Now that were are coming into early November, the holiday season is once again upon us. Celebrating any holiday at Walt Disney World is special, but celebrating Christmastime there is extraordinary. As a Florida resident and longtime annual passholder, I’ve had the opportunity to experience a lot of great events at Disney, from Star Wars Weekends to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, but I can easily say that the Christmas season is my favorite time of year to travel to Walt Disney World, as an already magical place transforms into something even more so.
From about Thanksgiving until just about the first few days of January, the parks and resorts are decorated in holiday colors and lights, and there are numerous things to see and special events to partake in. It can seem overwhelming -especially if this is your first holiday visit, or even better, your first visit! So, let me highlight the “must do” and “must see” things.
First up is the Magic Kingdom, and it won’t disappoint. Of course you’ll get a full dose of holiday cheer just walking down Main Street, seeing all the colorful lights, bows, garland and Christmas trees. Even more impressive is that the majority of the park is decorated in just 3 days, at night, after the park closes! But the highlight to the Magic Kingdom is the “Castle Dream Lights”. Cinderella’s Castle is adorned with over 200,000 lights. When on, the castle appears to glisten like ice, and the effect is amazing. I’ll admit I shed a tear the first time I saw it. There’s a cute show that goes along with the lighting of the castle that happens around dusk, so be sure to check show times so you don’t miss it. The castle lighting happens every night during the holidays, and is included with park admission.
For an extra dose of holiday magic at the Magic Kingdom, you might want to attend “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.” This special separately ticketed event takes place following regular Magic Kingdom park hours. Beginning at 7 p.m., and running until midnight, guests with tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party can enjoy a holiday celebration featuring festive live stage shows, the famous “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade,” Disney characters in their holiday best for meet-and-greets and the nighttime spectacular “Holiday Wishes–Celebrate the Spirit of the Season,” a winter wonderland of dazzling fireworks set to classic holiday tunes.
No holiday celebration would be complete without snow — even in Florida, where the weather outside is delightful! At Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party there is a 100 percent chance of flurries on Main Street, U.S.A each party night. And to really put you in that “Winter Wonderland” frame of mind, complimentary hot cocoa and cookies are served. In addition to the holiday fun, guests can enjoy many of the most popular Magic Kingdom attractions.
If Christmas lights are your thing, and you just can’t get enough of them, then you need to be sure to check out the “Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. No, not that Osborne family. This holiday tradition began more than 20 years ago, when Jennings Osborne strung a thousand lights on his house as a Christmas gift to his daughter. Every year, he kept adding more and more lights, until over a million lights adorned his property After the home exhibit grew larger over several years, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered the display to be turned off.
The million-light display was transported to Disney Hollywood Studios in 1995, where the spectacle continues to grow larger and brighter each year. In fact, it’s up to 6 million lights now! And you thought decorating your house was tough. Some of Osborne’s original creations still sparkling brightly at the park today are a giant Mickey Mouse light, dozens of flying angels and Santa Claus light designs. You can see this awe inspiring (and very bright) display on the back lot of Hollywood studios. Just follow the crowds all heading in the same direction.
Some people consider Epcot to be an “adult” park but there’s plenty to see and do for the whole family there during the holidays. Around the World Showcase, guests can hear from different story tellers in various countries talk about their country’s holiday traditions and celebrations, and even meet Santa Claus at the American Pavillion. While you’re there, check out the world’s largest gingerbread house, too. Kwanza and Hannukah are also observed as you make your way around the showcase. For the gift shopper, Epcot is a great place to find creative and special gifts from different parts of the world, too. Your evening is topped off with Epcot’s nightly fireworks show, “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth” , which adds in a holiday finale.
Of course, what makes Epcot really stand out during the holidays in the famed Candlelight Processional. This extremely popular nightly spectacle treats guests to a grand musical performance by a mass choir (over 400 people strong) and 50-piece orchestra who are joined by celebrity narrators in retelling of the beloved story of Christmas.
