Raising young children in Orlando can be an amazing life experience with the beach, the sunny weather and the theme parks, but come December, there's one thing they are sorely lacking -- snow.
Since snow doesn't exactly occur naturally around these parts, it's taken the likes of major attractions to bring the cold stuff for my little kids.
A couple years back, Gaylord Palms offered SNOW! alongside its annual ICE! event in which my kids were able to throw snowballs, build snowmen and little snow forts and go for a little slide in a snow tube.
Sadly, there's no SNOW! this year at the Kissimmee attraction. Years ago, Universal Studios featured real snow to play in at Seuss Landing as part of its Christmas offerings. That too has long melted away with no sign of returning. 2011 saw the Brevard Snow Festival, but has been canceled for 2012.
Insert sad face here.
Now there's all sorts of festivals that proclaim "snow" falls. I'm tired of the quote marks as all the "snow" really means soap bubbles. My son decried the taste of said "snow" after a recent trip to Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Insert face sticking tongue out here.
So I was happy to see of at least a few Florida festivals this year bringing the white and fluffy to town.
One of the most unique is coming up Saturday, Dec. 8, the little town of Havana up near Tallahassee in Gadsden County will celebrate its annual Havana Holiday Festival & Lawn Mower Parade.
Now the lawn mower parade itself is something unique and perhaps worth the visit. The town folk doll up riding mowers with holiday spirit or even tow holiday floats as part of the day's festivities.
But what caught my attention more was right after the parade, Havana's Snow Queen will reign over a big old pile of snow.
So I might just have to pack the kids up, head up to Havana, grab breakfast at Granny's Frying Pan, then enjoy a day with arts, crafts, a Toyland Express kiddie train, pony rides, face painting and an Elf Obstacle Course.
There's also marching bands and antique cars, a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter and eventually Santa Claus.
But let's not forget: riding lawn mowers on parade...and snow.
Havana is located about 16 miles north of Tallahassee. Just take U.S. 27 north from Interstate 10.
A pre-festival breakfast will be offered from 8-10 a.m. Vendors open at 10 a.m. The parade begins at noon. The snow play area opens at 2 p.m. That costs $2 and will be open until 6 p.m.
Now there's an even bigger snow-oriented festival, but it's this weekend down in Naples. Snowfest features 70 tons of snow with all sorts of snow-oriented activities including s toboggan run, small ski hill and snow mountain for climbing. There's also an ice-skating rink, carnival and other family-friendly activities. It's from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Golden Gate Community Park at 3300 Santa Barbara Blvd. Naples. Go to snowfestnaples.com for more details.
There's an even bigger show up the road in Sarasota, and this one has a nice 10-day run from Dec. 14-23. Sarasota Snow Fest offers 250 tons of snow for open play areas and four giant snow slides, reindeer (really pony) rides, bounce houses, visits with Santa and ice-skating rink, caroling, food and drink vendors and entertainment. Admission is free with a $5 donation for parking. What does admission get you? Well the snow play area is free. The website touts "free snowballs." The four snow slides can be enjoyed for a $10, all-day wristband. Many of the other activities cost extra as well. The ice skating is $5 for 15 minutes, for instance. Hours are 5-10 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Head to Sarasota County Fairgrounds, 3000 Ringling Boulevard, Sarasota, FL 34237. Go to snowfestsarasota.com for more details.
For the truly ironic, you might want to head as far south as possible for some snow fun. The Florida Keys Holiday Festival in Islamorda will feature a holiday parade and 35-foot, snow-blowing community tree plus 20 tons of snow for fun on snow mountain from 4-10 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7. It's free. Call 305-664-4503 or go to islamoradachamber.com for more details.
It turns out the Orlando area isn't completely devoid of snow either. The little town of Harmony in Osceola County is putting on its fifth annual Winter Carnival on Saturday, Dec. 15. It features 15 tons of snow for a double snow slide, but also ice cream eating competition, gingerbread house competition, ice frozen T-shirt competition, candy cane hunt, food and more. There's breakfast with Santa at 9 a.m., and the carnival runs from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. It's also free. Go to eventsatharmony.com for more details.
Also on Saturday, Dec. 15, the RDV Sportsplex in Maitland is throwing its 9th annual Snow Fest from 2-6 p.m. with ice skating, bounce houses, live DJs, face painting and of course, snow -- more than 20 tons of it. It will feature a snow play area and a kid's snow slide. Cost is $15 for children ages 3-17 and $9 for adults. Call 407-916-2550 or visit rdvsportsplex.com for more information.
And up in Mount Dora (where there's actually some hills you sledding fans), they'll be laying out some snow for Christmas in the Park with Snow. That will feature Santa, food, games and more at Donnelly Park from 4-9 p.m. Call 352-735-7183 or visit www.mountdorachristmas.com for more details.
So while it's not the same as a snow day up north, there's still some fun to be had around the Sunshine State. But remember to bundle up buttercups, and fish out your gloves or mittens. It's not like playing in the sand.
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