The holidays were full of fun things to do, at school, at home, at work and around your local neighborhood. For us lucky Orlando families, we also have quick access to one of the most enviable places to celebrate Christmas in the world: Walt Disney World. It’s a lifetime dream for so many people to celebrate Christmas at Disney – and we can do it almost anyday, anytime.
Here’s a quick guide to the best Christmastime celebrations around Disney World. And yes, Disney is unapologetically and wholeheartedly celebrating Christmas. It’s everywhere and it’s all-encompassing. If you don’t get into the holiday spirit this time of year, you’d best wait to visit the parks until sometime in the new year. If you like Christmas, then you’ll LOVE Disney this time of year.
Here’s some ideas on where to go!
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom
The biggest Disney Christmas event is undoubtedly Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This is a special event that runs 7pm to midnight a few times each week from November through December and requires a separate ticket from regular general admission for entry. Special features include the Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, the Holiday Wishes fireworks, Celebrate the Season stage show, and complimentary cookies and hot chocolate throughout the park. Tickets are limited and price between $69-$79 per person.
To be honest, my family still hasn’t made it to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The word on the street from my Orlando-area Disney-fan neighbors is that the Very Merry Party is nowhere near as good as Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. We’ve done that a few times but still haven’t ponied up the big bucks for the hot cocoa and Santa parade. Fortunately we can see the fireworks from our house so we can definitely vouch for the show-stopping Holiday Wishes show they do on these nights. It’s way bigger than Disney’s normal nighttime fireworks show and, of course, it’s entirely colored up Christmas style.
For more, visit the official Disney Website.
Christmastime at The Magic Kingdom
If you can’t attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, you can always just go to the (very crowded) Magic Kingdom park and check out all the great Christmas decorations and fun. Main Street is totally decked out with every type of Christmas tree trimming imaginable. Just walking up to the gate will impart an overwhelming feeling of holiday spirit.
Be sure to ride the “Jingle Cruise” which is the holiday themed version of the infamous Jungle Cruise. It’s the same ride you’ve been on before but with a whole new set of kitschy, corny jokes. There’s Christmas decor strung about the jungle scenes and there’s jingle-jungley jokes all the way around. Here’s one of our favorites:
“Here in the Amazon, things are larger than life, including these insects. Does anyone know what these are called? It starts with a B. No, not butterflies. They’re Bah Humbugs!”
To offset all of that walking around the park, you can treat yourself to all kinds of holiday-themed snack and treats. For cupcakes, you have your choice between the peanut butter reindeer cupcake, the spiced confetti Christmas tree cupcake at Gaston’s Tavern, or the peppermint infused chocolate cupcake. You can also just grab an ice cream sundae with peppermint chips sprinkled on top. There’s also eggnog and hot chocolate and holiday rice krispie treats and cookies to be found in all the bakeries and gift shops around the park. As always, if you want to indulge, Disney will help you find your way.
The best thing to see, by far, is what happens at the Magic Kingdom after dark. You want to stay past sundown to see Cinderella’s Castle transformed into a sparkling spectacle of glitter and sparkle which makes it look totally covered in ice and snow. Then watch the Frozen inspired stage show with Anna and Elsa to really feel transformed to a winter wonderland.
Santa Claus at EPCOT’s American Adventure
You can meet Santa Claus at a handful of locations around the Walt Disney World property. At the Magic Kingdom he’s at Town Square Courtyard. At Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) you can find Santa at his own chalet doing meet and greets just like you’d see at your local mall. My family loves to meet Santa alongside Mrs. Claus in EPCOT at the America Adventure Pavillion. The pair make appearances for about an hour at regularly scheduled intervals throughout the day. If you get in line just before they arrive you’ll typically wait about 45 minutes to meet the big man, but it’s worth it.
When your kids step up, you’ll get your classic Santa pictures, with your own camera and by a Disney photographer, and your kiddos will truly get the chance to have a cute and personalized chat with Santa. My kids always bring along their Christmas wish list and hand it over to Santa in person. The “Disney Santa” is great because he actually takes the time to read over the letter or list and offer some witty banter, loud enough for Mom & Dad to hear, based on what he read. When my daughter said she wanted a pony this year, he told her he’d bring her a stuffed pony because they’re easier to cleanup after than a real pony. That might have gone over her 3 year old head, but Mommy was giggling at his easy solution. You can’t beat that!
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
This is, sadly, the last year for the Osborne Family’s Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios. If you haven’t seen this amazing light show, which takes over the entire New York skyline backlot, you really need to put this one your to-do list this year, while you can. Not only is the sheer volume and detail of lighting breathtaking, but the fact that the lights are orchestrated to music and literally “dance” along to every 3rd song is just amazing.
