Since moving to Florida 15 years ago, we find ourselves increasingly spending the holidays in the Sunshine State. It’s not that we don’t like traveling at the holidays; we do. It’s the weather.
We spent one Christmas in the Rockies. It snowed every day, and for three days, it was so bad that we couldn’t leave the condo. New York City is my favorite place at the holidays. Three years ago, we had a great trip there. We had a wonderful time seeing all the lights and decorations, checking out the displays in the store windows, catching some Broadway plays. It didn’t snow. That’s because it was too cold — too bone chillingly cold — to snow. At the end of the trip, my husband suggested we make this trek an annual holiday tradition. I just gave him that look that he usually reserves for me when I make some outlandish suggestion. Our best holiday trip weather-wise was to San Diego. It was chilly but tolerable. New Orleans was also bearable, although we did have to deal with flooding in the French Quarter during a heavy downpour.
Florida has some special places to visit and activities to do during the holidays. We are all familiar with our own Marco Island Christmas Island Style with its tree lighting ceremony, street parade, boat parade and other activities.
Naples offers the Third Street Festival of Lights, Fifth Avenue tree lighting and Christmas Walk, Bayfront treelighting, boat and street parades, menorah lighting and tree lighting at Village on Venetian Bay, and snowfest at Golden Gate Community Park. I aways love the twinkling lights that decorate Fifth Avenue in Naples; when we don’t make it to New York City for the holidays, strolling along Fifth Avenue Naples is a satisfying substitute for me. If you haven’t yet visited historic Palm Cottage, the oldest house in Naples, do so in December when the holiday decorations really spruce it up. It is located at 137 12th Avenue South.
Ft. Meyers has a boat parade and Festival of Trees at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. The Edison and Ford Estates sponsors “holiday nights” with homes and gardens decorated for the season, and there are special activities at the Imaginarium. The Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium hosts Holiday Arbor Lights, which includes festively lit trails and a seasonal laser and music show.
Last year, I wrote about the special displays and events at the various Disney World parks and properties during the holidays. Sea World also celebrates the holidays with seasonal shows including a “live” nativity featuring animals and life-sized puppets, festive lighting, more than 100 decorated trees in the musically enhanced “sea” of trees, a multi-sensory Polar Express Experience, special holiday dinners, an ice skating show and fireworks. Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town features holiday shows, displays, food, music and “snow” fall.
Near Disney, Celebration has nightly events, including snow falls hourly startingat 6PM. The main street is decked out, an “ice” rink set up and there are community performers and a festive light show. Horse and carriage rides are available. Of course, what else would you expect in a town that was founded by Disney?
In nearby Kissimmee, Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center hosts “Ice!”, an indoor ice display. Using 2 million pounds of ice, 40 artisans carve a winter wonderland including a life-size Nativity, Santa and his reindeer, a castle and slides. Each year, new characters are added; last year there were 11 vignettes, including “Shrek the Halls” and scenes from the film “Madagascar”. If you decide to check out “Ice!”, remember it will be 9 degrees inside. You must wear closed toe shoes, and no shorts are permitted. You might want to bring along some gloves. If you purchase tickets online, which is recommended, there is a slight discount for Florida residents.
About 30 miles north of Orlando in Florida’s Lake Country, Mount Dora is a charming Victorian town that loves to celebrate the holidays. Known for both its unique and antique shops, decorations and activities abound. “Light up Mount Dora” features 2 million twinkling lights, and the 40-foot Christmas tree lighting with thousands of lights is accompanied by entertainment. Steam train rides with Santa are available as are boat tours accompanied by hot apple cider and cookies. There is a Christmas walk, Christmas parade, boat parade, tour of decorated homes anda special evening with snow sledding!
St. Augustine, which was founded in 1565, welcomes the holidays with “Nights of Lights” during which the historic district sparkles with almost 3 million lights. In 2012, National Geographic named it one of the ten best holiday lighting displays in the world. There is also a tour of decorated homes, a “British Night Watch” illumination parade and a “Holiday Regatta of Lights” boat parade.
Would you believe there is a “Fort Christmas” in Florida? Yes, it is located in Christmas, FL, 20 miles east of Orlando off of Highway 50. Restored homes, a school house and a sugarcane mill demonstrate “pioneer” life from the 1870s through 1930s. The fort was built in 1837 during the Second Seminole Indian War, and now houses an exhibit on the Seminole Wars. Fort Christmas hosts an annual “Cracker Christmas” celebration, which features demonstrations of pioneer crafts and activities, a large craft fair, and post office booth where you can get your holiday cards stamped with a Christmas, FL, postmark.
Any discussion of the holidays in Florida would be lacking without a mention of the Keys, which has its own unique style of celebrating. Key West offers funky local decorations, a tropical infused performance of “The Nutcracker”, a lighted Harbor Walk, holiday parade down Duval St., tour of historic inns and boat parade. Key Largo has its Upside Down Christmas tree, while in Marathon, the Garden Club hosts a more traditional exhibit of trees with decorations from around the world.