Christmas at Gaylord Palms 2018 review

Christmas has arrived at Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee near Disney World! The Gaylord resorts are well-known for their world class dining, entertainment, and luxurious rooms, Gaylord Palms presents its annual ICE event featuring the endearing Christmas classic A Christmas Story. In addition to the life-size exquisitely designed ice sculptures, Christmas at Gaylord Palms also offers guests fantastic shows, games, food, Christmas-themed drinks at the bar, a Cirque show, and gorgeous dancing lights display in the main atrium. There is no shortage of events and offerings to uplift your holiday spirits! Fortunately, I had the privilege of attending the media event for this highly anticipated celebration, and I am looking forward to sharing my experience with you in hopes that you make time for this most festive event to brighten all your holidays this season.

When attending an event at the Gaylord Palms, the best way to begin your evening is with a dining reservation at one of the award-winning restaurants. My friend Paula and I made reservations at Old Hickory Steakhouse to start Christmas at Gaylord Palms. I cannot recommend this restaurant enough. From the exemplary service to the steak grilled to medium rare perfection, this dining experience will enhance your Christmas at Gaylord Palms exponentially. Our server recommended bold pinot noir to pair with our center cut fillets along with creamy mashed potatoes and grilled mushrooms. With three atrium designs at the resort, you will get the sensation of dining outdoors in the cool air without the bugs and humidity. Some tips for planning you dining experience at Old Hickory: the meat and seafood sections are sold without accompanying side dishes, but you have the option to select family-style sides including many options from potatoes to mushrooms to vegetables and more. Whether you select a boldly seasoned steak or mouthwatering seafood, you will greatly enjoy and vividly remember your time at Old Hickory.

After dinner, we headed for the St. Augustine atrium to take in the Cirque show and dancing lights! Unfortunately, I misread the schedule and thought that checkin was from 7-8pm, so we missed Cirque. But on the plus side, that gives me incentive to return this season to enjoy the show. Ever since Disney pulled the plug on the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights in exchange for shallow map projection shows at Hollywood Studios, I make sure to visit all the dancing light shows in the area because that feeling of being looking at or being surrounded by choreographed displays of thousands or millions of lights cannot be replaced. There is a high degree of immersion, dimension that cannot be replicated by the projection of light onto a building. There are several different musical numbers for the lights, and each one takes full advantage of the space and creates Christmas splendor with each and every twinkle of each and every light dancing during the show.

In the lower level of the convention center, the Alpine Village awaits you! While the Cirque and dancing light shows are complimentary with your evening, the majority of the offerings for Christmas at Gaylord Palms are located in the Alpine Village, which requires additional admission. In this wintery village, you’ll find snow tubing, Santa’s snow throw, Mrs. Claus, the Sweet Shoppe, Christmas market, and the flagship attraction ICE featuring A Christmas Story. Because this was the media event, Gaylord Palms provided us with quite the spread of handcrafted sweets from the artisan chefs at the resort. After sampling the delicious treats that the resort so magnanimously provided for our enjoyment, we decided to try our hand at the snowball throwing midway game! Until I held a snowball in my hand, I would not have believed that was possible given the village is not kept below freezing. But sure enough, I received a bucket of snowballs to throw at the targets. I didn’t hit a’one. Perhaps you will have better luck!

Next to Santa’s Snow Throw is the snow tubing attraction. Up until now, no one had ventured down the slope. So, I decided to break the ice, snow to speak ;). Here’s a tip, in case the ride greeter neglects to tell you to pick up a tube on your way through the queue, pick up one! I literally walked past the greeter twice and they never told me to pickup a tube and neither did they hand one to me. So, thank you ride attendants at the top of the slope for accommodating me by giving me one. Once I slid down the snowy slope, then many more guests flocked over to the snow tubes! For those of us who live in Florida, this is a rare opportunity to have some snowy fun indoors! It is so much fun! So don’t miss out on the slopes in Alpine Village.

