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Holiday Offerings in Florida: Beyond Theme Parks

Embracing life in Central Florida comes with numerous advantages, with the foremost being our proximity to three renowned theme parks. The holiday season transforms these attractions into enchanting wonderlands. Yet, amid the festive hustle and bustle, there's a treasure trove of activities to explore in this region that are equally delightful and, perhaps, a bit less crowded. Join me as I highlight some of my favorite holiday festivities beyond the well-known theme park attractions.

 

Wekiva Island:

 

Wekiva Island, nestled in Longwood, FL, just an hour's drive from Disney, is a true hidden gem, especially during the holiday season. Currently, they are hosting a Winter Wonderland that promises festive delights for all. Picture a Christmas tree forest, daily "snow" flurries, appearances by Christmas characters on select days, and the highlight – Santa's workshop, where you can meet the man in the red suit himself! To make the experience even more delightful, there's a food truck on-site, and my personal recommendation is to try the pizza logs – a Buffalo classic that you won't regret indulging in. For those planning a visit, be sure to check out their schedule to pick the perfect day for your family. And if the holidays don't align with your plans, fret not! Wekiva Island offers a plethora of year-round activities to keep you entertained.


ZooTampa at Lowry Park:

 

ZooTampa at Lowry Park holds a special place in our hearts, and when the holiday season arrives, it transforms into an even more enchanting destination! Located just about an hour away from the Disney area (traffic permitting), ZooTampa is currently hosting its magical event on select nights, with detailed information available here. "Christmas in the Wild" boasts one of Tampa's largest light displays, offering festive adventures, delectable treats, entertaining performances, and the exciting opportunity to meet Mr. & Mrs. Claus along with a magical reindeer! Beyond the holiday festivities, you'll also have the chance to marvel at the incredible wildlife and witness the dedicated efforts of ZooTampa in their conservation initiatives. Can't make it to this particular event? No problem! ZooTampa remains open year-round, and you can always stay tuned for upcoming events to plan your visit.


Enchant St Petersburg:

 

Immerse yourself in enchantment at the current event at Tropicana Field, located just about an hour and a half away from the Disney area (traffic-dependent). This daily indoor extravaganza eliminates concerns about weather and lighting, ensuring a delightful experience. For more details, check here. The highlight of this event is the Reindeer Games, a larger-than-life light maze. Your mission: locate forest animals, discover magic bells, and save Christmas. Completing the maze earns you a delightful treat (while supplies last). The maze's beauty and immersive quality make it a captivating experience—you might find yourself lost in its wonders for hours. Beyond the maze, enjoy activities like ice skating, indulge in treats from food vendors, explore a Christmas village, and let the kids have a blast in the designated play zone. Of course, no visit would be complete without meeting Santa Claus and enjoying story time with Mrs. Claus!


Fairgrounds at St. Pete:

 

Embark on a uniquely entertaining and delightful journey at the Fairgrounds at St. Pete, a Museum of Immersive Art & Technology showcasing the talents of local artists. Situated approximately an hour and a half away from the Disney area, you can access more information here. This indoor haven unfolds as a playful, multi-sensory world, celebrating the weird, wacky, and wonderful aspects of Florida. For the holiday season, they've adorned the space with a festive overlay, infusing extra scents to fully immerse visitors in the holiday spirit. With 14 scents scattered throughout the exhibit, ranging from gingerbread and peppermint to pine tree, ocean, citrus, and Tampa Bay breeze, the experience is a sensory delight. To deepen the immersion, consider participating in their seasonal scavenger hunt, "Season's Tweetings." As you search for uniquely designed Gingerbird houses and Florida birds, this engaging activity keeps the kids enthralled. The Fairgrounds at St. Pete welcomes visitors year-round, offering a chance to support and appreciate the incredible work of local artists showcased in these exhibits. A visit is highly recommended to witness the immense talent on display!


Pro tip: Fairgrounds at St. Pete and Enchant are around 10 minutes away from each other can easily be done on the same day! I recommend starting at Fairgrounds at St. Pete, then heading over for Enchant!


Kennedy Space Center:

 

Blast off on a cosmic holiday adventure at Kennedy Space Center with their festive event, Holidays in Space! Situated approximately an hour away from Disney, you can discover more details here. Witness the transformation of the complex into a holiday wonderland, featuring the Rocket Tree Trail adorned with uniquely themed space trees, festive decor, towering six-foot astronaut nutcrackers, and an extraordinary projection mapping show—Starflake's Holiday Voyage—illuminating the exterior of Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex®. Don't miss the family-friendly activities taking place near the Atlantis West Pavilion, all included with your admission. If holiday timing doesn't align, no worries—Kennedy Space Center remains open year-round, offering a must-visit experience to explore the rich history of space exploration and launches.



Just a note: I had the privilege of being invited to enjoy the experiences at all the locations listed above, and I was hosted during my visits. However, all opinions expressed are solely mine, and I genuinely appreciate each of these locations for their unique offerings.