The light show starts around sundown, which is 6pm in Disney scheduling talk. While you might be tempted to get there early, I’d actually recommend you grab a few fast passes for other things and instead show up closer to 8. We saw the 7pm Frozen Sing-a-long show and then showed up around 7:45 and there was almost no line to get in. The streets are crowded (as you can see in the picture above) but not so much that you can’t take it all in. Even better, they sell special light-show cocktails just before you get to the main part of the spectacle. Finally a treat for us grownups! You can see me with the blue Holiday Spectacle ($12.75) which was some sort of blue rum drink that came with its very own souvenir holiday glow cube. I’m always happy to light up along with the light show!
If you want a premium dedicated experience, you can pony up $39 per child and $69 per adult to have desserts in a locked off central set of tables at the end of the main street where you can sit and enjoy the light show away from the crowds. It looks enviable when you’re there.. but do you know how many blue Holiday Spectacle drinks I can buy for $69? Almost enough to walk away with a souvenir light globe show of my own!
For more information on the dancing lights, check out the official Disney Website.
EPCOT’s Candlelight Processional
My parents, in their 60s, absolutely LOVE to see the EPCOT Candlelight Processional every year. This is a musical show done at the large stage at the America Pavillion inside the World Showcase at EPCOT. It includes a live orchestra and a choir that sings classic Christmas carols in between the narrative storytelling of the classic Christian Christmas story by some rather well-known Hollywood celebrities (think Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris, etc.)
The Candlelight Processional performances happen 2 or 3 times a night and last approximately 45 minutes. If you want to get a seat you need to get there and get in line VERY early as the seating area fills up fast. If you want a guaranteed seat, book yourself a Candlelight Dinner Package. This is a prix-fixe meal that includes lunch or dinner at one of the nicer sit-down restaurants around EPCOT and includes a guaranteed seat at a select performance of the Candlelight Processional that same day. This is how my family does it and we make it into an all-out family event. My parents, my family and my brother’s family all show up for an early, long meal together, then the kids sneak over to meet Santa before we all settle in for the live music show at the end of the night. It’s a great, long full day for all, although I will warn that the younger kids find the show a bit “boring” since there’s no fireworks or famous Disney characters to enjoy. It’s just a classic Christmas candlelight show.
For more, check out the official Disney site.
Holiday Dispays at the Disney World Resort Hotels
Want to get a taste of Disney holiday magic…. for free? Pop in to the resorts to check out their displays and it won’t cost you a dime!
Each Disney resort hotel totally embraces the holidays in its own unique way. At the Contemporary Resort you can see their Frozen Gingerbread display. It’s a big display of your favorite overexposed Frozen characters and their beloved Arrendele all made out of sugar and candy and frosting. You can find this display on the 4th floor of the main building, on the same level as the main concourse where you watch the monorail run through the hotel.
From there you might want to hop a ride on that always-amusing monorail to check out the Grand Floridian’s Christmas display. They have the biggest classic gingerbread house I’ve ever seen on display, right next to a gorgeously tall Christmas tree. Outside, at times, you can pickup a bag of fresh roasted chestnuts. The Grand Floridian is always the quintessential classic Florida experience and they don’t let that fall short during the holidays in any way.
We haven’t been to the Wilderness Lodge but I hear their Christmas display is as warm and inviting as the display we used to enjoy at the Disney Grand Californian in Anaheim. A Christmas tree of pinecones and antlers alongside cozy fireplaces and rocking chairs.
Travel over to the Disney Yacht Club resort to see their Christmas tree all decked out in sail boats and other nautical decor. Then look to the side and check out their quaint and classic little Christmas village, complete with a train circling round and your ample display of Disney characters doing all sorts of happy holiday things, from skiing to ice skating and more. It’s super cute and, of course, the kiddos can’t stop watching the train go round and round.
Finally, pop by the Animal Kingdom Lodge to see an African themed Christmas tree and sneak at peak at the animals outside the lobby. This is Christmas outside the book, but it’s still awe-inspiring and a great, comfy place to stop for a bite or a drink at their bar. They have comfy fires and rocking chairs too. Always good for a little nap to break up a long holiday day.
Winter Summerland Mini Golf
Now this one is open year-round but it’s a special thing to visit during the holidays. The Winter Summerland Mini-Golf course costs $12 for kids and $14 for adults and includes 18 holes of either winter or summertime golf themed holes. At Christmastime you can expect a wait to play on the “winter” course but’s worth it. Lots of melty snowmen and Christmas light and decor abound. When it’s unseasonably warm for winter, a rousing family mini-golf game is a great pre or post dinner activity. After you finish the course, you can walk away with a mini candy cane for your efforts, whether you’re the winner or not!
For more on Winter Summerland, check out the official Disney site.
Of course there’s even more to find an explore and enjoy at Disney during the holidays. There’s the “Holidays around the World” at EPCOT’s World Showcase which is its own unique brand of holiday experience. There’s also all kinds of other fun snacks and experiences hidden around the parks, from Santa Goofy to carolers and more. There’s lot of explore.. and it’s all literally in our backyard. Get out there and enjoy it all (or as much of it as you can!)