Next to the slopes is the Italian ice stand, but my friend Paula and I were still stuffed from dinner and the holiday treats that we had to turn down that offering. I will make it a point to get one when I return. Near the entrance to ICE and close to the Marketplace are Mrs. Claus house and the Sweet Shoppe. Both of these houses offer shows! With Mrs. Claus show being an hour long, we did not have time to enjoy that one, so it’s another offering I want to experience when I return. The show in the Sweet Shoppe wasn’t starting again for over a half hour, so we took this time to experience that movie that plays for 24-48hrs every year on a TV channel. A Christmas Story!.

Bring gloves! I always encourage guests to bring gloves because it is incredibly cold. However, as much as I preached to my friend to bring gloves, guess what I didn’t do? Bring gloves. Haha. Pretty much, my hands were completely numb by the time we passed THE END. When I say A Christmas Story, you likely have several individual scenes that instantly come to mind. Fortunately for you, each of those scenes are captured by the artisan ice sculptors. Only Hemingway could find the words to describe the beauty of the experience. Prior to entering the frigid exhibit, you get to learn about how the history of ice sculpting and how the team of sculptors create the amazing sculptures that successfully translate the iconic movie to live experience. Just before walking down the ramp into the arctic temperatures, you will be given a parka; however, I also encourage long pants and warm socks. From the moment you walk into the first room, you will be awestruck by the sheer size and beauty of the ice-tastic creations.  These are not just your average ice sculptures that you may find at weddings, galas, or even theme parks; these are quite literally life size representations of entire scenes (characters, setting props, and all) from A Christmas Story. And not just white or clear ice, these sculptures are in living color! As I walked through the flagship attraction at ICE, I was amazed at how effectively the movie was captured. I really did feel that I was watching the movie from start to finish. Since it’s a movie that also has some memorable lines of dialogue, there are signs with those quotable moments. Returning as the final display on the tour during the experience is the absolutely stunning ice nativity. I’ve seen a lot of still nativities in my day, but this one is always the most beautiful! You may even find yourself singing O Holy Night along with the background music.

Closing out our evening, Paula and I took our seats in the Sweets Shoppe for the live comedy show featuring a hilarious crossover between Babes in Toyland and The Nutcracker as told by two incredibly funny performers as the Sugarplum Fairy and Nutcracker. Highly interactive, I was reminded of the line from a Rocky Horror Picture Show live shadow cast when the live cast yells “this movie sucks without audience partici–” and Dr. Frank responds with “–pation.” Because the show itself is funny, but the entertainment factor is increased ten fold by engaging the performers and playing along. Although you can sometimes tell that an actor is or isn’t having fun in a movie, picking up on how much an actor in a live production is far more noticeable. And these two were having a blast! The Sugarplum Fairy and Nutcracker were genuinely interested in my enjoyment and truly displayed enthusiasm for their show. Do not miss this show. It’s only 20mins, and I imagine it will have multiple showings each evening. I love the addition of a comedy show to Christmas at Gaylord Palms! So much is stunning, inspirational, heartwarming, and more; but you know what, sometimes you just want to laugh too! And you will laugh a lot during this performance! The actors even asked me if I wanted to take a pic with them on stage. How incredibly nice of them! Do yourself a favor, and make time for the show. Oh yeah, don’t forget to say hi to the gingerbread man out front too.

Opening Friday, November 16th, Christmas at Gaylord Palms featuring ICE should definitely be on your list of events to attend this year. If you dine at one of the restaurants, your parking will be validated (and parking is not cheap). You may be familiar with A Christmas Story but you’ve never seen it like this.

Merry Christmas!

