15 Bucket List Activities and Holiday Events to End the Year

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Phew! At times it felt like 2020 would never end, but here we are in the final weeks of the year. Now is the perfect time to take a breath and enjoy the rest and together time that's synonymous with the holiday season. From holiday lights to seasonal happenings with extra safety measures in place, here's our guide to the best activities and holiday events in Orlando to end the year on a festive note.

1. Check out a new holiday lights display

There are so many incredible holiday events in Orlando to choose from this year, including a few newcomers! Give Kids the World Village has been transformed into Night of a Million Lights through January 3, 2021. More than three million lights are setting the 84-acre nonprofit resort aglow for the holidays. Highlights include a 150-foot lighted tunnel, 45 decorated resort villas and much more. Tickets ($35-$40/person) are still available for December 25, 28-31 and January 1-3, 2021. 

Or, make your way to Leu Gardens for Dazzling Lights, brought to life by the same crew behind IMMERSE. This event, which also runs through January 3, 2021, takes you on a 3/4-mile journey through multiple holiday lights experiences. Our favorite? The 65′ lighted tunnel, which makes for an awesome couples selfie. Tickets ($22/person) are VERY limited, but at the time of writing, tickets are still available December 31, 2020 and January 1-3, 2021.

2. Sip on festive libations

Conduct your own holiday cocktail crawl all around Orlando! Our favorite annual Christmas bar is Miracle on Orange. Each year, The Courtesy transforms into a magical Christmas wonderland complete with a full menu of festive cocktails served in fun themed glassware. You can even order cocktails to go! Reservations are required (including for to-go cocktails). 

Try Old Red Orlando's Holiday Margarita or “Gin”gle Juice, or venture to David's Club at Omni Orlando Resort for a Mocha Honey Old Fashioned (create your own at home with these recipes). We're also loving the lineup of seasonal cocktails at Hawkers, like the Christmas in Singapour (served in a holiday ornament atop chilled cranberries and fresh rosemary) and Santa's Nightcap (made with spiced rum, house-made five-spice simple, amaretto, evaporated milk, and coconut served with gingersnap cookies and a crushed cookie rim).

Christmas in Singapour | Image credit: Hawkers

3. Watch the Epcot Candlelight Processional from home

The EPCOT Candelight Processional always tops our list of must-have holiday experiences. Sadly, this year's event was canceled. But you're not out of luck! You can watch last year's performance (narrated by Neil Patrick Harris) on the Disney Park's YouTube Channel all from the comfort of your own home. The performance begins after a short history of the beloved event. Watch here.

4. Outsource Christmas Dinner

Let someone else do the cooking for your low-key celebration at home this year. Many local restaurants and resorts are offering packaged holiday meals. Here are a few of our favorites:

Prefer to dine out? Try a pre-holiday dinner and a movie featuring Elf at The Ravenous Pig December 22 or 23, 2020. Or, dine in style at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes with Christmas Day family-style dining offered at Knife & Spoon.

5. Snuggle up in a Horse-Drawn Carriage

See Downtown Winter Garden’s seasonal decor and holiday lights on a holiday horse drawn carriage tour. SOUL Haven Ranch offers this magical experience throughout December for $65. The carriage fits up to four adults. Remaining available dates are December 18, 19, 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30, 2020 between 5:30 and 9:30pm. Tours begin at the Winter Garden Downtown Pavillion (104 S Lakeview Ave). Reservations are required and can be booked online or by calling 407-509-1981.

SOUL Haven Ranch Holiday Horse Drawn Carriage Tours

6. 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!

7. Snap a Christmas couples' selfie

Find loads of holiday vignettes at Wall Crawl (and get photos captured by pro photographers!) including photos with Santa on select dates. For outdoor photo ops, Downtown Winter Garden has installed a special holiday mural on the side of Doxology at 49 S Main St. Don't forget to snap a photo with the Christmas tree and visit many more photo ops around town. And, thanks to our friends at Pulptown, we learned that the Curry Ford West District has set up five outdoor holiday photo ops to be enjoyed for free through December 27. 

