It may not feel like Christmas, but with twinkling lights and holiday decorations on display all throughout the city, it’s certainly beginning to look a lot like Christmas. While we totally support spending the holiday season planted firmly under the mistletoe, it’s worth stepping outside to explore the best of Orlando’s holiday festivities. Take your special someone by the hand and head out to tackle this list of quintessential activities for celebrating the holidays in Orlando.
*Updated for 2019*
1. Race down the ice slides at ICE! at Gaylord Palms
ICE! is back at Gaylord Palms featuring a new theme for the season: The Polar Express! This festive display features over two million pounds of ice sculptures depicting scenes from the film, a story of young child who embarks on a magical adventure to the North Pole while learning about friendship, bravery and the true spirit of Christmas. As you wander through the display (kept at a chilly 9 degrees), stop for a slide down one of multiple ice slides. Tickets are $28.99 per person online in advance. You can also race down the snow tubing lanes for an additional $18.99 per person (unlimited).
2. Marvel at the Lake Eola Wonderland Christmas Tree Show
It just wouldn’t be the holidays without a walk around Lake Eola Park culminating in a visit to the towering 72-foot Christmas tree. 88,000 animated lights bring the tree to life during a synchronized light and music show. Show times are nightly at 5:45pm, 6:45pm, 7:45pm, 8:45pm, and 9:45pm from December 6, 2019 – January 5, 2020.
3. Drink a boozy snow cone at Frosty’s Christmastime Lounge
It’s Christmas every day of the year at this iconic downtown Orlando bar. Decked out with Christmas memorabilia and snow machines, Frosty’s Christmastime Lounge is the ideal place to get in the holiday spirit while sipping on spirits. The menu features assorted Christmas ales but the boozy craft cocktail snow cones are the main draw. Sip on a delicious concoction like the Coconuts Roasting Over an Open Fire snow cone (coconut water rum, Giffard Banane du Bresil, lime, simple syrup, and shredded coconut) while singing along to classic Christmas tunes. Continue on for a Christmas cocktail crawl following this itinerary.
4. Make snow angels
Who says you have to travel north to see snow? You won’t want to miss Wekiva Island’s Winter Wonderland. Chill out on the snow slide or get in touch with your inner child while playing in the snow flurries. The snow slide is open daily through December 31, 2019. Faux snow flurries fall nightly November 29th – December 31st from 3-9pm.
Alternatively, head to Celebration where you can twirl under the snowfall during the 21st Annual Now Snowing-Celebration on Market Street, occurring nightly November 30th through December 31st. Other holiday activities include taking a date night selfie in front of the huge Christmas tree, and horse-drawn carriage rides.
5. Skate around an ice rink hand in hand
At Light Up UCF at CFE Arena, ice skate to your heart’s content, marvel at the dazzling holiday lights, and laugh your way through each of the attractions. Ice skating is $12 per person, including skate rental. The event takes place November 22, 2019 – January 5, 2020. For the second year, Lake Nona’s Holiday Festival features an open-air outdoor ice skating rink.
Show off your ice skating moves while celebrating the season at one of three nearby ice rinks. Open year-round, RDV Ice Den hosts weekly public skate sessions starting at $7.52 per person (plus tax) with a $3.75 skate rental fee (plus tax).
6. Watch a classic Christmas movie under the stars
One of many perks of living in Central Florida is the beautiful winter weather. Pack a blanket and some snacks and head to the nearest outdoor space to snuggle up and watch an iconic Christmas movie. Bonus: most of them are free!
- Saturday, November 30 – The Polar Express; 7pm, FREE
- Saturday, December 7 – The Grinch; 7pm, FREE
- Saturday, December 14 – Elf; 7pm, FREE
- Friday, December 13 – Elf, 7pm, FREE
- Friday, December 20 – How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), 7pm, FREE
- Friday, December 27 – National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, 7pm, FREE
- December 1 – Christmas Vacation; 7pm, FREE
- December 8 – The Grinch (2018); 7pm, FREE
- December 15 – Elf; 7pm, FREE
- December 22 – A Christmas Story; 7pm, FREE
- December 29 – The Polar Express; 7pm, FREE
7. Tour the holiday decorations on display at Disney resorts
With the Disney monorail as your transportation, embark on a Disney resort hop to take in the over the top holiday decorations. From the larger than life gingerbread house and towering Christmas tree at Disney’s Grand Floridian to festive décor at Disney’s Polynesian Village, there’s no shortage of spectacular decorations to tour. Pair your tour with dinner and drinks at any of the on-site restaurants and bars.
Note: parking at the resorts is reserved for guests or those with dining reservations, so plan accordingly.
8. Make a gingerbread house
Learn from the best as you craft a gingerbread house alongside the pastry team at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes. Gingerbread School invites you to piece together gingerbread panels and adorn them with candy and edible decorations to make a one of a kind gingerbread house. The cost is $195 per family (4 guests max), so make it a double date!
