Battle of Orlando: The Christmas Showdown


The good thing about Orlando is that they have so many parks. Being that, it naturally comes about that competition would arise to for each park to get more tourist and visitor dollars than the next. So it is with that idea that I have taken it upon myself hold the Battle of Orlando. This round we take a look at Christmas. Which of the big three (Disney, Universal and Busch) will be declared the ultimate king of Christmas? There is but one crown. One shall prevail, the others shall fall.

The Contenders

Lets take a look at the three and see what we’re up against, shall we?


Long has this been a staple of Christmas tradition with the huge parades, the special events at each park, and the glorious decorations. Magic Kingdom has the Wishes celebration, the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas, and the Holiday Parade. Lets not forget that in recent years, it does the castle up in amazing lights. EPCOT for the past few years has had the Winter Lights, Holidays Around the World, and Illuminations (which to be fair is year round). Animal Kingdom doesnt do much except for the great tree, and a smaller parade. And MGM does the Osbourne lights, where 5 million lights dress the streeets and dance to music. Add in all the gingerbread at the on site hotels, and the great decorations at Downtown Disney and you have the makings of an amazing Christmas at one of the most popular tourist destinations.


Trying to step up the game, Universal has the great Macy’s Day Parade direct from New York, complete with amazing floats, wonderful balloons and of course, Santa! Add in the normal party atmosphere you always get at Universal and you have a great Christmas celebration. This year, they even stepped up the game with the Winter Concert Series. Three big names for Christmas, most of which you’ve never heard of too much (unless you’re up in your years like me). Over at IOA they have Grinchmas. The Island of Suess Landing is decorated as Whoville, who likes Christmas alot and tells the story of the Grinch who absolutely does not. A great show, wonderfully done, full of who’s and Grinch’s and Christmastime fun. Okay enough rhyming…..I always forget and lose my timing.

Sea World Entertainment

Sea World Entertainment is going to comprise of two parks this holiday season, Busch Gardens Tampa and Sea World Orlando. Sure there are more parks, but for our nefarious purposes these two will do. First up Sea World. Not only does it have the Polar Express Experience layover of its Wild Arctic attraction, but it also stepped up this year with three new shows, in addition to the great lights and Shamu Miracles show it had last year. New this year is Winter Wonderland on Ice, Sesame Street Christmas( cant recall the exact name) and Clyde and Seamores Countdown to Christmas. Also add an amped up Fireworks display, and snow at certain times along the Waterfront. At Busch Gardens, normally all you get is a bunch of christmas decorations but this year you get two holiday themed shows, a huge christmas shop and roaming hoardes of carollers. Seems this park has brought the joy of christmas to a new level this year.

The Showdown

So here it is. The arguements, and yes, they may be a little biased, but when I’m done hopefully you’ll see my side…if not…I dip you in eggnog and feed you to the reindeer. I base this on what each park has added, what it gives the guest in terms of value, and a total experience…ie. the warm fuzzies that you’re supposed to get at this time of year.

1.Disney is the reigning king of christmas. How can it not be? When it comes to big, extravagant over the top pageantry no one does it better. However, if you’re talking about Magic Kingdom you have to pay extra for it. Then wait until the week or so before Christmas, and you get it with regular park admission. That takes points away for me right there. Plus add in all the cuts that have been going in at all the parks and even the most loyal of disney fanbois start to rebel a little bit. Of course there’s those that are blinded by pixie dust and will see nothing but Mouse Ears, and defend the bad moves to the end, but the cuts do hurt and they are seen. A huge cutback at EPCOT took away the Lights of Winter, and from what I’ve heard also a big bunch of cutbacks for the best celebration I’ve seen…the Holidays around the World. Sure they have a Peace On Earth finale to the Illuminations, but take away the rest…it’s just too little too late. Add to the fact Animal Kingdom does nothing really special, and Osbourne family lights is the only thing going on at Hollywood studios and the King of Christmas seems to slip a little bit. Bonus points however for the amazing hotels and the job they do on their decorations and gingerbread displays. But then again…points away for the poor job done on the shows in tomorrowland. Still it’s hard to beat the huge majesty of the fireworks that is Holiday Wishes…but the parade…eh. Its big, but magical? Well, it certainly is popular.

2.Universal has tried so hard, and it does keep up a little bit, but they tend to fall into a rut. The Grinch show was updated last year, and it did very well. However the same complaint is heard this year as last year, not enough room for a show with such big ambitions. Afterall, the music was written by one of the biggest Christmas music acts of all time, and all you’re going to give it is standing room only? What about the old Toon Lagoon Theater? The Christmas decorations over at the studio this year are a step up with a brand new tree…though the old one was hilarious with an animatronic squirrel popping out (a la Christmas Vacation). The parade this year has added a few great new characters, and Universal’s parade, while not competeing with the grand pageantry of Disney, to me has always been a lot more fun. And unlike Mardi Gras, the parades happen daily. Huge points for being part of the normal paid admission and not having to wait unlike Disney to get your fill of holiday cheer until the week before Christmas.However, it just doesnt seem to spread it around as much.

3.Sea World, sea world sea world. What can I say? You had the top attraction in Orlando this year ( in the past 3 years IMO), you go big with three new shows, but you don’t decorate the whole park! My only complaint. The front of the park is amazing! The rear spectacular! But get around the rides and the shows and you get nothing! Santa is gone, and you have a big gap of nothing in your holiday cheer. Plus no ice skating for guests! I understand the liability, but think of the fun, think of the money, and think of the people lining up to do it….IN FLORIDA! Busch Gardens too falls into this problem, great new additions, but the joy ends around the front of the parks. Let’s talk good though. Clyde and Seamore is the Christmas answer to HHN’s Bill and Ted. It’s funny, it’s paced well, and it has sea lions. Plus the night I saw it, the Mime got hit by a little kid, the trainer fell and busted her ass….after which she laughed, so we all did, and Clyde saw it neccesary to not cooperate by throwing something at the mime. I tell ya, when in doubt, abuse the mime! The fireworks show is amped up, and while its not the “magical” show that wishes is, it’s still pretty damn good. The best part of it for me though was that all the shows were stacked so that you saw one right after the other, and you couldnt miss them! Sure Sea World misses some things that Disney does right, and you can tell it doesnt have the budget, but it’s got heart and in my world heart goes a long way.

And The Winner Is

It’s really tough. But honestly, coming in on top is…you guessed it Sea World. They just did things so much better than last year, they dont charge for Christmas cheer, and there’s a lot of it to go around. Sure Disney does bigger, and more, but that doesnt always mean better. I was in awe of Disney, really I was, but then again so were the other million people pushing me towards the exit. Universal while I love it, just seems to want you to focus on one segment of the park, and not do anything with the rest. I say hogwash…and next year…Hogwarts! But what does the opinions of one guy matter? Tell me what you think in our comments below.

So Congratulations to Sea World, you are my King of Christmas in Orlando for 2009. Can you keep the crown? Keep it up and I’m sure you can. Tune in next week to get my picks of the year for the entire theme park world. My answers may surprise you. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fight!