Want photos with Santa? Check out ICON Park's Santa Workshop Experience. While you're there, stick around for the free 10-minute holiday light show. The Wheel becomes a kaleidoscope of colors as its 64,000 LED lights dance to a festive soundtrack daily at 6 p.m. with an additional performance at 10 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Find more ways to celebrate the holidays on I-Drive here.

You can also score socially-distanced photos with Santa at Wall Crawl (December 21).

Image credit: Wall Crawl

8. Attend festivals and holiday events

Oh, What Fun! Holiday Festival
Select nights through December 27, 2020
Thursdays & Sundays 5-9pm, Fridays & Saturdays 5-10pm, Special Hours from December 21-24 from 12-8pm
Lake Nona Town Center
This year’s winter wonderland features outdoor skating (not real ice), snow, twinkling lights and dazzling decorations, festive treats, and one-of-a-kind performances. Snow fall happens hourly. Some activities, like ice skating, are available to enjoy for a fee.
FREE Admission

Jolly Creek Holiday Festival
Select dates through January 2, 2021, 6-10pm
Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures
Experience the outdoor Holiday Festival created by furloughed Disney and Universal entertainers. Enjoy live Christmas concerts by the Society Orchestra and more, holiday food & beverage, meet santa, see it snow, and more!
$15 and up

Christmas at Gaylord Palms
Through January 3, 2021
Gaylord Palms 
Explore acres of twinkling lights & decorations and exciting holiday activities, shows, and events, from Cirque Dreams Unwrapped and Feast with The Grinch to our all-new I Love Christmas Movies™ pop-up and Snow Factory experiences!
Various prices

Find loads more events in our roundup of 50+ Orlando Events for Date Night This Month or in our guide to 40+ Festive and Free Holiday Events in Orlando.

Holiday Events in Orlando 2020 - Jolly Creek
Image credit: Jolly Creek

9. Play in the Snow

We’re miles from real snow but a few creative locals have crafted a suitable substitute. Lake Nona's Oh, What Fun! Holiday Festival features hourly snowfall (5-9pm Thursdays and Sundays, 5-10pm Fridays and Saturdays, 12-8pm December 21-24). You'll also find nightly “flurries” falling hourly at Celebration Town Center from 6-9pm through December 31, and at Wekiva Island's Winter Wonderland daily (times vary; check website) through December 31. 

If you're determined to frolic and play in real snow, make the trek to Snowcat Ridge in Dade City, which features a real snow covered tubing hill plus a 10,000 square-foot snow dome. What a time to be alive.

10. Watch classic Christmas movies

Now's the time to watch all your favorite holiday flicks on the big screen! From local theaters to outdoor movie nights, there are still a handful of options through the end of the year. Upcoming movie screenings include:

Want to stay in? Local company Space6 will set up a full-blown outdoor movie night in your backyard. Fun add-on options are available, like a hot cocoa and cider bar or inflatable seating. Consider making the trip to Tampa to see a holiday movie at The Drive-In at Armature Works before the end of the year. They're playing all of the holiday classics through December 30, 2020.

11. Check out neighborhood holiday lights

Neighborhood lights displays and walkable locales are a great way to enjoy holiday lights safely this year. Just last weekend, we visited Celebration to see the much-loved Lights on Jeater Bend. This year, you can opt to see the lights from the comfort of your car or stroll along the sidewalk.

Other neighborhood displays like the Bivona Christmas Lights Show and the modified Light Up Sanford Holiday Tour of Homes (through December 20) are additional options. Check out our updated guide to Where to Find Orlando’s Best Holiday Lights for all of our favorites.