This years celebrity narrators include Isabella Rossellini, Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Curtis Chapman and Brad Garrett, among many others. Note that the Candlelight Processional does have religious overtones, and some guests have described it as “being in church.” The music you will hear is traditional, non-secular. Think “O Holy Night” and not “Jingle Bells.” Despite this, I think any guest would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t at least see it once. I don’t consider myself religious, but even I was blown away by the beauty of the processional. Insider tip: Although the Candlelight Processional is included with park admission, its popularity means getting a seat often means standing in line for over an hour. For this reason, consider booking a “Candlelight Processional Dinner Package” which includes a great meal at one of Epcot’s dining establishments and reserved seating.
You wouldn’t think that a jungle themed park would get in on the holiday magic, but you’d be wrong, because Animal Kingdom is all about the holidays! A luminous 65-foot tree sparkling at the park’s entrance sets the stage for what’s to come. The “Jammin Jungle” parade becomes Mickey’s “Jingle Jungle” parade during the holidays. The parade runs daily and features all your favorite characters.
Speaking of characters, at Camp Minnie-Mickey, guests can meet Disney characters dressed in their holiday best while carolers fill the air with renditions of favorite seasonal classics at Santa Goofy’s Holiday Village. There’s plenty of holiday spirit and great photo opportunities to be had, so bring your autograph book and camera and get in on the fun.
Had your fill of the parks for the day? Then you might head to Downtown Disney for some great holiday shopping. All the stores are beautifully decorated with garland, ornaments and lights. You can even have your picture taken with Santa Claus outside of the World of Disney Store. But get there early, because the line gets long, and stays long throughout the day. Oh, and no trip to Downtown Disney is complete during the holidays without a cup of famous hot chocolate (topped with whipped cream -yummy!) from Ghiradelli’s Ice Cream Shop. Even if it’s 80 degrees out, you owe it to yourself to have a taste of this hot chocolate, because it’s that good.
Alright, so you’ve seen the parks, you’ve filled you bags with toys and gifts at Downtown Disney, and you’re feeling like you’ve seen all that Walt Disney World has to offer for the holidays, right? Wrong. You can’t head home without taking a tour of some of the resorts and seeing them all decked out for the holidays. Sure, every Disney resort is beautifully decorated for the holidays. But some go all out, and the effect is breathtaking. My two favorites are the Grand Floridian and Wilderness Lodge. At the Grand Floridian, prepare to be amazed at the HUGE Christmas tree in the lobby. And, if you can take your eyes off of that, you’ll notice another life size gingerbread house inside, where you can even purchase your own gingerbread houses and cookies!
The Wilderness Lodge to me, IS the holidays. There’s just something about a lodge adorned in holiday decorations, yet another huge tree in the lobby, and a roaring fireplace. It’s easy to stand there and just for a minute or two, and forget you’re in Florida, forget you’re in Walt Disney World -at least until a guy goes walking by you in flip-flops and shorts wearing Mickey ears.
Honorable mentions in the “well dressed” resort category that you shouldn’t miss while at Walt Disney World for the holidays include the Contemporary Resort, Boardwalk, and Yacht and Beach Club Resort, with its life size gingerbread carousel.
Okay, so now you’ve seen the parks, you’ve seen the resorts, you may have even done the Christmas party over at the Magic Kingdom, and you think you’ve seen and done everything there is at Walt Disney World during the holidays, right? Nope. There’s plenty more where that came from. But to find out what else there is to see and do, when to go during the holidays, or where a person finds Christmas dinner at the parks, you’ll have to contact me.
Wishing you all a very safe and happy holiday season!
Bob Angelo is a travel consultant with Pixie Vacations and veteran of WDW, having visited over 100 times.
He can be reached at (941) 1347 or at Bob@pixievacations.com
You can also follow him on Facebook, Pixie Vacations with Bob Angelo, Specializing in Disney Travel.