Christmas Lane:

 

Immerse yourself in the festive charm of Christmas Lane, currently unfolding at the Strawberry Festival Grounds in Plant City, you can find all the info here. Just a 40-minute drive from Disney (traffic permitting), this delightful experience provides a wealth of indoor activities, making it ideal for those chilly nights. Perfect for the whole family, Christmas Lane offers a plethora of delights, including photo opportunities with Santa and Mrs. Claus, live entertainment, tempting food and drink options, adorable photo spots, over a million twinkling lights, festive trees, decorations, a captivating light maze, and much more! Don't wait too long to visit, as this enchanting experience concludes on Christmas Eve. If it's on your holiday to-do list, I highly recommend making your way there as soon as possible!


Downtown Winter Garden :

 

This quant little town is always a must for us during the holidays! They are about 30 minutes from Disney and is worth a visit! Downtown Winter Garden is a charmed little village that has local shops, restaurants, and on Saturdays a wonderful farmers market. Downtown Winter Garden undergoes a festive transformation during the holiday season with dazzling decorations and lights adorning its streets. On select nights, the town comes alive with live music, captivating performances, projection light shows on city hall, and more! Check out the schedules here for specific details. I recommend a stop at Hangry Bison or Plant Street Market for delicious food, followed by indulging in the holiday drinks at Foxtail Coffee and savoring seasonal ice cream from Kelly's Homemade Ice Cream. If your schedule doesn't align with the holidays, fret not—all these charming establishments are open year-round for your enjoyment!


Celebration:

 

Nestled just 5 minutes away from Disney, the charming town of Celebration, often dubbed the "Disney town," is a delightful destination featuring local shops, restaurants, and a Sunday farmers market. When the holiday season arrives, Celebration transforms into a winter wonderland, with nightly "snowfall," a synthetic ice rink, live performances, carolers, train rides, and the opportunity for photos with Santa! The magical snowfall occurs every hour at 6, 7, 8, and 9 PM, creating a festive atmosphere. Discover more about this enchanting event here. If your visit doesn't align with the holiday festivities, worry not—Celebration welcomes guests year-round, offering a pleasant experience with its shops and restaurants. Additionally, the town boasts a scenic dog-friendly walking trail for a leisurely stroll at any time.

*Night photos are from last year


Icon Park:

 

While we weren't able to make it this year, celebrating the holidays at Icon Park has been a blast in the past! Located about 20 minutes from Disney and less than 10 from Universal, Icon Park offers a delightful Santa's Workshop experience. You can secure your spot by reserving here and explore the various packages they have to offer. Additionally, SeaLife Orlando gets into the festive spirit with Fishmas, adorning the aquarium with holiday decorations, including the tanks—because even the fish need to celebrate! On weekends, you might even get the chance to meet Sharky, a favorite of ours. Learn more about SeaLife here. Apart from these special offerings, take in the festive decorations throughout the area and explore the numerous other exciting attractions they have. Keep in mind that, except for Santa's Workshop, everything else remains open year-round for your enjoyment!

*Photos are from last year


I haven't had the opportunity to experience the holidays at these next two locations personally, but they are fantastic places with noble causes, so I thought it would be worth mentioning them!


Clearwater Marine Aquarium:

 

Embark on a journey to Clearwater for a Sea of Holiday Joy at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA)! Located approximately an hour and a half away from the Disney area (traffic permitting), you can access their complete schedule here. On weekends and select days, you have the unique opportunity to witness Santa making a splash underwater, followed by a chance to meet him in person. The entire aquarium is adorned with festive decorations, and there are plenty of options for holiday crafts to enjoy. If holiday timing doesn't align with your plans, fret not! CMA remains open year-round, hosting various wonderful events. As a proud volunteer with CMA, I can attest to the organization's excellence and the positive impact they have on marine life. Every ticket purchased contributes to supporting the animals they rescue, making it a truly meaningful experience.


Florida Aquarium:

 

Make your way to Tampa for a magical experience at the Florida Aquarium, just an hour away (traffic dependent) from the Disney area. During the holiday season, they host various events, and I want to highlight them for their commitment to inclusivity by offering sensory-friendly dates for those with sensory differences. One such event is Snow Days, a delightful celebration that includes hands-on snow experiences like a snow maze and snowball toss—all included with your admission. On the 23rd, for an additional cost, you can partake in the Lighted Boat Parade. Board their 72-foot catamaran and join other decorated boats for a festive experience. Onboard, you'll indulge in holiday treats, enjoy entertainment, and have access to a cash bar. Information about both events can be found here, and if the Boat Parade piques your interest, be sure to book in advance. Beyond the holiday season, the Florida Aquarium remains open year-round, offering a wonderful cause to support. Whether you visit during the holidays or any other time, it's a destination that provides both enjoyment and a positive impact.

 

Florida truly provides a plethora of amazing experiences, and the ones highlighted here are just a fraction of the diverse offerings. Whether you're seeking a break from the theme parks or simply planning a Florida getaway, these options add an extra layer of excitement and variety to your trip. From holiday festivities to unique attractions, the Sunshine State has something for everyone to enjoy beyond the traditional theme park experience.








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