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December 8, 2020

The Best Christmas Events in Tampa Bay for Families

By Laura Byrne

Tampa Bay always has something fun to offer year round and during the holidays, the fun ramps up with even more family-friendly Christmas events and holiday things to do!

We know 2020 has been a tough year and finally, we it is coming to a close with some holiday magic around Tampa Bay. Almost every event we’ve come to love over the years has made modifications with your family’s health and safety in mind, so don’t forget to return the favor and pack your face masks and hand sanitizer.

This is a place where we’ll be sharing our favorite and the best Christmas events in Tampa Bay for families!

Want to add your family-friendly event to our holiday events lists? Email us at calendar@tbparenting.com.

*Keep in mind that dates, times, and events are subject to change so be sure to check with each destination’s website or social media pages before you go.

Stroll through dazzling holiday light displays in Tampa Bay

There are so many ways and places to enjoy the splendor of Christmas lights! Busch Gardens Christmas Town boasts millions of twinkling lights. We’re put together a list of some of our favorite holiday light displays in Tampa Bay.

Enjoy the holiday family fun at theme parks and attractions:

We’re pretty lucky to be within a quick drive to some world-renowned theme parks! Take advantage of it during the holidays!

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens | Daily through Jan 3
From mid-November until the end of December, Busch Gardens will begin its annual Christmas Town festivities. Included with park admission, guests can enjoy beautiful lights, a new fireworks show, contactless meet and greets with Santa and other character favorites from the classic “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” television special! buschgardens.com 

Christmas in the Wild at ZooTampa | Select nights through Dec 30
Enjoy a special evening as ZooTampa lights up with holiday magic! This year’s modified event includes new attractions like a Holiday Kaleidoscope. The outdoor Christmas Market presented by Melitta is also back with some tasty holiday treats. Advance reservations are strongly encouraged due to limited capacity. zootampa.org 

Holidays at LEGOLAND | Select dates through Dec 31
See a dazzling 30-foot tall LEGO Christmas tree made of 270,000 LEGO bricks at LEGOLAND Florida Resort in Winter Haven. Young guests can send letters to the North Pole, sing along to Christmas tunes on the carousel and watch a live show featuring Mrs. Claus and her holiday helpers. Capture precious memories at one-of-a-kind, socially distant photo ops with LEGO Santa, LEGO Gingerbread Man, LEGO Toy Soldier and more.legolandflorida.com 

best Christmas events for families magic kingdom

Walt Disney World | Through Dec. 30
Magic Kingdom has put Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on hiatus this year, but they are still bringing home the magic with holiday decor and treats, themed character cavalcades, pop up appearances by Santa, and a super cool holiday protections on Cinderella’s Castle. Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios are also decorated and will have character cavalcades throughout the day. The Taste of Epcot International Festival of the Holidays starts on November 27 with the sights, sounds and tastes of the season from cultures around the world. Masks required for all guests ages 2 and older.

SeaWorld Orlando’s Christmas Celebration | Through Dec 31
Head to SeaWorld Orlando to make new holiday memories with festive shopping, delicious food and dazzling live shows inspired by the natural world. Stroll the lakeside Christmas Market and pick out unique, artisan-crafted gifts. The Christmas Celebration is included with park admission.seaworldorlando.com 

Grinchmas at Islands of Adventure | Through Jan 3, 2021
Head over to Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando Resort for “warm fuzzies with a side of sarcasm” at Seuss Landing. Enjoy holiday festivities and cheer as you immerse yourself in Dr. Seuss’Whoville. universalorlando.com 

Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter | Through Jan 3, 2021
Enjoy a Harry Potter Christmas in both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure this holiday season. Start at Universal Studios to see Diagon Alley and London transformed with brilliant lights and festive décor. Enjoy holiday treats before you head to King’s Cross station to hear your favorite holiday favorites. Make your way toHogsmeadeat Islands of Adventure and enjoy decorated shops, The Frog Choir singing seasonal tunes, treats and drinks, and witness the unfolding of the holiday spirit at The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle.universalorlando.com 

Visit with Santa Claus in Tampa Bay

Busch Gardens Christmas Town

Santa is making his rounds in Tampa Bay before his big adventure to deliver holiday cheer to kids around the world on Christmas Eve! We’ve put together a list of where you can visit and take pictures with Santa in Tampa Bay, social distancing friendly, of course.  There are even virtual visits if you’re not quite ready to venture out and about.

