Stellar weather and seasonal spirit combine to make December an incredible time of year to enjoy Orlando – especially outside. Although the holiday festivities may be a little different this year with social distancing and all, there are still ways to celebrate and keep some normalcy. If you choose to visit the theme parks – Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and the like – you’ll have plenty to keep you entertained, although they’ve adjusted some of their activities to keep everyone safe. Disney Springs even gets in the spirit with a Christmas Tree Stroll of a dozen Disney-inspired trees. If the theme parks aren’t your thing, you can enjoy the more than 3 million lights on display at Give Kids the World Village, an incredible organization that benefits critically ill children and their families. And if you want to complete keep your distance, at least from people, stay in your car and do the drive-thru safari at Wild Florida.
Boxi Park Lake Nona is a great place to spend any day when the weather is gorgeous outside, even more so in December when the park is sprinkled with holiday décor and activities. Each Sunday there are different family-friendly holiday activities, including snow globe making and a visit from Santa. Not only is there an ugly sweater holiday party, there’s a doggy ugly sweater holiday day. In addition to the normal food offerings, there’s some extra holiday treats like specialty waffles topped with marshmallows and candy canes. There’s also an open-air skating rink ($10), live music and holiday movies shown on different nights. And even though we’re in central Florida, the park has its own version of snow that falls at random times.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Child-friendly activities, special festive food and live music all while enjoying the beautiful weather.
Michelle’s expert tip: Bring your camera! There are plenty of festive photo opps set up around the park.
Read more about Oh What Fun! A Holiday Festival →
SeaWorld transforms into a winter wonderland with more than three million sparkling lights and activities throughout the park. Temperature checks and face coverings are required as well as physical distancing. There’s plenty of open-air entertainment, including ice skating, a new attraction this year. Guests also will have a chance to take photos with Santa while being physically distanced. When you’re done enjoying all the usual attractions, head over to the Christmas market that features a holiday menu, festive merchandise, a model train village and more. To get the full edible experience purchase a Christmas Celebration and Brew Sampler Lanyard, which starts at $35 for a 5-punch lanyard or 10-punch lanyard for $50.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration runs through Dec. 31 and is included in the park’s admission.
Michelle’s expert tip: New this year the park will have celebrations for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. There will be a menorah lighting Dec. 10 through the 18th and nightly lighting of the kinara Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.
Read more about SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration →
Photo courtesy of Visit Kissimmee, Florida
It bills itself as “Orlando’s best half-day attraction” and we tend to agree – though increasingly it’s upping its game. In a city that often puts people at odds with their budget (time and/or money) with so many amazing parks to visit, Gatorland does the day’s schedule for you: half spent exploring a park devoted to Florida’s most famous native inhabitants, half spent by the resort pool with a cold beverage. Of course, if you want more gator – have at it. Even with supplemental activities, Gatorland still ranks as a comparative theme-park bargain. The holiday festivities include characters, a train ride, singers, food and more.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Ho Ho Ho-Down is select days in December and included in the regular price of admission. It features holiday entertainment, festive food and more.
Michelle’s expert tip: Don’t bring outside food; the park rules are strict to prevent the animals from eating things they shouldn’t and masks are required to enter the park.
Read more about Gatorland →
All you Christmas movie fanatics are going to want to pay a visit to Gaylord Palms. “I Love Christmas Movies” is an interactive, multi-sensory experience that allows guests to step into movies they know and love like “The Polar Express,” “A Christmas Story,” “Elf,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and “The Year Without Santa Claus.” Designed with safety precautions and social distancing in mind, guests can explore the 17,000-square-foot exhibit and enjoy more than 13 scenes that include replicas of film props, audio clips and more. Guests need to purchase tickets ahead of time, which helps control the capacity and face masks are required in all public areas, including photos with Santa. In addition to the I Love Christmas Movies experience, there are 15 other events available, some for a cost. Bundling several activities together will get you a discount.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It’s a sense of “normalcy” with all the safety and health precautions needed in today’s world.
Michelle’s expert tip: There are other holiday activities on sight from throwing snowballs to building gingerbread houses and more.
Read more about Christmas at the Gaylord Palms →
Families from all over the world make this event a holiday tradition. Holiday Kitchens located throughout the 11 countries in Epcot’s World Showcase show off how the holidays are celebrated around the globe. You’ll easily get your steps in exploring the different cultures during the celebratory time of the year. You can spend an entire day strolling between the pavilions doing some holiday shopping and enjoying costumed performers entertaining in the different countries. Although their appearances are socially distanced, characters will be dressed in their holiday best as they take part in the “Mickey and Friends Holiday World Tour.” Be on the lookout for the holiday cavalcades and the characters making appearances in random (socially distanced) spots.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Festive food, drinks and entertainment, this is a place to for the entire family. Don’t forget your mask!
