Fort Lauderdale knows how to do the festive season. If you don’t want to miss any of it, check out our extensive guide; all the cheer is right in here.

Family Holiday Events

NOV. 11 – JAN. 1
The Polar Express Train Ride
WHEN: 10 am, noon, 2, 4, 6 and 8 pm. Rides are weekends only except for Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
WHERE: Trains depart Brightline Fort Lauderdale Station
TICKETS: $50 to $70 (10% discount for Museum of Discovery and Science members).
MORE INFORMATION: ftlthepolarexpressride.com

The Polar Express Train Ride is a re-creation of the classic children’s story onboard a real Brightline train. Passengers are served hot chocolate and a treat by dancing chefs, enjoy a reading of the book by Chris Van Allsburg, and receive the first gift of Christmas (a silver sleigh bell) after Santa boards the train to greet families. Attendants lead passengers in caroling and fun holiday activities on the return trip to the station.

DEC. 1–7
Holiday Magic Evening Tours
WHEN: 5:30 to 8:30 pm
WHERE: The Bonnet House
ADMISSION: $20 (members $15), kids 7 to 12 $5, kids 6 and younger free
MORE INFORMATION: bonnethouse.org

The Bonnet House, always fantastically decorated for the holidays, celebrates by staying open late for self-guided tours while a different local music group performs every night. Groups include the Florida Singing Sons, Gay Men’s Choir of South Florida and the Yuletide Carolers. (See website for full schedule.)

DEC. 1 & 8
Polar Express Pajama Party with the Conductor
WHEN: 10 am
WHERE: The Museum of Discovery and Science
TICKETS: $18 to $30
MORE INFORMATION: www.mods.org or call 954.713.0930

Cupcakes, hot chocolate, pajamas and more! Meet the conductor from The Polar Express Train Ride before cozying up and seeing The Polar Express movie on the AutoNation IMAX 3D screen.

DEC. 2
Holiday Magic Winter Wonderland
WHEN: 5:30 to 8:30 pm
WHERE: The Bonnet House
ADMISSION: $20 (members $15), kids 7 to 12 $5, kids 6 and younger free
MORE INFORMATION: bonnethouse.org

Arts and crafts, caroling, face-painting and story time are all part of a magical night at the beachside landmark, which is always decorated for the season.

DEC. 5
Chanukah Fair on Las Olas
WHEN: Noon to 5 pm
WHERE: Huizenga Plaza
ADMISSION: Free
MORE INFORMATION: downtownjewish.com

There’ll be rides, games, food, arts and crafts, fun for small children – and be sure to stick around for the lighting of the menorah.

DEC. 8
Tri-Rail Winter Wonderland
WHEN: 11 am to 3 pm at Miami Airport Station. Southbound trains P669 (scheduled to depart Cypress Creek Station at 10:48 am, Fort Lauderdale Station at 10:56 and Fort Lauderdale Airport Station at 11:03), and P671 (scheduled to depart exactly one hour later) are also taking part.
WHERE: Tri-Rail trains and Miami Airport Station
ADMISSION: Adults may buy an all-day Tri-Rail ticket for $5. Kids 12 and younger ride free.

The festive party starts on two morning Tri-Rail trains carrying costumed characters. At Miami Airport station, there’ll be a “snow playground” and bounce houses, face painting and cookie making, as well as food trucks and holiday carolers.

DEC. 15
The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Winterfest Boat Parade
WHEN: 6:30 to 9 pm
WHERE: The New River and the Intracoastal, from the Broward Center to Lake Santa Barbara in Pompano
ADMISSION: Free. There are paid VIP and parade-watching areas along the route.
MORE INFORMATION: winterfestparade.com

Fort Lauderdale’s most famous holiday tradition returns for a 47th year. This year’s theme is “Best of the ’80s,” so in addition to Santa and lots of festive cheer, expect plenty of pastels, some synthesizer solos and maybe even a (family-friendly) spring break reference or two.

DEC. 24
Winter Wonderland Day Camp
WHEN: 9 am to 5 pm
WHERE: The Museum of Discovery and Science
TICKETS: $50 to $55
MORE INFORMATION: mods.org/programs/camp-discovery

Camp Discovery is going to be cooler than cold as kids experiment with some super cold substances, dry ice and liquid nitrogen. Participants create their own ice crystal globes and learn how arctic adaptations help animals survive in the extreme cold.


Music & Theater

DEC. 2
Robin Spielberg’s Spirit of the Holidays Sing Along
WHEN: 2 pm
WHERE: The Broward Center
ADMISSION: $17.50 to $35
MORE INFORMATION: browardcenter.org

Pianist, composer and writer Robin Spielberg shares an afternoon of seasonal favorites, stories and concert films.

DEC. 4
Santa’s Enchanted Workshop
WHEN: 10 am
WHERE: The Broward Center
ADMISSION: $5 to $7.20
MORE INFORMATION: browardcenter.org

Siblings Stanley and SuSu set out for the North Pole … but instead stumble upon an old gas station run by the mysterious Nick.

