Home » 5 Holiday Events in Orlando that Aren’t at a Theme Park

5 Holiday Events in Orlando that Aren’t at a Theme Park

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The holidays are one of the best times to visit Walt Disney World — there are festivities every night, the resorts are intricately decorated and look magical, and it seems like the whole property got itself into the holiday spirit.

But, you can only go to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party so many times. The gingerbread house at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort is wonderful, but it’s a brief diversion. If you’re in Orlando for an extended period of time and you’re looking for some off-property holiday attractions, don’t worry — Central Florida is as Christmasy as it gets.

Here are just a few of the amazing things you can take time out of your trip to check out — and as a bonus, most are free.

ICE at Gaylord Palms

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We’ll start with one that isn’t free, but is so remarkable, you’ll definitely think it’s worth the price of admission. 

Located just across I-4 from Walt Disney World, the Gaylord Palms Resort is one of the biggest and best off-property hotels in the area — complete with several feature pools, shops, and restaurants. And, during the holidays, the resort gives itself a makeover with trees, lights, and tons of decorations.

The centerpiece attraction, however, is the hard-ticket exhibit called ICE — an show featuring dozens of hand-sculpted ice features, each with an overarching theme. The 2019 show is themed around Polar Express, while past years have seen classics like The Christmas Story and A Charlie Brown Christmas. There are sculptures, lighting effects, and even slides that the whole family can enjoy.

The sculptures are elaborate, and the procession through the rooms feels not dissimilar from a Disney dark ride. And, if you’re afraid of the cold, don’t worry — the resort provides bulky winter coats for you to use.

While ICE is certainly the main event, there are other attractions on-hand, making the Gaylord Palms a decent half-day stop. These include snow tubing, snowball fighting, live stage shows, and more.

Frosty’s Christmastime Lounge

Image: Facebook, Frosty's Christmastime Lounge
Image: Facebook, Frosty’s Christmastime Lounge

While ICE at Gaylord Palms has Disney-like spectacle, Frosty’s Christmastime Lounge is far more DIY in its scope. That said, it is exactly the kind of kitschy local theme bar its name conjures to your mind.

Yes, that’s right — we’re talking about a year-round Christmas-themed quasi-dive bar.

It is, as you’d expect, not quite Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. However, it has a kind of local’s charm that you might enjoy if you’re the type to seek out goofy bars when you travel. The walls are lined with Christmas ornaments and decorations, there’s a faux-snow machine, and the cocktails have a fun Christmasy theme to them.

Is it the greatest bar in Orlando? It is not. Can it get a bid rowdy? Absolutely. Is it a place for kids? Definitely not. But, who cares!? It’s a Christmas bar! It’s stupid fun, and check your snark at the door — you’ll have a blast.

Lake Eola Wintertime Festivities

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Lake Eola is a great place to explore throughout the year, as it offers one of the most beautiful and scenic looks at Downtown Orlando that you’ll find. During the holidays, however, that beauty gets taken to an extra level courtesy of music, markets, and holiday lights.

The park shows movies on the weekends leading up to Christmas, including classic’s like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Christmas Vacation, as well as playing host to an enormous tree-lighting festival.

But that isn’t all — every day, the tree itself performs synchronized light shows set to music as visitors tour the lake’s expansive property.

Check your calendar when you visit for other live shows a the site, like ballets and orchestral performances, as there’s far more than just the nice light displays on offer each season. But, even still, it’s a nice nightly diversion in a cool part of town worth seeing at least once.

Winter on the Avenue at Winter Park

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If there’s one town in Central Florida that goes all out for Christmas, it’s the appropriately named Winter Park. Beautiful at any time of year, the town has a kind of old Florida charm centered around a massive park and a cute central business district.

That central area plays host to an event called Winter on the Avenue — an annual music, arts, and shopping festival centered on the holiday theme. There’s music, there’s hot chocolate, there’s ice skating and Santa Claus. The stores stay open late, the art galleries avail themselves to locals and visitors, and there are orchestral performances and film screenings.

Winter Park is charming even on the hottest day of the year, but when things chill down and the area gets into the holiday spirit, it really starts to sing. Without snow, it’ll never quite look like the kind of picturesque Thomas Kinkade-style aesthetic you might imagine of a cute Christmas village — but it’s as close as you’ll get in Florida.

If you make one trip off Disney property on your holiday vacation, make it to Winter Park.

Now Snowing — Celebration, Fl.

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When Walt Disney purchased the land that would eventually become Walt Disney World, he intended to build on it the city of the future. Everything he learned about city planning from building Disneyland — from road layouts and water management to trash collection and foot traffic flow patterns — was to be put to the test and expanded in this great city.

Sadly, Walt Disney’s city of tomorrow never came into existence, but it did get a minor tribute in the form of Celebration, Fl. — a planned community on the southern tip of Disney property. The village featured a central business district and suburban-style homes and apartments within walking distance. It was a New Urbanist vision — a kind of perfect small town America.

It’s a must-see destination for major Disney nerds. But, on top of that, it also hosts one of the most magical events of the Orlando year: Now Snowing.

If you’ve been to an artificial snow event before, you probably left disappointed. Celebration’s Now Snowing, however, is much different.

With ice skating, caroling, and an appearance from Santa himself, the town pulls out all the stops on this ode to Christmas magic. But, on top of it all, it absolutely coats the area in snowfall — giving it the kind of wintertime look that will scratch the itch of anyone hoping for a white Christmas. Kids love the snow, and as an adult, it’s hard not to be charmed by the aesthetic wonder of such a cute town under snowfall.

Celebration is a great place to visit no matter the time of year, but with a little holiday makeover, it’s a must-see spot for the whole family. Oh, and Disney divested itself from Celebration a few years ago so, yes, it still counts as off-property!

But, you know, not too far off-property.