The holidays are festive wherever you celebrate, but the theme parks of central Florida take merriment to a new level with the special-themed activities they hold to celebrate Christmas and the holiday season.
Whether you're planning an extended winter break in theme parks with your family, or are looking for day trip ideas, we've got you covered with a round up of the merriest, most joy-inspiring holiday activities at Sea World, LEGOLAND, Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World.
The holiday fun at LEGOLAND is all about Christmas shows and entertainment paired with holiday LEGO builds, characters and decorations. Interactive Christmas-themed shows encourage guest participation, while other activities include experiencing a fake snow fall and getting photos taken with LEGO Santa and a LEGO toy solider and gingerbread man.
Pro tip: If you're still in town after Christmas, the theme park has the most kid-friendly New Year's party from December 26-31 complete with a fireworks show and special glasses that make the skies look like they're exploding with LEGO bricks. And, on New Year's Eve, they'll have a LEGO ball drop as a part of a special one-hour celebration just for kids.
Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World completely transforms during the holiday season, from beautiful gingerbread displays at some of the resorts to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party: a special event at Magic Kingdom Park that costs an extra ticket fee but allows guests to see party-exclusive shows like the "Once Upon a Christmastime Parade," where rarely-seen characters move through the streets before Santa himself makes a grand entry. You also get unlimited Christmas cookies and hot chocolate!
At Epcot, guests can enjoy the International Festival of the Holidays, a celebration of how each country around the World Showcase celebrates the season. Guests at Disney's Hollywood Studios can enjoy vintage decorations, falling snow and light projection shows during "Flurry of Fun." For the first year, Disney's Animal Kingdom will have special holiday decorations and entertainment.
For guests who want to shop and dine, Disney Springs offers the "Christmas Tree Trail," a collection of trees decorated in the style of different Disney films and characters. The trail leads to the meeting place for photos with Santa Claus.
If you're remaining at Walt Disney World for New Year's Eve, there are plenty of fireworks shows and special events that will make your family feel magical as you ring in 2020.
Pro tip: At more than $100 a ticket, the extra buy-in for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party can feel like a stretch for families already spending money on a Walt Disney World vacation. If you have kids younger than age 5, especially those who don't like to stay up late, save the Mickey party for another year. You don't want to spend the money if you are going to have kids sleeping in strollers.
The Christmas Celebration at Sea World Orlando is my family's favorite holiday event. The park's Bayside Pathway, located along the waterfront, transforms into a festive Christmas village where adults can sip a hot toddy while kids interact with playful elves and meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and his crew. (We love Bumble the Abominable Snowman the best.)
There are holiday shows featuring everything from trained animals who serve as Santa's Helpers, to "O Wondrous Night," a retelling of the nativity story that features a choir, puppets and a herd of real animals. There's also a holiday-themed figure skating show and "Miracles," a show with live music and Sea World's famous killer whales.
Sea World will also mark the coming New Year with special fireworks at midnight on New Year's Eve.
Pro tip: The decor at Sea World is especially stunning. The park uses more than three million lights to create beautiful reflections along the water after dark. Be sure to get a family photo in front of one of the intricately decorated Christmas trees throughout the park.
During the holidays, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter gets a special makeover at Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure. Garlands and holiday decor adorn both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, and there are holiday performances throughout both areas. (Universal Orlando Resort is part of our parent company, NBCUniversal.)
Macy's joins forces with Universal Studios for a special holiday parade featuring characters from "Despicable Me," "Madagascar," "Shrek" and more. There are also 30 larger-than-life balloons, parade floats and street performers, bringing a touch of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to the streets of the theme park.
Guests of Islands of Adventure can enjoy a live re-telling of the Grinch's story in a show called the "Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular," and popular holiday artist Mannheim Steamroller performs a special show at Universal Studios on select nights.
If you're traveling kid-free for the New Year, Universal CityWalk offers EVE, a New Year's Eve event for guests who are 21 and older.
Pro tip: Universal Orlando's resorts also feature special activities and festive dining opportunities, so if you're staying at a Universal hotel, be sure to ask about what's available to your family.