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From late November through early January, theme parks deck the halls — and attractions — to celebrate the holidays. Here are some of the top spots for festive family-friendly cheer.
Disney Theme Parks
Every holiday season is magical at Disneyland Resort, but this year brings even more magic with new holiday-themed attractions as well as the much-loved holiday transformations that create “it’s a small world” Holiday, Jingle Cruise and Haunted Mansion Holiday. For the first time since 2014, Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle returns as the backdrop for “Believe … in Holiday Magic” fireworks and its snowfall finale. And in Disney California Adventure Park, the all-new “World of Color - Season of Light” celebrates the holidays through a water-filled fantasy of classic holiday songs and memorable moments from Disney films.
For the past 15 years, from Halloween through the New Year, Disneyland Resort’s Haunted Mansion has been transformed into Haunted Mansion Holiday. The attraction is exclusive to Disney’s California theme park, yet even some locals don’t realize there’s a hidden holiday treasure in the mansion.
Each year, Disney pastry chefs create a unique gingerbread house that stands as the centerpiece on the banquet table in the mansion’s ballroom. In a nod to Sally, Jack Skellington’s ghoulish girlfriend from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the 15th anniversary house seems to be stitched from pieces of other gingerbread houses by a spooky architect, who can be seen sewing the walls together from the inside. And perhaps the reason the gingerbread house resembles Sally is that, for the first time ever, she has joined Jack in the mansion’s graveyard.
Holidays at the Disneyland Resort will continue through Jan. 8, 2017.
At Walt Disney World Resort, holiday music and magical snowflakes fill the air, characters don festive apparel and favorite attractions take on holiday themes. The all-new “Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!” holiday spectacular comes to life with state-of-the-art projections, special effects and fireworks on, above and around the Chinese Theater at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And another new projection show, “Once Upon a Time,” transforms Cinderella Castle into a storybook through projection-mapping technology that creates a magical 3-D effect. Epcot’s 11 World Showcase nations celebrate “Holidays Around the World” with global holiday music, food and performances.
Disney’s Candlelight Processional is a special way to experience the story of Christmas with a full choir, 50-piece orchestra and a celebrity narrator. The performance takes place nightly from Nov. 25 through Dec. 30.
On select evenings, park-goers can attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom Park. For this separately ticketed event, Mickey pulls out all the stops with entertainment, fireworks and the “Once Upon a Christmastime Parade.”
Party guests can sweeten the celebration with the Holiday Wishes Dessert Premium Package, which includes reserved viewing of the parade and a private dessert party.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party takes place Nov. 27 and 29 and Dec. 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18 and 22.
Legoland California Resort will celebrate the holidays with a nightly snowfall and a life-size Lego Brick Santa and Reindeer, providing the perfect family holiday photo op. The Christmas Bricktacular returns to Legoland Florida Resort with holiday-themed scavenger hunts, a “not-so-silent-night” holiday fireworks spectacular and a 30-foot-tall Christmas tree made of thousands of Lego bricks. Kids will also have the chance to build with Lego bricks alongside master model builders.
Holidays at Legoland California continues through Jan. 1.
Legoland Florida’s Christmas Bricktacular takes place Dec. 17-18 and 24-30.
On New Year’s Eve at both Legoland parks, midnight comes early for a kid-friendly New Year celebration. With a countdown starting at 6 p.m., Legoland re-creates the famous Times Square ball drop with a giant Lego brick falling 22 feet.
U.S. theme parks are getting into the holiday spirit by offering family-themed festive activities, such as Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood. // © 2016 Universal Studios Hollywood
“A Christmas Fantasy” parade takes place daily at Disneyland during the holiday season. // © 2016 Disneyland Resort/Paul Hiffmeyer
The “Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!” holiday spectacular comes to life on, above and around the Chinese Theater in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. // © 2016 Walt Disney World/ David Roark
The “Shamu Christmas Miracles” show features killer whales and seasonal music. // © 2016 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
Legoland Florida Resort’s Christmas Bricktacular Celebration // © 2016 Legoland Florida Resort/Chip Litherland
In sunny Southern California, SeaWorld San Diego guests can still get into the wintery spirit with the nightly lighting of a 40-foot animated tree, as well as holiday-themed shows such as the hilarious “Clyde & Seamore’s Christmas Special” and “Shamu Christmas Miracles,” a show featuring SeaWorld’s family of killer whales.
SeaWorld Orlando’s Christmas Celebration “brings the season to the sea” with live shows and entertainment inspired by nature, including the “Sea of Trees,” a holiday forest of more than 100 trees with lights that dance to holiday classics. The park’s ice-skating extravaganza culminates with towering fountains and fireworks.
SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration runs through Dec. 31 in Orlando, and through Jan. 1 in San Diego.
Universal Theme Parks
At Universal’s Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando Resort, Christmas becomes “Grinchmas” with Grinchy touches around every corner, such as the “Who-liday Spectacular” and a live retelling of Dr. Seuss’ classic holiday tale. Meanwhile, at not-so-Grinchy Universal Studios Florida, the famous Macy’s balloons soar high over the park in a holiday parade featuring marching bands, floats and a tree-lighting ceremony with an impressive light display.
Celebrate the holidays at Universal Orlando Resort from Dec. 3 through Jan. 1.
In Los Angeles, a whimsical 60-foot Grinchmas tree marks the heart of Universal Studios Hollywood’s celebration. Even the park’s famous studio tour gets a Grinch-themed makeover when the Whos sing and dance through the original sets from the blockbuster film “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
In addition, a crew of very merry Minions spread holiday cheer throughout Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and adjoining Super Silly Fun Land, while hot butterbeer will be served in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, along with traditional and frozen versions of Harry’s favorite drink.
Grinchmas runs Dec. 3-4 and Dec. 10-11, and then daily from Dec. 16 through Jan. 1.
Walt Disney World Resortdisneyworld.disney.go.com
SeaWorld www.seaworldparks.com Universal Orlando Resortwww.universalorlando.com
Universal Studios Hollywoodwww.universalstudioshollywood.com