Unique holiday season fun, activities found at these South Florida locations

Posted November 20, 2019


Both locals and tourists are encouraged to head on down to the American tropical paradise of South Florida for a unique holiday experience.

South Florida’s typical holiday scene is not made up of snowy landscapes and cozy fireplaces but offers balmy weather, palm trees and sandy beaches.

It is the perfect spot for those seeking a refreshing spin on the traditional holiday celebrations.

South Florida has an array of fun-filled festivities ranging from annual tree lightings to winter boat parades and holiday-themed amusement parks.

The following list is arranged alphabetically. Here are some of the favorite activities and locations to experience the most wonderful time of the year.

Breakfast with Santa at Neiman Marcus in Coral Gables

Get into the holiday spirit by visiting Neiman Marcus in Coral Gables, where families can have a sumptuous breakfast with Santa Claus. During breakfast, families are presented with opportunities to take photos with Santa. After breakfast is served, children can participate in cookie decorating and arts and crafts activities. It is a winter wonderland extravaganza that no parent or young one would want to miss.

Gasparilla Inn & Club’s Twelve Days of Christmas

The lobby of Gasparilla Inn & Club decked out in holiday decor for the annual “Twelve Days of Christmas” event (Photo Courtesy of Gasparilla Inn & Club).

‘Tis the season at Gasparilla Inn & Club, where visitors can experience the Twelve Days of Christmas. The Twelve Days of Christmas hotel package includes one deluxe room along with a different unique theme of activities for each of the days. A myriad of holiday events offered include Christmas caroling, holiday bingo, gingerbread house decorating and more. The Twelve Days of Christmas is an unforgettable holiday celebration designed for those of all age groups.

Key West’s “HarborWalk of Lights” at HarborWalk Plaza

Stroll along Elizabeth St. & Greene St. in Key West to see the iconic “HarborWalk of Lights.” Dazzling holiday-oriented light displays will capture the eyes of visitors with attractions from flamingos to dolphins and sea turtles. The “HarborWalk of Lights” is also a magnificent spot to do some seasonal shopping, while listening to live Holiday tunes. There will even be a tree lighting ceremony where the Key West Lobster Trap Tree, a Nautical Christmas Tree and the Fishing Buoy Tree are going to be ignited to pay tribute to the “Maritime History of Key West.”

Miami City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”

This holiday season, Miami City Ballet transports visitors to a mystical winter fantasyland in George Balanchine’s rendition of “The Nutcracker.” During the performance, guests are acquainted with traditional holiday characters from dancing Sugarplum Fairies to Toy Soldiers. Miami City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” features Cuban inspired costumes, giving the show a distinctive geographic touch. Live orchestras are also set to play at each performance. The showing of “The Nutcracker” is a classic holiday tradition made for the entire family to enjoy.

NightGarden at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden

Explore one of Miami’s most beautiful gardens after daylight. Come and watch a festive light show with animated live effects such as holographic butterflies and floating orchids permeate throughout the landscape of the garden. With talking trees and illuminated mazes, guests are sent to a make-believe dream world. Some of the finest food trucks in South Florida are also invited to heighten the show.

The Polar Express Train Ride in Fort Lauderdale and Miami

All aboard the Polar Express, where the movie comes to life as the experience takes visitors on a whimsical journey to meet Santa Claus. Once guests are seated, dancing hosts will scan their golden tickets. Passengers’ will be served hot cocoa and delicious desserts. As visitors are enjoying their pastries and beverages, Santa and his elves will be wishing everyone on board a Merry Christmas. By the end of the train ride, guests will be given sleigh bells by Santa to keep as mementos of the trip.

Holiday Sand Tree Lighting at Downtown West Palm Beach Waterfront

“Sandi,” West Palm Beach’s iconic sand tree, being lit at the 2015 Tree Lighting Ceremony (Photo Courtesy of The City of West Palm Beach).

Have a holiday in paradise by paying a visit to the tropical land of West Palm Beach, where visitors can find the planets only 35-foot,700-ton sand tree, “Sandi.” At “Sandi Land,” visitors are greeted by a capella carolers who perform live music weekly throughout the holiday season. Guests can participate in activities such as glow in the dark mini golf and photo taking with Santa. Holiday Gift Boutiques and Flea Market vendors are on-site, allowing visitors to make some highly unique purchases for their loved ones. “Sandi Land” is a memorable, authentic South Florida experience.

Santa’s Enchanted Forest

The front entrance of Santa’s Enchanted Forest covered with whimsical holiday characters and light displays (Photo Courtesy of Santa’s Enchanted Forest).

Visit the World’s Largest Holiday-Themed Amusement Park located right in Miami. At Santa’s Enchanted Forest, guests have the opportunity to see South Florida’s tallest Christmas tree, while experiencing more than 100 various rides, games and attractions. Visitors are advised to come on an empty stomach so they can get a taste of the traditional carnival food available from churros to candied apples and fried Oreos. As visitors eat their way through the park, they will come across Instagram-worthy winter wonderland themed displays. Some photo opportunities include attending a meet and greet with Santa Claus, which is accessible nightly with a visitor’s ticket purchase.

The Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Shops at Merrick Park

Watch the Shops at Merrick Park morph into a magical Winter Wonderland at the 16th annual Tree Lighting Ceremony. Live performances will be delivered from the Miami Royal Ballet and the Coral Gables High School Choir and Band, along with a remarkable appearance from Santa Claus. Pastries and beverages will be available for purchase by the mall’s Farmer’s Market Food Vendors. Guests also have an opportunity to become involved in a great cause by donating a toy to the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Coral Terrace.

