Orlando's 2018 Holiday Season Has More Magic Than Ever!

There’s no question that Orlando does up the holiday season like nowhere else. Christmas is once again coming to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and man is it ever magical! Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party serves up all the Disney sparkle you expect on a Magic Kingdom visit with the additional pomp of decked halls and streets, snow on Main Street, carolers, cocoa, cookies and loads of your favorite characters dressed to the holiday nines. And don’t even get us started on that resplendent, lit-up castle…. That said, there are plenty of smaller, local offerings – even free ones! – that serve up the season just beautifully. Take Long & Scott Farms’ annual corn maze, a whopping six-acre labyrinth that reels in the locals throughout the season, reminding us that there’s lots of holiday cheer to be had between Halloween and Christmas time. A mini-maze for the kids and lots of other fun activities make it a day-long event at a fraction of what you'd spend at larger attractions. At Epcot, they deliver an international festival (at no added cost above admission) that immerses guests in an array of holiday traditions via music, story and spectacle. Locally, the Orlando Ballet’s annual Nutcracker performance is a perpetual wow at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the towering twin trees of First Baptist Orlando will burst into song at its annual Singing Christmas Trees performances. Nightly snowfall can be enjoyed on the hour in Celebration.


Sure, the December holidays are great but why skip the October/November harvest?! The folks at Long & Scott Farms have been growing since 1963 and its charming Country Market sells Zellwood Sweet Gourmet Corn, crisp Kirby cukes and other local produce, but they're probably best known for their amazing annual corn maze, open on weekends every fall. Admission includes the six-acre maze, one-acre mini maze (super fun for kids!) and access to the kids' zip line, rock maze, cooling mist maze, a playground and covered picnic areas. Lots of vendors are on hand with eats, refreshments and of course, hot, buttered corn. Fun photo-ops abound for harvest-themed holiday cards and be sure to climb the tower and take in the vast, lush carpet of corn below.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Successfully navigating an enormous corn maze (without needing rescue from the Maze Master!) should be on everyone's harvest-season bucket list.

A.D.'s expert tip: Though Long & Scott accepts multiple forms of payment for the maze and market, food vendors are cash-only. Have some on hand as ATMs are scarce in corn country. This year's event runs through December 9.

Read more about Long & Scott Farms →

East Orlando

This East Orlando favorite (and holiday pseudo-homecoming for locally based alumni) runs from November 16 through December 31 and in 2018 is in its 11th year of bringing holiday fun to the community. On tap this year: snow, incredible choreographed lights and lots of rides. Showing up and hanging out is free, and music-synchronized holiday light shows run hourly. The twinkly bulbs cover the entire façade of CFE Stadium. It's fun and festive, but most people come for the fun winter activities! Ice skating ($12), an Ice Slide ($6.50 unlimited) and several great rides ($4.25 apiece). Friday and Saturday nights throughout its run, Light Up UCF features free outdoor movies, each with a holiday theme. Bring your own chair or blanket and a thermos of cocoa. This year's schedule includes Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause, A Christmas Story and more. Photo-ops with Santa start at $15 and you can skip the crush at the mall.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: With free features and a family-centric vibe, Light Up UCF is a festive holiday attraction that won't break the bank.

A.D.'s expert tip: This year's Light Up UCF features a holiday market on December 16. Get your shopping done while supporting local businesses!

Read more about Light Up UCF →

The quaint town of Celebration was essentially purpose-built for small-town charm and family fun and so it's no surprise that Now Snowing ranks among Central Florida's original and premier "snowing" events. Now Snowing offers a schedule filled with family-friendly holiday surprises and features an ice rink, Dickensian strolling carolers, community performers, photos with Santa, horse-drawn carriage rides, the Celebration Express train, and, perhaps most delightful to guests more accustomed to a subtropical Christmas: a nightly "snow" flurries at 6:00, 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. Now Snowing runs November 24 through December 31.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: For fans of holiday lights, it simply does not get bigger (or better) than this.

A.D.'s expert tip: Come early, grab a bite, explore the rest of Celebration Town Center or the charming town for which it is named.

Read more about Now Snowing →


Rise up on your feet and celebrate the season at an Orlando tradition that's been going strong for some 30-plus years. The Singing Christmas Trees of First Baptist Orlando are two solid towers of vocal power, serving as the festive, 40-foot risers for a huge choir. It's powerful, beautiful and accompanied by a full orchestra. This exciting presentation of Christmas classics is bolstered by a beautiful display of thousands upon thousands of holiday lights. Ticket prices start at $8 and go up from there; for $49, guests get premium seating and a dinner buffet. This year's performance dates are December 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15 and 16.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Towering trees and powerful voices meld to create an uplifting and fun holiday event.

A.D.'s expert tip: All balcony seats require stair climbing. Those with limited mobility should reserve seats on the ground flor.

Read more about Singing Christmas Trees →

The Orlando Ballet is the city's only resident professional ballet company and The Nutcracker, of course, is a ballet that tells the story of little Clara, her nutcracker, and their holiday adventures. This year's performances run on select days from December 7-16. Tickets start at $19 and go up from there. On December 8 and 15, the Nutcracker Family Show (a one-hour version; tickets start at $15) is suitable for your entire brood. You can sweeten the deal by adding a special Nutcracker Tea event (Dec. 15 only). A delicious assortment of sweet and savory treats will be on-hand, along with fun activities and demos. $50 for kids, $75 for adults. Fees benefit Orlando Ballet School.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: The Nutcracker is a holiday standard and a sophisticated afternoon or evening at the beautiful Dr. Phillips Center.

