Normally, there are no suggestions here about EXACTLY where to go. But this is an exception.
If you are planning a Thanksgiving Day or thereabouts visit to Orlando’s theme parks, swallow this advice:
Stay away from SeaWorld Orlando.
Better: try Universal.
Even better or best yet: The Walt Disney World Resort.
Disney’s Thanksgiving is the best of all.
Ditto the entire Christmas season, which at least used to start at Thanksgiving (but now seems to be vastly extended at unheard of lengths).
The best thing to see at Universal this time of year is their Macy’s Parade.
The best thing at SeaWorld Orlando: the frolicking fish and holiday decorations.
Ooops, did we forget about LEGOLAND Florida Resort?
Or did they forget about us?
At the very least, you may have to wait till next month, December, to celebrate seasonal holidays at LEGOLAND.
Thanks also for LEGOLAND
The attraction less than an hour’s drive from Orlando in Winter Haven has little or nothing on its Web site re Thanksgiving itself.
It does urge park-goers to celebrate the holidays starting in December with the Christmas “Bricktacular.”
Events in December also include a LEGO Santa and Reindeer, and a 30-foot-tall LEGO Christmas tree with 270,000 forest green LEGO bricks.
There are other events as well, apparently all involving LEGO bricks of some type, and a kids New Year’s Eve party.
“The fun isn’t over when Christmas comes to a close, however. LEGOLAND Florida gets the New Year’s party started early with nightly fireworks over Lake Eloise from Dec. 26-30. Watch a spectacular fireworks display with special viewing glasses that turn ordinary fireworks into the illusion of millions of exploding LEGO bricks,” the site says.
The good news here is that events are included with admission.
Best to do near LEGOLAND
So maybe the best thing to do here -- at least at Thanksgiving -- is to take in some of the lesser known attractions (Winter Haven is a relatively small town without many of much larger Orlando’s visitor offerings).
So order a Half Pounder and one of the 20 types of milk shakes at Andy’s Drive in Restaurant or a package of goat milk fudge at Webb’s Candy for $12.95 a pound.
Or explore Downtown Winter Haven.
Kids can let some energy go at Central Park, where a giant fountain changes colors to celebrate holidays and different commemorations.
Benches and picnic tables dot the park, and strands of lights and lampposts light the park at night.
Back here in Orlando, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure don’t plan specific Thanksgiving festivities. But they do have extended hours.
Their Thanksgiving is generally celebrated mostly at their on-site hotels: Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Royal Pacific Resort, and Cabana Bay Beach Resort.
They offer holiday buffets with live entertainment.
Holiday decorations at the parks are everywhere, of course.
And if you want to feel better about the less fortunate, restaurants will donate $1 from each meal to Feeding Children Everywhere.
In addition to the usual turkey, various events feature live entertainment, crafts, face painters, balloon rides, storytelling, dancing and more.
Best thing to do at Universal
The best thing about Universal this time of year is their Macy’s Parade.
Also keep in mind that although many other restaurants at Universal may not be serving a turkey buffet on Thanksgiving, you can expect virtually all full-service restaurants to offer holiday-inspired selections on November 26 along with their normal menus.
This includes Mama Della’s, Emeril’s Tchoup Chop, and all the venues at Universal CityWalk.
Besides Thanksgiving, on Friday, November 27, there will be a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.
The event will feature a meet and greet with Santa, face painters, and stations offering hot cocoa and sweet treats.
The big event at Universal Studios Florida is the Macy’s Holiday Parade.
Many of the actual props and balloons used in the New York Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are shipped down to Universal Orlando for the event.
The Macy’s Holiday Parade is notable too because, unlike the Mardi Gras parade that is generally scheduled once each week, this parade runs every evening. At this time of year, at least.
Chance to see famous parade outside of Big Apple
This parade is somewhat special because most people never make it to New York for the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s a worldwide TV tradition.
Other events this time of year in Orlando include Mannheim Steamroller in holiday concerts, The Blues Brothers Holiday Show (including appropriate songs like Blue Christmas), and a Superstar Parade.
The best thing about SeaWorld…perhaps the fish discourage any major events….but the selections are far slimmer.
And we have to think about it a while…
The Sea of Trees is one holiday attraction. It is a glistening forest with over 100 trees sparkling to music and lights.
The best thing for guests may be to view the holiday decorations.
