A holiday certainly presents a valuable opportunity to spend time enriching your life visiting family and friends, near and far. However, the holidays do come with a lofty price tag too. For example, holiday travel costs can rack up with transportation, lodging, food/beverage, gifts and entertainment. But did you know that Orlando is bursting with free holiday happenings that’ll amplify your holly jolly feelings? Yes, priceless merriment can be had in The City Beautiful without spending a dime! So save money and savor seasonal joy with Orlando’s best free holiday activities.

1. Light Up UCF

Addition Financial Arena at University of Central Florida | November 16 – December 31, 2019

(Photo Courtesy of Light Up UCF)

The nation’s second largest university has humble roots with just 1,900 students in its original enrollment. Now the University of Central Florida boasts national acclaim for sports, academics, research and student life. During the holidays, UCF hosts a free festival full of fun, including a merry and bright light show, holiday movies (on Fridays and Saturdays) and a holiday market. Light Up UCF is free, as is parking, though some event activities require payment, such as the onsite ice skating, ice slide and Ferris wheel.

2. Holiday Friday Nights at the Morse Museum

Morse Museum, Winter Park | Fridays, November 23 – December 28, 2019; 4-8pm

In the winter (and every season), Winter Park is one of Orlando’s most exquisite districts. In fact, the main drag of Park Avenue is often lovingly referred to as the Rodeo Drive of Orlando. Located along this refined boulevard, the Morse Museum showcases the incomparable beauty of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s works in various mediums. From paintings to stunning stained glass, you’ll be dazzled with all things nice (nothing naughty here, Santa). Festive touches are presented throughout the Morse Museum during the holidays, in addition to live music and captivating art demonstrations.

Music schedule: November 23 – Harpist Bizarre Quartet; November 30 – Victoria Lynn Schultz; December 7 – Beautiful Music Chamber Trio; December 14 – Beautiful Music Jazz Quartet; December 21 – Beautiful Music Three Flutes Only; and December 28 – Beautiful Music Jazz Trio.

3. Disney Springs Tree Trail

Disney Springs Marketplace | November 28 – December 31, 2019

(Photo Courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort)

The most magical place on Earth is even more magical during the holidays. Take a stroll through the enchanted Christmas Tree Trail lined with elaborately adorned trees. Over 25 holiday trees are impeccably themed with classic Disney characters, films and attractions, like Toy Story, The Haunted Mansion and Star Wars. The details of each tree beckon you to take your time to wander with wonder. Naturally, the tree toppers are the stars of this show! Be sure to keep your camera ready for whimsical photo opportunities as you curve around the path. Seasonal food and beverages offerings are available for purchase along the way.

4. Wekiva Island Winter Wonderland

Wekiva Island, Longwood | November 28 – December 31, 2019

(Photo Courtesy of Wekiva Island)

The definitive natural Florida experience in Central Florida can be found at Wekiva Island. Nestled within Wekiwa Springs State Park, this riverside retreat is a popular gathering spot for locals and visitors alike year-round (including the holidays). An outdoor bar, petite boardwalk lined with adirondack chairs, cabanas, a wine bar, beach volleyball, cornhole and kayaks will all inspire you to enjoy the beauty of the 16-mile-long Wekiva River. Wekiva Island also presents a Florida “snow flurries” version of winter. We’re talking all the bells and whistles like a snow slide, ornament making, holiday movies after sunset, decorations galore and even “sleigh” rides down the river aboard a decorated pontoon boat.

5. Cranes Roost Light Up the Holidays

Cranes Roost Park, Altamonte Springs | Light displays: November 28 – December 31, 2019 / Light Up the Holidays event: December 7, 2019

(Photo Courtesy of City of Altamonte Springs)

One of the delights of the holiday season in Orlando is not having to bundle up when participating in outdoor celebrations. Just 10 miles north of downtown Orlando, Crane’s Roost Park wraps around a lake and, during the holidays, presents a beautiful backdrop of twinkling lights and festive décor. The park’s 60-foot Christmas tree is definitely ideal for seasonal selfies.

