Ho, ho, ho, it’s that time of year. What better place to find fantastic holiday fun than Kissimmee, Florida, adjoining the Magic Kingdom? Yes, the Kissimmee area in Osceola County offers a less crowded place to enjoy Christmas in Central Florida. This trip was comped, but my opinions are my own.
1. ICE! At Gaylord Palms
Visiting ICE! at Gaylord Palms tells how the cold-blooded Grinch stole Christmas, and I do mean cold. It’s 9 degrees Fahrenheit inside.
Once you enter through an igloo doorway, you’re greeted by an icy title. Scenes from the Dr. Seuss’ book surround you, carved from 10 million pounds of ice by 40 artists from China who transform blocks of ice into a winter wonderland.
It’s interactive. You can slide down two-story-tall ice slides. In Carver’s Showcase, I watched a carver shaping gold-colored ice into shapes.
As you exit, there’s a Nativity scene carved from crystal-clear ice. Step out and you’re in Market Square Retail where Christmas stores are done in holiday style. A snow factory lets youngsters play at Snow Mountain.
In the atrium, view the Shine Light Show, a free nightly display of dancing lights that are synchronized to music around a centerpiece tree. You could also wander along the Christmas tree trail.
Pro Tip: Wear gloves. My fingers were numb when I came out. They do issue you a coat.
Gatorland’s Holiday Ho Ho Ho-Down showcases some Florida-only characters like Oh No Snowmen and Gatorland Merry Elves. Nowhere else will you see a Santa-costumed skunk ape sing a duet with a snowman. Angels don’t usually feed alligators except at Gatorland. Only at Gatorland can you find Gator Claws with his airboat full of gifts pulled by a reindeer-horned alligator. Get your picture taken with him so you can prove it when you get back home.
Gatorland began in 1949 when Owen Godwin founded Florida Wildlife Institute on Orange Blossom Trail near Kissimmee. In 1962, it installed its iconic gaping gator jaw entrance painted Florida aqua and white that’s been featured in many movies. Still owned by Godwin’s family, it bills itself “The Alligator Capital of the World,” but there’s much more than alligators now. I love the shows where you watch trained handlers present many kinds of reptiles and then they teach you things you never knew about them. Be sure to visit the crocodiles and ride the Gatorland Express. For those of you who dare, the Screaming Gator zips 1,200 feet over alligators and crocodiles.
3. Old Town
Go back to Christmas past for holiday shopping, rides, classic car cruises, and live entertainment at Old Town. It’s a free theme park geared more toward adults but has lots of kid-friendly attractions. It offers some tamer rides like carousels and Ferris wheels. There are also some not-so-tame rides, like the Hurricane roller coaster. Besides shopping, it has dining, lounges, and live entertainment.
Old Town’s main street displays its holiday style with trees and lights from mid-November through the holidays. Tuesday and Thursday are karaoke nights. The Car Show and Cruise on December 2 and 3 will collect Toys for Tots. Santa and helpers will be on location to accept your donations and take photos with you between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. each day.
On December 10th, Sherwood Forest RV Resort residents staged a golf cart Christmas parade followed by a car cruise of classic vehicles.
Pro Tip: These last two have no themed events but are a fun visit any time.
4. Pioneer Village
Pioneer Village is worth a visit. It’s a step back in time that tells Osceola County’s history long before The Mouse arrived in Central Florida. Each of the buildings has placards telling their history. Be sure to visit the goats. They are so cute and friendly.
Pro Tip: Kissimmee is the Vacation Rental Capital of the world so it’s easy to book a cottage or a mansion from Jeeves Florida Rentals. For places to stay, I recommend the Omni Orlando Resort, Ette Hotel, or Gaylord Palms Resort.
5. Night Of A Million Lights
What could better represent the holiday spirit than Night of a Million Lights to benefit critically ill children? The Give Kids the World Foundation, which grants dying children’s wishes to visit a theme park, teamed with Island H2O Water Park to stage a spectacular light event. The proceeds go to Give Kids the World Village and visitors enjoy spectacular lights and entertainment, meet Christmas characters, and walk through a magically lit wonderland.
Elise Boyles, Assistant Director of Development for Give Kids the World Village, and Todd Andrus. The Director of Marketing and Sales at Island H2O Water Park explained how the event came about. Elise told us how they needed a larger location for this year’s event. Todd explained that since the water park closes in November, it was a perfect match.
I entered Night of a Million Lights through brightly lit stars. Once inside, the first musical act was a quintet of elves. As soon as they spotted Frosty approaching, they greeted him with the song, Frosty the Snowman. Frosty danced to the music and greeted us with a wave.
We passed beautifully lit Christmas trees donated by various organizations, cleverly sculpted Christmas snowmen, Santa’s sleighs, and gingerbread cars. A talented duo played piano and sang Christmas carols on a stage with silver lights surrounded by giant ornaments. Giant decorations floated down the waterway. The highlight was a dancing light show on the park’s giant Reply Racers Water Slide.
They even managed a snowfall.
6. Wild Florida
Wild Florida is about 22 miles south of Kissimmee and decorates for the holidays but doesn’t do a special festival. However, it has a unique Christmas connection. It began with a Christmas present of a water buffalo to owner Ranier Munns from his adult kids.
You can take an airboat ride into the headwaters of the Everglades and see lots of wildlife. We saw several alligators and countless birds, including a purple gallinule. While waiting for the airboat, I browsed through Gator Park which even has a Florida Panther.
Take their Drive-thru Safari on four miles of back roads to see 150 native and exotic animals roaming freely. I saw giraffes, zebra, antelope, scimitar oryx, American bison, mouflon sheep, emu, and, yes, water buffalo.