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The Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition

by Leap on December 5, 2021 Orlando   Video

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - PinterestFrom Orlando to Tampa, we've celebrated the holidays in just about every theme park in Central Florida. While we've had a holly, jolly time during every parks' celebration, there were certain elements of each that absolutely wowed us. Which park has the best holiday treats? The best lights? The best entertainment? We're breaking down the parks by seasonal traditions to showcase the best of what every holiday celebration has to offer. Without further ado, let's award the first Golden Leap. (Is that a thing ... can we make it a thing?)

The Winners of Best Theme Park by Holiday Tradition

Best Holiday Food: EPCOT

EPCOT is known for its frogtastic festivals and global cuisine. There was no way any other park was going to beat it. This year's Festival of the Holidays has a delicious array of foods celebrating cultures and customs from all over the world. From the hearty Pastrami on Rye (L'Chaim! Holiday Kitchen) to the spicy Chirashi Sushi Tree (Shi Wasu Holiday Kitchen), and from the rich Frozen Hot Chocolate Martini (Le Marché de Noël Holiday Kitchen) to the fragrant Fig Cocktail (Tangerine Café), almost everything we tasted was a winner in our book. There's so much to try here that you very well may not be able to cover all of your must-dos in one visit!

Runner-Up: SeaWorld Orlando

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - Funnel Cake at SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration

We were pleasantly surprised at SeaWorld's wonderful variety of sweets and treats for its Christmas Celebration! The Lamb Chop at Merri-Mints was a rich combination of flavors, and the Torched Fluff Funnel Cake at Sugarplum Delights was incredibly sweet. As for drinks, the Christmas Town cocktail at Flamecraft Bar was a fast fruity favorite, and the Peppermint Flavored Hot Chocolate at Holly Jolly Hot Cocoa was a delightfully warm way to end the night as the temperature started to drop. We can't wait to see what SeaWorld will cook up next year!

Best Light Display: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - Luminosity Lane at Busch Gardens

Journey to the back of the park past Stanleyville or Pantopia (depending on which direction you're coming from) after sunset, and you'll find the best holiday light display we've seen in any theme park. As a highlight of Christmas Town, Luminosity Lane is a tunnel of dancing lights set to a merry playlist of holiday music. And while dancing lights can also be found in SeaWorld Orlando's Sea of Trees, something about being completely surrounded by lights in every direction is utterly magical. Plus it makes for great Insta photos or TikTok videos! We honestly just stayed there for a solid 10 minutes watching the tunnel illuminate in festive colors and patterns.

Runner-Up: EPCOT

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - Spaceship Earth Christmas

Spaceship Earth recently got the glow-up of a lifetime as part of the Walt Disney World 50th-anniversary celebration. While this Beacon of Magic still puts on an EARidescent show every 10 minutes or so, it now alternates with a brand-new Christmas sequence for the most magical time of the year. The show is only about a minute long but when the lights are that big and that bright, it becomes hard to look away.

Best Christmas Tree: SeaWorld Orlando

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - SeaWorld Christmas Tree

While each park has its own unique, thematic spin on its main Christmas tree, SeaWorld stands above the rest due to one singular feature: It's interactive. The amount of joy we got as Lily continually pressed the "Wish Upon a Seastar" button at the base of the tree and watched the conifer shimmer and sparkle was completely unmatched. Did we mention there are also sound effects? Animal Kingdom and Busch Gardens' trees are wonderfully wild and Magic Kingdom and EPCOT's are beautifully classic, but SeaWorld's added element makes it take the (fruit)cake.

Runner-Up: Universal's Islands of Adventure

We assumed the All Hallows Eve Boutique in The Lost Continent would disappear once the holiday season started, but boy, were we hoppy to be wrong — if only because it's home to the most amazing part of Universal Orlando's Holiday Tree Hunt. Two holidays are always better than one so we couldn't stop smiling when we came across the Halloween Christmas Tree at the entrance to this store. Truly a spooktacular surprise!