A.D.'s expert tip: Fans with wee ones can check out the Nutcracker Family Show, a one-hour program designed with the little ones in mind, offered this year on Dec. 8 and 15.

Read more about Orlando Ballet's Nutcracker & Nutcracker Family Series →

Disney Springs continues its expansion in dining, shopping and entertainment by extending into the holiday season, decking its halls and morphing into a winter wonderland where "snow" falls and trees twinkle with specific Disney themes on the Christmas Tree Trail. Live entertainment embodies the spirit of the season and special shopping opportunities abound (including gifts celebrating the 90th birthdays of Mickey and Minnie Mouse) can be found at World of Disney, kate spade new york and Vera Bradley. For the little ones, Stitch's Holiday Hunt serves as a fun scavenger hunt for budding detectives. Holiday programming at Disney Springs runs through January 6, 2019.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Not only is Disney Springs gorgeous, it's as economical an attraction as you want it to be. Even parking is free.

A.D.'s expert tip: Come on the early side. This continually expanding waterfront complex is likely to be busy with visitors and locals!

Read more about Holidays at Disney Springs →

'Tis the season when this beloved, festival-festooned park is transforming into Epcot International Festival of the Holidays mode (November 18 through December 30)! Familiar favorites such as Joyful! and the Candlelight Processional are on deck, the latter led by a celebrity narrator, tells the story of Christmas with a massive choir and 50-piece orchestra as back-up. This year's celebs include favorites Neil Patrick Harris and John Stamos, with "newbies" including Helen Hunt and Alfonso Ribiero! The international flavors and entertainment around the World Showcase are more varied than ever as food and beverage offerings have been expanded, so come hungry and be ready to top it all off with the beautiful Illuminations: Reflections of Earth water, laser and fireworks show with a stunning holiday finale.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: Epcot's annual holiday fete spreads knowledge along with joy as guests share in traditions that are different from their own.

A.D.'s expert tip: This event is included with Epcot admission, but consider a Candlelight Dinner Package for guaranteed seating for the Candlelight Processional.

Read more about Epcot International Festival of the Holidays →

On select nights, now through Dec. 21, the Magic Kingdom becomes a holiday haven as the halls are decked to the Disney nines and Cinderella's Castle comes alive with icy-glittering lights. This separate, ticketed event (prices start at $99) features live entertainment, spectacular fireworks and a holly-jolly holiday parade that only Walt Disney World could put together. See Mickey, Minnie and all their pals, dressed in their seasonal finest and whistle along to holiday tunes; folks of all ages are enchanted by the Magic Kingdom and all its cast members, from princesses to characters to the delightful march of the toy soldiers.

Read more about Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party →

When the holiday season rolls around (this year, that's Nov. 16 through Jan. 6) the verdant landscaping of the Gaylord Palms is bedecked with glittering lights and inside its biosphere-like atrium about a zillion more of them blow the collective minds of the many guests and visitors who gather beneath its towering Christmas tree for nightly shows featuring the magnificent performers of Cirque Dreams. Folks looking for a "cooler" holiday vibe love attending ICE! This year, the sub-zero attraction, featuring incredible, whimsical solid-ice sculptures and ice slides will be themed on one of the most beloved holiday films of all time: "A Christmas Story!" Experience iconic scenes such as The Old Man's Major Award, Aunt Clara's pink nightmare and the ultimate triple-dog dare at the school's flagpole, all of it hand-carved from two million pounds of ice by artists imported from China's famed Harbin Festival. Also on tap in 2017: snow tubing, photo-ops with Santa and more!

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: The Gaylord Palms does up an exceptionally beautiful Christmas, with activities suited for all ages. ICE! is an artistic marvel unto itself.

A.D.'s expert tip: ICE! is FREEZING. A long, cozy coat is included with admission but layer up to for staying power to really take it in. Gloves and hats recommended!

Read more about Christmas at the Gaylord Palms →

November 17 through January 6, guests at Universal Orlando Resort's two theme parks will have an array of holiday-themed entertainment to get a solid Christmas fix amid coasters, Transformers, dinosaurs, super heroes and the like. Christmas is ALL OVER the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and it is BIG. Beautifully themed decor, musical entertainment, special holiday treats and the astonishing projection mapping, light-and-fireworks show at Hogwarts Castle truly seem like witchcraft as guests sip their hot butterbeer and marvel at the spectacle. Additionally, Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's brings forth beloved characters from Despicable Me, Shrek and Madagascar, along with the big man himself, Santa. We need to specify because of course, Seuss Landing is the hub of Grinchmas this time of year, and features a live re-telling of the classic story along with the "Who-liday Spectacular," featuring original music by Manheim Steamroller. And speaking of, they'll be performing their inimitable brand of modern holiday music live at Universal Studios on select nights during December.

Recommended for Holiday Attractions because: This is the second year for Christmas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which turns the holiday cheer up to 11!

A.D.'s expert tip: All Universal holiday events are included with regular park admission. Park-to-park ticket holders will have access to everything.

Read more about The Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort →


Meet A.D. Thompson

Amy Drew has spent nearly three decades as a professional writer and roughly half her life as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.

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