The holidays are in full swing! So, we’ve compiled a helpful list of some of the wonderful family friendly holiday events and happenings in and around Tampa Bay.
To start, a great way to take in the sights and sound of the season are at some of Tampa’s local theme parks. Here’s the inside scoop on what not to miss at these events.
November 14 – January 9.
The entire park is decorated for the holidays! The Holly Jolly Express train is our favorite attraction. My son loves seeing the animals after dark, and singing along to the Christmas carols during the train ride. Something new they’ve added this year is a Fireside Feast with Santa. If you need a break from all of the excitement of the park, Busch Gardens also has some excellent Christmas shows including: Christmas on Ice, Story time with Mrs. Claus, Elmo’s Christmas Wish and more.
November 25 – January 1.
This is definitely not your typical “walk in the park.” It is a remarkable display of more than 4 million lights with trees stretching nearly to the top of the dome at Tropicana Field. Stop at the hot cocoa bar in the Village for a warm treat before heading to the indoor ice skating rink. We’ve also heard that Santa may make an appearance this year too.
December 26 – 30, 10am – 8pm.
Make sure to bundle up, because they have real falling snow and an abominable snowman at the Florida Aquarium. My son loves blasting the pesky “monsters” with real snowballs and a slingshot at this family friendly holiday event.
Select Nights from November – December.
Zoo Tampa puts on one of the largest light displays in Tampa and it’s fun to see the wildlife thriving after sundown. There are some unique holiday-themed animal experiences and interactive family shows. You can also catch breakfast with Santa on December 10th.
Secondly, here are some fun festivities you can enjoy that do not require entry to a theme park:
November 18 – January 4.
Hit the outdoor ice skating rink, indulge in seasonal shopping, or jump aboard the Winter Village Express for a journey through downtown Tampa. Additionally Tampa’s Christmas Parade, Santa Fest & Tree Lighting takes place Sat, December 3, starting at 1:00pm and this event is also free to attend.
Opens Thursday November 24th at 6pm.
Largo Central park is known for having THE Christmas light display not to be missed in central Pinellas. Wander through 70 acres with more than 2 million lights displayed. You can enjoy the carousel and the 7-story ferris wheel that offers a great view of the lights display. There are also food vendors, hot cocoa and roasted marshmallows. Additionally, you can join the tree lighting ceremony on December 3rd from 6pm-9pm.
This is a two day community-wide family event, beginning Friday, December 02, 6:00pm-10:00pm. It will feature children’s games, entertainment, photos with Santa, hayrides, a children’s train ride and more.
November 28 – January 2.
Take a stroll among the festive holiday lights along the Tampa Riverwalk that is transformed into a winter wonderland. Highlights include a floating lighted gingerbread display, a decorated pine tree forest and a 35-foot-tall LED lighted Christmas tree afloat in the harbor. Expect to see the restaurants, hotels, and bars along the Riverwalk adorned with lighted displays.
On the other hand, maybe you prefer to stay in the car to enjoy the lights displays of local attractions and events:
Nov. 24 – Jan. 1 | 6pm -9pm weekdays, 6pm – 10pm weekends
The Hillsborough County Fairgrounds will be decked out with 1 million lights and a 2-mile drive-thru of elaborate displays. Check out Santa’s Village that includes: a walking tour of Hometown Hillsborough Historical Village, an Arctic Plunge Inflatable Snow Tube, a reindeer carousel, holiday train ride, camel rides, holiday movies, and festive foods.
Lights and special holiday events begin on November 18.
The Chick-fil-A on Waters Ave in Tampa has been featured on the news for their remarkable light display with 1 million lights. Be sure to add this to your list of light displays to check out. Follow their Facebook page for updates.
November 25-December 24, 2022
Much like the Florida State Fairgrounds, The Florida Strawberry Festival fairgrounds will be transformed into a beautiful winter wonderland with 1.5 million lights that adorn 200 Christmas trees ranging from 4 to 40 feet tall. Stop by the kid zone and join Santa, Mrs. Claus and Rudolph for photos and celebration.
People come from all over Tampa bay to drive around this neighborhood and check out the incredible light displays. The local home-owners go all out every year with over the top displays throughout the month of December. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of Denis Phillips (our local legend and well loved weather-man) who lives in this neighborhood. His family often has a hot cocoa stand and donates their profits to charity.
Next, it wouldn’t be the holiday season in Florida without our local boat parades. Boats of all sizes come out decked with lights, inflatables, music, and more.
Here are a few of the best around:
- Tampa Riverwalk Holiday Lighted Boat Parade (December 17) Learn more here.
- 33rd Annual Tarpon Springs Holiday Boat Parade (December 2)
- 36th Annual Treasure Island Holiday Lighted Boat Parade (December 17).
You can also view and be part of Tampa’s Boat Parade in a unique new way during the parade on the Pirate Water Taxi.
Take a ride on Tampa’s Pirate Water Taxi and tour holiday lights and decorations along the river including Holiday Island. On this unique cruise you will get up-close views of downtown Tampa’s light displays, floating holiday displays, sing-a-long caroling, and a snow flurry finale. Additionally, every child gets to write a letter to Santa and drop it off in Tampa’s only floating mail buoy to the North Pole.
Lastly, want to ring in the new year with the family? Here are a couple family friendly events to consider:
New Year’s Eve Events, AKA Noon-Year’s Events
Dec 31 from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
Celebrate the new year at the Glazer Children’s Museum with family play projects and hourly countdowns. Downtown Countdown is included with museum admission.
Dec 31 from 10:00am – 4:00pm
The Tampa Zoo celebrates the new year all day long with a DJ dance party, giveaways, and an hourly toast to the new year. Access to these festivities are included with your daily admission.
With all these options for magical memory making and new holiday traditions around Tampa Bay, you’re sure to find an event that the whole family will love. Most importantly, however you celebrate we wish you and your family a joyful and happy holiday season.
By: Alisha Vought
Also check out: 8 Tips for Holiday Travel with Littles