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa and works in creative services in live themed entertainment. He’s also published prolifically on theme parks and produced a peer-reviewed study. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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Holiday Magic at SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration and Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town

img_8142Central Florida is definitely not short on places to spend the holidays! From the theme parks to the zoos, aquarium, and large resorts, there is something for everyone. Last weekend, I experienced Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Christmas Celebration at SeaWorld Orlando. Both events feature Rudolph and his friends as well as Santa and his elves; however, the parks differ in the shows and other offerings. So, even though you can meet Rudolph and Santa at both parks, you will find that both are well worth a visit and will both contribute uniquely to your Christmastime celebrations! Since SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay are only one hour from each other, they both essentially pull on the majority of the same local population. Therefore, as similar as many of the experiences are, the offerings have to be different enough in order to convince locals to visit both. Having experienced them within the same weekend, I’ve been able to analyze the similarities and differences while both are fresh in my mind. If I had to sum up the experience at both Christmas Celebration and Christmas Town respectively, the one word that best encapsulates the overarching theme is nostalgia. From the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer characters to the music, shows, and lights throughout the parks, the individual elements are combined to showcase a more traditional Christmas blend of carols, [Florida] snow, light-covered buildings, nativities, and live shows…For the full article CLICK HERE!

Such a variety! I think that is what I like best about how Busch Gardens and SeaWorld created this year’s Christmas limited engagement events. Whereas Disney’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a pricey hard ticketed event, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and even Universal’s holiday celebrations are included with with either your annual pass or day-ticket. That in and of itself, makes the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens events that much more fun! Why? Because it is quite difficult to fit everything in one night. Although the Christmas Celebration and Christmas Town events ARE included with your annual pass or day admission, the majority of the magic does not begin until the latter part of the afternoon. Unlike during Howl-O-Scream when Busch is opened until 12-1am, it closes at 9-10 during Christmas Town. SeaWorld keeps similar operating hours at Christmas to that of the Spooktacular. With the relatively abbreviated Christmas hours (as compared to Halloween), you may find yourself planning a return trip to the parks respectively or contemplating an annual pass. Since I go to the parks regularly, I have efficient time management down to a science and even I cannot get it all in. Even as I write this, there are some offerings I was unable to experience at both parks this past weekend. So, I am definitely going back! If you are only planning one trip to one or both, get there early and do your best to plan out the order in which you and your friends/family are going to experience everything.

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens is an annual event that has been going on since 2012. For the first two years it was a separately (hard) ticketed event but since 2014 has been included with day admission and annual passes. Since the event went from hard ticketed to complementary, there has been a mitigation in specialty offerings; however, the event is still full of holiday cheer and a great assortment of character meet and greets and limited engagement shows. There are so many wonderful photo opportunities throughout the park with beautiful and fun backdrops. The entire park is open with a few exceptions, meaning that you can ride all your favorite rides at night! For those who are familiar with the late Pinky [the dancing flamingo], there is a tribute to her near the front entrance with lots of pink Christmas lights. If you enjoy hearing traditional Christmas hymns, then be sure to stop by Christmas From the Heart in the old Madagascar stage. It’s a classy show with small band, and a moderately sized chorus. Perhaps you prefer traditional and contemporary pop hits! Then, stop by the Christmas Celebration show in the Pantopia Theatre. With a wide range of hits featuring some of your favorite singalong tunes and of course Santa himself, this show is incredibly fun and festive. The cast and crew at the Moroccan Theatre put a Christmas spin on the daily iceskating show that is certainly not to be missed. Don’t forget to stop by the Crown Colony restaurant across from Cheetah Hunt to watch thousands of dancing lights move to the beats of Trans-Siberian and Mannheim Steamroller. Think of it as Osborne Lights lite. An incredible assortment of shows that feature lots of different kinds of music and acts with the central theme of Christmas. I love the variety of shows because they do not feel like something that you can get everyday. Feels truly like a special seasonal event.