Besides the ongoing dazzling light displays, the park hosts Light Up Crane’s Roost, a free event from 5-9pm on Saturday, December 7 with an culminating fireworks show to illuminate the sky (pssst… expect to see surges of green and red). This family-friendly occasion will feature live music, dance performances and Mr. & Mrs. Claus joyfully soaking up Florida’s sunshine.

6. Now Snowing

Town of Celebration | November 30 – December 31, 2019

You probably don’t expect to see snow fall in Orlando but, for the past twenty-one years, white flakes have indeed fallen in Celebration, the quaint town beside Walt Disney World Resort. This event has good, clean fun – literally – with frostbite-free snow made of soapy suds. In-between snow falls (four per night), saunter down Market Street to pop into boutiques and cafes, before appreciating the glistening lake. The month-long celebration of Now Snowing also includes optional paid experiences, like horse-drawn carriage rides, ice skating and train rides.

7. Lake Eola Christmas Tree Show

Lake Eola Park, Downtown Orlando | December 1, 2019 – January 4, 2020

Located in downtown Orlando, Lake Eola Park is akin to New York City’s Central Park. It is an oasis in the middle of our metropolitan hustle and bustle. Often the centerpiece of holiday happenings and annual events throughout the year, Lake Eola Park transforms into a holiday hub with seasonal decorations including a dominating 72-foot-tall Christmas tree with synchronized lights. This Eola Wonderland Christmas Tree display entertains five times a night starting at 5:45pm (and, then, hourly through 9:45pm). Take in this spectacular as you walk around Lake Eola’s paved footpath.

8. Holiday Music Fridays on the Plaza

Downtown Winter Garden | December 6 – 27, 2019; 7-9pm
Everyone who visits the charming town of Winter Garden instantly falls in love. This Orlando suburb is now one of the most popular neighborhoods for new Florida transplants and locals alike. You can get in tune with all Winter Garden has to offer with live music on the plaza every Friday night throughout the year (via the stage platform in front of the foundation). The weekly event exudes holiday themes throughout December to make gift shopping on historic Plant Street even more pleasurable.

The line-up: December 6 – Light Up Winter Garden; December 13 – KeyHarmony (Christmas/Holiday); December 20 – Roots & Rosin- Nicole Equerme/Abigail Collins (Christmas/Holiday); and December 27 – Paint it Black Quartet (Christmas/Holiday).

9. St. Cloud Holiday Festival

Downtown St. Cloud | December 7 & 8, 2019

Big time cheer comes to the small town of St. Cloud, less than a 30-minute drive from Walt Disney World Resort. Because “it’s a small world after all,” you don’t need to travel far to immerse yourself in a jamboree jam-packed with merriment. The St. Cloud Holiday Festival has over 120 vendors, free entertainment and plenty of festive flavors to eat up.

10. City of Orlando Boat Parade

Lake Conway | December 13 – 15, 2019

(Photo Courtesy of Winter Park Boat Parade)

This neighborhood boat parade is a little known secret (shhh!). It takes place over three nights, each celebration coasting along a different part of the Lake Conway chain of lakes. Due to its neighborhood locale, visitors can catch better views on Friday, December 13 compared to subsequent nights. Parking is limited to residents of Belle Isle; so hop a sleigh ride (aka taxi or ride-share service). Here’s the schedule: December 13: Swann Beach, Perkins Ramp and Warren Park; December 14: Delia Beach, Venetian Ramp and Peninsular Park; and December 15: Cross Lake Beach.

Similarly, the Winter Park Christmas Boat Parade is slated for December 14 at 5:30pm. To witness the sparkling flotilla of decked out boats traveling on Lakes Virginia, Osceola and Maitland, head to Dinky Dock, known to locals as Orlando’s beach, right beside Rollins College.

One-Hit Wonders

The above list primarily highlights Orlando’s ongoing holiday events; whereas the following holiday happenings are one-time events. Mark your calendar!

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