Holiday lights in Celebration

12. Get tickets to a holiday show

The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge
Available through December 20
*Virtual Video On Demand event by Orlando Shakes
In this hilarious, twisted take on the holiday classic, it’s one year after A Christmas Carol and Scrooge has returned to his miserly ways… The Ghosts of Christmas are on trial for breaking and entering, kidnapping, slander, pain and suffering, attempted murder, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress as Scrooge rants and raves to the court. 
$30/couple

Orlando Ballet Presents The Nutcracker
December 18 – 20
Dr. Phillips Center
Orlando Ballet presents the beloved holiday tradition, The Nutcracker. As the lights dim and the music soars, let the magical world of Clara’s dreams take you on a journey through sparkling snowflakes, waltzing flowers and dancing sweets!
Tickets start at $54

The Laura Hodos Holiday Cabaret
December 18 – 23
*Outdoor event hosted by Orlando Shakes
For an outdoor performance in the Darden Courtyard, Laura Hodos brings you a heartwarming, musical cabaret.
$60 for 2-person table; $90 for 3-person table

Howey Mansion Music Series
Sunday, December 27, 4pm
The Howey Mansion – outdoors on the Mansion Lawn
Jazz dive Michelle Amato will perform a combination of classic jazz and holiday songs. Bring your own chairs and a picnic. 
$23

13. See the Lake Eola Christmas tree

It just wouldn’t be the holidays without a walk around Lake Eola Park culminating in a visit to the iconic Christmas tree. Animated lights bring the tree to life during a synchronized light and music show each night. Show times are nightly at 5:45pm, 6:45pm, 7:45pm, 8:45pm, and 9:45pm through early January. 

14. Sing along with holiday carolers

Dickens Carolers 
December 19, 2020, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Downtown Winter Garden
Enjoy the classic sounds of holidays of old as Dickens style carolers serenade shoppers throughout the main street of downtown Winter Garden.
FREE

Strolling Dickens Carolers
December 18 – 19
Winter Park Village 
Every Friday and Saturday from 6-9 pm enjoy the sounds of the season as Dickens Carolers stroll our charming village.
FREE

Free Holiday Events in Orlando - Dickens Carolers in Downtown Winter Garden
Image credit: City of Winter Garden

15. Ring in the New Year

We're working on updating our official NYE guide, but if you're planning to go out, here are a few NYE events in Orlando to check out:

New Year’s Eve at Tapa Toro
Tapa Toro
Two parties are better than one! Say ‘adiós’ to 2020 with a scrumptious Spanish meal, and ‘hola’ to 2021 with a champagne toast. Plus, enjoy live flamenco dancing all night long. Multiple seatings available.
$45 – $95

Hard Rockers & High Rollers NYE 2021
Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach
Celebrate with an indoor/outdoor Casino Royale themed event! Socially distanced games, DJ inside – Live band outside. Fireworks, great food and fun, Hard Rock style!
$25 – $250

2021 NYE – Vegas Baby!
ICEBAR Orlando
Open Premium Bar from 8-10pm, NYE Party Favors, Champagne Bar from 11:30pm-12:30am, midnight celebration and more.
$50 – $125

A Boogie Nights New Year
Enzian Theater
Take it back to the ’70s this New Year’s Eve with a delicious dinner and special screening of Boogie Nights. Come in your grooviest disco attire and you could win a prize. Enjoy some bubbly and boogie your way into the new year! 21 & up only.
$99 – $135

NYE 2021 Open Bar Party 
The Courtesy
Tickets include full open bar until 12:30am with specialty NYE menu, individually packaged hors d' oeuvres/snacks, ball drop on TV, DJ and a midnight bubbly toast.
$98


Looking for more holiday events in Orlando?

If you're up for a day trip, check out this guide to the Best Holiday Lights in Tampa Bay and this roundup of Holiday Events in Tampa Bay from our sister publication, Tampa Bay Date Night Guide.

Disclosure: Some, but not all of the events and activities listed in this post are hosted by our valued advertising partners.

Feature image credit: Give Kids the World


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