‘Twas the month before Christmas and all through Tampa Bay, the citizens were stirring, getting ready for the big day! The twinkle lights were hung from Busch Gardens to Lowry Park Zoo, and everyone wished Santa would skate in downtown too! So with Dad in his flip-flops and you in your shorts take the little ones out for a night on the town and celebrate the holiday magic going down. These top 10 ways to celebrate Christmas in Tampa Bay are sure to delight kids of all ages during the holiday season. Updated for the 2018 season!
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Celebrate the beauty of the holidays in Tampa Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at Ruth Eckerd Hall, or experience the Next Generation Ballet production at the Straz Center. This timeless ballet classic is always a holiday favorite. Turn back the clock at Tampa’s oldest theater, Tampa Theatre, and enjoy holiday classic movies during the December such as It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas. During these holiday classic film showings, Tampa Theatre will be hosting a food drive so please consider donating.
Amusement Park Fun
Busch Gardens turns into Christmastown during the holidays! Lowry Park Zoo turns into a wild wonderland during their new Christmas in the Wild events happening for 19 days during the holiday season. The Florida Aquarium hosts Snow Days post Christmas with a real snow play area, later hours, and a holiday light show!
Holiday Parades and Festivals
Watch Santa make an entrance at the Ybor City’s Snow on 7th Annual Parade and Art Fest. Snow falls throughout the parade route as marching bands and other performers entertain the crowds.
The City of Tampa also hosts it’s annual SantaFest Parade and Fest at Curtis Hixon Park in early December. This parade is the perfect start to a fun-filled weekend of holiday activities that happen throughout the day in downtown Tampa.
You won’t want to miss fire trucks, floats, old-time cars, Shriners, and Santa Claus at Safety Harbor’s Annual Holiday Parade. And, for one night only, snow falls at the Annual Elena Tresh Foundation Snowfest in Safety Harbor. Kids are invited to frolic and play in this winter wonderland. Bring mittens and snow pants. Slide down the 20-foot slide and make a snow angel!
A recent addition to Tampa is The Winter Village! It transforms Curtis Hixon’s Waterfront Park into a holiday hot spot with sights, sounds, and activities for the holidays for children and adults. It is also home to Downtown Tampa’s only outdoor ice rink. Add views of the beautiful Hillsborough River and free play spaces on the great lawn with the big city lights in the background and it’s pure holiday magic. In case you have “no place to go” this season, know this is THE perfect place to go.
Historic Holiday Spirit
Take a stroll through the University of Tampa and see the Victorian Christmas Stroll at the Henry B. Plant Museum’s annual old-time Christmas event. See nineteenth century Christmas decor with rooms displayed in both old and new holiday decorations. You can also drive along Ybor City’s historic 7th Avenue and see old-fashioned Christmas decor or visit the 1883 Safford House in Tarpon Springs and see the beautiful Victorian holiday decorations.
Don’t miss the Enchanted Tree Lighting Ceremony and Holiday Street Party in Hyde Park Village in late November. This family-friendly traditional event offers Santa’s arrival, live holiday music, food trucks, kid’s activities, and more. At Curtis Hixon Park, watch holiday movies on the lawn, holiday themed entertainment, and more. Safety Harbor will also have a Tree Lightning Ceremony with singing choirs and a visit from jolly St. Nick.
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Let the Florida Orchestra fill your soul with the holiday spirit at their Holiday Pops concerts, performed at the Straz Center, the Mahaffy Theater, and Ruth Eckerd Hall. Sing along with Christmas classics as you enjoy this annual holiday celebration.
Classic Holiday Movies
Take your family to one of the great holiday-themed shows at the Largo Cultural Center. Check their website to see what they have to offer this season. Watch for classics like White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life.
Santa Meet ‘N Greets
Sit on Santa’s lap and tell him how good you’ve been this year! International Plaza hosts Santa in the Grand Court, where you can join Santa’s flight crew. Kids can try on a virtual flight suit, dance under magical lights and snowfall, and more before meeting the jolly old man! Santa will also be stopping by various stores in Hyde Park Village throughout the season. Check their calendar to see which shop he’ll be visiting while you’re there.
Boat Parades and More in St. Petersburg
The Tampa Riverwalk Holiday Boat Parade will be a fabulous addition to the already full line-up of holiday events happening along the Hillsborough River and ending up in Downtown Tampa. Or head over to Vinoy Park’s St. Petersburg Boat Parade, an annual boat parade where the illuminated boats will have everyone captivated as lights float on the water.
Stop in at The Vinoy and enjoy their festive holiday decor and snack on milk and cookies while watching the St. Petersburg Santa Parade pass by on the parade route. Play in the snow at the Snowfest in North Straub Park where over 65 tons of snow will keep Florida kids busy for hours building snowmen and making snow forts for as long as they’ll last in the Tampa Bay sun!
Special thanks to Tiffany Vaughn for updating this post for 2018.
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