It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I’ve always loved Christmastime but it’s just gotten better and better since having a kid. There’s something so magical and wonderful about sharing all the wonder of the season with E and the older she gets, the more fun it seems to get.
We have a lot of fun family traditions, from buying our tree at the same place every year to making cookies, but it’s also been fun to incorporate all the awesome events Orlando has to offer into our celebrations. Frankly, I just wish we had more days between Thanksgiving and Christmas … there’s too much to do!
In no particular order, here are my Top 5 Favorite Ways to Celebrate Christmas in Orlando:
Sorry, every other place, but nothing can match the magic of Disney at Christmas. From a decked out Magic Kingdom …
… to fun, interesting and informative international celebrations in Epcot …
… to the main event, for us at least: The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, there’s just no shortage of holiday cheer.
My husband and I both agree that the Osborne lights are our very favorite thing at Disney all year long. There’s just nothing else like it. It even leaves E speechless. See for yourself.
This year was the first year we just didn’t get a chance to do another favorite Disney Christmas activity: go around and look at all the decorations at the hotels. My two favorites are the giant gingerbread houses at the Grand Floridian and Boardwalk. So, even if you don’t have Disney passes, you can go visit all the hotels’s lobbies and enjoy that Disney magic … for FREE!
2. Orlando Ballet’s The Nutcracker
For the third straight year, I took E to Orlando Ballet’s beautiful production of “The Nutcracker.” It was extra special because it marked our first visit to the newly opened Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center.
Not only does Orlando Ballet put on a gorgeous show, they offer a Family Series of this classic. That means they condense it to an hour, which is the perfect length for my young ballet fan. Plus, before the show, you can get your picture taken with some of the performers. Last year, we made it a girls day out with my mom and grandmother.
This year, it was a girls day out with friends.
I bumbled and didn’t get us upstairs in time for our traditional pictures with the ballerinas, which means I’ll now spend the next 365 days flogging myself over this huge fail, but the show itself did not disappoint.
It’s an event we look forward to all year long and I already can’t wait for next year’s performance!
3. A Real-Life Griswold House
When E was in pre-school, we had a tradition: after every year’s Christmas pageant, we would drive across town to visit a crazily decorated house. It’s a house we’ve visited every year since at least 2004 and one of our favorite — and (mostly) free — holiday traditions. I say mostly free because when you see the tremendous effort the homeowners have put into it, you can’t help but donate to the cause.
What’s really cool since we first started going is now the entire neighborhood gets in on the act. Many of them convert their garages into massive snow villages of tiny houses and trains, and some even make it “snow” outside, which is a real treat for Florida kids like E.
The house is in Winter Park, just off Howell Branch Road. Check it out! You won’t be disappointed!
4. Millenia Santa
Over the past six years, we’ve seen a lot of Santas. A lot. But none of them come close to matching the authenticity of the world’s best Santa — Mall of Millenia’s Santa. I mean, look at this guy.
We’ve “settled” for some OK Santas over the past few years, but this year warranted seeing this incredible Santa.
I had one wish for this Christmas — to get a picture of E showing off her missing two front teeth. I mean, what are the chances her two front teeth are missing at Christmastime?!? We hadn’t been to the Millenia Santa in a few years, mostly because the line is usually crazy long. We tried once earlier this season and bailed when we were greeted with a 2.5 hour line … at 8 at night. Insane. But then Michelle told me about the magic early Sunday morning trick and within 20 minutes of getting in line, bam, we got the picture I’d been dreaming about.
Santa nailed it.
The incredible ICE! at the Gaylord Palms Resort is another holiday favorite.
We’ve been a few times before, including E’s first Christmas when I had to wear her in a baby carrier inside my jacket to protect her from the 9-degree temperatures! It’s a lot easier walking around when she’s on her own, now.
I finally smartened up and remembered to bring us plenty of hats, gloves and scarves.
This year’s theme is our favorite yet — The Nutcracker!
We oohed and ahhed over all our favorite scenes and loved zooming down the ice slides amidst brightly colored “candy.”
This year, there’s a fun new feature: you can watch one of the ice carvers in action.
Despite how colorful, gorgeous and intricate all the Nutcracker sculptures are, my favorite still remains the simplest: the Nativity scene. There’s just something so spectacular and special about this final ICE! scene.
After exiting the 9-degree area (brrrr), we headed to another new feature: the Alpine Rush snow tubes. We were there on a light night so I think E went down the slides at least 15 times. For real.
And I’m always a sucker for the huge selection in the gift shop (seriously, I’d make the trip there just to shop all the Christmas goodies, even if I wasn’t going into ICE!) and this year, we picked up a sparkly new set of horns for E.
So that’s my list. What’s on your ultimate Central Florida at Christmas list? And what are some of your favorite tradition in your town?
Disclosure: E and I attended ICE! for free as part of a media preview night. All other activities were on our dime and we hope to return to ICE! again this year, at our expense, because we like it that dang much. It runs at the Gaylord Palms through Jan. 4. Book online for cheaper tickets, including $4 off per ticket for Florida residents using the code FLR14.