Walt Disney World Resort has four theme parks and all of them are beautifully decorated for the holidays with seasonal events and special touches throughout. Read below for helpful information and some tips!
While Walt Disney World hasn’t released information about the holiday season for 2023 as of this writing, typically things will kick off around the second week of November, with holiday decorations going up in the Magic Kingdom as soon as Halloween comes down.
Magic Kingdom, as the flagship park of the resort, plays host each year to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (“MVMCP”). No matter what the other parks do, there is little that beats the “snoap” (Ed. That’s fake snow made from soap bubbles.) on Main Street combined with the whimsical decorations and the icicle-encrusted castle courtesy of Elsa, of course! MVMCP is an after-hours event and requires a separate ticket with entry beginning at 4pm and the party starting at 7pm. Non-party guests are usually asked to leave starting at 6pm. I highly recommend getting there at 4pm and getting as much ride-time as possible before the party starts, so that during the party you can focus on the special event happenings!
Special inclusions for the party are Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, and Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration Stage Show. Party guests are also treated to special character meet and greets with some rare characters usually making an appearance. If you or your kid treat Disney characters like Pokemon (“Gotta catch ‘em all!), the after hours parties are not to be missed! Party guests can visit special stations throughout the park to enjoy free treats, including several varieties of cookies, hot cocoa, hot apple cider, and eggnog.
Don’t think you have to attend a party to enjoy Christmas at this park, though! Regular park attendees can still marvel at the decorations, enjoy the parade and fireworks on select nights closer to the Christmas holiday itself, and experience the various holiday ride overlays that take place during the season, with past attractions including the Jingle Cruise and the holiday-themed overlays for Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Space Mountain, and Tomorrowland Speedway.
Not to be outdone, Walt Disney World’s secondary park, EPCOT, has it’s own brand of holiday magic and is my personal favorite. This park, known for its festivals, celebrates the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays during this time, with holiday food and beverages from around the world. If you missed the Food and Wine Festival, this is a really great backup! For your entertainment around the World Showcase Lagoon, there are holiday storytellers, who cannot wait to share the traditions and tales from their native countries. The storytellers are generally dressed as that country’s version of Santa Claus, and their stories captivate children and adults alike. Storytellers at the American Adventure pavilion also share information about the celebrations of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.
The entertainment jewel of the Epcot holiday season is the Candlelight Processional, which is a retelling of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator, who is accompanied by a live orchestra and a massive chorale performing seasonal songs. There are generally 3 shows nightly, and the narrators are announced far in advance so you can try and arrange your plans around seeing your favorite celebrity speak. In the past, celebrities such as Neil Patrick Harris, Edward James Olmos, and Jodi Benson have lent their voice talents to this event, and it is always incredibly popular (read: packed and hard to get into). I highly recommend trying to book a coveted Dining Package 60 days before your trip, to guarantee seating. Otherwise, you may find yourself standing in the elements, straining to hear the show going on the Gardens Amphitheater.
Living With the Land has enjoyed a holiday overlay in the past that is delightful, and the Disney Parks rumor mill is working overtime regarding changes coming to Epcot’s newest roller coaster in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy: Christmas Rewind. No one is excited. At all. /sarcasm
Hollywood Studios used to host the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, and boy do I wish those would come back because they were spectacular. Alas, progress must do its thing and now we have Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land, so I’ll live. However, even without the lights, the park boasts adorable decorations including a Santa hat on Gertie the Dinosaur in Echo Lake and Sunset Season’s Greetings, which is a projection show consisting of pieces from various Disney Christmas animations, including Olaf’s Frozen Adventure and Mickey’s Christmas Carol. During the day there is a Santa Claus motorcade, where guests can see Santa drive by in his red convertible with the elves. Last but not least, Hollywood and Vine restaurant transitions into “Minnie’s Holiday Dine” during this season, which is a character buffet with the fab five hosted by none other than Santa Goofy!
Finally, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, while not being a park that boasts much nighttime activity due to the animals living there, does have some offerings. These include holiday-themed projections on the Tree of Life, luminary decorations on Discovery Island, festive character flotillas, and continent-appropriate decorations and celebrations, such as Diwali. This even includes Pandora: the World of Avatar, which dresses up the giant mech at the exit of the gift shop to Flight of Passage with strings of lights and a Santa beard and hat, and is my daughter’s personal favorite Christmas decoration in this park.
The holiday fun is not limited to just the parks, as the shopping district and resort hotels are generally decked out for the holidays and have events going on as well, including a Christmas tree stroll and opportunities to meet Santa at Disney Springs, the gingerbread displays at the Grand Floridian, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Beach Club Resort, Boardwalk Resort, and the Contemporary Resort, and a festive ride through Fort Wilderness, where regular seasonal visitors routinely set up RVs with holiday decorations. Pro-tip: you can book a sleigh ride at this resort, which is a delightful way to get around and see everything!
The holidays are some of the most popular dates to visit Walt Disney World – and now you can see why! There is so much going on! If you think you might want to get in on the fun, please don’t hesitate to contact me as I have been during this time of year several times, and have all kinds of thoughts that did not make it into this blog post (because I didn’t want to write a short book). And if you’re feeling like it would be too overwhelming to plan for 2023, keep in mind that packages for 2024 opened for booking on May 31, 2023, giving you over a year to budget, plan, and dream your way to a wonderful trip. I’d love to help make it a reality!