By ATD’s Florida experts Susan & Simon Veness
A magical transformation occurs at SeaWorld on select nights in November and December, when thousands of twinkling lights, seven holiday themed shows, a Christmas Market, and the chance to dine with Santa Claus kick off the Season of Joy in splendid style.
SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration has become one of Orlando’s premier seasonal events, and with good reason. During the day SeaWorld retains its year-round persona, but once the sun sets the park positively glows with Christmas spirit. Trees covered in lights, garland adorning every lamppost, and pathways lined with seasonal delights greet visitors with an atmosphere that is sure to become an annual must-do experience.
Start the evening off right at Santa’s Fireside Feast, a specially-ticketed all-you-care-to-eat buffet of salad, roast turkey, baked ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans almandine, macaroni and cheese, and seasonal desserts. Mrs. Claus and the elves join Santa at this special supper, complete with ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas told by Santa himself, and ending with Mrs. Claus’s special Christmas cookies. Of course, the meal wouldn’t be complete without the chance for children to meet Santa and tell him their Christmas wishes.
Santa’s feast isn’t the only special dining on offer, though. The Christmas Market, located near the front of the park, offers a garland-strewn setting lined with food, beverage, and merchandise kiosks offering craft beers, hot cocoa, sweet treats, and light fare. Do a bit of Christmas shopping with the unique gifts and speciality crafts on offer, or simply sit comfortably around the fire while carolers provide festive entertainment.
Walk off some of the holiday’s excesses with a stroll around the park, where trees dripping with cascading lights create a fairytale atmosphere and illuminated animal-themed scenes are dotted throughout the landscaping. Songs of the season fill the air as costumed carolers sing about silent nights, reindeers on rooftops, and the most wonderful time of the year. And what child can resist a photo opportunity with Shamu dressed in a Santa cap and scarf?
Opportunities to fill the family photo album abound, starting with a massive Christmas tree covered in lights and ornaments reflective of the colours of the sea. Further along, experience a Florida ‘blizzard’ inside SeaWorld’s larger-than-life snow-globe, pose with Frosty, or simply pick up a free Santa beard on a stick and take a selfie along the pathway lined with trees made of glistening lights.
As beautiful as the park is in its holiday finery, the real highlights of the celebration are the shows. Elmo’s Christmas Wish is geared toward the youngest visitors, but good fun for all the family, as Elmo’s friends help him discover his Christmas wish. Preschoolers can’t resist dancing along with Zoe, Rosita, Grover, and Cookie Monster in this delightful musical presentation, and it’s as much fun to watch their joyful exuberance as it is to see the show.
The novelty of a skating rink in Orlando is part of the charm of the energetic Winter Wonderland On Ice show, brimming with favourite Christmas songs given a modern twist. The Sea of Trees and fountains in the central lagoon act as an impressive backdrop, while superb costuming adds to the pageantry.
But the stand-out show is O Wondrous Night, a lovely re-telling of the story of Jesus’s birth as witnessed by the animals in the stable. Each animal tells of the importance of their role in the Greatest Story Ever Told, and while their individual stories lead to that other timeless Christmas tradition of a good old fashioned family argument, in the end they realise each of their contributions were important. While the premise is a bit twee, the presentation is superb and the finale is spectacular—and surprisingly emotional! Don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two.
End the day at the Shamu Christmas Miracles show, which replaces the traditional Christmas colours of red and green for a sea of black and white as Shamu and friends delight guests with their magnificent behaviours in a story of peace and friendship, reminding us to discover the ‘everyday miracles’ that surround us.
For the thrill-seekers in your group, SeaWorld’s simulator attraction Wild Arctic takes on a holiday overlay, becoming The Polar Express Experience, based on the famous children’s story. And while the story at Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin doesn’t change, it’s a must-do attraction if for no other reason than to get the full Christmastime chill that Florida’s climate simply can’t provide.
And just when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t. End your day in the Waterfront area, where Florida-style ‘snow’ makes a perfect finale to a festive evening. Don’t worry about bringing your mittens; this snow isn’t cold!
Want to go that extra mile? Sign up for SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration’s new 3-hour ticketed Christmas Family Fun Tour, with the chance to meet a penguin, VIP access to the Polar Express Experience and Elmo’s Christmas Wish show, priority access at Santa’s meet-and-greet, and the full Santa’s Fireside Feast dinner.
SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration runs from Friday through Sunday until 19 December, when it begins showing every night through 31 December. The event is free with park admission, and special packages are available for priority seating at the shows.
Can’t get enough of holiday lights and entertainment? Plan an evening at the town of Celebration, just off of Highway 192, where Snowing Nightly draws in locals and tourists alike with a Christmas themed train ride, horse-drawn wagon and carriage rides, paid-for skating on a special ‘Florida ice rink’, free live music, and spectacular houses throughout the community, dressed in their holiday finest. Many of the town’s residents go all-out with their decorating, with jaw-dropping displays complete with lights, music, seasonally-themed inflatables, and in one case, a projection of the movie A Christmas Story on one wall of the front porch!
Dinner at Columbia Restaurant sets the tone for an evening here, and we can highly recommend the White Sangria, mixed tableside, to add that special ‘holiday glow’ to your evening.