Heading south for the holidays? Yule celebrations in warm-weather Florida may differ from that in the chilly North, but they're just as joyous. Maybe even more so.
Florida's theme parks put on extensive celebrations that gladden the hearts of millions of visitors. Dozens of lighted-boat parades brighten evenings on Florida waterways. Cities and resorts mount seasonal programs and holiday exhibits, including a few that are really quirky.
You may even get a touch of winter in several locales as theme parks and cities create man-made snow flurries and snowbanks where kids can frolic.
The fun begins this month, climaxing at New Year's.
Here's a rundown on some of the major holiday happenings. Basic single-day prices are given for the parks, but each offers a variety of discounts, advance purchase deals and multi-park ticket options that can save many dollars. Holiday events are included in regular park admission except for those specifically listed as separately ticketed.
WALT DISNEY WORLD (Orlando)
Magic Kingdom. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, a separately ticketed evening event after regular park hours, entertains visitors with special stage shows, parades, fireworks, costumed Disney characters, complimentary cookies and hot cocoa. Visitors also can enjoy all rides and even experience a touch of winter as snow flurries descend on Main Street. Party dates are Nov. 8, 11, 14, 15, 27, 21 and 22, and Dec. 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19 and 20. Admission starts at $62; advance purchase discounts available.
Epcot. A Candlelight Processional combines seasonal music with reading of the Christmas story by celebrity narrators accompanied by a mass choir and 50-piece orchestra. The processional is held three times nightly on select evenings, Nov. 29- Dec. 30. Celebrity narrators include Gary Sinise, Ashley Judd, Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver.
Disney's Hollywood Studios. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights features millions of twinkling lights, animated displays and 3-D effects, Nov. 8 to Jan. 5.
ADMISSION Magic Kingdom $95 adult, $89 children 3-9. Other Disney parks, $84-$90
INFO 407-824-4321, disneyworld.disney.go.com
BUSCH GARDENS (Tampa)
On 18 select evenings Nov. 29-Dec. 23, the theme park once again will transform itself into Christmas Town, a separately ticketed evening event. Christmas Town admission is $60, $20 for children; advance purchase discounts available.
New this year are several displays and shows, as well as an expanded SnowWorld, a snow play attraction.
Holiday Hills is a nostalgic town with a live brass band playing Christmas songs. Christmas Tree Terrace has a 40-foot Christmas tree with dancing lights. Romantic flowers and white lights set the scene for a kiss in Mistletoe Memories.
Also new: Sesame Street Cookie Monsters, Zoe and Big Bird help Elmo fulfill his desires in a new show, "Elmo's Christmas Wish." Gloria, Alex, King Julien and the penguins go on a vacation in "Madagascar Live! Operation: Christmas Vacation."
ADMISSION $89 adult, $81 children 3-9
INFO 888-800-5447, seaworldparks.com
The Grinch returns to Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park Dec. 7-Jan. 4 in a live show, "Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular," featuring the Grinch and the Whos of Whoville.
The famed Mannheim Steamroller also will be back, performing holiday music Dec. 6, 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22 at the Universal Studios theme park. Also at that park, Macy's Holiday Parade will step off every evening, starting Dec. 7, with balloons seen in the Thanksgiving Day parade in New York.
All Christmas events are included in regular admission to the parks.
ADMISSION $92 adult, $86 children
INFO 407-363-8000, universalorlando.com
SEA WORLD (Orlando)
Once again, guests can "board" the Polar Express to the North Pole during the theme park's holiday celebrations on select dates from Nov.23 to Dec. 31.
The holiday classic comes to life in a simulator ride in the park's Wild Arctic attraction.
Sesame Street characters will help Elmo in Elmo's Christmas Wish. Life-size puppets and live animals will tell the Christmas story in words and music in "O Wondrous Night," and ice skaters leap and twirl in Winter Wonderland on Ice, on an outdoor rink.
Christmas events are included in regular park admission.
ADMISSION $92, adult, $84 children 3-9
INFO 407-351-3600, seaworldorlando.com
LEGOLAND (Winter Haven)
Every Saturday and Sunday in December, Legoland will celebrate the holidays with its third annual Christmas Bricktacular. Events include helping to build a 20-foot Lego Christmas tree, photo ops with a life-size Lego Santa Claus, a 30-foot Christmas tree made with 270,000 bricks, helping to decorate real Christmas trees and a scavenger hunt. The park, geared to families with children 2 to 12, has more than 50 rides, shows and attractions. All events included in regular park admission.
ADMISSION $81 adult, $74 children 3-12
INFO 877-350-5346, florida.legoland.com
GAYLORD PALMS (Orlando)
This resort will mount its remarkable ICE! attraction again this year -- more than 2 million pounds of ice sculptures, an ice castle, ice slides and other ice creations, all hand-carved by 40 ice sculptors from China. This year's theme is Frosty the Snowman. A new feature is a live ice-carving zone where visitors can watch an ice sculptor at work. Visitors are supplied parkas as they enter the attraction, which is kept at a temperature of 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Admission starts at $16.99.
INFO 407-586-0000, gaylordpalms.com
More than 74 boat parades brighten Florida evenings in the holiday season.
Biggest of them is the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade in Fort Lauderdale, where more than 200 lighted boats will parade on a 12-mile route Dec. 14 before an estimated million spectators.
INFO winterfestparade.com; locations and dates of other boat parades at floridabywater.com
NEW YEAR'S EVE
All theme parks put on special programs and fireworks on New Year's Eve, and many cities mount fireworks displays. But the quirkiest celebrations are Florida's parodies of the Times Square ball drop.
Key West, for example, will "drop" a drag queen, conch shell, pirate wench and Key lime wedge in four events. Other oddball drops in include an 18-foot pelican in Pensacola, pineapple in Sarasota, 800-pound beach ball in Panama City Beach and 35-foot orange in Miami.