Best Things to Do in December in Orlando

Cool, But Not Too Cool: Top December To-Dos In Orlando

Stellar weather and seasonal spirit combine to make December an incredible time of year to enjoy Orlando - especially outside. At the theme parks - Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and the like - the incredible attractions are bolstered by holiday-specific programming. This year is the first time Animal Kingdom is getting deeply engrossed in the holidays. You can mingle with life-size, artisan-sculpted animal puppets–including a Merry Menagerie of reindeer, foxes and polar bears, celebrate Diwali––the festival of lights in India and watch the Tree of Life awaken at night with a whimsical tale. Even Disney Springs gets into the spirit with a Christmas tree stroll of more than 20 Disney-inspired trees. There are still plenty of options for those staying away from the theme parks. Out in Clermont, the rolling hills of the Lakeridge Winery beckon not only with sweet bottles, but sweets themselves! Its Wine & Chocolate Festival features more than just the top-billed treats, though. Live music, arts and crafts and more make it a very family-friendly good time.


East Orlando

This East Orlando favorite (and holiday pseudo-homecoming for locally based alumni) runs through Jan. 5. It's in its 12th year of bringing holiday fun to the community and keeps getting larger each year. 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 new this year, a carousel ($4.25). 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 and The Polar Express.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Golden Knights put on a stellar winter carnival, but it's not just for co-eds. Families will love the low-cost and free, built-in December fun.

A.D.'s expert tip: This year's Light Up UCF features a carousel!

Read more about Light Up UCF →

The quaint town of Celebration was essentially 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 through December 31.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: While it may not be the snow the Northern expatriates are used to, Now Snowing ticks the Christmassy feeling up a notch with its flurries.

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 →

On select nights, now through Dec. 22, 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 $104 for remaining dates this month) 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. Admission includes hot cocoa, egg nog, apple cider, holiday cookies and even a snowman-shaped pretzel.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's a no-brainer, really. Cinderella's castle gets an Elsa-style makeover as the warmth of Disney merges with the "chill" of the holiday season.

Michelle's expert tip: View the parade from Main Street. Wonderful photo ops with Cinderella's Castle in the background.

Read more about Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party →


When the holiday season rolls around (this year it runs through Jan. 5) 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. There are nightly shows featuring the magnificent performers of Cirque Dreams, an Elf on the Shelf character breakfast and even a Naughty or Nice Escape Room. Folks looking for a "cooler" holiday vibe love attending ICE! This year, the sub-zero attraction (9 degrees to be exact), features incredible, whimsical solid-ice sculptures and ice slides themed after one of the most beloved holiday films of all time: "The Polar Express." Also on tap, snow tubing, photo-ops with Santa and more!

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Not nearly as pricey as the theme parks, but with lots of variety, CAGP offers snow, music, lights, and trees (even lots of real ones)!

Michelle'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 →

The Orlando Ballet is the city's only resident professional ballet company. 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 13-23. Tickets start at $24 and go up from there. No need to worry if you think your little ones may not sit through an entire performance. On December 14 and 21, the Nutcracker Family Show (a one-hour version) is suitable for your entire brood. This beautiful, festive production is the perfect way to introduce your children to theater. Fees benefit Orlando Ballet School.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's a quintessential December performance, and while you're in town it's always nice to see what else the Dr. Phillips Center has to offer!

Michelle's expert tip: On Dec. 14 and 21, fans with wee ones can check out the Nutcracker Family Show, a one-hour program designed with the little ones in mind.

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

Oh What Fun! A Holiday Festival

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 →

All the usual rides, aquarium exhibits, animals and more are on tap for SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration. New this year is the fun Sesame Street Parade, which includes festival floats, familiar characters and lots of dancing. Also added to the Christmas lineup for 2019, SeaWorld Pets Ahoy Experience. This adorable show features Santa's elves and a team of adopted dogs, cats, birds, rats and even pigs. The killer whales take center stage for the heartwarming, night time show Miracles. Be sure to save time to stroll around the Christmas Market. That's where you'll find plenty of tasting and brew locations including s'mores served in a waffle cone, hot chocolate, Christmas nachos and plenty more. The market is also where you'll find Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Guests can immerse themselves in a life-size story book and meet the loveable character along with some of his friends.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration is runs select nights through Dec. 31 and is included in the park's admission.

Michelle's expert tip: Do not miss the ice skating show! You will be amazed at how talented these performers are.

Read more about SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration →

South Orlando
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. Catch Gatorland's animals and handler shows in the afternoon, hit the splash pad with the kids, then try the Screamin' Gator Zipline, where adventurers soar at speeds approaching 30 m.p.h. over live alligators and crocodiles. There's a nighttime run, as well. Other fun add-ons include the Gator Night Shine and various into-the-swamp jaunts for up-close alligator action. Even with supplemental activities, Gatorland still ranks as a comparative theme-park bargain.

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.

A.D.'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 →

Holidays at Universal Orlando
Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando

Both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure are decked out with an abundant of holiday fun, which runs through Jan. 5. Harry Potter fans will not want to miss the Hogwarts Castle display at dazzling projection of holiday spirit. There are plenty of holiday treats to eat and drink while enjoying the Frog Choir sing seasonal tunes. Suess Landing is transformed to the include The Grinchmas Who-liday, a live retelling of the classic holiday tale starring The Grinch. Over at Universal Orlando, guests can see the fan-favorite Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's with appearances by Shrek, the Minions and of course Santa Clause. For the best seat in the house for the parade, get tickets to "Festive Flavors Holiday Buffet." It gives guests access to exclusive viewing areas for both Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's and Universal Orlando's Cinematic Celebration. During this event, guests can indulge in all you-care-to-enjoy holidays cuisine, specialty desserts and sparkling wine Tickets for adults are $64.99 plus tax, and tickets for children (ages 3 ��" 9) are $44.99 plus tax. Separate theme park admission is required.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: There's something for Harry Potter fans, Grinch fans and Santa fans.

Michelle's expert tip: Take advantage of the extra-ticketed event, Festive Flavors Holiday Buffet, for the best parade seats.

Read more about Holidays at Universal Orlando →

Epcot International Festival of the Holidays

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. Although you may null and void all the walking while partaking in the festive flavors. 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."

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 →


Meet Michelle Spitzer

Michelle Spitzer grew up in South Florida taking many family vacations to the Orlando area. For the past 12 years, she's called central Florida home.

A journalist for more than two...  More About Michelle