• Search
The go-to resource for Central Florida's modern parents

Holiday PLAY Guide for Orlando Families

Welcome to the Holiday PLAY Guide, your ultimate source for festive fun in Central Florida! As the holiday season approaches, Orlando offers a plethora of enchanting experiences for locals and visitors alike. From dazzling light displays and spirited events to the best places to shop for unique gifts, we’ve curated a comprehensive guide to ensure you make the most of this joyous time of year.

FREE Holiday Lights & City Events

No need to break the bank, here’s a list of places to go without spending a dime (keep those pennies for presents!).

Lake Eola Holiday Stroll, Downtown Orlando
  • Downtown for the Holidays: December 1-January 6, the Eola Wonderland Christmas Tree comes alive with synchronized light and music. Throughout December, visitors can enjoy snowfall and shop local at the holiday Merry Market. Grab a blanket and enjoy a free holiday movie (Polar Express) on December 8 at 7 p.m. or ride the Holiday Train on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays (December 2-23) from 5:30-9:30 p.m. — all on the Northeast Lawn. Don’t miss the holiday drone show on December 23 at 8 p.m. and Santa at Eola House on select days!
  • Lake Nona’s Oh, What Fun! Holiday Festival will not disappoint, as all of their events are top notch! This one has a Christmas Marketplace, faux snowfall, Santa’s cottage, a cirque style acrobatics show (Friday nights), a snow slide (Saturday nights) and performances from local school groups (Sunday nights). Boxi Park is adjacent to this event with live music and great food as well. Make it a date night: stroll through the Evergreen Tree Trail to the Wave Hotel for festive adult drinks at the FaLaLa Bar in the sculpture garden.
  • Prepare to be dazzled at Holiday on the Drive in College Park on December 7! This enchanting event offers something for everyone – from activities for little ones to an artisan vendor village for unique holiday gifts. Santa will be there to spread cheer and the air will be alive with music and entertainment. Local shops and restaurants as well as food trucks will be ready to serve you making this a holiday celebration you won’t want to miss!
  • Celebration Town Center Now Snowing event is now-December 31. Take a horse drawn carriage ride, frolic in faux snow, hear Charles Dickens style Carolers, train rides, ice skating and enjoy this magical downtown area.
  • Holiday in the Park kicks off December 1st. All month-long enjoy the beautiful light display and dancing light show at Central Park in downtown Lake Mary. This is a quaint park square that is a great place to let the kids run and play. The park is surrounded by shops and restaurants if you do want to grab a treat, dinner or a gift. Or you can pack a treat and enjoy it on the picnic tables in the park.
  • Watch a free performance of The Nutcracker at Center Lake Park in Oviedo on December 15 at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., performed by University Performing Arts Centre.
  • Go to Light Up the Holidays on December 2 to see the 60-foot tree lighting, fireworks and ice skating at Cranes Roost Park (Altamonte Springs). Or take a walk through the Holiday Lights Display, December 2-January 1 with ongoing events such as visits with Santa & Mrs. Claus, concerts, characters and movies all month long.
  • Grab some chairs and head out to Downtown Sanford’s Holiday Parade of Lights on December 9 at 6 p.m. Witness illuminated floats, dazzling vehicles, vibrant dance groups and marching bands, as well as businesses and community organizations showcasing their holiday spirit along the one-mile route.
  • Sanford’s Jingle Jam Community Holiday Party on December 16 from 1-7 p.m. enjoy a street party that takes over Historic Downtown Sanford and is a ton of fun for families. Shop holiday artisanal vendors, listen to live music at multiple stages, munch on delicious food, visit with Santa and more.
  • City of Oviedo’s Holiday Parade on December 2 from 6-9 p.m. Parade route starts at 7 p.m. at the Gym & Aquatic Facility on Oviedo Boulevard and ends at the corner of Center Lake Lane and City Plaza.
  • Start off your holiday festivities at Avalon Park’s annual Avalon Aglow event on December 2. Starting with a parade at 3 p.m. and ends with fireworks at 9 p.m. This free event also includes live performances, real snow, train rides and even an appearance by Santa Claus.

Holiday Concerts, Shows & Performances

Create merry memories with your family at these festive shows.

