Orlando theme parks look for a lift during busy Christmas tourism season
Image via Dazzling Nights.

Dazzling Nights
Visit Orlando said Orlando’s hotel bookings are a sign the holiday traffic could return to a pre-pandemic normal.

Tucked in a corner at SeaWorld Orlando were a pair of musicians playing holiday songs as people strolled past. The space felt quieter away from all the big rides and the rest of the festivities, but something happened on a recent Friday night. It was one of those moments — unexpected and joyful — in the theme parks during the holidays.

A large family stopped to listen as the duo played “Feliz Navidad.” The matriarch and patriarch began dancing. Others joined in. More visitors came to watch. Soon there was a crowd, dancing and laughing together.

Orlando’s attractions are in full holiday mode, and Visit Orlando, which handles the region’s tourism marketing, is predicting a big season for tourism.

Visit Orlando said Orlando’s leisure hotel bookings for the Christmas/New Year’s week are pacing 7% behind 2019 and 5% behind 2021, a sign the holidays are making strides to return back to a pre-pandemic normal.

“As short booking windows persist, we anticipate the gap to continue to shrink as we get closer to the holiday period,” Visit Orlando president and CEO Casandra Matej said in a statement Friday.

The hottest ticket is for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which sold out the entire calendar last month. The special ticketed event runs on select nights through Dec. 22. Guests can see a special festive fireworks show over Cinderella Castle and a holiday parade heading down Main Street, USA.

The Magic Kingdom is an attraction all itself, decked out with holiday lights and a giant Christmas Tree. Meanwhile, several rides, including Space Mountain and the Mad Tea Party, have holiday overlays just for the party to give the attractions a different feel. The party isn’t cheap. The most expensive tickets cost $199 per person depending on the date.

At Universal and SeaWorld, the parks’ holiday festivities are included in the price of admission.

Back this year are the giant balloons for Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s at Universal Studios. You can see Christmas decorations at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and a special projection show called The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle.

At Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the children’s area Seuss Landing is decorated for the holidays, and the Christmas reformer, the Grinch himself, is available for meet-and-greets for “Grinchmas.” The holiday season runs through Jan. 1 at Universal Orlando Resort.

On select dates through Jan. 3, SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration brings plenty of live entertainment throughout the park. In Bayside Stadium, ice skaters perform, and the fan-favorite O Wondrous Night, the retelling of the Christmas story that features live animals, music and life-size puppets, returns this year for the first time since the pandemic.

Around the park, there are booths selling holiday foods and drinks as well musicians, street performers and ballet dancers performing in the park decorated with Christmas lights and Christmas trees. For children, meet-and-greets are available from characters based on the 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer classic and a special holiday parade takes place at Sesame Street land.

For those looking for a break from the parks, what’s become another Orlando tradition is the Dazzling Nights show at the city’s Harry P. Leu Gardens. The 50-acre gardens are transformed by a million lights and interactive play areas, including a giant snow globe.

Guests can explore their gardens on their own at night where the feel of the light displays range from romantic to dance party or hip modern. Meanwhile, vendors sell hot chocolate, snacks and drinks. Performers belt out Christmas songs in the rose garden for live entertainment. Dazzling Nights runs through Jan. 1. Tickets are on sale at www.dazzlingorlando.com.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


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