9. Cut down your own Christmas tree
Transform your holiday decorating into date night by making the drive to Eustis to cut down your Christmas tree at Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest. After a hayride tour of the 17-acre Christmas tree farm, disembark to locate your perfect tree. Once you’ve found a keeper, cut down your tree with the provided saw and haul it home. Choose and Cut pricing begins at $45 for trees under 8 feet. Tree varieties include Sand Pine, Red Cedar, and Arizona Cypress. The Christmas Tree Farm is open through December 22, 2019; check the website for more details and hours.
10. Enjoy holiday music and free admission at The Morse Museum
Every Friday night from 4-8pm (November through April), admission is FREE at The Morse Museum in Winter Park. But during December, the event gets a holiday spin with the addition of live holiday music. Upcoming performances include Victoria Lynn Schultz on December 6 and a jazz quartet December 27.
11. Sip a Christmassy cocktail at Miracle on Orange
As part of the worldwide “Miracle” by Cocktail Kingdom holiday pop-up bar event, The Courtesy has been transformed into Miracle on Orange. From now until December 24, check out the new holiday digs and specialty holiday cocktail menu. Festive cocktails include creations like a Snowball Old Fashioned and Naughty and Nice shots.
12. Walk through The Lights on Jeater Bend
Featuring multiple homes synchronized to holiday music for a dazzling light show, The Lights on Jeater Bend is a neighborhood holiday lights display in Celebration that you won't want to miss. There's hot cocoa, holiday music, and even fake snowfall. Disney fans will love the portion of the light show timed to “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast. You can catch the light show nightly from 6-10pm.
13. Take a holiday home tour
Stroll through gorgeous homes decked out with seasonal décor and gather inspiration for your own home in the process. One of our favorites is the Pinewood Estate at Bok Tower Gardens. Tour the home, which is decked out in seasonal decor, now through January 6, 2019. Combo tickets are $25 for the home tour and gardens admission.
14. Visit all of the Deck the Downtown holiday window displays
As part of a collaboration with the Downtown Arts District, Downtown Orlando Partnership, Church Street and Thornton Park Districts, and the Downtown Development Board, 40+ participating businesses are decked out for the holidays with window displays and festive lights. All of the Deck the Downtown displays are free and open to the public from December 1-31, 2018. Location maps are available at each of the participating businesses.
15. Attend the Epcot Candlelight Processional
After attending the Candlelight Processional for the first time in 2016, we can gladly say this must-have holiday experience lives up to the hype. In a nutshell, the performance includes a celebrity narrator telling the story of Christmas, with music from a 50-piece orchestra and full choir. Get the details and our tips here.
16. Join the Christmas Light Bike Ride
Now in its 8th year, Retro City Cycle's annual Christmas Light Ride is a festive 6-mile community bike ride weaving through Ivanhoe Village and College Park past neighborhood lights displays. For extra bucket list bonus points, decorate your bike. The ride takes place Saturday, December 14 at 7pm.
17. See a Holiday Show
Get into the holiday spirt by planning a theatre date. See A Christmas Carol at Orlando Shakes through December 30, Elf the Musical at Orlando Repertory Theatre through December 30, Irving Berlin's White Christmas at Dr. Phillips Center December 18-23, or A Christmas Story at Garden Theatre through December 23, 2018. And, of course, you can't miss the free Russian Ballet Orlando performance of The Nutcracker on December 22 at the Walt Disney Amphitheater at Lake Eola Park.
18. Go Holiday Hotel Hopping
You don't have to be a hotel guest to visit and take in the stunning holiday displays at multiple Orlando hotels and resorts. The Rosen Hotels are decked out with lights, holiday festivities and more. Other recommendations include the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin (see the 24-foot Christmas tree and indoor snowfall) and Gaylord Palms (go snow tubing, see ICE! Featuring The Polar Express, watch the Cirque Dreams Unwrapped stage show, and more).
19. Make the trip to Nights of Lights in St. Augustine
For a breathtaking display of holiday lights and rich history, look no further than St. Augustine. Each year, this historic city comes alive with millions of holiday lights during Nights of Lights. 2019 dates are Nov. 23, 2019 to Feb 2, 2020. Don’t skip a visit to Flagler College and the Lightner Museum, both of which have some of the most notable light displays in the city. Enhance the experience by adding on one of these Nights of Lights tours.
20. Ooh and Aah at holiday lights
One of our favorite holiday activities, the holiday season just doesn’t feel complete without taking a walk or car ride to marvel at holiday lights. Some of our favorite locations to take in the seasonal sights include: Mount Dora, Celebration, Winter Park, Winter Garden, Lake Eola, and Cranes Roost Park. Check out our guide to where to find Orlando's best holiday lights for more ideas.
Feature image credit: City of Orlando