By Susan and Simon Veness
The Season of Giving is in full swing in Orlando. Decorations are up, very merry parties are being held, and if you know where to go you can even find snow. But there is one place that has upped their Yuletide game in the last couple of years, and now represents incredible value for your Christmastime money: SeaWorld.
The well-known phrase, “Nothing is free” comes close to being untrue from late November through the end of December as SeaWorld presents its spectacular Christmas Celebration. Never mind the paid-for parties; once you have your park admission, evenings at SeaWorld sparkle with all the festive luster of the Season of Joy, with seven holiday-themed shows, a Christmas Market, the Wild Arctic attraction converted to Polar Express from the popular children’s story, carolers, cocoa, and even a Fireside Feast with Santa himself.
During the day, SeaWorld operates as per normal. In the evening it takes on its holiday overlay. The walkway leading to Bayside Stadium, just to the right after you enter the park, leads guests into the Christmas Market, with games, photo opportunities, live music, and kiosks selling seasonal foods, drinks, and merchandise. Candles illuminate the landscaping, and an elaborate model train display sets a festive mood. Out in the lagoon, a sea of trees await sundown and their chance to shine, while twinkling lights adorning the trees beyond Bayside Stadium urge guests to continue strolling.
Adults in need of a winter warmer will find craft beers, plus coffee and hot cocoa with just the right additives in the Christmas Market. Guests can choose from all manner of Godiva chocolate freshly-dipped treats (strawberries, macaroons, Oreos and more), and there are even S’mores to enjoy as you sit around a crackling fire. Admittedly, the S’mores aren’t the sort you would toast over a campfire, and the argument could be made that they should come with a warning. Big enough to share, they are extremely high in sugar content; just a few bites should satisfy any sweet tooth. And if you prefer savory over saccharine, sausages, chips, burgers and more can be found.
Enchanting surprises around every corner make SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration something special. Most of the park is dressed up in its finery, sometimes elaborately so, as in Shamu’s Happy Harbor. Christmasy animal-themed scenes enhance the landscaping and lights cascade like Spanish Moss from the trees, creating a dazzling effect that begs visitors to slow down and admire. Along the way guests encounter numerous photo opportunities, some of them perfect for your own camera, some taken by park photographers. The most popular photo op is the giant snow-globe, where guests enter an inflatable globe with drifts of ‘snow’ to play with and throw in the air for the ultimate living snow-globe effect.
And then there are the shows. Those wacky sea lions may be taking Pirate Island during the day, but at night Clyde and Seamore Countdown to Christmas. The lovable duo are hoping for a visit from Santa so they’re making preparations for the Big Day, and because they’re a little bit out of their normal show routine the results can be hilarious.
Elmo and his Sesame Street friends also have their own holiday show in the SeaPort Theater, with everyone working together to make Elmo’s Christmas Wish come true…once he figures out what his Christmas wish is. There is plenty of singing and dancing, of course, and youngsters are particularly enchanted and can’t help dancing in their seats, too.
At Bayside Stadium, the lovely Winter Wonderland On Ice takes place, with beloved Christmas songs, beautiful costumes, and energetic ice skating. A few winter-themed songs are thrown in for good measure, and while adults may find more to like than younger children will, the novelty of ice in Florida, the pretty setting, and the ability to sit down for a while add to the appeal.
But the real stand-out production is O Wondrous Night, a re-telling of the ‘greatest story ever told’ from the point of view of the animals who were witness to Jesus’ birth. Each of them feels they were the major contributor in this charming puppets-and-live-actors stage show. The music is incredibly uplifting, the scenery and singing are spectacular, and when the living version of the puppet animals appear a reverent hush descends over the crowd. Regardless of your religious leanings, we challenge you not to have a tear in your eye when it’s all over; it’s just that good. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate the Christmas season.
It wouldn’t be SeaWorld without Shamu, and the evening Believe show is replaced by its Christmas counterpart, Shamu Christmas Miracles, with its theme of peace, thankfulness, and the possibility of miracles. Live music, adults and children sharing their idea of a miracle, and lots and lots of breeching whales make this uniquely SeaWorld show a big hit.
Remember that snow we mentioned earlier? You’ll find it here, too. Each evening the Waterfront area of the park creates an ideal setting for Waterfront Snow Flurries, three times nightly. Want to surprise your youngsters with a Florida blizzard? Check your map for times, then look for the snowdrifts on the top of select buildings in the Waterfront. These strategic locations are where the flurries drift down, to the sounds of classic Christmas songs. Children in particular love this effect, and the photo opportunities are priceless.
But it’s not over yet. Twice nightly, the central lagoon comes to life with the Sea of Trees, a technological feast of dancing lights on their pine-tree settings. Rousing holiday tunes add to the high spirited show, and the ideal location to view it is from the boardwalk that traverses the lagoon. Then, the grand finale, Holiday Reflections fireworks and dancing fountains, ends a SeaWorld day in high style.
Guests can easily spend several hours taking in the holiday overlay, all of which (aside from food, drink, games, and merchandise) is free with admission. If you want to go that extra mile, Santa’s Fireside Feast all-you-can-eat buffet of roast turkey, baked ham, plus all the side and desserts, adds a final festive touch, with the chance to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus and make your own Christmas morning wishes known. With or without the feast, once you’ve seen it, SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration is likely to become a firm family tradition.