Headlining Christmas Town (and Christmas Celebration) this year is Rudolph and his friends from the Rankin-Bass holiday classic. Even before meeting the characters, the queue is filled with little vignettes from the movie–great for photo opportunities. You get to meet Yukon Cornelius, Bumble, Clarice, and Rudolph! There are also some wonderful plushies (I bought one) and ornaments to choose from in the gift shoppe. A staple at Christmas Town is Santa’a House sponsored by Coca-Cola. Appropriate because the whole idea of the red jolly Santa we all know and love comes from a Coca-Cola ad campaign. Even before meeting the big man himself, you get to spend time with elves and Mrs. Claus. One elf in particular–Curley–she was incredibly friendly and created a warm inviting atmosphere from the time she opened the door! It’s more than a meet and greet, there is an entire show element to the Santa experience. Lastly, no review of Christmas Town would be complete without mentioning the Singalong Train! Boarding at the North Pole station outside of Santa’s house, park guests can ride the train (normally used for the safari) and ride around signing Christmas carols and songs with one another. Takes the idea Christmas caroling to the next level! The singalong train is always my favorite activity at Christmas Town.

Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Busch Gardens is SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration. At Christmas Celebration you’ll find Rudolph and his friends as well as Santa Claus but there is so much more that is truly different from Christmas Town. SeaWorld transforms their seasonay operating Ports of Call into a Christmas Village! From a miniature train sets to live acts, the Christmas Village is incredibly festive and fun! Be sure to get some hot cocoa. So many wonderful places to take selfies and group photos. I love all the lights! Speaking of lights, you will definitely be able to watch the Sea of Trees light up and dance to some of your favorite Christmas songs. You can either catch the show shoreside or take a stroll along the boardwalk across the lagoon. Over one million lights! Much like Busch Gardens, SeaWorld also has some stunning seasonal show offerings to delight everyone young and old. Although not part of daily operations, SeaWorld also has an iceskating show at Christmastime. Winder Wonderland on Ice is a terrific show featuring talented figure skaters moving to many different carols and songs. Preceding the show is SeaWorld’s answer to Straight No Chaser. The male quarter entertains the audience for about 20mins with excellent harmony and jokes. If you’re lucky, you’ll time it just right to watch the Sea of Trees while you are waiting on the ice show to begin. Although I miss The Polar Express overlay on the Arctic Adventure, there are still many other rides available when you want a break from shows and character meet and greets.

Both the Clyde & Seamore and Shamu shows receive holiday overlays during Christmas Celebration. Since I did not experience the Christmas Miracle show at Shamu Stadium, I am unable to comment on that, but the Clyde and Seamore show’s Countdown to Christmas was fantastic! Even on a regular park ops day, it is one of my favorite shows at SeaWorld. Clyde and Seamore are back and funnier than ever in this holly jolly holiday show. Countdown to Christmas is about Clyde and Seamore’s goal to meet several requirements so Santa can visit! The most popular Christmas show a SeaWorld is not Clyde & Seamore nor Shamu, but O Wonderous Night located in the Nautilus Theatre. Not your typical nativity story, O Wonderous Night centers around the animals located in the stable where Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus more than two thousands years ago. We get to here the nativity story from the perspective of the animals who each played a special part in that wonderous night. If you plan to watch that show, you need to know that it is important to queue up at least an hour before showtime. It consistently fills up prior to curtain. Although Busch Gardens also has a Christmas Village in Gwazi Field, the village at SeaWorld seems to have more to offer.

Well, there ya have it! Two phenomenal ways to spend the holidays with your friends and family. Or, be like me and experience it Han style–solo. Although you might think that it isn’t as much fun on your own, you can still have a blast celebrating Christmas at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment this holiday season. Lots of opportunities to sing, dance, and even meet some favorite characters along the way. Especially for those who enjoy a more traditional Christmas, these parks are the place to be. I guarantee that it will feel Christmassy from the time that you enter the park. It is so important that the parks make seasonal events feel special and unlike what you can typically get as part of daily/regular operations, and Busch Gardens and SeaWorld know how to create that holiday magic to warm your heart.