4-12. There are also various packages with the other activities. See the full details on this link.
Oh, and just in case you want more Peanuts, the hotel’s Villa de Flora restaurant offers Breakfast with Charlie Brown & Friends every day from 8-10.30am, with table-side visits from Lucy and Charlie Brown and the chance to have your photo taken with Snoopy (and you don’t need to be a hotel guest to give it a try).
It really is a comprehensive Christmas programme that may just be the best in Orlando this year. And that’s high praise indeed.
If you have questions about Christmas in Orlando – or anything else on the wonders of Florida – be sure to go online and ask Susan and Simon on the ATD forums, on this link.
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