The term “magical” permeates holiday vernacular across the world, and Tampa is no exception. November kicks off the season, introducing sparkly new celebrations and bringing back timeless Tampa traditions.
Christmas Town Holiday at Busch Gardens
One of the first holiday traditions launching the season is the ever-favorite Christmas Town at Busch Gardens. The fun starts on Nov. 16 with millions of blinky-twinkly lights of every imaginable color strung through the park. Yuletide shows take stage every day, and the Sing-A-Long Train chugs merrily down the tracks, loaded with families joining the chorus of holiday carolers. Visits with Santa and Rudolph are a given, as are Christmas cookies, treats and plenty of steaming hot chocolate.
Christmas Town and the Christmas Town Village are part of regular park admission, so you get access to all the rides as well. Festivities coast through the New Year and wrap up on Jan. 6, 2020.
Symphony in Lights Tree Lighting and Santa’s Arrival
Who would willingly miss the arrival of Santa as he glides through balmy Tampa skies and slides into Wesley Chapel? It’s an ageless thing, so expect to see little eyes of wonder next to gray-haired grannies gasping at the magic of it all. The sleigh arrives this year on Nov. 16, following the Symphony of Lights Tree Lighting ceremony at The Shops at Wiregrass, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Tampa.
The tree lighting takes place at 5 p.m. in Center Court, followed by snowy light shows every hour featuring music from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. There’s no cost to anyone who attends.
Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park
Downtown Tampa holds the heartbeat of the city throughout the year, but especially in November and December. That’s when Winter Village transforms Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park into a Florida version of holiday spirit. And make no mistake: it’s mesmerizing and magical in every sense. The grand opening of Winter Village is Nov. 22, and it features at least 20 pop-up boutiques selling everything from handmade toys to artisan jewelry, eclectic clothing and musical instruments. The Icicle Craft Kitchen dishes out classic holiday meals, desserts and drinks throughout the evening.
For those willing to slip and slide into the holiday spirit, the best part of Winter Village is the ice-skating rink overlooking Tampa Riverwalk and Hillsborough River. A single ticket puts you on the ice for 90 minutes and includes skate rentals – because, really, who owns ice skates in Florida?
Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park
The annual holiday tradition at Zoo Tampa holds back its enchanting transformation until after Thanksgiving, properly launching the Christmas season on November 29. Known as “Christmas in the Wild,” the zoo comes alive with 12,000 dancing lights and a 50-foot Christmas tree adorned by 2,000 exquisite ornaments. A shining 8-foot star pierces the starry sky, while Jolly St. Nick and his impish elves make lively forays into the zoo.
The kids can join in wild animals mingles at night and experience a new animal show from Animal Network. There’s plenty of holiday splurges, including peppermint mousse for all ages and the adults-only Christmas Sangria and Candy Apple cocktails. Check the zoo calendar for dates, which expand as it gets closer to Christmas Day.
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