6 Must-See Attractions: ‘Tis the Season
Have fun in the snow and enjoy all things holiday throughout in Central Florida.
Subtropical temperatures can put a damper on any Floridian’s holiday spirits, a problem often resolved by an out-of-state getaway. But what if you could experience the wonders of winter within a short drive? Good news: You can.
Christmas at Gaylord Palms
Celebrate the season in hands-on, high-flying style with a host of holiday happenings for the whole family. Through Jan. 2, guests can enjoy interactive adventures, shows, music, winter play, visits with Santa and more at Kissimmee’s Gaylord Palms Resort.
At the center of the festivities is “Mission: Save Christmas featuring Elf,” in which guests partner with Buddy the Elf in interactive challenges to save Christmas. If you have enough brainpower remaining, put it to use in the Naughty or Nice Escape Room or in one of two scavenger hunts.
Take a break by decorating gingerbread cookies or walking along the Christmas tree trail. Or join Mrs. Claus for milk, cookies and a story, and don’t miss a photo op with Santa. Cross some Christmas shopping off your list at the Build-A-Bear Workshop, and then don your winter apparel in preparation for snow tubing and a snowball toss.
New this year is a Broadway-style production of “Cirque: The Spirit of Christmas” filled with acrobatics and gravity-defying stunts. Visit the atrium for a light show set to music, or take the kids to the fun, interactive show “Adventure Kids: Wonders of Winter.” You can celebrate the Three Kings Festival with “The Journey of Los Tres Magos,” the story of the three kings who visited Jesus or take in a multicultural musical rendition of “The Greatest Story” about the life of Jesus Christ.
Tickets for “Mission: Save Christmas” are $16.99 plus tax for kids 4 to 11 and $29.99 plus tax for guests 12 and older. Tickets are available for various groups of experiences, or guests can include experience bundles with an overnight stay. christmasatgaylordpalms.com
Winter Wonderland at Wekiva Island
This annual monthlong family-friendly event puts a Florida twist on holiday fun with daily snow flurries, sleigh rides on the Wekiva River, a Christmas tree forest and more. The fun continues through Christmas Day.
In its sixth year, the event features daily sights and activities. A 20-foot-tall Christmas tree takes center stage in the lighted forest. Family-friendly highlights include snow flurries daily from 3 to 9 p.m., holiday movies on the lawn, and visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Grinch and the Whos of Whoville. In addition, visitors can experience a guided 30-minute, Florida-style sleigh ride on the river ($20 per adult; $10 per child).
Santa makes scheduled appearances, such as at the popular Breakfast with Santa, scheduled for Dec. 11 from 9 to 11 a.m. ($14 per adult; $11 per child 12 and younger). Kids can also enjoy Stories with Santa at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8, 15 and 22. Admission to Wekiva Island is $2 per person. wekivaisland.com
St. Augustine Nights of Lights
The nation’s oldest city comes alive nightly starting at 5:30 under millions of lights, an event recognized by National Geographic as one of the world’s top 10 light displays. In its 28th year, Nights of Lights continues through Jan. 31.
Plan to arrive early to secure parking (available for $15 per car) in the garage near the Visitors Information Center. Then peruse the old city’s streets as dozens of businesses and attractions shine under the lights. And when your belly beckons, stop for dinner or a snack at one of the many restaurants along the way. Be sure to save money for souvenirs or admission to historic attractions.
To maximize the holiday spirit, take a trolley ride while singing Christmas carols with a few dozen of your newest friends. Or enjoy a wine tasting during a leisurely carriage ride. Don’t miss out on the view of the Bridge of Lions or the bay front, where you can book a water tour. Helicopter tours are available for the more adventurous holiday celebrants. oldcity.com
Pack up your jackets, gloves and boots, and prepare for a day of snow tubing, ice skating, s’mores by the fire, and playing in the snow. Just 1 ½ hours from Orlando in Dade City, Snowcat Ridge offers winter festivities through the end of March.
General admission includes two hours of snow tubing (unlimited is available as an upgrade), plus all-day access—minus skate rental—to the new-for-2021 Crystal Ribbon ice skating rink. It also includes all-day access to the Arctic Igloo, a snow play area designed for kids 3 and younger. (Winter clothing is a must-have for the ice rink and igloo.) Tickets begin at $26.95 each.
To amp up your winter thrill quotient, take a moving conveyer sidewalk lift to the top of the 60-foot-tall, 400-foot-long tubing hill. Riders can choose from single, family-style or tandem tubes.
If you work up an appetite, visit Alpine Village, where you can roast s’mores by a campfire, or enjoy a drink, meal or shopping break. Guests can also rent private igloos for up to 2 ½ hours to accommodate 20 guests. Be sure to close out your day with the nightly light and music show. snowcatridge.com
Winterclub Indoor Ski & Snowboard
Imagine going downhill skiing or snowboarding in Florida, where the terrain is impossibly flat and perpetually snow-free. Now imagine you can ski or snowboard year-round while wearing a t-shirt. Winterclub, on Aloma Avenue in Winter Park, uses simulation technology to help everyone from beginners to veterans master the slopes in a safe indoor environment.
Skiers and snowboarders make virtual runs on two indoor slopes using an interactive panoramic ski simulator. The immersive experience calls upon the same biomechanics and physical skills required on the slopes, helping guests achieve balance and control as they navigate downhill runs.
Sessions are by appointment only for guests 6 and older, with prices ranging from $69 per hourlong session for three or more participants to $109 for a private lesson. Each guest gets 30 minutes of slope and training time per session. Boots, helmets, poles, skis and snowboards are provided. Appointments are available Wednesday and Friday from 2 to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. winterclubski.com
Christmas Spectacular at the Stetson Mansion
Built in 1886 by famed hat maker and philanthropist John B. Stetson, the lavishly decorated Stetson Mansion in DeLand celebrates Christmas in style. The gilded Victorian residence, known as Florida’s most historic home, has been named among USA Today’s 10 Best Holiday Historic Home Tours and second among Fodor’s Travel Guide to Southern Holiday Homes.
Through Jan. 22, guests can tour 10 rooms—including the current owner’s suite—featuring 23 Christmas trees and more than two dozen nativity scenes. Room themes include “Angels Appear When Cardinals Are Near,” “A Rockwell Kind of Christmas,” “Heroes Tribute,” “Snow Babies…It’s Cold Outside,” and “Hallelujah, the Christ Child Is Born.” Decorations are geared for an adult audience.
The original architectural details have been restored in the private residence, where Thomas Edison installed the first electrical system. The home features intricate carvings, original leaded glass windows and a renovated schoolhouse.
Self-guided tours are available 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, except Sunday mornings. Tickets are $27 plus booking fee and tax. Reservations are required. Guided tours are available for groups of 20 or more in the evenings for $37 plus booking fee and tax. stetsonmansion.com