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Unwrapping Your Christmas Gifts


Sixty-seven days. About or almost three months or one quarter of one year.

That’s one estimate for how long it would take you to visit all the visitor attractions in Orlando.

That’s if all you did…and we mean all…was visit attractions.

Might sound great to some, but terrifying to others.

Anyway, silly. For just about anyone.

No one would even think of doing that.

But it does make the point:

Namely, that in addition to its theme parks, Orlando has what might be called a host of gifts, particularly at this time of year.

There are bowling alleys, golf courses, helicopter and balloon rides, roller coasters and race cars, even the world’s largest entertainment McDonald’s.

And that’s nothing like a full description. Even the McDonald’s is not big enough.

An even larger McDonald’s is being built (making it what…largest entertainment McDonald’s not only in the world…but the entire universe?).

But with the end of Thanksgiving and the “Black Friday Sales” (the unofficial event was more prominently featured than the real holiday), some visitors may be in more spiritual moods.

If so, what attractions might you want to visit around now to remind you of not only where you are, but the very time of year?

We mean timely, as Christmas approaches?

Visiting the “Holy Land Experience” is an obvious choice. And there are not only new activities there but if you are just a little patient, you can also try their version of miniature golf.

Miniature golf at Holy Land

But more on what’s new at the Holy Land later.

We’ll tell you first what is going on this time of year. And some lesser visited places you might want to see that are often forgotten. And even give you some tips on coping with it all.

What if you wanted to do Christmas or seasonal things just at the theme parks?

No shortage there, either.

Even the University of Central Florida in Orlando, possibly the largest college or university in the entire United States, has some holiday offerings.

Here in what is called “hyperbole” or exaggerated language is what one park says you can expect during the holidays:

“Celebrate this holiday season in Orlando with our list of events, parades, lights and even places to have Christmas dinner. Nothing's merrier than an Orlando Christmas.”

If that doesn’t draw your interest, try this description:

Every Christmas in Orlando, our world-famous theme parks and resort hotels dazzle with jubilant cheer along with miles of garland and twinkle lights. Holiday traditions and joyful celebrations transform Orlando into a holly jolly destination guaranteed to have your family singing ‘fa-la-la-la’ all the way home.”

If you are not singing yet, you should be.

Do keep in mind there are negatives as well.

So patience helps.

Patience is also required to just get into the parking lots of attractions.

Expect to wait to park. And lines for rides and other attractions as well.

This is the busiest time of the year.

So with that out of the way, Disney again leads the way, of course.

What to do in Orlando at this time

Some choices include EPCOT’s long-standing “Candlelight Processional.” As always, it includes a choir and a live, 50-piece orchestra.

They are part of telling the Christmas story three times a day, at 5, 6:45 and 8:15 p.m.

There’s also celebrity narrators.

Actor Gary Sinise and Amy Grant and Blair Underwood. And others.

Candlelight is part of EPCOT’s “Holidays Around the World” programming.

So admission is included in regular park entrance costs.

As you probably know, you can also get a meal at EPCOT’s restaurants. Prices and menus vary with Dinner Packages.

To see more to decide if this is for you, go to Disneyworld.com/holidays.

Here’s also your chance to be sad or glad by saying hello-goodbye to

“The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.”

It continues its farewell tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

It includes millions of lights kicking in around dusk. They light the way, flashing away, until the park closes (11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. on Sundays).

It ends Jan. 3.

Included in regular park admission.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is another place to go.

An extra ticket event running from 7 p.m. to midnight. It includes a parade, fireworks, with food including cookies and hot cocoa. Also characters.

Admission: $79, or $74 for ages 3-9).

Universal has its own events

Universal Studios celebrates various musical and other events. They are generally included in the price of admission.

Perhaps the best known is the Macy’s Parade, through Jan. 1. Event admission is included with regular park admission.

There’s also “Grinchmas” at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

It’s popular with all ages in part because of the chance to meet the Grinch himself as well as the thrilling music: from Mannheim Steamroller.

For more details, go to universalorlando.com.

“SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration” has various seasonal activities including "Shamu Christmas Miracles," a killer-whale show that has so far survived critics trying to reform animal practices at the park.

There’s also "O Wondrous Night," a stage show, and "Elmo's Christmas Wish,” an ice-skating show.

SeaWorld also has the “Polar Express Experience: of the Wild Arctic” ride plus the “Sea of Trees” on the park lagoon.

These activities are included with park admission.

For more information, go to seaworldorlando.com

If you’re willing to get out of town, “Christmas at Bok” includes its traditional “Holiday Home Tour” at Pinewood Estate as well as twice-daily live carillon concerts Thursdays to Sundays.

The Pinewood tour is $20, but other activities are included with regular gardens admission.

For more information, go to boktowergardens.org.

LEGOLAND Florida welcomes the holidays with their Christmas Bricktacular event, held weekends in December.

Kids will enjoy a 270,000 brick Christmas tree and festive decorations, as well as daily appearances by Santa Claus.

