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If you've been to Orlando and its parks and enjoyed the top attractions at least once, it may be time to think about a special trip around one of the many festivals and events slated throughout the year.
The year-end holiday season is particularly festive. Decorations go up and events begin around Thanksgiving and continue through early January. It pays to book a trip during the first few weeks of December, when there's a lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas crowds.
Decor devotees should plan time for a trip through Disney to visit meticulously adorned resort hotel lobbies and to marvel at intricate gingerbread-house displays. Kids can reveal their deepest wishes to Santa at Downtown Disney Marketplace.
Candlelight Processional. Don't miss Epcot's nightly, included-with-admission Candlelight Processional, with celebrity narrators retelling the Christmas story accompanied by a choir and orchestra. Line up very early for the America Gardens Theatre event or snag reserved seating by purchasing the Candlelight lunch or dinner package (about $33 and up for adult lunch, $50 and up for dinner, $13 and up lunch for children ages 3-9, $15 and up for dinners) World Showcase, America Gardens Theatre, Epcot, Walt Disney World, FL, 32830.
Grinchmas. At Islands of Adventure the season takes a curmudgeonly turn during Grinchmas, a stage show based on the popular Dr. Seuss book. You'll hear an original Mannheim Steamroller musical score and six songs by a cast including the Grinch and the Whos from Whoville. Islands of Adventure, Universal Orlando, FL, 32819.
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party spreads holiday cheer at the Magic Kingdom during scheduled November and December evenings. It "snows" on Main Street, U.S.A. Hot cocoa and cookies, seasonal stage shows, and a holiday parade and fireworks add to the fun that's priced lower than one day's park admission. Magic Kingdom, Orlando, FL, 32830.
Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. At Disney's Hollywood Studios you can see the long-running holiday-time Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. It dazzles with millions of colorful holiday lights. Streets of America, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World, FL, 32830.
Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade. Disney's Animal Kingdom unwraps Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade for the holiday festivities. Discovery Island, Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World, FL, 32830.
The Polar Express Experience. The Wild Arctic attraction at SeaWorld becomes The Polar Express Experience from mid-November through early January. You can enjoy a multisensory ride past classic scenes from the popular film based on the Caldecott-medal-winning book The Polar Express. SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration lineup also includes shows starring sea lions, otters, Shamu, and even the Sesame Street gang. SeaWorld, FL, 32821.
Walt Disney World Marathon. At least 40,000 athletes from around the globe lace up their running shoes each January during the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend. Donald, Mickey, and Goofy challenge racers to a half marathon, a full marathon, or both. There are also a 5K family fun run, a relay, kids' races, and a Health and Fitness Expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Walt Disney World, FL, 32830.
Mardi Gras at Universal Studios. During Mardi Gras at Universal Studios, beads, stilt walkers, and floats keep the spirit of New Orleans alive on Saturday nights from February through April. Live bands straight from the Big Easy perform, and you can slurp up authentic New Orleans-style food and drinks. Universal Studios, Universal Orlando, FL, 32819.
Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival. For more than 50 years, the juried Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival has taken over Park Avenue and Central Park in posh Winter Park during the third weekend of March. More than 300,000 visitors typically show up to enjoy exhibits by 225 or more artists, nosh on curly fries and gyros, and listen to live music. Park Ave. & Central Park, Winter Park, FL, 32789. www.wpsaf.org.
Gay Days Orlando. Late May through early June, Gay Days Orlando organizes DJ parties, pool parties, music, and events throughout the metro area and the parks for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community and their families and friends. Orlando, FL. 407/896-8431. www.gaydays.com.
City of Kissimmee July 4th Celebration. Kissimmee's Lakefront Park launches its own City of Kissimmee July 4th Celebration at 5 pm with live music, karaoke, bingo, food, and a water-ski show before the pyrotechnics. Kissimmee, FL.
A Flashback 4th of July. A Flashback 4th of July in the city of Celebration near Walt Disney World features a festival-themed costume contest tied to a past decade ('50s, '70s—a different era each year), plus live music, games, and fireworks. Celebration, FL.
Fireworks at the Fountain. Downtown Orlando draws thousands to Lake Eola Park for the free July 4 Fireworks at the Fountain, which begins late afternoon with games, food, and live entertainment. Lake Eola Park, Downtown Orlando, Orlando, FL, 32801.
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. For six weeks (late September through mid-November) the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival transforms the park into a food-and-wine wonderland with tasting seminars, culinary demonstrations, and a constant stream of celebrity chefs. Dine around the world at international marketplaces selling tasty bites, or splurge on wine schools and signature dinner events. World Showcase, Epcot, Walt Disney World, FL, 32830.
Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Kids in costumes own the streets of the Magic Kingdom during their quest for treats (no tricks!) at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, a gently spooky celebration on scheduled evenings throughout September and October. Party tickets are priced below regular park admission, and it's easier to meet the characters and avoid ride queues. Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, FL, 32830.
Halloween Horror Nights. Blood-curdling screams are the night music of Halloween Horror Nights, the wildly popular fright-fest at Universal Studios. Chill-inducing haunted houses and scare zones populated by characters from your worst nightmares guarantee delicious terrors for less than the price of regular park admission. Universal Studios, Universal Orlando, FL, 32819. Select nights Sep.-Oct.
Festival of the Masters. For more than three decades, November's Festival of the Masters, a juried art festival at Downtown Disney, has welcomed top artists showcasing works from clay, wood, and metal to oils, watercolors, and jewelry. Downtown Disney, Walt Disney World, FL, 32830.
Macy's Holiday Parade. The Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Studios replicates the New York original with balloons, floats, and marching bands from across the country. Holiday shows in the park star Barney, the Blues Brothers, and other Universal celebs. Universal Studios, Universal Orlando, FL, 32819. www.universalorlando.com/Email-Signup/Holidays.aspx for info on dates.
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