Check out a drive-thru holiday event

Maybe you’re not quite ready to venture out, but still want to experience the beauty of holiday lights! There are some really cool drive-thru experiences that you can enjoy from your car!

Wonderland of Lights & Santa’s Village at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds in Dover | Through December 27, 2020 
This is a drive-thru event to experience a mile of spectacular lights with a visit at Santa’s Village at the end, if you choose. Santa’s Village features wagon rides, a Circus Show, camel and pony rides and more. Thewonderlandoflights.com  

Holiday Lights at the Chick-fil-A on Waters Ave in Tampa
This Chick-fil-A store is taking holiday decorating to a whole new level and they’re back at it again this year with a scaled back display. Add this to your family’s holiday bucket list! Visit the store at 6299 W Waters Avenue in Tampa. Follow their Facebook page here for updates.

Drive-Thru Santa Visit at Safety Harbor City Park | December 5, 2020 from 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Santa is waiting to meet you in the kids during this unique photo opportunity! You don’t even have to get out of the car for your photo which is the whole point to keep everyone safe. You will want to pre-register to get your photo. Learn more and pre-register here.

Go ice-skating or snow sledding in Tampa Bay

winter village at Curtis Hixon Park ice skating

Ice-skating is back at Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park!  This year, you’ll need to make a reservation for your family’s time on the ice. This is because they’re keeping capacity at no more than 50% on the ice and they want to ensure you secure your spot! While you’re there, stay and explore the village. Shop local businesses in the market, grab a snack and hot cocoa, take plenty of Instaworthy photos, and board the trackless choo choo for a train ride around the park!

Snow Days are returning to The Florida Aquarium this December, but on a modified to keep you safe. Rather than playing in a field of snow like years past, you’ll get a bucket of snow balls to toss at Sea Monsters that plague our oceans and then another bucket to build your very own snow creation. Snow Days are December 26-31, 2020 during Aquarium hours. It is a timed event and you need a reservation along with your ticket to go the Aquarium. Learn more here.

If you’re looking for a thrill, head to Snow Cat Ridge in Dade City to go sledding on real ice and pop inside the igloo to play with real snow!

Celebrate the holidays on a real pirate ship! 

best Christmas events for families lost pearl pirate ship

Christmas magic has take over Tampa’s pirate ship, The Lost Pearl! A Pirate’s Christmas Cruise is an outdoor, family-friendly adventure on the high-seas (okay, the bay, but close enough)! The ship departs from Sparkman Wharf. From there, your cruise will be full of holiday pirate music, games, temporary tattoos and even a chance to write a letter to Santa which you can drop off in Tampa’s only mailbox on the water. It’s about as Tampa as you can get! Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for kids ages 2-12. Capacity is being capped to ensure you have space to social distance. tampapirateship.com

Explore holidays of Christmas past

Get inspired at the Henry B Plant Museum’s Victorian Christmas Stroll in Tampa. Each room has been beautifully decorated with a different theme. You just might leave with a list as long as Santa’s full of decorating ideas! The event is held daily from 10:00 am-5:00 pm (except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day). Face masks are required. Tickets start at $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and $10 for kids. There are discount days, too. Learn more here.

The Old Fashioned Christmas at Manatee Village is going digital this year due to COVID-19. They are hosting an in-person event, but will be hosting a free virtual event called “A Digital Old-Fashioned Christmas” available beginning at noon on December 16, 2020 through January 4, 2021. You’ll get to hear their twist on “A Night Before Christmas”, learn how to make orange and clove pomanders and even a sweet cookie. Check it out here.

All aboard! Experience the coolest holiday themed train rides in Tampa Bay

The North Pole Express at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish is a family-favorite in Tampa Bay. You and the kids can board the open air train for a ride to the North Pole where there are themed activities and a visit with Santa. Tickets tend to sell out fast, so book now if you want to go. The trains are being kept at 50% capacity.

You can also board a mini train at the Concourse in Shady Hills as part of their annual holiday event, the Celebration of Lights. The Holiday Train runs on Friday and Saturday nights from 6:00 pm-9:00 pm during the event which ends on December 20, 2020.