SeaWorld itself says its claim to fame as the “holiday spirit splashes over you. Carols fill the air, a sparkling Sea of Trees Lights up the water and skaters dance on ice.”
Here, in this wintry and watery wonderland, “you can enjoy stunning live shows inspired by the natural world -- everything from Santa to Shamu,” the site says.
Various shows include hearing the “greatest story ever told” with over 30 life-size puppets and live animals during “O Wondrous Night,” among others.
Despite crowds, many reasons for going now
For the Walt Disney World Resort, it is no surprise that with kids out of school, it’s a very busy time. One of the busiest in the year, in fact.
(See our report later for some tips on minimizing crowds).
Despite that, however, Disney World at Thanksgiving is still somewhat low-key. And a great time to visit.
If you have not been there before, don’t expect to see pilgrims everywhere. But the parks do have a lot of holiday decorations.
The best environment to see this time of year: the Land Pavilion at Epcot, where pumpkins, gourds and scarecrows are usually on display in Living With the Land and the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot.
One upside to getting a head start on the Christmas season by visiting in early November is that Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party isn’t as crowded as it later gets.
Dates for it include November 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 29, and
December 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 18.
It’s held at the Magic Kingdom.
As you probably know, the parties are after-hours, separately ticketed happenings scheduled several times per week in November and December. They usually start the first week in November and run 2-3 times per week through the week before Christmas.
Nothing is as special as Walt Disney World this time of year.
Great time to see the characters
If you really want to meet rarely seen characters such as the Seven Dwarfs offer great chances to do that. Do keep in mind, however, that such rarely seen characters as Captain Jack Sparrow have normally huge lines.
It is not uncommon for people to line up for the Dwarfs around 5:30 pm for the later evening appearance of characters.
There are a lot of other characters around as well such as the Jasmine and Abu, Winnie the Pooh, and Princess Tiana with Prince Naveen, so you’ll want to decide ahead of time just how important meeting some of these Disney celebrities are and how long you are willing to wait.
Another reasonably popular meet and greet opportunity is to stop in and see the princesses, who have dragged their princes out to meet the public for the event.
If you want to visit some characters without wasting valuable party time, many of the regular characters are out in their Christmas best including Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.
More than characters on the menu
If you're planning to celebrate Thanksgiving in Walt Disney World, most the restaurants are open, though not all.
Some particular restaurants that you might consider are Todd English’s Bluezoo, with not only turkey but winter root organic vegetables.
The Garden Grove has a turkey buffet with ham as well, and winter squash.
The Fresh Mediterranean Market also has a Thanksgiving Day buffet with cured meats and cheeses, as well as roasted organic tom turkey, butternut squash soup and wild mushroom risotto.
Here are some Tips on visiting during busy times
---For all parks, look out for discounts in November (but not Thanksgiving day itself, at least not in the past and not expected this year, either).
---Monday through Wednesday: best days.
Or least busy, anyway.
Locals are at work, and vacationers hit parks beginning of the vacation week. Thursdays and Fridays are usually only moderately crowded.
Saturdays and Sundays: always busy.
---If you do go at Thanksgiving, keep in mind the two weeks following the Monday after Thanksgiving will be the least crowded of the year in Orlando.
---Locals will tell you this is the very best time of the year for weather. Little rain. Cool temperatures but not as cold as it sometimes gets in December and January.
---If you’re also looking at water parks this time of year, reconsider. Disney’s Typhoon closes at the end of November (a wise decision because it can be cold in later months).
---Shorts are fine for everyday wear---if you are a tourist from Maine. Take along some warmer pants to give thanks for if its colder than you expected.
--Warning: Disney this time of year can be so crowded, it closes. Yes, bad news. So monitor your planned stay and keep your options open.
---Arrive early, of course. Get there at least an hour before opening. Old advice but always timely.
---Have a pre-arranged plan for your rides and other activities. Also old but also handy to remember.
---Don’t dine when everyone else does….or you might starve. No, not really, but why waste valuable time in lines or waiting for a table at a restaurant? It doesn’t make sense. You can always get a turkey leg.
---If you have children, look at your safety and contingency plans in case of lost person, etc.
---Be sure to have patience. You will need it more so now than any other time of the year.
---Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party does cost extra. But there are also free offerings like the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, Jingle Cruise, the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, Candlelight Processional, and much more.
Finally, as much as there is going on in November, there’s an even busier Disney calendar in December.
So if you’re thinking of giving thanks in November, you might be even more thankful to put it off until next month. ###