The end of Thanksgiving means that Florida’s major theme parks are featuring Christmas decorations and special events, many regular annual attractions that bring huge crowds. So what’s new and what is outstanding this year?
Walt Disney World: The Christmas crowds – shoppers and viewers and diners – have gotten so thick (like a love bug attack), my wife and I go to the parks in early December and avoid some of the most popular annual events. WDW does the best with using natural vegetation and plants and the many hotels (at least the luxury ones) seem to compete for visual effects.
German Storyteller At Epcot
If you are staying at WDW for a few days, a monorail trip to all the big hotels on Seven Seas Lake is a great way to get in the mood even if you avoid shopping. We love the gigantic ginger bread house at the Grand Floridian and the Victorian charm of a Christmas of times past, while the Polynesian Inn has gorgeous tropical holiday gardens.
One Christmas must-see on our list for years was the Osmond Christmas Lights on the New York set at Disney Hollywood Studios. There was something about having hot cocoa while fake snow floated down on you and thousands of lights twinkled above you, especially if you’re a transplanted Yankee from Massachusetts living for years in Central Florida. With the huge Star Wars-Toy Story project going underway all that is gone.
The Tower of Terror Becomes A Pile of Gifts
If you have a multi-park pass, there is a good reason now to visit Hollywood Studios this winter. Many of the lights and the snow has been moved to Sunset Boulevard and the Tower of Terror has become the largest Christmas movie screen in Florida. The billboards go alive and there are Jingle Bell fireworks.
Epcot has its International Festival of the Holidays and I wish more people would stop at each pavilion and listen to the wonderful storytellers. The Candlelight Processional is a spectacular show, but there is not enough seating and most of it will be taken by getting reserved seats by spending $70 per person on a pre-festival meal. Even a lunch will cost that price. And you will still have to stand in the reserved line for seating.
The Epcot Candlelight Attracts Monstrous Crowds
The music and lighting at the Magic Kingdom is wonderful, but I am not going to get tossed out at 6 pm and pay another ticket to see Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. And here is a tip you may not want to hear: the televised Christmas parade is not filmed live but in stages and the parade area of the filming is stocked with seats filled with cast members and their families. After-all, you can’t have a person in the crowd with a Harry Potter shirt.
Music, Song, and Snow Fill The Air
Universal Studios: Universal has a new Christmas parade which is longer, filled with Macy’s type balloons, and more character-oriented than past years. In recent years the parks have discovered that computerized light shows can be spectacular without the costs. The lighting show at the Harry Potter Castle-Hogwarts is amazing, even topping the lighting show at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
A Place For Wizards at Universal
Universal does not have a lot of charges, but to fully see Harry Potter, you need to have a two park ticket. Diagon Alley is delightfully British holiday with a spiritual aire captured no where else.
Busch Gardens and Sea World Have Ice Shows
Busch Gardens and Sea World: Floridians with annual passes find trips to these parks at Christmas a great bargain for you can buy tickets for family visiting for the holidays at half-price. Note: Both parks have a schedule on their web sites for some programs are only offered on the weekends until the week before Christmas.
Both parks have a delightful Christmas on ice show, animal or creature acts, and for the kids a up-front live show with the characters from Sesame Street starring Elmo. At Sea World, the lake is filled with floating well-light plastic Christmas trees.