The team at Walt Disney World transformed Magic Kingdom over-night into a winter wonderland! USA TODAY
Millions of Christmas lights, decked-out Christmas trees and (fake) snow add to the holiday magic.
It may not feel like snowy weather, but the Orlando theme parks sure have decked their halls with boughs of holly (and much, much more) to get you in the spirit of Christmas.
We're talking millions of Christmas lights, Christmas decor galore and even fake snow. Each park has a signature character to carry on the Christmas theme: Mickey Mouse, the Grinch, Shamu and now ... Harry Potter.
Some got an early start. Universal Orlando's new Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter kicked off Nov 18. Disney began its holiday celebration in early November, and SeaWorld's festivities start the day before Turkey Day.
If you're into bright lights, Christmas carols and general merriness, you should make time to go.
Here are 15 tips on how to celebrate the holidays, Orlando theme park-style.
Rudolph, Santa and the gang will be at SeaWorld Orlando for its SeaWorld Christmas 2017 celebration. Video courtesy of SeaWorld.
How does SeaWorld stack up in its Christmas celebration? Well, pardon our puns, but you'll have a whale of a time. You otter go.
• The Sea of Trees: Gorgeous. More than 100 Christmas trees sparkle to music as they light up the water. Insider tip: Get your cameras ready for a giant twinkling centerpiece that towers 70-feet above the water. Not far from the Sea of Trees is the Christmas market, which will have live entertainment like playful elves, a fire pit and model train village.
• Santa Claus at Wild Arctic: It's not quite the North Pole, but it sure feels like it here. This is a fun meet-and-greet with Santa Claus complete with photo ops and animal encounters.
• The shows: Who knew a sea lion could be so funny? Clyde and Seamore, they've got jokes in their Countdown to Christmas comedy show. Then head to Shamu Christmas Miracles to ooh and ahh as Shamu splashes around a beautifully decorated Shamu Stadium to Christmas carols. Insider tip: If you don't want to get wet, don't sit up front. Or, if you like the front-seat view, bring a rainjacket or plastic parka. Before the show starts, there's usually an emcee doing pre-entertainment. Insider tip 2: Participation pays off. If they're looking for volunteers, wave your arms like a crazy person. Jump up and down if you want to get picked. The more enthusiastic you are, the better. One perk? VIP upgrades ... for you and your party.
• Winter Wonderland on Ice: This theatrical ice skating show complements SeaWorld, home to Wild Arctic. There's no parade during Christmas at SeaWorld 2017, but this, along with Shamu Christmas Miracles, is a must-see. Grab a cup of hot chocolate while you watch.
• Hug that red-nosed reindeer: Rudolph and his friends (like the Abominable Snowman named Bumble, Clarice and Yukon Cornelius) provide dinner theater in the theme park's Dine with Rudolph event. The food's served family-style. If you're not looking to spend extra money on the dinner theater event, you'll want to catch up with Rudolph in ChristmasTown, which offers impressive life-size storybook vignettes. The setting's perfect for photo ops.
The details: Christmas at SeaWorld 2017 runs Nov. 23-Jan. 1. A Three Kings Day celebration, with parades and entertainment, is set for Jan. 1-6. The park opens at 10 a.m. daily. Admission is $79.99 for those 3 and up in advance or $99.99 for those 3 and up at the door. Special deal? Save $42 per ticket on 2-day, 2-visit tickets, valid at SeaWorld and Aquatica. Visit seaworldorlando.com.
Highlights for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom in Orlando. Now through Dec. 22. Video by Luann Manderville Posted Nov. 20
Don we now our Donald sweater — bwa-ha-ha, bwa-ha-ha, bwa-ha-ha! Here, straight from Disney World magic maniacs, are five of the holi-daziest things to see, sample and savor this year at Walt Disney World parks. Grab your camera, friends and family and get your Goofy on!
• Sunset Seasons Greetings: The wrapping’s just been pulled off on this sparkly new gift, on Sunset Boulevard at Hollywood Studios. Come nightfall, billboards will start to “move” and tell stories as Disney faves share their seasonal joy. And that Tower of Terror? Well, it’s going to be a lit-up, straight-up Tower of Seasonal Scenic and Sentimental Stories, as Mickey and Minnie reminisce, Norman-Rockwell style, “Toy Story” characters and the Swedish Chef from the Muppets celebrate and Olaf from “Frozen” makes a holiday wish. Runs through Dec. 31.
• Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: Ring in and bring in the season with the Mouse and Co. at a special event in which the Magic Kingdom, its inhabitants and every nook and castle cranny are transformed into a yuletide wonderland. Music, delicious treats at every turn, Christmas-fueled stage shows, the “Once Upon a Christmastime” parade, festive fireworks, rides — and what’s that white stuff dropping from the sky? Yes, it’s a little pricey. First, you’ll have to pay regular park admission unless you’re a passholder. And the party requires a separate ticket: Prices vary according to date and start from $84 for children (children younger than 3 get in free) and at $89 for adults (discounts for annual passholders are available).For dates, check disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours.
