By ATD’s Florida Experts, Simon and Susan Veness
Orlando loves a celebration, and New Year’s Eve is the perfect time to pull out all the stops to bring in 2015 in style. From family-friendly to serious Party Central, here is your guide to ending the old year and beginning the new in the place that does it best.
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is open until 2am on New Year’s Eve, with the Celebrate the Magic castle show at 11:30pm followed by Fantasy in the Sky fireworks at 11:50pm. This spectacular night-time show begins with a ‘countdown in the sky’ before the fireworks seem to explode all around you. It’s a 360 experience above Fantasyland, and one of the most highly-anticipated (and highly attended!) events of the year.
Epcot is open until 1am, with the exclusive IllumiNations/New Year’s Countdown Fireworks at 11:40pm. Bearing in mind New Year’s Eve is the busiest day of the year at Walt Disney World in general and Magic Kingdom in particular, Epcot is a good choice for those who don’t want to deal with the crushing crowds along Main Street. Crowds are still massive, but you may just be able to breath at Epcot.
Many of Walt Disney World’s restaurants will have special dining and exclusive prix fixe meals, but Monsieur Paul at Epcot’s France pavilion is the place to be for a serious splash-out. The 4-course meal with champagne isn’t cheap at $235 per person, plus tax and gratuity ($60 extra with wine pairings), but the experience is nothing short of spectacular.
Under the ‘slightly more reasonable’ category, Epcot hosts Fantasia 2014, a buffet offering in World Showcase Plaza that pays tribute to the film Fantasia. The buffet includes soups, salads, turkey, fish, pasta, desserts and fruit, with bookings from 4:30pm-10:30pm on New Year’s Eve.
Guests age 21 and up can enjoy Atlantic Dance Hall’s celebration at The Boardwalk, with a Video DJ, champagne and party favours for $35, or VIP access (including access to the second floor VIP area, dessert, coffee and a balcony view of IllumiNations at Epcot) for $75.
Across town, Universal Orlando cranks out a seriously high-energy party, with 6 Party Zones, 6 nightclubs at CityWalk, gourmet cuisine, champagne and a night-time pyrotechnics show. Regular admission to this 21 and up event is $130, VIP admission (which adds special seating, private bars and exclusive food stations) is $160. Popular DJ M-Squared hosts the event, and this is the place to be if you’re looking for the party crowd.
A more low-key experience can be found at SeaWorld, where the night-time fireworks show rings in the New Year with an under-the-sea flair. You’ll find more elbow room here, making it a good choice for families with younger children. The park is open until 1am and music and fireworks are included with park admission.
Busch Gardens in Tampa offers another family-orientated option for bringing in 2015, with a fireworks show at midnight and DJs setting a party atmosphere park-wide. The park is open until 1am, and the special events are included with park admission.
Want to go completely kid-friendly? Head to LEGOLAND Florida for Kid’s New Year’s Eve, with a Brick Drop at 7pm (Legoland’s version of the midnight Ball Drop in New York’s Times Square). Don 3-D glasses for the special fireworks display and watch the sky light up with a billion twinkling lights. The park is open until 8pm and all events are included with park admission.
Want something completely different – but still family-friendly – after all the festivities? Orlando’s other big New Year tradition features the huge downtown sports stadium of the Citrus Bowl, which has just been completely remodelled in the course of the last year at a cost of $200million.
This impressive structure plays host to two American football Bowl games in the course of four days either side of New Year’s Eve and will also be Party Central for much of the time.
Each year’s games feature some of the top college teams in the country and attract major crowds, as some universities have as many fans as NFL teams – if not more. You don’t have to be a fan to enjoy the atmosphere, though, which spreads from Orange Avenue in downtown Orlando all the way along Church Street to the stadium itself.
This year’s games feature Clemson, from South Carolina, against Oklahoma, or the Tigers v the Sooners in American football parlance, on December 29 in the Russell Athletic Bowl, while Minnesota takes on Missouri in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.
The new-look Citrus Bowl holds 70,000 for these two big occasions and, while it is not a cheap ticket (prices vary from $35 to a whopping $750), it is a hugely popular and thoroughly family-friendly event in each case, with the American tradition of tail-gating – a pre-game party – very much in evidence.
For those just wanting to sample the atmosphere around the games, there is also the Florida Citrus Parade on December 30, an annual tradition that is broadcast live on TV and features dozens of signature floats made of citrus fruit, high school marching bands and other live performances, with some 3,000 people taking part – as well as a few characters from the theme parks.
The 1.4-mile Parade route starts on Orange Avenue and Robinson Street in the heart of the downtown area, goes south on Orange, east on Anderson Street and then north on Rosalind Avenue, and can take as long as two hours to complete, beginning at 10am.
There is grandstand seating available (tickets required) on Rosalind Avenue at Lake Eola Park, while kerb seating is available to all-comers for most of the rest of the route (and people start arriving as early as 6am!).
On the day of both games, the pre-game atmosphere will be much in evidence in the Wall Street Plaza area, as well as along Church Street between Orange Avenue and the I-4 flyover (or the old Church Street Station location, for those who remember Orlando’s former nightclub complex).
All four teams will bring thousands of fans from all over the country, and many will choose to watch the games in the host of bars and restaurants downtown, so expect things to get a bit raucous by the end!
All in all, it makes for a varied and exciting programme of events throughout Orlando and the parks over the whole New Year period and provides fabulous additional value for anyone in town for those few days. We especially enjoy the Magic Kingdom fireworks and Citrus Parade, so be sure to look out for us there!