DEC. 4 & 9
Symphony of the Americas: Holiday Music and Movies
WHEN: 7:45 pm (12/4), 3 pm (12/9)
WHERE: The Broward Center
ADMISSION: $50 to $75
MORE INFORMATION: browardcenter.org

Enjoy film music with projected scenes from favorites such as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Home Alone and The Polar Express.

DEC. 6
A Christmas Wish with Herb Alpert and Loni Hall
WHEN: 8 pm
WHERE: Parker Playhouse
ADMISSION: $38 to $63
MORE INFORMATION: parkerplayhouse.com

The husband-and-wife duo – she singing, he on the trumpet – offer Alpert’s signature Latin-tinged sound with a holiday flavor.

DEC. 13
Disney in Concert: The Nightmare Before Christmas
WHEN: 8 pm
WHERE: The Broward Center
ADMISSION: $35 to $155
MORE INFORMATION: browardcenter.org

The South Florida Symphony Orchestra plays the Danny Elfman score for a screening of director Tim Burton’s Halloween-takes-over-Christmas modern classic.

DEC. 16
First Presbyterian Church Annual Christmas Concert
WHEN: 4 pm
WHERE: First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Ave
ADMISSION: Free. A $10 donation is suggested but not required.
MORE INFORMATION: firstpres.cc

The church’s Cathedral Choir is joined by members of the Symphony of the Americas for an evening of classics and new favorites that includes Mendelssohn, John Rutter, Dan Forrest, Randol Alan Bass, Robert Shaw’s Many Moods of Christmas and Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”

DEC. 22
A Rockapella Christmas
WHEN: 8 pm
WHERE: Parker Playhouse
ADMISSION: $37 to $47
MORE INFORMATION: parkerplayhouse.com

The five-man a capella group dazzles with holiday favorites and original songs.

DEC. 29
A Drag Queen Christmas
WHEN: 8 pm
WHERE: Parker Playhouse
ADMISSION: $23.70 to $150 (VIP ticket)
MORE INFORMATION: parkerplayhouse.com

The show featuring contestants from the VH1 reality show includes some adult humor.


The Nutcracker

DEC. 7–9
George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker
WHEN: 7 pm (12/7–8), 2 pm (12/8) and 1 pm (12/9)
WHERE: The Broward Center
ADMISSION: $30 to $145
MORE INFORMATION: browardcenter.org
Miami City Ballet brings an all-new production of the classic featuring costumes and sets by artists Isabel and Ruben Toledo.

DEC. 13–15
The Chocolate Nutcracker
WHEN: 7:30 pm
WHERE: Dillard Center for the Arts Theatre at Dillard High School
ADMISSION: $10 to $20
MORE INFORMATION: dillardhs.com/showtime

The perennial favorite returns to Dillard’s renowned performing arts theater.

DEC. 14–16
Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida: The Nutcracker
WHEN: 7 pm (12/14–15), 3 pm (12/16). There’s also a sensory friendly showing at 1 pm on 12/15 and a Smart Stage Matinee at 10:30 am on 12/14.
WHERE: Parker Playhouse
ADMISSION: $21.50 to $41.50. Sensory-friendly show $13. Smart Stage Matinee $5 to $7.20.
MORE INFORMATION: parkerplayhouse.com

The Arts Ballet troupe returns to Parker, choreographed and directed by Vladimir Issaev.


Sports & Outdoors

NOV. 25 – JAN. 7
Hockey Holidays Ice Rinks
WHEN: 3 pm to 10 pm Monday through Friday, noon to 10 pm Saturday and Sunday. Closed Christmas and New Year’s Day.
WHERE: Bubier Park ADMISSION: $15, $13 each for groups of 10 or more, $10 for military. Admission includes one hour of skating and rental skates.
MORE INFORMATION: floridapanthers.com

Hoffman’s Chocolates and the Florida Panthers once again team up to bring ice skating to downtown.

DEC. 6
Florida Panthers Caravan of Joy toy drive
WHEN: Before the Panthers game (7 pm start)
WHERE: The BB&T Center
ADMISSION: Game tickets typically start at around $20
MORE INFORMATION: floridapanthers.com/drives

Bring new, unwrapped toys to the BB&T Center for a toy drive done by the Panthers along with Caravan of Joy and NBC 6. Then stay to watch the Panthers take on the Colorado Avalanche.

DEC. 16
Jingle Bell Jog
WHEN: 7:30 am (5k start) 8:30 am (Kids Elf Dash)
WHERE: Event starts at DC Alexander Park; party afterwards in Huizenga Plaza
ADMISSION: $35 (5k), $20 (Kids Elf Dash)
MORE INFORMATION: jinglebelljog.net

The year’s most seasonal 5k – every participant gets a Santa outfit and some actual jingling bells – again winds its way through the city. Come, run, let the kids do the fun races, and then everybody enjoy the party afterwards with holiday cookies and egg nog.