• Epcot International Festival of the Holidays: We can’t get enough of Epcot over this magical season. All of the 11 World Showcase nations put on a party that showcase their treasured and timeless traditions. Each country has their own Santa or version of Santa. Check out the holiday kitchens, savor seasonal goodies, sing along at the stage shows. Enjoy the peace-charged holiday “IllumiNations” fireworks/lasers/waterworks show (with a fantastic, festive finale from Nov. 24-Dec. 30) and be ready to snap lots of pics for holiday outfit ideas — the costumes are a joy to behold. And let's just say the holiday storytellers at Epcot sure know how to weave a tale. Runs Nov. 19-Dec. 30.
• Candlelight processional: OK, it’s part of the Festival of the Holidays, but it’s so special it deserves gift-wrapped props all its own. At this wonderful annual event, which doesn’t require any ticket outside Epcot admission, you’ll hear the age-old, hope-filled Christmas story, shared by a celebrity narrator who’s backed by a 50-piece orchestra and choir. And the narrator lineup is star-studded, too: This year’s guests include Neil Patrick Harris, Ana Gasteyer, Whoopi Goldberg, Pat Sajak, Kurt Russell, Trace Adkins, Jodi Benson, Matt Bomer and CCH Pounder. Runs Nov. 25-Dec. 30; click here for narrator schedule. Dining packages with special seating are available, too.
• Resort and Disney Springs decoration tours: Want to party Disney-style and take in the decorations, but don’t want to pay park fees and don’t enjoy rides? Take an afternoon and swing by a few of the Disney hotels, where the party will last through the season and you can savor the seasonal offerings without the expense. Or, especially if you have Disney fans in the family and you’re looking for the ooh-aah effect, head to Disney Springs for a day of shopping, unique entertainment and holiday dining.
The details: The park opens at 9 a.m. daily. Admission at Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom starts at $113 for adults, $107 for kids. Admission at Magic Kingdom starts at $122 for adults, $113 for kids. Special deal? Buy four days, get the fifth free along with a round of miniature golf. Visit disney.go.com.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is going all out for the holidays at Universal Orlando Resort. Take a sneak peek at their magical plans. USA TODAY
Universal's a master at set design. Ride the movies — that's their thing. But they take it one step further and bring guests into the world of their characters. Here are five "worlds" to celebrate Christmas between Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.
• Macy's holiday parade: The route begins in the "New York area," near the Race for New York Starring Jimmy Fallon attraction at Universal Studios. That building, of course, designed like Rockefeller Center, and the nearby "skyscrapers" evoke the Big Apple. The floats in the Macy's parade (there are 30+) include Shrek, King Julian and the Penguins from "Madagascar," and a giant Nutcracker. Some of the new floats this year involve the lovable, high-pitched, yellow Minions. They sing Christmas carols, too ... in that same high-pitched, giggly, unforgettable Minions voice. The parade runs daily through Jan. 6.
• "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch": Over at Islands of Adventure, Dr. Seuss fans can laugh it up at Whoville on Seuss Landing for Universal's long-running Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular. This Grinch isn't really mean, but he's terribly funny. Insider tip: If you do the Grinch and Friends character breakfast, $34.99 for adults and $20.99 for kids, you'll get photo ops with the Grinch and some mischief entertainment, and you really won't be hungry until dinnertime because you fill up on lots of food. The breakfast is between 8 and 10 a.m. Nov. 24-26, Dec. 1-3, 7-10, 14-17, and 20-25 at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous.
• Mannheim Steamroller concerts: Pretty much synonymous with Christmas, Mannheim Steamroller ("Carol of the Bells," "Stille Nacht") returns to Universal Studios stage near the Hollywood Rip Rocket Roller Coaster. Concerts will be Nov. 25 and 26 and Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 and 17. They're included with admission.
• Harry Potter Christmas, part 1: 2 1/2 years in the making, Christmas at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is here! Not long after Diagon Alley made its debut at Universal Studios, Universal's creative team began work on a holiday celebration. We call Diagon Alley "shoppers central." For the Harry Potter fan in your life, stop by the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes for some practical joke gifts, or pick up some Butterbeer-flavored fudge from the treats shop. Universal also unveiled special holiday-themed food for this event. As for entertainment, Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees perform daily at Diagon Alley.
• Harry Potter Christmas, part 2: At the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade at Universal's Islands of Adventure, there's a show-stopping number starring ... Hogwarts Castle. At nighttime, projection mapping and lighting illuminate the castle for a spectacular show, “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle,” set to familiar music from the Harry Potter films. Various scenes inspired by J.K. Rowling's magical series cover the castle walls. The interactive show runs intermittently from dusk until the park closes. Insider tip: For pictures or video, it'll be tempting to be in the "front row," or nearest to the castle for the 6-minute show (there are no seats; you'll have to sit on the ground or stand). Instead, hang out near where the a cappella Frog Choir performs to take in the entire castle.
The details: The park opens at 9 a.m. daily. Admission starts at $110 for adults and $105 for kids, parking is extra. Special deal? Buy a 3-park, 2-day park-to-park pass, and receive an extra two days free of unlimited admission to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay. Visit universalorlando.com/holidays.
FLORIDA TODAY's Luann Manderville contributed to this report.
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