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Spend Christmas In Ocala At The Equestrian Hotel

Lights, Santa, horses, oh my. Christmas returns to Ocala in Florida as the World Equestrian Center (WEC) presents a monthlong Winter Wonderland extravaganza. The third year for this spectacle of lights and good cheer brings guests and visitors together at this elegant equestrian event space and resort. Of course, the best way to enjoy the holiday season in Ocala is to book a long weekend or mid-week stay at The Equestrian Hotel, Ocala’s only AAA Four Diamond Resort. That’s exactly what I did with my family last December.

The Equestrian Hotel features 248 stylishly appointed rooms and suites, many which overlook the Grand Arena. Hotel amenities include a state-of-the-art fitness center, a full-service salon and spa and outdoor swimming pool (open seasonally).

A few days before Christmas Eve, I met my dad and sisters in the lobby of the hotel. We hadn’t seen each other in a few months, so reuniting amidst the glow of twinkling lights while sipping on maple syrup old fashioneds was a fitting way to ease into the trip. My sisters brought their young children, 3 girls under the age of 3, who screamed with delight at the holiday décor.

The grand lobby features 20-foot ceilings, crystal chandeliers and a floor-to-ceiling fireplace, with mahogany and Italian porcelain finishes throughout. The large elevator lobbies showcase the work of local and regional artists. The refined design, with its equestrian-inspired details, evokes a legacy hotel in Europe.

After checking in to our rooms, we gathered downstairs to walk the property, then out into the glow of Winter Wonderland.

Winter Wonderland Lights Up on November 24

Each year, over one million twinkling lights illuminate the WEC Grand Plaza. This year, the lights start from Friday, November 24 through Saturday, December 23, between 5pm and 9pm in the lead-up to Christmas Eve. Special holiday entertainment will amuse families throughout the week and weekend. Hotel guests, of course, don’t pay a fee for parking; outside visitors will be responsible for a $10 parking fee per vehicle from Monday through Thursday and a $30 parking fee per vehicle from Friday through Sunday, applicable from 3pm to 9pm. Guests can also purchase a monthly parking pass for $200 that will be valid for parking throughout the entire monthlong Winter Wonderland event.

What to Expect: Holiday Décor, Entertainment, and Festive Food

Last year was my first visit to WEC and its luxury resort. I knew of the property after covering its excellent wine and equestrian program for Wine Enthusiast in a round-up of horse ranches and related properties with deep cellars. Given our family’s love of horseback riding (my sister keeps horses in Florida) and wine, the horse-themed hotel seemed a great fit for the season’s opening festivities.

We strolled out to the Grand Plaza with no expectations, the perfect way to encounter the spectacular holiday installations, including a magical 45-foot walk-through Christmas tree, a charming lighted carriage, and plenty of photo-friendly décor. My 3 nieces squealed with delight, racing around, through, and under the various twinkling designs.

This year, the Winter Wonderland weekend lineup brings back an array of entertainment, featuring Toy Soldiers, circus performers, and princesses and superheroes. Guests can meet Santa Claus and even send letters to the North Pole, or lend their visage to caricaturists and face painters, while delighting in skilled balloon artists stationed throughout the plaza.

As for food, there was an array of holiday bites last year that return on weekends in 2023. Expect a North Pole Bakery selling seasonal treats like gingerbread cookies, pumpkin bread, and pies. Other festive food tents include wood-burning pizzas, a French fry station, and the over-the-top Wondrous Hot Chocolate stop, created by Miss Tilly’s Lollipops.

Families with youngster or a preference for morning events can join the fun with a ticketed experience on the terrace at The Equestrian Hotel. Breakfast with Santa runs December 2, 9, 16, 17 and 23, and will feature French toast and buttermilk pancakes, a Santa-led stories, and a special gift from the North Pole resident himself.

Holiday Activities and Shopping at WEC

Last season, we spent 2 nights at the resort which allowed us multiple visits to Winter Wonderland, as well as the ability to partake in resort festivities and dine at hotel’s excellent restaurants. This year, a few activities return like the Ugly Sweater Contests at Yellow Pony Pub & Garden on Thursday evenings, with winners chosen at 8pm. On December 2 runners and their cheerleaders can join the Tinsel Trot 5K Run and Walk starting at 7pm. Participants are encouraged to don festive dress.

Like most people, I waited until he last minute to purchase gifts for my nieces. I blame the airlines for the endless nickel-and-diming on bags. Fortunately, the shops at WEC saved the day with multiple opportunities to browse at the resort’s vendors and retailers, including the perennially popular Mr. Pickles & Sailor Bear Toy Shoppe. I nabbed a tea set, books, a stuffed hose, and a puzzle for my nieces who unknowingly picked out their own gifts as they pulled me through the busy store. I even scored an early Christmas gift for myself: a pair of waterproof boots from Ariat on sale through December.

For more information on World Equestrian Center’s Winter Wonderland, visit wecwinterwonderland.com.

World Equestrian Center, 1750 NW 80th Ave, Ocala, FL 34482

The Equestrian Hotel, 8510 NW 17th Ln, Ocala, FL 34482

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