Winterfest Boat Parade

Experience one of the most significant South Florida holiday attractions by attending the Winterfest Boat Parade. Residents and tourists from around the world gather to watch more than 100 stunningly decorated boats sail across the New River and Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach. The Grandstand Viewing Area in Fort Lauderdale is the most popular location for parade viewing. Guests will be entertained by celebrities and live performers making special appearances by the boat as well.

If You Go

Breakfast with Santa at Mariposa Restaurant, Neiman Marcus in Coral Gables

  • Address: 390 San Lorenzo Ave., Coral Gables, FL 33146
  • Phone: 786-999-1018
  • Dates/Hours: Dec. 7 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.; Dec. 14 from 9 a.m. to 11a.m.; Dec. 15 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • Rates: Adult Breakfast with Santa tickets are $60 each; Child (12 and under) Breakfast with Santa tickets are $50 per child.
  • Website: https://www.neimanmarcus.com/c/nm-breakfast-with-santa-cat40930746

Gasparilla Inn’s Twelve Days of Christmas

  • Address: 500 Palm Ave., Boca Grande, FL 33921
  • Phone: 877-764-1420
  • Dates/Hours: The Twelve Days of Christmas Package is available from Dec. 20 and ends on Jan. 1.
  • Rates: A standard room is $415 per night with the package.
  • Website: https://the-gasparilla-inn.com/special-events/holidays/

Key West’s “HarborWalk of Lights” at HarborWalk Plaza

  • Address: 614 Greene St., Key West, FL 33040
  • Phone: 239-248-6105
  • Dates/Hours: The event will take place on Nov. 27 at 6 p.m.
  • Rates: “HarborWalk of Lights” is a free event opened to the public.
  • Website: https://keywestchristmas.org/

Miami City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”

  • Address: 2200 Liberty Ave., Miami Beach, FL 33139
  • Phone: 305-929-7010
  • Dates/Hours: Dec. 13 through Dec. 29; “The Nutcracker” is approximately one hour and 35 minutes long including one intermission.
  • Rates: Tickets start from $30 and vary in price depending on seating.
  • Website: https://www.miamicityballet.org/nutcracker

NightGarden at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens

  • Address: 10901 Old Cutler Rd., Coral Gables, FL 33156
  • Phone: 305-667-1651
  • Dates/Hours: Nov. 15 through Jan. 11; Shows run every half hour from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Rates: General Admission is $33 per person; General Admission for Children 10 and under is $26 per child; Member General Admission for Adults is $24 each; Member General Admission for Children is $19 per ticket.
  • Website: https://www.thenightgarden.com/

The Polar Express Train Ride in Fort Lauderdale and Miami,

  • Fort Lauderdale Brightline Station Address:, 101 NW 2nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL‎ 33311
  • Phone: 305-521-4800‎
  • Dates/Hours: The Polar Express experience is taking place from Nov. 16 to Dec. 29; Train rides run every two hours starting from 10:10 a.m. until 8:10 p.m.; Train rides for the Polar Express in Fort Lauderdale only take place on the weekends during this time.
  • Rates: Value- $55 per Adult, $50 per Child (2-11); Standard- $65 per Adult, $60 per Child (2-11); Peak-$70 per Adult, $65 per Child (2-11); Save $5 off each ticket for any trip in November using code PCREPFL5.
  • Website: https://www.ftlthepolarexpressride.com/scheduling-tickets/
  • Virgin Miami Central Station Address: 600 NW 1st Ave., Miami, FL 33136
  • Phone: 770-516-3836
  • Dates/Hours: Nov. 19 through Dec. 27.; Train rides run every weeknight during this time period at 7:30 p.m.
  • Rates: Value- $55 Adult, $50 Child (2-11); Standard- $65 Adult, $60 Child (2-11); Peak-$70 Adult, $65 Child (2-11); Save $5 off each ticket for any trip in November using code PCREPM5; The Polar Express Train Ride in Fort Lauderdale and Miami is pricey.
  • Website: https://miamithepolarexpressride.com/schedule-tickets/

Holiday Sand Tree Lighting at Downtown West Palm Beach Waterfront

  • Address: 100 N Clematis St., West Palm Beach, FL 33401 
  • Phone: The City of West Palm Beach Department of Parks and Recreation, Division of Community Events- 561-822-1515
  • Dates/Hours: “Sandi” will be lit on Dec. 5 and will stay on display until Dec. 31; Locals and tourists can visit the attraction from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
  • Rates: Sandi Land is a free attraction open to the public.
  • Website: https://wpb.org/Departments/Waterfront/Community-Events/Sandi-Land

Santa’s Enchanted Forest

  • Address: 7900 SW 40th St., Miami, FL 33155
  • Phone: 305-559-9689
  • Dates/Hours: Oct. 31 through Jan. 5; Open seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.
  • Rates: Single-day tickets are $27.10 per child and senior citizen and $35.51 per adult; Season passes (unlimited visits) are $50.47 per child and senior citizen and $60.75 per adult; All tickets include carnival rides, roller coasters, light displays, and parking.
  • Website: https://www.santasenchantedforest.com/

The Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Shops at Merrick Park

Winterfest Boat Parade

  • Address: 512 NE 3rd Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
  • Phone: 954-767-0686
  • Dates/Hours: Dec. 14 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Rates:  Tickets are $30 per individual with a bus ticket included; Tickets are $27 for groups of 20 people or more; Tickets for children 10 years and younger are $25 each; All seats are both reserved and assigned once tickets are purchased.
  • Website: https://winterfestparade.com/events/the-seminole-hard-rock-winterfest-boat-parade