Best Decor: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - Sesame Street Decor

While every theme park has beautiful decor in various spots throughout the property, Busch Gardens stands out because there isn't a single spot in the entire park that isn't decorated. From the Cookie Monster and Elmo nutcrackers in the Sesame Street Safari of Fun to the multi-color lights all around Pantopia and from the festive projections at the park's entrance to the presents scattered around Nairobi, every area is uniquely decked out for the holiday season. It was so much fun making our way around the park and discovering what new decorations were around every corner. (You can also buy some gorgeous decor for your own home in Santa's Workshop in Marrakesh Market!)

Runner-Up: Universal's Islands of Adventure

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - Mulberry Street Store

Seuss Landing goes all out every year for Grinchmas, and we wouldn't want it any other way. Everywhere you look, there are ornaments, lights, tinsel and garlands galore. Even the grumpy Lorax is decked out in his holiday best! If there's one group of people who know how to celebrate the holidays, it's the citizens of Whoville. And we're thankful they take their tree-trimming talents to Islands of Adventure every who-liday season!

Best Scheduled Entertainment: EPCOT

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition – Candlelight Processional

When you see the voice of Moana, Auli'i Cravalho herself, recite the story of Christmas accompanied by the angelic Voices of Liberty, a massive cast member choir and a 50-piece live orchestra, nothing really tops it. The EPCOT Candlelight Processional is a cherished annual tradition for a very good reason. Every three days, there's a different celebrity narrator so take your pick and get lost in the festive and holy sounds of the season.

We also have to give a huge shout-out to the holiday storytellers who share their holiday traditions from around the world at the World Showcase. It is nearly impossible to see them all in one day without hopping all over the place but we were lucky enough to catch Père Noël in France, Zachary the Hanukkah storyteller, La Befana in Italy and the Daruma doll seller in Japan during our first visit this year!

Runner-Up: Universal's Islands of Adventure

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - Wholiday Spectacular

Nothing makes our hearts grow three sizes like the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular in Seuss Landing. This beloved holiday tale about the true meaning of Christmas has been gracing the stages of Universal Orlando for the past decade, but last year, one thing did stop Christmas from coming. (Let's just say it wasn't the Grinch!) This year, however, the hoppy citizens of Whoville and the Maven of Mischief himself are back in a brand-new theater (the soundstage formerly occupied by the Blue Man Group). With music recorded by Mannheim Steamroller, a terrifically talented cast and the cutest little mutt you ever did see, this show is a must-do to kickstart the holiday season!

We also have to give a special shout-out to our croaking cohorts in the Hogwarts Frog Choir over in Hogsmeade. Settle down for a delightful concert filled with holiday classics from both the wizarding and muggle worlds.

Best Special Entertainment: Disney's Animal Kingdom

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - Merry Menagerie

The Merry Menagerie at Discovery Island is truly a sight to behold. These beautifully life-like puppets of polar bears, penguins, foxes, seals and more debuted in 2019, and we couldn't be hoppier that they're back this year. Watching Lily and Tad interact with these adorable "animals" warmed our hearts to no end. The puppeteers do a phenomenal job of making every movement and motion seem incredibly realistic. It's easy to forget these creatures are made out of fabric and natural materials.

Runner-Up: Universal Studios Florida 

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - Mannheim Steamroller 2021 Concert

Not only is the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular back at Universal Orlando, but so is the best-selling holiday artist of all-time, Mannheim Steamroller! We can't think of a better way to end those crisp fall nights. The first 45 minutes are filled with the classic Christmas tunes you know and love. The performance ends, however, with a beautiful concert-version of ... you guessed it: the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular. Truly a magical way to "welcome Christmas, Christmas Day!" The Christmas-music supergroup is performing Dec. 4, 5, 11 and 12 at 7 p.m. on the Universal Studios' Music Plaza Stage. The best part? It's included in regular park admission!

Best Nighttime Spectacular: Magic Kingdom

We were lucky enough to hop over to The Most Magical Place on Earth for Disney Very Merriest After Hours. While Disney Enchantment still plays at 8 p.m. every night, if you're attending the event, you get to be treated to Minnie's Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks. This 12-minute show filled with dazzling fireworks and festive castle projections (and narrated by Minnie herself!) is truly magnificent. The entire show is set to instrumental versions of classic Christmas carols — except for the very end which is choreographed to an epic cover of "When We're Together" from "Olaf's Frozen Adventure." What's especially cool about this show is that sometimes the projections on the castle mimic dancing lights — specifically during the "Carol of the Bells" section — and you know how we feel about those (see: the second category) ...

