Eggnog, Peppermint and Sugarplum Fairies


Get into the holiday spirit, inexpensively, at Orlando hotels

by Rona Gindin

Here in hotel-heavy Orlando, we receive a holiday gift rare in most cities: loads and loads of free and low-priced seasonal displays and events. If you have a spare half-day between parties and white-elephant exchanges, bop over to a lodging facility for its gift of wintry cheer.

Carolers stroll around the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel hotel and lobby, getting guests and locals into the holiday mood by singing classic seasonal songs.

Cookies and Dreams

With platters of complimentary red- and green-topped sugar cookies, plus hot apple cider or hot chocolate with crushed peppermint and marshmallows, the snacks set out every afternoon in the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel lobby’s Red Room is a parent’s dream—as long as it’s OK for kids to skip a big dinner that night. While you’re at the Universal Orlando resort, hang around to hear carolers ring-ting-tingaling (6:55–9:30 p.m. Dec. 20–25, free) and to have the little ones visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus and receive a mini candy cane (6–9 p.m. Dec. 20–24, free). Join the Hanukkah menorah lighting Dec. 12–20 (call for times).

Artistic Indulgence

If you like chocolate, and you like Santa, you will surely get a Christmas kick out of the life-size holiday scene at the Swan-Dolphin hotel. Executive Pastry Chef Laurent Branlard creates a 2,000-pound sculpture of a life-size Santa along with a 7-foot-tall nutcracker as well as a fireplace, tree and toy train—all made of chocolate. While you’re there, visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus. They’ll be clad in flip-flop-friendly attire and relaxing in a tiki-hut setting (on select nights). Other highlights: faux snow in the Dolphin lobby and a Christmas tree lighting with hot seasonal beverages and kids crafts (again, on select evenings). Carolers will entertain periodically.

Holiday Housewarming

Gingerbread houses may start out with the same components, but these edible structures take on vastly different forms at the hands of different artists. At the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, employees of several different hotel departments create their own edifices, and the community is invited to come on in and ogle. Other holiday happenings that might be on the 2017 schedule: a turkey call contest, a resort scavenger hunt, themed cocktails, cookie decorating stations, caroling by local students and visits with Santa.

Teatime Too

If you’re tempted to splurge, it may be at Grande Lakes, where a Santa’s Teddy Bear Tea ($65) and Gingerbread School ($195/family of four) beckon at The Ritz-Carlton. At the tea, besides sipping and nibbling, children will receive a gift, an ornament and a visit from St. Nick. The gingerbread school, held in Santa’s Workshop beside a life-size gingerbread house, includes a sweet treat.

Be Merry with Mickey

Let the tourists hunt down “hidden Mickeys” around Walt Disney World. We locals can seek out holiday displays. Start at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, where the pastry team constructs a 16-foot-high gingerbread house using a classic Austrian recipe. Watch a gingerbread house decorating demo daily. Indulge yourself with freshly baked gingerbread cookies or chocolate-peppermint bark for sale. At Epcot, see the United States Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial made out of gingerbread—in fact, these will have six hidden Mickeys of their own. At Disney Springs, the gingerbread houses will be replicas of Town Center icons. Varying dates Dec. 1–30. Most free.

Winter Park’s Winter Wonderland

Tucked into a residential Winter Park neighborhood, the Alfond Inn invites locals to join the festivities designed for hotel guests. In addition to “A Christmas Carol” story times with accompanying piano music, where eggnog and such are served (free), you can treat yourselves to Breakfast with Santa and Get Your Jazz On, alfresco events with food, seasonal cocktails and great music (select evenings), both moderately priced.

Ice Wars

Ready, set, saw! On Dec. 15, chefs of the Rosen Plaza Hotel will compete against chefs from other Orlando hotels in an ice-carving competition. Stop by the pool deck to watch the masters create sculptures from blocks of ice using power saws. Holiday foods and beverages will be sold. 6–8 p.m., free.

The tree in the Gaylord Palms’ St. Augustine Atrium

Chill Out

Gaylord Palm’s big winter headliners are big news—the ICE! interactive frozen displays, snow tubing in a faux Alpine village, a Build-a-Bear workshop scavenger hunt and seasonal Cirque du Soleil theatrics. Other festivities don’t grab headlines—but leave your gift budget intact. Gawk at displays using 2 million twinkling lights, and attend a multisensory Atrium Light Show with narration and holiday music (both free). Other options: Gingerbread Decorating Corner (Nov. 21, from $24.99) and Mrs. Claus Christmas Traditions with holiday stories, singing and cookies and milk (select evenings, $9.99).