Central Florida is a year-round destination with a neverending list of things to do no matter the season. However, there’s something just a little bit extra special about visiting during the winter. Winter in Central Florida is a magical time between the cooler, drier weather, glittering holiday lights, and the mass manatee migration into the springs.
Whether you’re planning to hit up the world-famous theme parks, swim alongside manatees in the springs, or cozy up next to the fireplace in your Element Vacation Homes rental, here’s your complete guide to a Central Florida winter vacation!
Winter Weather in Central Florida
Winter is arguably the best time to visit Central Florida, primarily due to its near-perfect weather. It’s no secret that Florida is known for some hot, humid, and rainy weather throughout most of the year, but come winter, it’s a whole different ball game!
Florida winters are dry, cool, and breezy. Daytimes are mostly sunny, with the average high temperature reaching the high 70s. Nighttime temperatures can be a bit cooler, with average lows in the 50s.
Occasionally, a cold front will move through, bringing low temperatures in the 40s; however, cold snaps are few and far between. Florida winters are mild and comfortable. It’s one of the best times to visit, especially to enjoy the local theme parks and outdoor activities.
Winter Crowds in Central Florida
With such mild temperatures, it’s no surprise that the winter season attracts a lot of American snowbirds to Florida. An abundance of visitors from northern states come to Florida in the winter to “defrost” in the sunshine state. While the crowds are by no means unbearable, if you’re heading to a theme park, be prepared for longer lines, especially during the week of Christmas and New Year.
Best Winter Activities in Central Florida
While there’s never a shortage of things to do in Central Florida, winter allows visitors to escape freezing temperatures and snowfall for the Floridian lifestyle. You can often spend the entire day outdoors without the somewhat uncomfortable humidity that summer can bring. Here are some of the best activities to make the most out of your winter vacation in Florida.
Visiting Orlando Theme Parks in Winter
Known as the world’s theme park capital, Orlando is home to major theme parks like Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and Legoland, plus many smaller amusement parks like ICON Park and Fun Spot America.
With many of the rides, and most importantly, the lines of the rides, being outdoors under the Florida sun, winter is one of the best times of the year to visit. You can enjoy strolling the parks and riding roller coasters all day without breaking a sweat or taking cover from rain.
Most Orlando theme parks also host special events during the winter months. In December, you’ll find extravagant holiday lights nearly everywhere, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and other special holiday events.
In January, the much anticipated Festival of the Arts takes place in Epcot, featuring stunning art displays, ballet performances, and culinary masterpieces created by master chefs. February brings an authentic Mardi Gras celebration to Universal Studios with colorful parades, live music, cajun cuisine, and lots and lots of Mardi Gras beads!
Witness the Winter Manatee Migration in the Springs
Central Florida is home to dozens of gorgeous natural springs that are havens for manatees. While manatees can be spotted in the springs year-round, during winter, there is a mass migration. As the surrounding ocean temperatures drop, Florida’s springs remain a constant 72°F, which brings manatees inland seeking warmth.
If you’re visiting Central Florida in the winter, you can observe manatees from the boardwalk at Blue Springs State Park, where hundreds congregate almost daily.
If you want a closer look and don’t mind a little drive, head to Crystal River and the Three Sister Springs in the Tampa Bay area. Just an hour and a half from Orlando, Crystal River is the only place in North America where you can legally swim with manatees. A local tour operator will get you all geared up and in the water to observe these gentle giants underwater.
Get Out in Nature
Winter is a fabulous time to explore all the local nature Central Florida has to offer. You can enjoy the cooler temperatures and lower humidity while still getting plenty of sunshine. There are endless places to hike, bike, or paddle around Central Florida. For epic wildlife spotting, head to Lake Apopka; it’s common to spot wading birds and alligators sunning themselves on the banks of the water along the loop trail.
If you enjoy being on the water, a number of lakes and springs around Central Florida offer kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. For some of the most stunning views, paddle the famous Rock Springs Run at Kings Landing. These sparkling turquoise waters wind through lush tropical forests that feel like a faraway destination.
Play a Round of Golf
Central Florida is a golf lover’s paradise with dozens of beautiful and challenging courses to choose from. While the golf courses are open year-round, winter offers some of the most enjoyable weather to play in. Whether you want to play a fast 9, a full 18, hit the driving range, or even play a round with Mickey, golfers will never get bored in Central Florida.
Have a junior golfer in your group or are you looking for a day of family-friendly fun? Orlando is full of kid-friendly miniature golf courses in an array of themes from pirates to princesses. You can even get one in your vacation rental so the kids can play a round of glow in the dark mini-golf before bedtime!
Stroll, Shop, Sip, and Dine Downtown
The sunny, breezy winter months are perfect for exploring all the outdoor downtown areas of Orlando and other Central Florida cities. Take a morning walk around Lake Eola, where you can grab a cup of coffee, join an outdoor yoga class, or shop at the pop-up artisan markets. Spend an afternoon antiquing in Kissimmee’s Historic Downtown Marketplace and have cocktails and dinner at the iconic Three Sisters Speakeasy.
Don’t forget to check out all the theme park adjacent promenades (you don’t need a ticket to enter), like the Disney Boardwalk and Universal CityWalk, where you’ll find plenty of shops, restaurants, bars, and live entertainment.
What to Pack for Winter in Central Florida
One of the best things about a winter trip to Florida is what you get to leave behind; you can leave the winter coats and boots at home. You’ll want to bring lighter pieces that you can layer. It can be cooler in the mornings and evenings but warmer during the day. Bring a light jacket, some short and long sleeves, and a mix of pants and shorts.
If you’re planning to hit the theme parks, bring comfortable sneakers or walking shoes. Sunglasses and sunscreen are also a must; even in winter, you can get a sunburn in Florida. Finally, don’t forget the swimsuit and flip-flops if you’re planning to visit the springs, the coasts, or just hang around the pool or waterpark — yes, you can still do those things in winter in Florida!
Your Florida Winter Vacation Awaits
With so many things to do and unbeatable weather, Central Florida is one of the best destinations for a winter vacation. Whether you want to enjoy the theme parks, world-class shopping and dining, or get out into nature, Central Florida has something for everyone.
Book your stay with Element Vacation Homes for the ultimate winter getaway with themed rooms, home theaters, arcades, mini-golf, tiki bars, and more!