Runner-Up: SeaWorld Orlando

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - Fireworks at SeaWorld

We were debating awarding the Silver Leap to The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle (which projects stunning and magical images onto the famed School of Witchcraft and Wizardry) ... but because Holiday Reflections: Fireworks and Fountains Finale beautifully integrates fireworks, fountains and the illuminated Sea of Trees on the water, we had to name it our runner-up. This show is visible from any area around the lake but we recommend attending the second showing of Winter Wonderland on Ice at the Bayside Stadium so you'll be in prime position to watch the dancing fountains directly behind the ice skating rink.

Best Parade: Universal Studios Florida

If you couldn't make it to New York City for Thanksgiving, the Universal Holiday Parade featuring Macy's is truly the next best thing. Featuring larger-than-life balloons, festive floats and, of course, Santa on his sleigh, this parade is a great place to spot favorite characters from the "Shrek," "Despicable Me" and "Madagascar" franchises as they make their way down the streets of Hollywood, Production Central and New York. We also love the combination of classic Christmas tunes and the beautiful soundtracks from the beloved DreamWorks and Illumination films. If you can score a spot in front of the Tribute Store, you also can watch Saint Nick light the gigantic Christmas tree at the end of the parade!

Runner-Up: Magic Kingdom

Another enchanting part of Disney Very Merriest After Hours is Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade. While this procession has been a part of Magic Kingdom history since 2007, some modifications were made upon Walt Disney World's reopening. That being said, it's still as merry and cheerful as ever — and the first full-length parade to return to the resort since March 2020! We absolutely loved ringing in the holidays with Mickey and Minnie, Goofy and Max, Clarabelle Cow, Olaf and Elsa, a few of the fair Disney Princesses, the Fairy Godmother and, once again, jolly ol' Saint Nick — all while enjoying a blissful snowfall on Main Street, U.S.A. This parade occurs twice every event night, but you do not need to buy an After Hours ticket to see it! Parade performances will be taking place during normal park hours at Magic Kingdom from Dec. 22 to Dec. 31.

Best Holiday Dining Experience: Disney's Hollywood Studios

Best Central Florida Theme Park by Holiday Tradition - Minnie DiningWhile Minnie's Seasonal Dining is a year-round experience at Hollywood & Vine, Minnie, Mickey, Pluto and Santa Goofy deck the halls during the most wonderful time of year for Minnie's Holiday Dine. This yuletide gathering takes place during lunch and dinner from Nov. 4, 2021, to Jan. 3, 2022 and is an absolute must-do during a Christmas trip to Hollywood Studios! Lily and Tad loved interacting with their favorite Disney characters in their festive Christmas best. Mommy Frog and I gobbled down the perfectly-filling Macaroni and Cheese with Shrimp and Carved Herb-roasted Turkey Breast. The latter is served with mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry-orange relish — a tried-and-true holiday meal. A jolly time was had by all! (Valid park admission, a park reservation and a confirmed dining reservation for the toadal number of guests are all required.)

Runner-Up: SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld has two equally frogtastic dining experiences as part of its Christmas Celebration. Start the day with a fun-filled holiday feast at the Sesame Street Christmas Breakfast. While you indulge in chef-carved, brown sugar-glazed ham served with bacon and turkey sausage links and traditional breakfast offerings, your festive friends will dance, sing and make their way to your table for furry hugs and photos! At night, the wonders of Christmas come to life during Dinner with Santa, a warm-hearted experience featuring an all-you-care-to-eat menu of holiday favorites. Don't froget to share your holiday wishes with the big guy himself!

This was such a fun list to put together! We're frogcited to see which parks we think take home the Golden Leaps next year! How did we do? Are there parks you think were snubbed? Let us know in the comments below!

Related: ~Hoppin'~ Good Guide to EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
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