Largo Central Railroad is offering Jingle All the Way mini train rides on December 12 and 13, 2020. The mini train will take you and the kids on a beautiful ride through the park that is lit and decorated for the holidays. Tickets are $12 per rider and selling fast, so act now if this piques your interest.

The Holly Jolly Express at Christmas Town at Busch Gardens is a must experience when you attend! You can sing along to holiday music as you take a ride around the park and take in all of the beautiful lights!

Check out a holiday boat parade

It’s always fun to see boats decorated with festive lights, holiday inflatables and more. While several parades have been canceled for 2020, you can still find many free holiday boat parades taking place around Tampa Bay. A few of our favorites include the Tampa Riverwalk Holiday Lighted Boat Parade  (December 19), 31st Annual Tarpon Springs Holiday Boat Parade (December 4) and the 35th Annual Treasure Island Holiday Lighted Boat Parade (December 5).

A unique way to view Tampa’s Boat Parade is on the Pirate Water Taxi!

Celebrate Christmas on the farm in Tampa Bay

There are so many fun events at local farms in Tampa Bay that not only showcase pretty lights, but also give you and the kids a chance to get up close with farm animals! We’re sharing our top picks here.

It may not be set up for the holidays, but a visit to a local citrus grove for an afternoon U-Pick is a perfect day outside for families seeking some natural Vitamin D and Vitamin C! We checked out Dooley Groves in Ruskin for their December u-pick of sugarbelles which was a great experience. Masks are required when in the market where you meet to pick up your sanitized bucket before you’re guided to the area of the grove where you can pick sugar belles. Learn more here.

Cozy up for outdoor holiday movies

Rooftop Cinema’s Drive-In at Armature Works has been extended through the end of 2020 with some awesome holiday movie favorites like Home Alone, Elf, and more! This is such a cool experience for the entire family. We’re sharing more here about what to expect before you go.

You can also watch FREE outdoor movies around town, such as Drive-In Holiday Movies in the Park at Vinoy Park, and a special outdoor screening of A Christmas Story at Pier 60 (Dec 12).

There are other outdoor movie experiences too, like The Shops at Wiregrass, downtown Clearwater, and other locations in Tampa Bay. You’ll likely see more of these events popping up around town as we get closer to the holiday.

Go virtual with Enchant Christmas

The beautiful lights of Enchant Christmas so many of us were able to enjoy last year at Tropicana Field are on hiatus this year due to COVID-19, but you’ll still be able to experience some of the Christmas magic virtually. The Enchant Shop brings the market to your fingertips with unique gifts for everyone on your list. You can even sign up for a phone call from Santa! Enchant Christmas hopes to return to Tropicana Field in 2021. Enchantchristmas.com 

Go experience the Nutcracker in a whole new way!

With your family’s health and safety in mind, the Straz Center is moving the re-imagined Nutcracker Wonderland outside for a unique an immersive experience your family will talk about for years! The Next Generation’ Ballet’s performances will be on stages throughout the Straz Center campus and on the Riverwalk Stage. We hear Santa will be making a visit too! Seats will be socially distanced and face masks are required. The event will be held on select nights from December 11-December 23, 2020. Tickets are $33.50 for kids 17 and younger and $48.50 for adults. www.strazcenter.org (UPDATE: This event has sold out.)

If you’d prefer to stay home, enjoy a virtual performance of the Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker beginning December 19, 2020 with the Mahaffey Theater. The exquisite production of the ballet classic featuring a company of 40 world-class Russian artists with lush, awe-inspiring sets and elaborately detailed costumes all from the comfort of your own living room! The experience is $24.99.

Write a letter to Santa

Did you know your child can get a letter from Santa? The United States Postal Service’s “Greetings from the North Pole” program makes this possible, real postmark from the North Pole and all! You’ll want to get your child’s letter in the mail no later than Dec. 7 to be safe. We’re sharing the details on what you need to know here.

Participate in a Virtual Christmas Themed Race

Glazer Children's Museum Gingerbread Crumb Run

Lace up the running shoes as a family and take part in a virtual race like the Gingerbread Crumb Run in support of Glazer Children’s Museum from November 28-December 5, 2020.

