Christmas at Gaylord Palms – Orlando

When you think Orlando, you probably think Disney World, right?  We used to do the same until we stumbled upon the Gaylord Palms hotel, thanks to my son’s preschool teacher.  Even if you only have a one-track mind and must visit Disney while in Orlando, the Gaylord is an excellent choice for a hotel because it’s about 4 miles from the entrance to the parks and typically a lot less expensive than the resort hotels, but just as grand and impressive, maybe even more so. Yes, the Gaylord caters to the Disney crowd and offers free transportation to the parks and can help with tickets and reservations.   But, don’t overlook all the hotel has to offer…

Rooms overlooking the waterfall and plants

The hotel itself is impressive with the commanding lobby which leads you into the huge glassed atrium with rooms surrounding a lush landscape of plants and animals native to Florida.  Yes, I said animals -well, really reptiles.  They have baby alligators and turtles living in the atrium.  You can walk up and watch them swim or just enjoy the metal railing that separates you from their little jaws.  In another water feature they have fish and other marine life native to Florida and every afternoon there’s a fish feeding that you can watch.

Alligators enjoying sunning on the rocks and swimming

The pool (also known as the Cypress Springs Family Fun Water Park) lives up to its name.  We could have easily spent all day poolside because the kids were entertained, which means the adults could take a break from everything, really.  The fort/tree-house-type water feature has slides, water guns and one of those giant buckets that dumps water on unsuspecting sliders every few minutes.  It’s hilarious to watch, especially if you are sitting in a lounge chair clear from the spray.  The pool has a zero-entry side, great for little people and floating basketball hoops for some one-on-one.  They also have a giant screen that plays movies nightly.  The Sand Bar is a few steps away with adult beverages and a great lunch menu.  Not to worry, if you just can’t get out of your chair, they will come to you.  If only the little elves at my house did the same at mealtime.  You can also rent pool cabanas if you need some privacy and like to roll like that.  If you happen to be at the Gaylord without children, they have an adult-only pool that offers peace and quiet, not something we know anything about these days.

About as family-friendly as they get and hours of fun
Nightly movie showings and a screen large enough to impress any dad

The Gaylord Palms goes all out at Christmastime and we think it’s a great way to kick off the holidays, Florida style.

Think it doesn’t get cold in Florida?  Well, you may think otherwise if you head to Gaylord’s Alpine Village.  You could spend most of the day here soaking up the chilly fun.  For an adrenaline rush and giggles, head to the Alpine Rush Snow Tubing.  The hotel built an 8-lane snow hill so you can tube to your heart’s content.  They even have a double tube for families with little ones.  If your kids have never been sledding before, this is a must-do!

Possibly the most impressive feature in Alpine Village is “ICE! featuring ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  The magic of Christmas comes alive in this frozen treat.  Two million pounds of hand-carved and colored ice sculptures decorate the ICE! exhibit.  They tell the story of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and even show you how they put the while thing together with illustrations and an ice carver who may be working on a hands-on creation.  They do warn you about putting your tongue on the ice.  No Christmas Story repeats here.  They’ve even built an ice slide so you can remind yourself how hard and slippery ice is.  We loved that they ended the exhibit with a beautiful nativity scene.  The whole exhibit is truly impressive and F…F…Freezing!  The exhibit is kept at 9 degrees to keep the sculptures in tact, so you’ll want to layer up and bring a hat and gloves if you want to spend any time inside (of course we didn’t have any because we live in Florida).  They have giant parkas to help keep you warmer but, it’s amazing how cold you get so quickly in 9 degrees.  Don’t worry, you can buy hot chocolate to warm up after you exit.

…were all cozied in for their long winter’s nap  (this is all ice!)


Ice sledding a little hard if you don’t have padding on your tush.


A stunning and moving nativity display

Santa’s available for consultation at the Alpine Village and he took the time to have a memorable chat with our kids.  He even let us walk through his workshop to see what he was working on for Christmas.  We could order a packet of pictures or just chat for free, which was a nice touch.

They also have opportunities to make a gingerbread house, have breakfast with Mrs. Claus and do a little shopping, including a Build-A-Bear workshop.  You really could spend some time here so if you plan on going, so give yourself a few hours.

In addition to the Alpine Village, the hotel has an Elf on the Shelf® (gosh I wish I thought of the Elf on the Shelf) scavenger hunt!  They give you a guide book and you read clues to find 10 elves hidden all around the hotel.  Let me tell you, those elves are sneaky and you never know where they will be.  It’s actually pretty difficult, but a great way to explore the hotel and learn your way around.  Disco, our elf, forgot to make the trip with us that weekend so it was nice to have his friends there to keep an eye on us.

If you do nothing else at the Gaylord, try to go by for a visit to see the Cirque Dreams Unwrapped show.  It is a free show in the atrium with Cirque du Soliel performers doing what they do best: awe-inspiring feats of contortion and acrobatics.  We heard mumblings of “how did they do that?” throughout the 30 min performance.  After the show they light the grand tree in the atrium and all is right with the world.  They do performances daily and sometimes twice a day.

Cirque show with the tree lit and wide-eyed viewers as far as the eye can see

Now you don’t have to stay at the Gaylord to experience the holiday splendor but, if you do, you can purchase a package deal that gives you access to all of the holiday events and allows you to avoid a few lines.  We heard some of the lines got long so it was worth it to us to stay there.

Quick tips for busy moms:
1.  Book ahead of time to book rooms and ask for packages with ICE! tickets or snow tubing.  If you can swing it, get a room overlooking the atrium.
2.  Pack hats, gloves, layers for the ICE! show.  And, also pack your bathing suit.  I know, crazy!
3.  To see the Cirque show, get a seat or a spot on the stairs early because it is popular and crowded.  We recommend grabbing a drink or dessert and sitting down about 45 min to an hour before showtime.
4.  You are not far from Disney.  If you don’t want to drive over and pay for parking, take the shuttle but, check for times before you commit.
5.  The food at the hotel is really good but, a little pricey.  If you don’t want a pricey brunch in the morning grab something at the coffee shop or pack food to enjoy in your room.
6.  The Gaylord is a convention center so don’t be surprised if rooms are booked up or you see people walking around with laniards on in business suits and sensible shoes.
7.  When in Florida, don’t forget the sunscreen!

Merry Christmas to all of my blog readers!  Here’s to a healthy and happy holiday filled with a little wonder and a lot of thankfulness.  xoxo Katy

Merry Christmas from our crazy family to yours!