Lights on Florida

By: Dalia Colon

The ground may not be blanketed in snow, but celebrating the hoildays in Florida is easy, festive and affordable.

If your definition of the holidays includes a snow-covered lawn and icicles hanging from the eaves, then the idea of spending the season in Florida might throw you for a loop. But if there's one thing Floridians know how to do, it's decorate. Visiting light displays is one of the most special – and affordable – ways to get into the holiday spirit.

Take the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. The festivities start in the morning with the unveiling of a 17-foot-long gingerbread pirate ship.

"The whole lobby fills with this gingerbread smell," says Joe Murphy, the resort's director of public relations.

Later, after treats and entertainment, it's time for the big reveal: The overhead lights go off, the crowd counts down, and a 40-foot-tall Christmas tree dazzles with thousands of colored lights.

Next come fireworks over the Atlantic Ocean and Santa's arrival by a horse-drawn wagon.

"It's hard not to well up," Murphy says. "It's like a fantasy."

Lavish holiday displays occur all over Florida. And because of the mild climate, winter's a perfect time to get outdoors. Whether you're on a family outing, strolling arm in arm with your sweetie or just scoping out inspiration to deck your own halls, check out this roundup of Florida's can't-miss holiday lights.

Amelia Island: Catch the Ritz-Carlton's 2013 festivities on Nov. 27. Bring a blanket to get cozy and a camera so you can take your holiday card photo in front of the gingerbread house.

Delray Beach:
On Dec. 1, Santa Claus drops into downtown's Old School Square via helicopter to officiate the lighting of the 100-foot-tall Christmas tree. Also enjoy the carousel and "ice" rink until Jan. 1.

Fort Lauderdale:
In true Florida fashion, one of the most breathtaking holiday displays happens on the water. This year's Winter Fest Boat Parade is Dec. 14 on the New River.

Also catch the Fort Lauderdale Holiday Fantasy of Lights, open Nov. 22 to Jan. 2 in Tradewinds Park. Entry is $13 per vehicle ($10 Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays) or $35 per bus.

Mount Dora: This town is quaint any time of year, and during the holidays it's downright enchanted. The magic kicks off at the Nov. 30 Light Up Mount Dora ceremony. Then throughout the season, enjoy something for everyone, from a boat parade to a self-driving tour of homes to yappy hour with "Santa Paws." Downtown will remain decorated through the first weekend in February.

Pensacola: Here's a private home worthy of public cheers. From Nov. 22 to New Year's Day, the Johnson family invites the public to enjoy more than 75,000 lights set to music.

St. Petersburg: Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood is the most over-the-top Christmas display I've ever witnessed. See for yourself from Nov. 30 to Jan. 3.

Tallahassee: Nov. 30 to Jan. 1, walk or drive through Dorothy B. Oven Park, where 250,000 lights make for one truly enchanted evening.

Also in Tallahassee, catch the Winter Festival on Dec. 7 in downtown's parks and commons area. The all-day event includes a jingle bell run, tree lighting ceremony, nighttime parade and more.

Regardless of which winter wonderland you wander, bring a camera that takes good nighttime pictures. Some of the best, and most inexpensive, holiday gifts are memories.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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