Holiday Bucket List: 22 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays in Orlando

Holiday Bucket List guide to celebrating the holidays in Orlando

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.

1. Race down the ice slides at ICE! at Gaylord Palms

ICE! is back at Gaylord Palms featuring a new Christmas Around the World theme for the season. This festive display features over two million pounds of ice sculptures, hand-carved by artisans from Harbin, China, home to the world’s largest ice and snow sculpture festival. As you wander through the display (kept at a chilly 9 degrees) celebrating holiday traditions all over the world, stop for a slide down one of five ice slides. Tickets are $28.99 per person online in advance, and Florida Residents can save $4 with code FLR17. You can also race down the snow tubing lanes for an additional $19.99 per person (unlimited). The parking fee is $22.

Ice slide at ICE! featuring Christmas Around the World. Image credit: Kristen Manieri

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 1, 2017 – January 6, 2018. Bonus bucket list points if you attend the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony on December 1 at 7pm!

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. 

Boozy snow cones at Frosty's Christmastime Lounge
Craft snow cones. Image credit: Frosty’s Christmastime Lounge

4. Make snow angels

Who says you have to travel north to see snow? During RDV Ice Den’s annual Snowfest celebration on December 16 from 2-6pm, play in real snow, ice skate, learn to curl, and more. Admission is $16/person. Additionally, 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 in the snow play area, both featuring real snow. The snow slide is open daily from December 1 – 13, 2017. Faux snow flurries fall nightly all month long from 6-9pm.

If you don’t mind that the snow is faux, head to Celebration where you can twirl under the nightly “snowfall” on Market Street. Other holiday activities include taking a date night selfie in front of the huge Christmas tree, and horse-drawn carriage rides.

Celebration becomes a winter wonderland with nightly snow falls. (©Whitney Bilodeau)

5. Skate around an ice rink hand in hand

Seasonally, check out Winter in the Park located in Winter Park’s Central Park now through January 8, 2018. All day skating is $13 per person including skate rental. 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.

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 $7.28 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!

Leu Gardens Date Night
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – Friday, December 1 at 6pm; $6 per person

Lake Eola Holiday Movies in the Park
Elf – Friday, December 8 at 7pm; FREE
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – Friday, December 15 at 7pm, FREE
The Nightmare Before Christmas – Friday, December 22 at 7pm; FREE

Also try: Light Up UCF Holiday Film Festival (FREE) and Wekiva Island Winter Wonderland Movies (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 to a Mary Blair-style gingerbread rendition display of Cinderella’s Castle at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, 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.

The lobby of Disney’s Grand Floridian features a life-size gingerbread house. Image credit: Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

8. 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 $40 for trees under 8 feet. Tree varieties include Sand Pine, Red Cedar, and Arizona Cypress. The Christmas Tree Farm is open through December 23, 2017; check the website for more details and hours.

Santa’s Christmas Tree Forest in Eustis, FL. Image credit: @sondrarae

9. 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!

If chocolate is more your speed, head to Peterbrooke Chocolatier in Winter Park for a chocolate house making party. For $75, you and your date can craft an edible abode made entirely of chocolate. Class dates are December 1, December 8, and December 15 at 7pm.

10. Pedal along on the 10th Annual Holiday Lights Bike Ride

Led by Bikes, Beans & Bordeaux Café, a cycling-themed café in Audubon Park, this annual community bike ride is now in its 10th year. Cycle through the district while viewing holiday lights on the 6-mile bike route. Bike decorations are encouraged. Just don’t forget a helmet and rear light, along with a suggested $2 donation. 100% of the donations will benefit the Audubon Park Garden District. The ride takes place on December 9 from 6-9pm

Annual Holiday Lights Ride by

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. Cocktails are $11 each and include creations like a Snowball Old Fashioned, and $5 Naughty and Nice shots.

12. Help break the Guinness World Record for biggest mistletoe kiss

Smooch for a cause on December 7, 2017, when Gaylord Palms Resort will attempt to set the Guinness World Record for most couples kissing under the mistletoe. After locking lips, take a stroll through ICE! featuring Christmas Around the World during an exclusive walkthrough. Admission is $34.99/couple and includes parking and the exclusive ICE! experience. Get the details here.

gaylord palms mistletoe

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. Here are a few suggestions:

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, 35 participating businesses will be 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, 2017. Location maps are available at each of the participating businesses.

Deck the Downtown. Image Credit: Downtown Orlando Partnership

15. Attend the Epcot Candlelight Processional

After attending the Candlelight Processional for the first time last year, 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. Notable narrators this year include Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris, and Pat Sajak. Get the details and our tips here.

16. Witness the Ye Old Hometown Christmas Parade in Winter Park

If you’re going to attend a Christmas parade, make it Central Florida’s longest-running Christmas Parade. Now in its 65th year, Winter Park’s “Ye Old Hometown” Christmas Parade features over 100 bands, dancers, floats, and more with a special appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus. The parade begins at 9am on December 2 and continues along Park Avenue.

17. See The Nutcracker

Purchasing tickets to see this classic holiday ballet performance is a surefire way to immerse yourself in the holiday spirit well before Christmas arrives. This year, there are multiple performances happening throughout Orlando. Merging ballet, Cirque, and pyrotechnics, the Central Florida Ballet’s Nutcracker performance is a must-see. Tickets begin at $24, and performances will be held December 16-17 at the Linda Chapin Theater at the Orange County Convention Center.

Additional options include Orlando Ballet presents The Nutcracker at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts December 21-24, 2017 (tickets from $19), and a performance by the Russian Ballet of Orlando at Lake Eola Park December 16 (free).

Central Florida Ballet Nutcracker
Central Florida Ballet’s The Nutcracker. Image credit: Lisbet Photography (courtesy of Central Florida Ballet)

18. Attend Winter Park Christmas in the Park

Pack a bottle of wine and head to Winter Park on December 7 as the Morse Museum and Bach Festival Choir and Brass Ensemble celebrate the season with Christmas in the Park. This annual event features a free concert and lighted Tiffany glass windows on display. The celebration starts at 6:15pm, and adult beverages are permitted in the park from 5:30-9pm. Admission is FREE.

Image courtesy of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, Florida

19. Make the day 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. 2017 dates are November 18, 2017 – January 31, 2018. 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.

Night of Lights St. Augustine

20. Watch a lighted Christmas boat parade

It doesn’t get more Florida than watching a parade of boats glowing with Christmas lights float by on a Christmas boat parade. Here are a few places you can witness this waterfront spectacle for yourself:

Image credit: Wekiva Island

 21. Embark on a Christmas Pub Crawl

Get in the spirit – literally – on a holiday bar crawl. The Mills 50 District is hosting The Approximately 12 Pubs of Christmas Pub Crawl on December 2. A $10 wristband (purchase at Wally’s Mills Avenue Liquor or GB’s Bottle Shop) grants you access to drink and food specials, and freebies at 16 bars, restaurants, and shops. Also on December 2, partake in the 1st Annual Ugly Sweater Bar Crawl at Wall Street Plaza with drink specials at eight downtown Orlando bars. Tickets start at $17.50. If you miss the organized events, round up some friends and create your own!

22. 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.

Check out our guide to Free & Festive Holiday Events for more ideas!

Feature image credit: City of Orlando

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