Walt Disney World, the vacation kingdom, is a popular and enjoyable place to visit throughout the entire calendar year. The holiday season at the four parks, resorts, and Disney Springs bring out a little bit of extra magic though. In this guide, we’ll cover all of the Christmas festivities including photos, our thoughts, and a few tips on the most wonderful time of year at the Walt Disney World theme parks.
With the size of the resort, going into detail on every single Christmas related thing would make for the longest post ever on this site. That would be no small feat and, frankly, no one wants that. Instead this will be a brief overview of what each park offers. If you want more details than what this post offers, click on links, stay tuned to the blog and please drop us a comment with any questions you have.
Christmas at Disney World generally runs from the first week in November through the first week of January. That can ebb and flow, as Epcot generally starts a little later in November along with some resorts not getting their decor up until mid-November. If you want to be sure to see everything while avoiding the huge influx in crowds, early December is the best time to go. The week of Thanksgiving can be a headache and the weeks surrounding Christmas remain Disney World’s busiest. To some, braving the crowds during a longer work/school break is worth it and the extra holiday festivites are certainly something worth considering. Just know that there is a general trade-off in terms of crowds (again, unless you’re able to swing an early December trip).
Over the last few years, the holiday season has become my favorite time to visit Walt Disney World. Admittedly, part of this is because I’m not a person who tries to ride every single attraction during our trips anymore. If we didn’t take that laid back approach there’s a chance I’d feel differently thanks to the crowds. Still, exploring the decor and extra events while the weather is cooler is an excellent combo and one I ultimately recommend.
Let’s take a look at what each park offers.
Walt Disney World’s castle park doesn’t shy away from decorations. The first steps inside the park are met with views of the train station and the beautiful Mickey Mouse shaped, red and green garden flanked by Christmas trees. Turning the corner into Main Street is no less stunning with a giant Christmas Tree and Toy Soldiers greeting you before heading down Main Street. The decor isn’t subtle in the least but it’s not trying to be. Instead it’s jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Wreaths abound down Main Street and the windows feature more holiday decor. My favorite set of windows is near the fire station and barber shop, with miniature models of Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Enjoying these at the end of the night before heading back to the hotel has become one of our favorite traditions. During the day, the Dapper Dans can be found singing some Christmas tunes throughout Main Street.
Typically, the castle would be lit up in its icicle lights and looking all Christmas-y. This year is different though due to the resort’s 50th anniversary. Instead, the castle will be lit up with Christmas projections.
Magic Kingdom is home to one of the few holiday ride overlays at Disney World, although there are more at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Jingle Cruise is a fun holiday take on the classic Jungle Cruise, inserting Christmas puns and decorations throughout the ride. It’s well worth doing.
Outside of Main Street and Jingle Cruise, Magic Kingdom’s holiday decor is far more subtle and not particularly interesting. There are garlands and wreaths throughout most of the park along with some specialty snacks. Much of Magic Kingdom’s Christmas entertainment will come during Disney Very Merriest After Hours, where select nights are still available. There are shows, attraction overlays, specialty foods and more at this upcharge event. You can check out our review of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which has several of the same offerings, here.
In 2021, Epcot’s Future World is in disarray. There are construction walls everywhere and Christmas is cancelled. Just kidding. Living With The Land has a mini Christmas overlay that’s fun and interesting but there’s not much else in terms of Future World décor (or Future World attractions, or Future World walkways, or Future World buildings). Thankfully, World Showcase picks up the slack.
Starting November 26th, Festival of the Holidays begins in World Showcase. While the festival as a whole is hit and miss, it does offer some of our favorite Christmas entertainment in all of Walt Disney World. That begins with the Candlelight Processional starting on November 29th. Every night in the America Gardens Theatre, a celebrity narrator is joined by a choir and horn players to tell the Christmas story. Whether you’re religious or not, the show packs an emotional punch and is not to be missed. The Candlelight Processional runs three times a night and is probably easiest to see on the final showing if you’re going the standby route. There are dining packages that include reserved seating and we’d recommend those if you’re going at an especially busy time.
There’s plenty of other entertainment throughout Epcot during the holiday season including gospel music, storytellers at some of the World Showcase Pavilions telling that country’s Christmas tales, and a few of the classic Epcot acts adding a little holiday flair to the mix.
As far as the decor, each pavilion differs. There’s a beautiful Christmas tree near the Port of Entry (the front of World Showcase) that can be seen throughout the park. As usual, the festival offers small plates and drinks at different outdoor kitchens (are they still calling them that?) throughout World Showcase. We only tried a few of them with mixed results and there aren’t as many options as other Epcot festivals. I would recommend using a snack credit on those if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan.
