We’re almost to the big day and I hope everyone is having a beautiful holiday season! While many of us won’t spend the holidays at a Disney Park, most of the events in this post take place from mid-November through early January so there’s plenty of chances to catch them. And if you just so happen to be there on Christmas then all the better! In this post, I’m going to count down my top ten favorite experiences at Disney Parks during the holidays.
This is my favorite time of the year to be at a Disney Park. Take away all of the experiences listed below and you’re still left with the heartfelt décor and dazzling lights. If you’re actually at the parks between Christmas and New Years or there on Thanksgiving then the crowds may be overwhelming. Otherwise, I think there might be something to the thought that the general crowd is a little more joyful than most other times of year. I don’t have the scientific data to prove that but I’m sure Santa Claus does so just ask him.
Unfortunately, I haven’t made it to any of the foreign Disney Resorts during the Christmas season. Seeing any of the castle parks with snow on the ground would be a dream come true, so getting to Paris or timing it just right at Tokyo is the dream. For now though, this post will stick to just Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts. Even with just sticking to these two resorts, I’m surely missing something! Let me know your favorite holiday traditions at the Disney Parks in the comments below. Let’s get to it!
10. Gingerbread Houses
A number of hotels have gigantic gingerbread houses in their lobby during the holiday season. This takes place at both resorts, although only at the Grand Californian in Disneyland. While these houses don’t have quite the wow factor of other things on the list, they’re charming and smell so good! The monorail loop at Walt Disney World is a good way to see a few of the biggest gingerbread houses, starting at the Contemporary before seeing the biggest one at the Grand Floridian. There’s also a few gingerbread displays at the Crescent Lake Resorts near Epcot.
9. The Food!
You didn’t think I’d leave out the food, right? I wouldn’t book a trip to a Disney Park during the holidays solely because of the food but having loads of specialty treats doesn’t hurt! There are a variety of food marketplaces at both the Epcot and California Adventure festivals. If you want to spend the day snacking around, it makes for a delectable time. Beyond that, both resorts add specialty items to nearly every location’s menu. Some of them are better than others but I appreciate the effort and really enjoy the warm and/or sweet additions.
8. Sunset Seasons Greetings at Hollywood Studios
To be honest, the holiday nighttime spectaculars aren’t my favorite thing at either resort. Parades on both coasts are a little tired at this point, although toy soldiers will always remain cool. The one that I do find endearing is the Sunset Seasons Greetings. These are a series of short vignettes that project onto the Tower of Terror. One of them includes the Swedish Chef so naturally I am a fan! More than anything, these are fun to stumble upon during the evening while walking around Hollywood Studios.
7. Disney Viva Navidad at California Adventure
This little street party at DCA takes place by Paradise Garden Grill and is absolutely wild. Representing South American and Mexican cultures, the street party brings out a variety of dancers and musicians while large Santa, Three Caballeros and Mickey & Minnie floats zoom by. Once in a while, theme park shows need to drop all aspirations for subtlety and just aim to cram as much cool stuff into a short amount of time as possible. That mission is accomplished here!
6. Magic Kingdom Castle Lights/Disneyland Garlands
There’s nothing more iconic on the list than this so maybe it should place higher. Walking down both Magic Kingdom’s and Disneyland’s Main Streets during the holidays is a jaw-dropping experience, especially after the sun sets. Both castles are so beautiful with all of the lights, I’m especially taken by Cinderella Castle’s grandeur. On the other coast, they go for charm and that’s accomplished with the beautiful garlands that stretch across Main Street. Just walking down the famed entrance and seeing the castle all lit up is reason enough to visit the parks during the holidays.
5. The Grand Californian & Wilderness Lodge Christmas Trees
All of the Disney hotels have Christmas Trees in them during the holidays but my two favorites are the Grand Californian and Wilderness Lodge trees. Both of these hotels share a similar style, with a national park lodge feel to them. Planting a gigantic tree right in the middle of those wood-toned lobbies seems fitting. They don’t slack on the height either, making this a cozy and perfect place to just sit and take in the sight.
4. Ride Overlays at Disneyland
The two best ride overlays in theme park history, in my humble opinion, just happen to be at Disneyland and are attached to Christmas. Now, some may pick nits about Nightmare Before Christmas being a Halloween movie but I would encourage those people to go rewatch that movie. It’s unequivocally a Christmas movie and Haunted Mansion Holiday is astounding, turning the famed Haunted Mansion into a playground for Jack, Sally, Oogie Boogie and the rest of the gang.
The other overlay is it’s a small world during the holidays. Not only does the outside lighting beat the pants off of your neighbor’s house, even though he works year around to have the best light display in the city, but the actual overlay is fantastical too. The attraction stays true to the original, they’ve just amped up the decorating game to the nth degree and put a Christmas spin on it.
3. Phat Cat Swinger at California Adventure
Seeing all of the entertainment at DCA’s Festival of Holidays is worth devoting a whole afternoon and evening to. Mostly Kosher, the Mariachi Divas and so many other acts are wonderful. Our favorite of them all is Phat Cat Swinger, a big band that takes on some classic swing songs to go along with Christmas tunes. There’s an incredible energy to their set and chances are that you’ll sit down to watch then turn around halfway through the show and the number of people watching has doubled or tripled. The band is worth planning a day around and is so fun to see during the holidays.
2. Merry Menagerie at Animal Kingdom
This is the most adorable thing on the planet. Right in front of the Tree of Life are a number of puppets, some big and some small, that look wintery. They will interact with guests, posing for photos and playing. It’s not as grand as some of the holiday shows but it’s a perfect touch to Animal Kingdom that makes anyone who comes into contact with them smile.
1. Candlelight Processional at Epcot
One of my favorite experiences at a Disney Park regardless of the season is the Candlelight Processional. A large choir and orchestra join a narrator onstage as they tell the original Christmas story and sing some carols. Between the story and music, the experience is overwhelming to the senses – beautiful and thoughtful. Technically, this also takes place at Disneyland Resort a night or two each year but it is much harder to see. I’d love to someday though! If you get the chance on either coast, it is as good as it gets!
What are your favorite holiday experiences at the Disney Parks? Let us know in the comments below! If you’re looking for Disney travel advice, check out our trip planning guides. If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends, as well as like our social media pages. You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email. All of those links are on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!
Categories: Top 10 Lists