Prominent Local Fort Lauderdale Figures Recount Their Favorite Holiday Memories:

Joseph Cox
President and CEO of the Museum of Discovery and Science

Joseph Cox, president and CEO of the Museum of Discovery and Science, has enjoyed Christmas traditions everywhere from England to Malta to, erm, Collier County. In this, his first Fort Lauderdale Christmas, he hopes to start some new traditions.

Christmas 1984 was the year Band Aid topped the charts with the brilliant “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” The song redefined Christmas for a generation and introduced the concept of philanthropy into the life of an 11-year-old boy. My family was living in England, where Christmas meant leaving my snow-swept boarding school and heading home to a festive season bustling with family, friends and wonderfully English traditions. There were mince pies dusted with powdered sugar, wobbly trifle with lashings of whipped cream and of course, an explosion of bad jokes and paper crowns when you pulled open a Christmas cracker.

Traditions changed over time; my teens were spent on the Mediterranean island of Malta where Christmas was dappled with sunshine, and our home sparkled with half a dozen Christmas trees. Whether an awkward-looking handmade trinket from our childhood or an elegant crystal star, each ornament held memories and all were placed carefully into the same spot every year. After university in London, I headed to Naples, Florida, where the highlight of the annual tree lighting was the gasp of children marveling at the “snow” made of bubbles that flew around them. In Worcester, Massachusetts, not only did I fell a real tree for the first time but discovered the wondrous scent that fills every corner of the living room and the dubious joy of needles that drop everywhere.

This being my first holiday season in Fort Lauderdale, it’s exciting to be bringing an event to town which hopefully will become a new tradition for families. The Museum of Discovery and Science, with Rail Events Productions and Brightline, is bringing the magic of The Polar Express Train Ride to town. Based on the iconic book and set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack the production lets passengers relive the magic of the story as they are whisked away by train. Hot chocolate and treats are served by dancing chefs while passengers read along with the children’s book. Santa and his helpers board the train to greet passengers and each guest is given the first gift of Christmas – a silver sleigh bell.

Whether aboard the train this holiday season, exploring the museum with family and friends, or carefully hanging a treasured ornament, take a minute to cherish that memory, and spread a smile of joy. Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.

Lourdes Lopez
Miami City Ballet Artistic Director

For Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez, the holidays mean The Nutcracker. It’s a special and important ballet, she says – both for audiences and for dancers.

The Nutcracker’s a first entryway into classical ballet. It has become a staple in the United States; every major ballet company has a production.

For the dancers, it is something that they come back to year after year after year. It is an opportunity for them to grow within the ballet. When you get to revisit these roles every year, you get to see how you’re getting better. I was with the New York City Ballet for 24 years, and I danced it every single year. I started off as a maid and worked my way up to the Sugarplum Fairy.

In respect to the company, it is about broadening our audiences. The Nutracker is a very accessible ballet. Hopefully the people who see it one year think I’d like to see something that’s more modern or different – hopefully they’re intrigued by the art form. It is a known fact that The Nutcracker that we present, George Balanchine’s, is the best. Narratively, how the story is told, it’s just a masterpiece.

The production we had before this one was, I believe, 27 years old. It needed a revamping. I thought, What do you want to do as an art form? You want to relate to your community. And what’s The Nutcracker? It’s the land of snow.

So I brought in husband-and-wife artists Ruben and Isabel Toledo to design the sets and costumes. They were very excited. I also brought in Wendall Harrington, who had done our Midsummer Night’s Dream. She’s a projection designer and known as “the queen of projections.” The three of them set out to create this Nutcracker for South Florida – for us.

You don’t have sandals, there’s just a feeling of warmth and openness. The Northeastern feeling of The Nutcracker is gone. There’s still snow, there’s still the battle scene with the gingerbread soldiers, but there’s somehow a very warm feeling to it. You have the feeling that the first act happens on a cloudy day and in the second act, the sun comes out.

Dave Levy
Chief Executive at Mai Kai

Mai Kai chief executive Dave Levy fondly remembers family Christmases with his stepdad, Mai Kai founder Bob Thornton, and Mireille Thornton, his mom. Anybody who knows the Mai Kai might not be surprised to learn the big day involved both humor and a flair for the dramatic.

In the late 60s me, my sister Kulani and our cousins would create a living Nativity scene on Christmas Day. Then that evening at midnight, my dad would dress up as Santa in full costume and the entire family would assemble in the living room with the big beautiful Christmas tree. He would carry a huge pillow case and present it to my mother, whose birthday is December 26. The bag or case was always stuffed with dirty laundry, but somewhere in there was a piece of jewelry. The look on my mother’s face and grimacing was priceless! But the find was always very rewarding.

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