Michelle’s expert tip: Don’t forget to make a park reservation prior to your visit. If you just show up, you likely won’t get inside the park.
Read more about Epcot International Festival of the Holidays →
Stay in the comfort and safety of your car while enjoying a drive-thru safari where dozens of animals are on display and zero human interaction is required. The safari covers more than 85 acres and includes animals like zebras, giraffes, bison, alligators and more. It’s about an hour to complete the safari, but driver beware, you’re at the mercy of the animals. If an emu takes a rest in the roadway, you have to wait for the fella to move before hitting the gas pedal. The speed limit on the safari is just 5 mph. Have your camera ready because more than likely a goat, white-tailed deer, longhorn cattle or one of their buddies will stroll right by your vehicle. If you want to stretch your legs, Wild Florida also has air boat rides and animal encounters with some exotic friends like albino alligators.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This is a true Florida experience with air boat rides and gators, even albino gators.
Michelle’s expert tip: Guests are encouraged to book tickets in advance online. They’ve been known to sell out.
Read more about Wild Florida →
The Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll includes 12 elaborately decorated trees spread out over the 120-acre shopping and entertainment complex. You’ll find trees dedicated to some of your favorite Disney attractions and characters. If you get inspired by the ornaments and décor, you’re in the perfect place to pick up some decorations for your own Christmas tree. Disney Springs also is the spot to get holiday gifts for your Disney-loving aunt, Toy Story-obsessed toddler or even a trinket or two for yourself. While strolling the outdoor area, you’ll be entertained by a DJ spinning holiday tunes, stilt-walking toy soldiers, skating snowflakes and you may even catch a “Disney-style” snowflake falling from the sky. When you work up an appetite from all the shopping and walking, there are plenty of places to get a festive treat, like Holiday Mickey Mousse at Amorette’s Patisserie and a Mickey Santa Pinata at The Ganachery.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: There are so many beautiful trees to look at and you can also get some shopping done at the same time.
Michelle’s expert tip: If you can, go during the week when it’s less crowded.
Read more about Disney Springs →
Photo courtesy of Michelle Spitzer
This open-air entertainment complex is getting a visit from jolly old St. Nicholas. The Santa Workshop Experience runs Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. A Plexiglas separates Santa from all his visitors, but Santa’s elves work their magic and remove the Plexiglas from any photos. Only one family group at a time is allowed in Santa’s 800-square-foot workshop. Each child that visits the workshop gets a complimentary ticket to ride The Wheel at ICON Park. The observation wheel takes guests for a spin aboard capsules that go 400 feet above Orlando. Other guests who visit The Santa Workshop can get tickets for The Wheel at a 50 percent discount. There also are other attractions at ICON Park like cookie decorating, story time with Mrs. Clause and the Polar Express Train.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A great experience to safely visit with Santa and experience other holiday fun.
Michelle’s expert tip: Go at night when your party can get a private capsule on The Wheel and a spectacular view from 400 feet above Orlando and all the holiday lights.
Read more about ICON Park →
You’ll feel like you’re on an all-inclusive island rather than the center of a city known for theme parks. Your admission ticket not only gets you access to the dolphins, it also includes a snorkel experience with thousands of tropical fish and coral reef, entrance to the aviary and much more. Breakfast, lunch, drinks and snacks also are part of the deal. In fact, you don’t even need towels or sunscreen. They are provided along with wetsuits. The lazy river is designed to look like a lagoon among a rainforest with waterfalls, caves and rocky terrain. Waterproof masks are given to guests when swimming with the dolphins and masks also need to be worn when in the restaurant or gift shops. You can rent a cabana to get an ultra-exclusive, private feel. There are other add-ons, like swimming with sharks or exploring the coral reef with a dive helmet.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: How many places in the world are you able to swim with dolphins and snorkel in December?
Michelle’s expert tip: Bundle this with tickets to SeaWorld and/or Aquatica for extra savings. There also are great discounts for Florida residents.
Read more about Discovery Cove Orlando →
It’s called Night of a Million Lights, but there are actually more than three million lights on display. This is a rare chance for the public to see the grounds of the Give Kids the World Village. The non-profit fulfills the wishes of critically ill children who want to visit central Florida. Usually the property is only open to families staying on the nearly 90-acre grounds and the thousands of volunteers and small staff that help run it. This is the first year they are opening to the public and the proceeds from Night of a Million Lights benefit the organization. Walt Disney World donated the majority of lights and other companies, including LEGOLAND Florida, Kennedy Space Center and SeaWorld Orlando also pitched in. Guests are required to wear masks and tickets must be purchased online in advance. Entry times are staggered and guests are asked to limit visits to two hours to keep capacity low.
Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A beautiful, outdoor holiday event that benefits a charity? Win. Win.
Michelle’s expert tip: Check the weather before you book your tickets. It’s a better experience if you go when it’s not raining.
Read more about Night of a Million Lights →