10 things to do in Florida during the holidays

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The holiday season is now in full swing, and although it won’t be a traditional white Christmas in Florida, there are plenty of other ways to get in the holiday mood.

Here are 10 holiday events happening in Florida this month to get in the holiday spirit!

1. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Orlando, FL

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is an annual event that takes place at Disney World after hours. The park closes for regular guests at 7 p.m. and opens for the special event, which lasts until midnight. All of the park’s attractions are still open, so you can enjoy your favorite rides such as Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain at night, according to the Disney World website.

The event features special holiday-themed parades, complimentary holiday treats such as hot chocolate and snow cones, a “Frozen” light show cast on Cinderella’s Castle and meet and greets with Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus. The event runs from Dec. 9 to Dec. 22 and starts at $89, according to the Disney World website.

2. Now Snowing, Celebration, FL

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, Celebration Town Center has you covered until Dec. 31. “Now Snowing” provides a snowfall experience every night on the hour; the first snow begins at 6 p.m. and the last falls at 9 p.m., according to Celebration Town Center’s website

The event also features an ice rink, Charles Dicken-esque carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides and photo-ops with Santa Claus.

3. Gingerbread Extravaganza, Jacksonville, FL

Gingerbread houses gained popularity in the 16th century as a Christmas tradition after the Grimm brothers wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, siblings who find a house made entirely of candy. The tradition of Gingerbread houses then came to America with German immigrants, where it gained further popularity, Tori Avey, a blogger who explores the story behind food, said.

The Jacksonville Historical Society (JHS) takes the tradition of the gingerbread house to the next level for a charitable cause. This year from Nov. 30 to Dec. 23, the JHS will display extravagantly detailed gingerbread houses designed by local architects, artists and bakers, as well as themed Christmas trees decorated by the Junior League of Jacksonville Sustainers, according to the events website.

This is a charity event that benefits the children programs and archives of JHS. The website states the suggested donation amount for attending is $5 for adults and $3 for children. For more information on the event, visit its website here.

4. ICE! At the Gaylord Palms, Orlando, FL

December in Florida is usually warm and sunny, so you won’t typically see a lot of ice unless you’re at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando. This event features 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures from Harbin, China, that will be on display at the resort, according to the hotel’s website.

The website states the event will highlight different ways countries from all over the world celebrate Christmas. It will also feature delicately carved ice sculptures, a two-story ice slide, two different holidays shows, a snowball target range, a center for gingerbread house decorating and a live carving of ice by artisans from Harbin, China, according to the hotel’s website.

5. Santa’s Enchanted Forest, Miami, FL

If you’re in the mood for a thrilling holiday season, Santa’s Enchanted Forest in Miami may be your perfect Christmas destination. Santa’s Enchanted Forest is the world’s largest holiday theme park, featuring 18 thrill rides, according to the festival’s website.

If you’re not a fan of roller coasters, there are games and light attractions to enjoy as well. Santa’s Enchanted Forest offers daily and season passes, as well as add-on packages such as express passes to avoid lines. For ticket pricing information and directions, visit Santa’s Enchanted Forest’s website.

6. The Orlando Ballet Presents: The Nutcracker, Orlando, FL

The Nutcracker Ballet is a holiday tradition that is performed all over the world during Christmastime. The original ballet, “The Great Russian Nutcracker” was first performed in Moscow, Russia, in 1982, according to the Moscow Ballet website

After the ballet came to Europe and America, the story was changed slightly to fit a more European ideal of Christmas rather than a Russian one, according to the same source.

The ballet follows a young girl named Clara and her Christmas Eve adventures in the Land of Sweets with her toy nutcracker that comes to life. The Orlando Ballet’s rendition will be performed at The Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts in Orlando. Tickets start at $19, but you can buy packages such as “The Nutcracker Tea,” which includes holiday treats and photo opportunities with some characters and dancers, or a condensed, one-hour version of the show specifically for younger audiences. To purchase tickets, visit the Orlando Ballet’s website here.

7. Christmas In The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Orlando, FL

For the first time ever, Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is being transformed for the holidays, according to Universal Studio’s website

All of Hogsmeade is decorated with festive lights, garland and wreaths for the holiday season. The experience is complete with new holiday food items such as hot butterbeer and a holiday dinner option at the Three Broomstick eatery, holiday merchandise, a new frog choir singing Christmas songs and a magical light show projected onto the Hogwarts castle at night, according to Universal Studio’s website

8. Night of Lights, St. Augustine, FL

For the 24th year in a row, historical St. Augustine has decked every street corner in lights. There are 3 million lights draping nearly every tree, bush and building in Historic Downtown St. Augustine, according to the city of St. Augustine’s website.

Until Jan. 31, the shops, restaurants and historical sights are open later than usual so visitors can enjoy the lights from from various patios and eateries. There are horse-drawn carriages, boat tours and even sky tours that can be taken to view the lights, according to the city of St. Augustine’s website.

9. Light Up UCF, Orlando, FL

For the 10th year in a row, UCF is offering nights of winter fun on campus at the CFE arena until Dec. 31. The event includes an ice skating rink, winter-themed rides, photo ops with Santa Claus at “Light up Lane,” a free holiday film festival and a dazzling light display, according to Light Up UCF’s website.

Strolling through the event, the film festival and parking are free, but other attractions such as ice skating cost money. For more information on the event and attraction prices, visit its website here.

10. Surfing Santas, Cocoa Beach, FL

The spectacle of the surfing santas is a Cocoa Beach tradition that takes place on Dec. 24 at 8 a.m. The event started when Cocoa Beach local George Tosset went surfing on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa, according to the event’s website.

A local newspaper captured a picture of him surfing as Santa, which led to more people joining the next year. Almost 9 years later, the event brings surfers from all over the world to celebrate Christmas in a gnarly way!

There will be a Christmas-themed costume contest, and all the Surfing Santa’s “Swag” sold will benefit local charities such as the Florida Surf Museum and Grind For Life, which offers financial assistance to families affected by cancer. In past years, the Surfing Santas event raised more than $60,000 for these charities, according to the event’s website.

Although Florida’s holiday season might not fit the traditional mold of what winter should look or feel like, Floridians find fun and inventive ways to get into the holiday spirit every year.

Whether you stick to your own holiday traditions or decide to try something new this year, the important thing is to enjoy the season.

Happy holidays!