Orlando Ballet’s The Nutcracker

Holiday Outdoor Movies


Miscellaneous Holiday Experiences

Add these unique activities to your holiday season.

Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll 2023 | Photo: Mariah Wild

Visit Santa Claus

We all know it’s not too hard to find Santa in December. However, this is our list of the best places to have a run-in with Ole St. Nick.

  • It’s seems that The Santa’s Workshop Experience at ICON Park has risen to the top of local parents’ favorite Santa visit for their kids. There are several selfie photo opps as you walk through the workshop. At then end, you get your photos with Santa and photographers that make the time more magical (and not so rushed). Bonus: each child who participates in The Santa Workshop Experience will receive a free ride on the Carousel and a complimentary ride on The Wheel in a holiday-decorated capsule (and access to the VIP no-wait line!). Guests accompanying the child can get 50 percent off their ticket tickets to The Wheel.
  • Meet Santa at Santa’s Wonderland in Bass Pro Shops for a meeting with Santa and free 4 x 6 photo! They also have free crafts and activities for kids. Advanced reservations are required. During your visit, kids can drop their letter in Santa’s mailbox. Families can also see amazing aquariums and wildlife displays while you’re there.
  • On Saturdays, December 5-23, meet the jolly couple and get a keepsake picture taken with Mr. & Mrs. Claus at Winter Park Village!  Bring your camera or phone. Pets are welcome!
  • Meet Santa at the Eola House on Fridays, Saturday and Sundays from 5:30-9:30 p.m. in December. Best of all, the experience is absolutely free.
  • Enjoy a holiday concert and a free visit with Santa & Mrs. Claus on December 8, 15 & 22, 7 – 9 p.m. at Cranes Roost Park (Altamonte Springs). Or bring your wish list and camera on “Santa Tuesday” on December 19 for a free visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
  • Professional photographers and quite possibly the most authentic mall Santa we’ve ever seen, are set up inside a creative display at Mall at Millenia.

Christmas on the Farm

  • Cut down your very own Christmas tree at Santa’s Farm  in Eustis. There’s lot of other activities for the family as well including a tractor tour, zipline, petting zoo and (our favorite) a Christmas bar for holiday drinks!
  • Winter Fest at Amber Brook Farms on December 9-10 & 16-17 is like walking into a winter wonderland with snow flurries, santa visits, photo opps and enjoy a sip of hot chocolate while listening to seasonal music. Plus, you can pick your own strawberries and sunflowers. Purchase your tickets online in advance.

Hanukkah Experiences

Lighting up Orlando: Unforgettable events for families celebrating Hanukkah in the City Beautiful.


Gift Ideas

We’re not getting any kickbacks for these gift ideas. We just think they’re really cute and love them because they support local businesses!

Photo: iStock | Anastasiia Shavshyna
  • For the Traveler, Organizer or the Organizationally-Challenged on your list: Shop these gifts that are $100 and under! We’re adding the Caramel Smooth Pebble Signature Tote to our list right now.
  • For the Grinchy Coffee Lover on your list: Head to the closest Foxtail Coffee Co. near you and grab their new Grinch-themed line of coffee, cocoa, hot sauce and matcha, then grab a gift card and a fox stocking to stuff it all inside of. Boom! … A cute, thoughtful and local gift that’s great for a hostess gift, white elephant or neighbor.
  • For the Ice Cream Aficionado on your list: Make your way to the nearest Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream scoop shop to pick up their adorable merch and a gift card to make sure your gift will not go to waste!
  • For the Future Scientist on your list: The Science Store inside the Orlando Science Center has some fun and unique science stuff that any kid would love! Pair it with a one-year membership for an out of this world present.
  • For your Little Fashionista: Stop by Tugboat & the Bird and allow their helpful staff to put together the most adorable gift basket full of quality fashion, toys and unique gifts that you can’t get anywhere else!
  • For the person on your list who already has everything: Maybe you can find them some one-of-a-kind items at Palmer’s Garden and Goods Holiday Market, featuring local makers, on December 7 at 6 p.m.

Our Top 5 Picks of the Best Holiday Events in Orlando

We’re so lucky to have so many great events around every corner… However, these are our absolute favorite ones!