You can also take part in the Jingle Bell Run in support of the Arthritis Foundation from December 11-13, 2020.

Attend a holiday performance in Tampa Bay

In addition to the re-imagined ways to see the Nutcracker in Tampa Bay, there are other holiday performances on schedule. Keep in mind that many safety modifications in place, so be sure to do check with each venue before you go for the rules.

Holiday Music Stroll | December 8, 2020
Multiple venues at the Straz
Join the Patel Conservatory Music Department as you stroll through a musical wonderland! Experience beautiful holiday classics in the picturesque outdoor venues of the Straz Center being performed by student chamber ensembles and Vocal Arts choirs. $15

The Florida Orchestra Holiday Pops | December 11 – 13, 2020, multiple times
The Mahaffey Theater
The Florida Orchestra returns for a special Holiday Pops concert series conducted by Enrico Lopez-Yañez. $18 – $48

St. Petersburg City Theater presents A Christmas Carol  | December 11 – 13, 2020, multiple times
St. Petersburg City Theatre’s MainStage
In one night, Ebenezer Scrooge sees his past, present & future come to haunt him & discovers the true meaning of Christmas. A host of beloved characters come to life on stage in this spectacular annual production. $23

The Florida Orchestra Classical Christmas | December 16 – 20, 2020, multiple times
The Mahaffey Theater
Music to celebrate the season from history’s greatest composers including Mozart, Handel and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. $24 – $42

Rockapella Christmas | December 18, 2020, 8pm
Bilheimer Capitol Theatre
Rockapella brings it’s exciting, internationally acclaimed, a cappella sound back to the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre with a night of holiday classics! For their new Christmas show, the a capella superstars will perform holiday classics like “Silver Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “White Christmas” with their original holiday hits “The Hope We Hold,” “Christmas Without You,” and more. $30 – $59

Noon Year’s Eve events in Tampa Bay for kids

Downtown Countdown at Glazer Children’s Museum | Dec 31
Ring in the New Year at the Glazer Children’s Museum with countdowns, family play projects, and socially-distant celebrations throughout the day. You can celebrate as a family by day and still have time for evening festivities. Downtown Countdown is included with museum admission. Glazermuseum.org 

Celebrate the New Year at ZooTampa | Dec 31 from 11:00 am-7:00 pm
Kids don’t have to miss out on the big countdown just because of bedtime! The family can ring in 2021 (early) with a celebration every hour from 11am-7pm in the new Saunder’s Pavilion. You will need a reservation and space is limited. Details and reservation info is coming soon. ZooTampa.org

3rd Annual Noon Year’s Eve at Armature Works | Dec 31 from 10:00 am-1:00 pm
The noon year’s eve party is back with limited capacity–so you’ll need a ticket to attend this year. The good news is, a portion of the proceeds will benefit Feeding Tampa Bay! In addition to the ticket, face masks will be required. The event on the South Lawn will feature daytime fireworks on the Hillsborough River, live music, inflatable slides, a Spheres Bubble and Magic Show, a YMCA craft corner, treats and more! Tickets for one adult and one child are $22. Additional children are $10 and additional adults are $10. You can even pick up VIP admission for $60 for one adult and child which includes VIP tables and seating, complimentary fruit juice toast, candy bar, private fireworks viewing, private restroom, gift bags and more! Additional VIP adult tickets are $30 and additional kids are $30. Learn more here.

Pint-sized Noon Year’s Eve at Largo Central Park Performing Arts Center | Dec 31 at 10:30 am
This daytime event is designed just for kids featuring music, crafts and more! Only one parent per child is allowed to attend. The center will provide party blowers for tots to celebrate. Cost is $8 per child before December 26 and $10 after December 26. Playlargo.com  

LEGOLAND Florida: Kids’ New Year’s Eve | Dec 31
This celebration isn’t at noon, but early enough for the kiddos to celebrate with a fireworks display at 8:00 p.m. LEGOLANDflorida.com 

Want more holiday fun in Tampa Bay?

Our media partners at Tampa Bay Date Night Guide have a comprehensive list of holiday events around Tampa Bay! Check it out here!

SEE the FUN: Video Library of Holiday Events in 2020:

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