Behind the scenes: How we make Wekiva Island’s Winter Wonderland come to life

From the Christmas Tree Forest that lights up the nights to the “snow” flurries that make children smile and dance, Wekiva Island’s Winter Wonderland has truly become a holiday tradition in Central Florida. It has been incredibly rewarding to watch this event bring the community joy for eight years now.

For the staff at Wekiva Island, Winter Wonderland is truly a labor of love! In fact, most of our fans would be surprised to know the planning for the event starts before the wrapping paper is cleaned up from the year before.

As we prepare to light up our giant Christmas Tree for 2023, I wanted to take some time to share how we make Winter Wonderland possible.

Months of planning

Planning for the next year’s Winter Wonderland in fact starts DURING Winter Wonderland. As we go through the joyous season, we’re always jotting down notes about what works and ideas of how we can make the event even better.

In January, our board meets to plan our goals for the Island for the year. During this meeting, I present my plans for Winter Wonderland, including my personal holiday “wish list” of décor and other items for our budget!

We start shopping for that décor early—often, there are holiday items arriving all year. Trust us, we have to get creative with storage. I’ve heard more than once from my coworkers about Christmas taking over our spaces.

Weeks of work

After we get through the fun and sun of summer at the Island, our team starts preparing for the holidays. If you’ve been to the Island recently, you’ll know that our team starts decorating early!

We usually start putting up our holiday décor not long after Halloween. It takes about two weeks for our team to put up our Christmas Tree Forest, string all of our lights, and add the decorative touches, from snowflakes to ornaments all over the Island—and even some things in the river!

We aim to wow our guests, from the biggest elements, like our 24-foot Christmas tree, to the smallest details. This year, we’ve included a few special small details you can look out for.

As part of Winter Wonderland 2023, we’re debuting Santa’s Workshop. Santa’s Workshop is a bustling and magical place where the enchantment of Christmas will come to life. Located in our upstairs gallery space, Gallery CERO, it will be a vibrant hub of activity where Santa Claus and his team of happy elves work tirelessly to prepare for the holiday season.

To make this space perfect, I have been researching Santa’s Workshops all over the world. We have also incorporated some meaningful details. As a nod to our owner, Bill, who is an engineer, guests can see   blueprints of a Christmas tree and Santa’s sleigh in Santa’s office. Santa’s office also features an old work desk that belonged to Bill’s father, my (and our manager, Billy, and bartender, Robby’s) Baumpa.

Finally, Winter Wonderland truly takes a village to prepare FOR our village. Some of our regulars recently came by to wrap more than 100 boxes for our incredible present wall. Of course, we supplied them with drinks and pizza to help the work go by faster.

25 days of fun

For me, and for all of us at Wekiva Island, the year-round prep and planning will be worth it when we see the looks on the children’s faces as we flip the switch and light up our Christmas Tree Forest at 7 p.m. Dec. 1.

I look forward to sharing Wekiva favorites, like our super popular Breakfast with Santa and VIP Party, with our guests. And I cannot wait to show you all Santa’s Workshop, where elves will be seen busily crafting toys, wrapping gifts, and making sure every detail is perfect. The air will be filled with the sweet scent of Mrs. Claus’ freshly baked cookies, and Santa will oversee the entire operation from his office, checking his list twice and ensuring that every child’s wish is accounted for. We will also have awesome photo ops and the chance to visit with Santa.

This event is one of the highlights of my year, and it’s our way of sharing the magical Christmases we had with our Western New York roots with our sunny Florida family.

Now, time to get started planning 2024…

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    Wekiva Winter Wonderland Santa's Workshop

    Winter Wonderland Has Arrived!

    Winter Wonderland is back again, and we’re excited to celebrate the festive season all December long. In addition to our well-loved activities like daily “snow” flurries, the Christmas tree forest and our 24-ft tall tree, and visits from your favorite Christmas characters, Santa is inviting all the good boys and girls for the first time ever to his Workshop, right here at Wekiva Island.

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