Asian Lantern Festival: Into the Wild 2023
  1. Asian Lantern Festival: Into the Wild at the Central Florida Zoo is a unique way to explore Japanese culture through amazing lantern displays, live music and culinary treats! It’s not necessarily a holiday themed event but with all the light displays and hot cocoa stops, it feels very festive!
  2. Lake Nona’s Oh, What Fun! Holiday Festival will not disappoint, as all of their events are top notch! This one has a Christmas Marketplace, faux snowfall, Santa’s cottage and a cirque style acrobatics show (Friday nights), a snow slide (Saturday nights) and performances from local school groups (Sunday nights). Boxi Park is adjacent to this event with live music and great food as well. Make it a date night: stroll through the Evergreen Tree Trail to the Wave Hotel for festive adult drinks at the FaLaLa Bar in the sculpture garden.
  3. Christmas at Gaylord Palms is one of the best holiday experiences in Orlando! Visitors don’t need to stay at the resort to experience Ice! Featuring a Charlie Brown Christmas, Mrs. Claus Christmas Traditions book reading, indoor ice tubing, Cirque: Spirit of Christmas show and extraordinary Christmas decorations throughout the atrium.
  4. Check out our tour of Dazzling Nights at Leu Gardens. Creative City Project always does an excellent job of creating exciting and interactive experiences for Orlando folks.
  5. Holiday Nights at Island H20 Water Park is a wonderland of holiday lights on select nights through December 31, with lots of photos opps, activities, shows and food (included with admission).

 


Our Top 5 Picks of the Best Holiday Theme Park Events

The theme parks go all out to make the holiday season exciting each year. Here are our top five favorite celebrations.

EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays | Photo: Abigail Nilsson
  1. Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, now-December 30. Explore all the ways the different countries celebrate the holidays is always a treat!
  2. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, now-December 22. Check out our 5 PLAY Tips here.
  3. Christmas Celebration at SeaWorld Orlando, now-January 2. Don’t miss the ice-skating show!
  4. Kid’s New Years Eve at Legoland, December 26-31. Ring in the new year with an early fireworks display!
  5. The Grinchmas™ Who-liday Spectacular at Seuss Landing™ in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. This live retelling of the classic tale, featuring music recorded by Mannheim Steamroller is a great way to freshen up your holiday traditions if the kids get sick of Santa!


Get Crafty At-Home

Does the holiday season bring out your DIY side? Here’s some ideas you can do at home.

Holly Jolly Snacking Board for Kids | Rachel Doyle Photography

 


Holiday Workshops

Don’t want to go it alone? Grab a friend or child and hit up some of these holiday workshops to connect with your inner elf.

iStock
  • Kids’ Christmas Cake Decorating Class on December 2 by Sweet Puffs LLC at the Boys & Girls Club in Altamonte Springs.
  • Gingerbread House Decorating Workshop on December 7 & 14 at JoJo’s ShakeBAR Orlando.
  • Make your reservations today for Uno Pizzeria & Grill’s Kids Holiday Cookie Decorating on December 12 from 4-7 p.m. Kids eat free, with purchase of each adult entrée. Reservations are required. Call today.
  • Design your own succulent Christmas Tree on December 15 at Ivanhoe Park Brewing. No experience required! Pamela (of Bomb Blooms) will guide you, step-by-step, in creating your beautiful + unique Christmas Tree using REAL succulent plants.
  • Sign up to make your own clay ornaments at Super Awesome Cool Pottery. Fun for families and great for all ages. December 15 is the last day to make clay ornaments to give as Christmas gifts in 2023.
  • STEM Lab: Gingerbread Houses — This is not your ordinary Gingerbread House activity! On December 15 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Aspire STEAM Studio is taking this festive tradition to the next level and making it a FUN challenge (for kids age 7 to 14) steeped in STEAM & Culinary deliciousness.
  • Countdown to Christmas at Aspire STEAM Studio in Casselberry on December 23 from 5-7 p.m. during this Christmas Cookie Workshop by making up a batch of delicious Christmas cookies that are as beautiful and festive as they are delicious! For ages 7 and up.

 

We hope you have a PLAYful holiday season!

Did we miss something? Email heather@playgroundmagazine.com to get it added to our Holiday PLAY Guide.

Written by
PLAYGROUND
View all articles
Written by PLAYGROUND

Categories

Follow us

Proactively formulate resource-leveling imperatives through alternative process improvements.