Epcot’s World Showcase is beautiful anytime of year but is especially so at Christmas time. Take the time to see some of the special entertainment. Or maybe just try to see every single Candlelight Processional. Either way it’ll make for a beautiful day and night.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Hollywood Studios does surprisingly well at Christmas time. Maybe it’s due to the low expectations that the park has garnered over the last few years, but the decor is well done.
The front of the park has garlands stretched across the street, from rooftop to rooftop. Like Main Street, there’s some decor in the windows. This certain one below almost ruined every single positive thing I’m going to say about Christmas at Hollywood Studios. I mean, what is this?
With that out of the way, the street is beautiful. Moving further away from the street, things get weirder. There are these miniature figurines in little gardens. I usually like them but also could see them standing over me with an axe when I wake up one night. It’s an interesting way to go I suppose, both in terms of decor and death.
Echo Lake is where the Hollywood Studios Christmas Tree will be found. The California Crazy architecture plays right into the tree, giant bulbs surrounding it in the water, and Santa Gertie. It’s one of my favorite areas to visit during Christmas at Disney World, especially at night, both peaceful and weird.
Speaking of nighttime, Tower of Terror on Sunset Boulevard is lit up at night with projections called Sunset Seasons Greetings. There are four short little shows featuring different Disney characters including Frozen, Toy Story and the Muppets. Along with the projections is fake snow, making for a festive atmosphere. It’s fun to stand here for 15 or 20 minutes and watch the shows cycle through.
Toy Story Land has a few decorations, including awesome oversized character cookies. I believe they’re just decor but I didn’t actually try to eat them. Proceed at your own risk. Toy Story Land won’t wow when it comes to Christmas but there’s a few nicely done additions that I enjoy. Alien Swirling Saucers plays a few Christmas songs while you spin around, Rex has a Santa hat on. It’s nice. Christmas Hamm anyone? (Older gentleman and stroller not included.)
Unfortunately, we can’t leave Hollywood Studios without a major dud. That’s what Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! is. Don’t mistake Disney’s punctuation for my enthusiasm. I usually love fireworks and nighttime spectaculars but this plot is rough. With some characters that I barely recognize leading the show and a largely disappointing soundtrack, I don’t recommend seeing this. The pyro is okay but there are better options. So far, the show has not returned for 2021 so it will likely not be back this year.
Overall, Christmas is when Hollywood Studios is strongest. The decor is well done and most of the entertainment touches are nice. I admire the non-generic decor even if it does impede on my nightmares.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
The surprise of the holiday season goes to Animal Kingdom! A park that has largely strayed away from Christmas décor broke through in 2019 with a few excellent additions. The best of these start near the park entrance in Discovery Island.
During the day, Discovery Island is alive with the Merry Menagerie. These cute, wintery puppet animals are throughout the area interacting with guests. It’s a joy to watch people interact with them and the performers are excellent, encompassing the spirit of the animal. Merry Menagerie is an outstanding addition and one worth spending 15-30 minutes doing, interacting and watching these puppets and performers at work. It’s somewhat simple but so sweet.
At night, Discovery Island is lit up with animal lanterns and other white and silver decor. The Tree of Life has the usual Awakenings at night but this time with a Christmas theme. These are worth hanging out in the area and watching a few. It’s a beautiful show that we prefer to the much bigger Rivers of Light.
There are subtle decorations throughout the rest of Animal Kingdom. Well, DinoLand is not subtle. Having said that, it does look better than usual. Parts of it are kind of like a Zoo Lights event but, you know, with dinos. That might be overselling it as the lights don’t extend all the way throughout the land, still that section looks cool.
Asia doesn’t include much decor except for the beautiful lanterns outside of the Up! A Great Bird Adventure ampitheater. That section is quite beautiful and worth seeing at night. Harambe is equally minimalistic. There’s a simple garland hanging overhead and a few wreaths around. Towards the back of the village there are two makeshift Christmas trees that add to the lived-in feeling of the land. Pandora goes the same route with just a few additions. There are some cool garland additions around the area, as well as Christmas lights around the giant robot.
While I’m calling these additions small, they are beautifully done and only enhance the park. Going for the loud, vivacious decorations of Magic Kingdom’s Main Street throughout Animal Kingdom would have been a mistake although Santa Claus does sail down the Discovery River from time to time. Instead the park stayed in theme with detailed and subtle décor. Before this year Animal Kingdom wasn’t much of a Holiday park, now it might be the best one.
Visiting the Walt Disney World parks at Christmas is a great experience filled with extra decor and entertainment. As long as your expectations are in check in terms of crowds, we’d recommend that time of year to anyone.
What are your favorite Christmas festivities at Walt Disney World? Let us know, along with any questions you have, in the comments below. Planning a trip to Walt Disney World? Check out our planning guide to help you along the way! Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney. If you enjoy the site please subscribe to the blog via WordPress and like our social media pages. You can find all of those on the right side of this page. Have a great day!
Categories: Vacation Tips