Orlando theme park is fully operational with new vacation entertainment and the favorite is back this year | Holiday Guide | Orlando
The finished, fun-sized candy bars were barely delivered on Halloween night when Orlando’s theme parks began decorating their halls, and although Thanksgiving is still a week away, attractions in our neighborhood are already celebrating Christmas. Unlike last year, when many traditional seasonal festivities were curtailed due to social distancing, the parks will kick off in 2021 with new entertainment and a favorite back. Here are some of the top vacation attractions to put on your wish list if you’re planning to visit the Big Three resorts in Central Florida between now and January 2, 2022.
Walt Disney World
As usual, the Magic Kingdom is ground zero in Walt Disney World’s holiday festivities, with glowing garlands and a giant Christmas tree adorning Main Street USA this year, the real action over at Adventureland, where the annual seasonal “Jingle Cruise” overlays. It has been extended to new show scenes that were added during the recent renovation of Jungle Cruise. The good news is that Disney will bring back large-scale parades for the first time since the pandemic; The bad news is that you’ll need to buy tickets to the Merriest After Hours party in order to enjoy the Once Upon a Time Before Christmas party before December 22nd, or to watch Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios once again hosts daily car parades starring St. Nick, as well as nightly projection shows along Sunset Boulevard, and the Animal Kingdom’s adorable artisanal puppets have returned to Discovery Island. However, I am very excited to have the live entertainment back at the Epcot International Holiday Festival. Not only has the Candlelight Parade returned—complete with celebrity narrators and a fully inscribed choir—but cultural artists are finally back on the world show, including Hanukkah narrators and Chinese lion dancers.
Finally, if theme park admissions aren’t within your vacation budget, Disney Springs hosts a free Christmas tree picnic, complete with fake snow flashes on select nights. Even better, you can take a stunning tour of the seasonal décor of luxury Disney hotels, from the elaborate gingerbread houses of Grand Floridian resorts to contemporary resorts.
In 2020, Universal Studios Florida cleverly transformed its regular holiday parade into a safe parade, but this year the entire parade is back in action, including the iconic Macy’s balloons inspired by the New York Thanksgiving Day parade. Universal’s Holiday Tribute Store is back, too, with a new twist: Cartoons can be added to “Wall of Fame” for $125; Limited availability. And you’ll find that many of the food festival booths installed at Halloween Horror Nights have roamed around to bring out new holiday gifts.
On the Islands of Adventure, Seuss Landing has been acquired by Grinchmas, and the musical theater show has been transformed from its usual uncomfortable sound theater to the former Blue Man Group Auditorium, providing a more enjoyable viewing experience. Of course, the magical worlds of Harry Potter at both parks join the festivities with their regular seasonal theatrical performances, nightly Hogwarts castle light shows and plenty of hot butters.
Loews-operated hotels at Universal Orlando celebrate the holidays with everything from the return of paid Harbor Nights parties in Portofino Bay to tree- and candle-lit parties at the less expensive Endless Summer Resort. Locals can now stay at this property for as little as $85 a night and get two-day park admission for the price of one; Purchase a Wendy soft drink before December 16th to get the discount code.
Ice Breaker—the new roller coaster expected at SeaWorld Orlando—doesn’t melt until spring, but the park has several new additions to warm up the winter lineup. The Holiday Reflections fountain and fireworks display has expanded into nightly shows; A new Elmo theater show has joined the Christmas Parade on Sesame Street; A new series has taken over the Nautilus Theater Sounds of the Season. Old favorites like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s Meet and Greet, the sparkling Sea of Trees parade, the Winter Wonderland snowboard show, and holiday food stalls around the park offering twenty new menu items are all back.
Unfortunately, SeaWorld’s long-standing tradition will not continue this year. O Wondrous Night, the nativity contest that was the most famous in the world of live animals, is not on the performance schedule. Perhaps for the best – have you ever tried to make a camel wear a face mask?