There are many times of year to visit the Walt Disney World Resort, and David and I take advantage of all of them. But, by and far, our favorite time of year to be at WDW, is when they bust out the Christmas decor and start decking the halls. There truly is no place that celebrates the Holidays like the theme parks, as each one goes all out in its own unique way. We’ve decided to break it down in sections to make it easy to take in, especially if it’s your first time experiencing Disney at Christmas.
The Magic Kingdom
Many would consider the Magic Kingdom to be the most festively decorated of all four theme parks. The decor starts going up at the beginning of November, and lasts through early January. The crown jewel of the Magic Kingdom’s celebration is ‘Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party’, a hard ticket (meaning you must purchase it separately from your park ticket) event. ‘Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, or MVMCP features meet and greets with characters in festive outfits, Holiday fireworks, Christmas ‘Celebrate the Magic’, two showings of the Christmas parade, complimentary cookies and cocoa, and several stage shows. We love the party, and have made it part of our Christmas tradition to attend. However, if you are visiting the parks during Christmas week, or the week after, most of the entertainment offered at the party, will be offered for free at the parks, making MVMCP a bad use of your vacation money. A Frozen Holiday Wish is still running at the Magic Kingdom in place of the long running Cinderella’s Holiday Wish, and features the Frozen gang turning on the castle lights, or ‘freezing it’. We think this show shouldn’t be missed, even if you aren’t a Frozen fan, because it’s beautiful to watch all the castle lights being turned on at once, especially with the recently unveiled turrets being lit up as well. One of our favorites, The Jingle Cruise, is back again this year. This is the only ride overlay Disney World does for the Holidays, and we think it’s not to be missed. We love the Jungle Cruise the way it is, and it gets even better when they give it a Christmas spin. We recommend riding it at night, when you can appreciate some of the lights. Santa and Mrs. Claus are doing meet and greets near City Hall until Christmas Eve, so if getting a picture with the ultimate couple goals tops your list, stop by and see them.
Most notably at Epcot, is The Candlelight Processional in the America Pavilion. For those that are not familiar with it, The Candlelight Processional is a retelling of the Christmas Story from the Bible, by a celebrity narrator, with a mass orchestra and choir to accompany it. As the Christmas Story is central to David and I’s personal beliefs, this is one of our favorite things that Disney does. Even if you aren’t a fan of the traditional Christmas story, you might still enjoy it if you like traditional Christmas music. This nightly event, which usually takes place three different times an evening, draws massive crowds. If it tops your Disney Holiday Bucket List, we recommend booking a dining package, that will guaranty you a seat, and a nice meal as well. Different narrators have different levels of popularity, and draw different kinds of crowds. Neil Patrick Harris, of understandably large Barney Stinson popularity, has been a narrator for the past eight years, and drawn the largest crowds. We saw his reading this year, and half expected him to start half fiving people. Also featured around World Showcase, are ‘Holiday Storytellers’. These storytellers are one of our favorite parts of the holidays at Epcot, as each one tells the tale of the native traditions and legends about the Winter Holidays in their country. Our personal favorites are France and Germany, but they are all worth seeing. Future World mainly gets into the Holiday Spirit through decor, most notably being the Christmas Character topiaries positioned at the entrance near Spaceship Earth. These have been an Epcot Holiday staple for years, and always make for a great photo-op. Illuminations remains the same show it always is, but adds on a special Holiday tag, which extends the show an extra five minutes or so. We love the Holiday tag, even more than we like Illuminations, and recommend trying to catch it.
It makes me sad to say that this is the last year of Hollywood Studios having one of our favorite Christmas traditions – The Osbourne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. I’ve been going to see the lights since I was in 4th grade, and they’re one of my favorite Disney memories. If you are anywhere near the parks this Christmas season, put it near the top of your list. The elaborate light display take up several blocks of the ‘Streets of New York’ in Hollywood Studios and not only manages to feel larger than life, but also encompass many small Disney details that are full of charm. The lights come alive and ‘dance’ to certain Holiday songs throughout the evening, while fake snow merrily falls over the crowd. It truly is a display that will be missed, but shouldn’t be missed by you this year.
The Animal Kingdom does the least for the Holidays. They have a large tree, like all the other parks, and decor throughout the parks, but nothing else special for the season. Our guess, is that when ‘Rivers of Light’ is introduced, they will include a Christmas tag to it, but that’s just speculation.
All resorts get into the spirit of the season somehow, with simple trees decorating the value lobbies, to the deluxe resorts going all out. Deluxe resort hopping is actually considered a pastime, especially during Christmas time, to see how they’re all decorating. Some of our favorites include the life-size gingerbread houses you can find at The Grand Floridian, and Boardwalk Hotel, the trains at The Yacht Club, and the huge chocolate carousel at The Beach Club.
One of the most common questions we’re asked is ‘what are the crowds like during the Holidays?’. We’ll shoot straight with you – anytime that kids are out of school, it’s going to be wall-to-wall people. Frustrations will start running high, people will start using strollers as a battering ram, melt downs will occur from all ages. It’s not a pretty picture. We recommend avoiding Christmas Week through the day after New Years if at all possible. This is a picture of the parks at their very worst. Thanksgiving week is better, but not much. We try to hit the first week or two of December for our Holiday trip. For a long time people touted around the myth that this was a ‘dead’ time in the parks – and while that is simply not true, it is SIGNIFICANTLY less busy than any other time in December.
You will be able to find specialty Holiday food almost everywhere you turn at WDW during Christmas. The Grand Floridian sells homemade gingerbread out of a life-size gingerbread house, the Magic Kingdom has special Christmas cupcakes and ice-cream, and Epcot has a whole passport that you can have stamped, as you try Holiday food from around the ‘world’. We recommend trying a little of everything, and starting your diet in January.
We love Christmas, and we love Walt Disney World – putting them together is the perfect trip combination for us. We hope you enjoy your Holiday time at the most magical place on earth (and that you avoid any crowd meltdowns!). It truly is the best time of year to visit, in our opinion, and we hope that our guide makes it a little easier, and stress free for you.