Event admission is included with regular park admission (www.Legoland.com).

Hotels, college also not left out

Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee displays dozens of lavish holiday displays that include more than 2 million twinkling lights and acres of larger-than-life decorations.

There’s also visits from Santa and various stage shows, as well as scavenger hunts (www.Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center.com).

Holidays Around the World at Epcot 2015Light Up UCF” (University of Central Florida) features rides suitable for the entire family, ranging from the “Hunter Vision Ferris Wheel,” where riders can enjoy a panoramic view of the huge college campus, to the “Light Up Express Train.” The latter is geared for all ages.

They also offer the “Arctic Glide Ice Slide,” where you can climb to the top of the tower and glide on disc sleds across the 100-foot ice way. Making its annual appearance, the “Blizzard” offers a whirling and twirling thrill ride.

Cola-Cola also has a Santa’s Workshop in the new “Light Up Lane” (www. UCF. Edu.com).

Still another place to consider visiting that costs nothing but is still on the tourist pathways: The Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe.

It’s located 10 minutes from Disney.

Even non-Catholics admire the architecture and praise the peaceful and quiet surroundings.

It’s a little known fact but this huge church was built with contributions from tourists who have been visiting the attractions in Orlando ever since they began.

Amazingly, it is still sustained by free-will offerings. (www. maryqueenoftheuniverse.org).

New at The Holy Land for this time of year: their holiday lights display.

Tours started recently.

Guests can visit by foot or auto. There is no charge.

Walk-through tours are nightly on a first-come, first-serve basis (up to 1,000 because of their popularity) from 7 to 9 p.m. Drive-through tours run nightly from 3 to 7 p.m. through Jan. 3.

This will please some and amaze others: No shops, restaurants or venues are open during the walk-throughs. 

Drivers will see lights and decorations as they travel the perimeter of the park plus and spin through the Holy Land Experience's "Bethlehem loop." 

Holy Land: living biblical museum

If you are a first-time visitor, you will find artisans who teach the culture and how the people of Jerusalem lived in early Biblical times.

Children’s entertainment includes plays, with a rock climbing wall.

One of the highlights of any visit is the 45 foot by 25 foot long model of ancient Jerusalem — the largest indoor model of its kind.

Daily presentations retell the history of the city of Jerusalem — from its beginnings as King David's capital city to its destruction by the Romans.

It is a recreation of where Christ walked during his life and final hours on the earth.

At the far end of the park, a vast display of Biblical artifacts in the “Scriptorium” provides an informative walk-through tour. It includes a collection of of several thousand manuscripts, scrolls, and other religious artifacts.

Among other highlights is a replica of the mobile “Wilderness Tabernacle,” where the Israelites worshiped during their 40 years of wandering in the desert. Here, visitors learn about the real (as opposed to the movie version) of the “Ark of the Covenant.”

There’s also “Celebrate Jesus,” karaoke for sing-along Christians.

And this time of year, there are strolling Christmas carolers, a singing quartet dressed in the style of the day. Old favorites and classics.

The land also offers several dining options ranging from full menus to hot dogs.

The park almost directly across the street from Universal is closed on Sundays and Mondays, except for special events.

And about that miniature golf.

Visitors later this month will be able to play miniature golf through the Old Testament. No exact date has been announced.

It’s known as the "Trin-I-Tee Miniature Golf Course" by Christmas, park officials said.

Golf was response to young people’s request

"It's a bookend story so it should be a very fun, powerful and entertaining way to walk through the Bible," said Jonathan Martin, the course's designer and creator.

The course starts in the Old Testament with players standing in Noah's Ark surrounded by animals.

Continuing through the course, players will stand side-by-side with David as he faces Goliath. They will also be inside the belly of the whale with Jonah.

The course ends with the New Testament and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

The course will be part of regular park admission, which is $50 for adults, $35 for children ages 6-12, $20 for children ages 2-5, and free for children younger than 2.

Park officials said they came up with the idea of constructing a miniature golf course after talking to some of their younger visitors.

Each hole includes information about that specific scene and lines of scripture. (www.land-of-the-bible).

Some Christmas time tips

--- Most visitors report (source here: blogs and personal experiences) that crowd coping is manageable this time of year, and that it is not enough of a concern to discourage them.

---Before your visit, download

the park apps for advice on waiting times.

---Parades this time of year more a must-see than ever.

---Fireworks are fine everywhere but among the best viewing places: at the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Times also change, so be sure to check.

---There are all-you-can-eat buffets everywhere. No bad ones or any to be avoided that we know about.

---If you can afford it, consider staying overnight at Disney or Universal or other park. It makes your visit far easier, more comfortable and more enjoyable during busy times such as these.

Of course, you can avoid crowds by staying home or you can decide to find a church of your own to visit.

Orlando has about as many churches of its size as anywhere in the US.

There are some of the largest in the country headquartered here.

So one thing is certain:

If you visit a theme park or a church, you certainly won’t be alone.###