Deck the halls with the entire family this holiday season, as Southwest Florida pulls out all the stops to celebrate. Many long-standing favorite traditions—like The Ritz-Carlton, Naples’ gingerbread house, the Fifth Avenue Christmas Walk & Tree Lighting, Third Street South’s nightly snow, and the Night Lights at Naples Botanical Garden and Edison and Ford Winter Estates—are returning. And, there’s plenty of other special events to discover. Enjoy winter wonderlands in Bonita Springs and Fort Myers, catch an outdoor-movie double feature at Alliance for the Arts, and even take an eco-boat tour with Santa in Tin City. There are plenty of ways to celebrate with your littles ones this year, so pull out the reindeer ears, crank up the holiday songs and get into the festive spirit.
Fourth Annual Tree Lighting at Gulf Coast Town Center, Fort Myers
This annual tree lighting event takes place from 5 to 8 p.m., with crafts, live entertainment and tasty treats. Kids can decorate ornaments, write letters to Santa and get a photo with jolly St. Nick. While the event is free to attend, donations are encouraged and go to Lee Health’s Barbara’s Friends, which provides care and scholarships for kids with cancer diagnoses. 5-8 p.m.; free, donations encouraged.
Christmas Tree Lighting & Holiday Cirque at Mercato
The largest live Christmas tree in Southwest Florida comes alive with tons of sparkling lights for this whimsical holiday celebration at Mercato. In addition to the lighting, there’s dance performances, family activities, and Torrie, the world’s tallest elf, handing out magic glasses that make the lights look kaleidoscopic. 5-8 p.m.; free.
Dec. 2, 11-12, 16-22
Teddy Bear Tea at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples
Bring your kids—and their favorite teddy—along for a special tea time at The Ritz Carlton, Naples. Enjoy story time, sweets and a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus. While you’re there, stop by the lobby to admire the life-size gingerbread house built by the resort’s chefs. $120 per guest; 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Science & Santa Holiday Kids Cruise at Tin City Docks, Naples
This Floridian twist on the holidays takes families on a Gordon River cruise with Santa to spot dolphins, manatees and other Florida wildlife. Back at the dock, science stations offer holiday-themed experiments, like creating fizzling candy canes. 10 a.m., reservations required; from $22 for kids, $44 for adults.
Dec. 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18
Christmas at Farmer Mikes U-Pick, Bonita Springs
Cut your own tree, take a hayride through the illuminated five-acre farm and sled down a 15-foot snow slide on the first three weekends of December at Farmer Mikes. Throughout the season, the team will also be screening holiday classics like The Polar Express, having storytime with Santa, and hosting paintball sessions with Krampus. Stock up on your veggies for the holiday table, and gather with the family to make s’mores around the firepit. 6-10:30 p.m.; From $8, kids 2 and under get in free.
Winter Wonderland Weekend, Babcock Ranch
Be dazzled when Founder’s Square transforms into a winter wonderland, with a North Pole craft station for kids, a light show at Babcock’s Innovation Tower and performances by FGCU’s Bower School of Music & The Arts. Food trucks are on hand to fuel the festivities, and kids can take photos with Santa. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; $5 parking fee, register car ahead of time.
Fifth Avenue Christmas on Fifth Parade
Claim a spot anywhere along Fifth Avenue, from Broad Street South to Eight Street South, to see the 80-float parade cruise down the downtown Naples thoroughfare. Expect to see plenty of holiday classic characters, along with performances from local arts groups.
Fort Myers Holiday Express at Lakes Park, Fort Myers
Live out your Polar Express dream with a festive ride through the recreated train village featuring Southwest Florida landmarks at Lakes Park. Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Sat-Sun 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. (closed Dec. 24-25 and Dec. 31); Free to attend, train rides $6 per person, kids 5 and under get in free.
Holiday Outdoor Movie at Alliance for the Arts, Fort Myers
Grab your lawn chairs and a blanket and head to Alliance for the Arts’ sculpture garden for an outdoor movie double feature. Watch two holiday favorites—Christmas Vacation and Elf—while enjoying sweet treats from Coasting Donuts and Sweeny’s Weenies. $12, children 4 and under get in free; 5 p.m.