If your dream Christmas includes sunny skies and trips to the beach, make way to Florida. The Sunshine State puts its own signature twist on the holidays by combining a relaxed, beachy vibe with plenty of festive activities for the whole family. Book a stay at one of many gorgeous vacation rentals in Florida this winter. Start looking for the perfect getaway location with these seven cities — each one is known for its Christmas spirit.
Florida’s family-entertainment capital goes all out for Christmas with a constant stream of events that starts immediately after Thanksgiving. At Walt Disney World, check out Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, watch Cinderella’s castle twinkle with ice-blue lights, and stand awestruck at the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! nighttime spectacular show. While you’re in town, check out the Hogwarts Christmas decorations at Universal’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, attend the Festival of Trees at the Orlando Museum of Art, and meet Santa at Legoland’s Christmas Bricktacular. If you’re missing the snow, head to Gaylord Palms to wander through massive ice sculptures, fly down two-story ice slides, and try snow tubing at the Alpine Village.
Tampa is home to one of Florida’s most popular holiday traditions: Christmas Town in Busch Gardens. Each December, the theme park comes to life with millions of colorful Christmas lights, creating an experience that is pure magic. Watch holiday shows, meet the reindeer in Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland, and stop in for a photo in Santa’s House. Kids can even try sledding and snowman-building in the enclosed Snow World. Another favorite Tampa event is Snow on 7th, a holiday parade capped off by a real snowfall created by hidden snow machines. Other local holiday events include the Wonderland of Lights in Brandon, the Henry B. Plant Museum’s annual Victorian Christmas Stroll, Santa Fest, and the Rough Riders Holiday Parade.
As one of South Florida’s most popular vacation destinations, Miami pulls out all the stops at Christmas. The undisputed favorite is Santa’s Enchanted Forest, which turns Tropical Park into a twinkling wonderland of lights. You might need multiple days to try more than 100 carnival rides, watch holiday-themed music and dance shows, and indulge in decadent Christmas treats. The rest of Miami also gets into the Christmas spirit, offering you the chance to watch animal-themed parades at Wild Holidays at Jungle Island, experience an old-fashioned holiday at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, and watch lighted boats from Bayfront Part during the Miami Outboard Club’s Holiday Boat Parade. For an elegant evening out, listen to traditional tunes at the annual Sounds of the Season concert at The New World Symphony.
Settle into a Panhandle Christmas in Pensacola. Elves dance merrily in falling snow at the Pensacola Winterfest, a massive, month-long festival. Take your little ones on a bright red trolley, climb into Santa’s sleigh, check out the Polar Express train, and don’t miss the hilarious Elf Parade. At the Pensacola Christmas Parade, look up to see an aerial show by the Blue Angels. The Pensacola Children’s Chorus sing traditional Christmas songs at Christmas on the Coast, and at Santa Drop, you can see Santa parachute out of a plane. For an only-in-Florida experience, watch costumed surfers ride the waves at the Surfing Santa Parade.
In Sarasota, you can have the best of both worlds: a sunny vacation and classic snowy Christmas activities. At Lakewood Ranch’s Snow Fest Sarasota, your little ones can play in the snow, tube down huge snow slides, and step into a giant snow globe. When you’ve had your fill of the white stuff, check out the Candy Cane Hula Hoopers, ride ponies, and visit with Santa. Historic Spanish Point hosts Holly Days and Mangrove Lights, where you can walk through twinkling forests, explore festively decorated homestead buildings, and enjoy outdoor caroling. Put bells on your shoes for the Annual Jingle and Jog, attend the Sarasota tree lighting, and head to Main Street to watch for Santa in the annual Holiday Parade.
6. St. Augustine
The medieval city of St. Augustine turns up the charm during the holidays. As part of the Nights of Lights festival, the historic buildings glow with millions of tiny lights, turning every evening walk into a dream. Use the free park and ride shuttle to streamline travel from your local vacation rental. The fun continues with the St. Augustine Christmas Parade, which runs through downtown and ends with a meet-and-greet with Santa in the Plaza de la Constitucion. On Luminary Night, explore the St. Augustine Lighthouse in the glow of thousands of luminaries, and check out the Victorian Christmas decorations. For a beachy holiday event, head to Surf Illumination at St. Augustine Beach, to visit Santa and see the pier light up for Christmas.
7. Captiva Island
Put a tropical spin on your Christmas in Captiva Island. Get into the festive spirit at the Captiva Holiday Village, where you can watch a tree lighting and experience a fireworks show with a view of the ocean. Opera singers serenade the crowd during Sunset Arias, and the South Seas Island Resort Holiday Stroll features Christmas lights and family-friendly activities such as ornament-making stations. Don’t miss the awe-inspiring Luminary Festival, the Christmas Carol Sing at the Chapel By the Sea, or the lighted boat parade. For the full island experience, watch the charming Captiva Golf Cart Parade, where residents turn tiny carts into over-the-top Christmas masterpieces.
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