There’s never a bad time to go on a Disney World trip, but Disney at Christmas might be one of the best! The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida transforms into a winter wonderland in early November for the Christmas season, and it’s no wonder that many refer to it as the most magical time of year.
Between decorated parks, Christmas music in the background, special events, and more, we’re covering all the things that make Disney at Christmas a great time to visit with your family. Here’s your complete guide to the holidays in Disney World!
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EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF THE HOLIDAYS
One of the biggest and best ways to celebrate the season in Disney World is to visit EPCOT for the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays. This event usually begins in mid-November and lasts all the way through the end of December. It brings tons of unique eats, drinks, and activities to the park.
The highlight of the EPCOT Festival of the Holidays is the holiday kitchens that you can find around World Showcase. In 2022, the festival includes 16 different holiday kitchens plus 4 extra locations where you can sample the festive eats and drinks enjoyed by people celebrating around the world.
On top of all the food booths, you can also enjoy a wide selection of entertainment, including performances from a gospel group during JOYFUL! A Celebration of the Season. This show usually takes place four times a day and lights up World Showcase with spectacular performances of songs of the season. And, as you make your way around World Showcase, you might want to stop for some of the Storytellers. You can find these in select country pavilions where they’ll share their version of the Christmas story.
Plus, if you need something to keep you busy as you make your way around all the festival booths, you can participate in Olaf’s Holiday Tradition Expedition Scavenger Hunt. All you have to do is pick up a scavenger hunt map at select stores for $9.99 plus tax and then search for Olaf hiding in the country pavilions. Once you’ve found him and completed your map, you can return to the store for your holiday-themed prize!
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INDULGE IN THE HOLIDAY COOKIE STROLL
Holiday cookies are a Christmastime staple, and you can take your cookie eating to the next level with the Holiday Cookie Stroll at the EPCOT Festival of the Holidays! All you need to do is visit 5 out of 8 different holiday kitchens around World Showcase and purchase a holiday cookie. Don’t forget to get your Festival Passport stamped at each location so that you can receive an extra treat as a prize at the end!
In 2022, the official cookie stroll locations include Nochebuena Cocina, the Yukon Holiday Kitchen, L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen, American Holiday Table, Bavaria Holiday Kitchen, Holiday Hearth Desserts, Sunshine Seasons, Connections Café. Cookie offerings include a sugar cookie, M&M sugar cookie, gingerbread cookie, linzer cookie, chocolate crinkle cookie, snicker-doodle cookie, a plant-based black and white cookie, and a vanilla shortbread cookie with dulce de leche and coconut. You can find which booth features each specific cookie in the Festival Passport that can be picked up at the park entrance.
If you’re a person who loves sweets, then the Holiday Cookie Stroll is one of the best things about the festival! Enjoy them all in one day or spread your cookie eating out over the course of your vacation – just remember to bring your Festival Passport along as you collect the stamps to get your prize.
ENJOY THE CHRISTMAS STORY TOLD BY CELEBRITIES AND A LIVE ORCHESTRA
Another hallmark of the holiday season in Disney World is the Candlelight Processional which takes place nightly at EPCOT. During the one-hour show, a celebrity narrator tells the story of Christmas woven in with a breathtaking performance of holiday songs performed by a live orchestra and choir. It is perhaps Disney World’s best and most popular show of the year!
You can see the Candlelight Processional for free (with your park ticket) at the America Gardens Theatre at 5:15PM, 7PM, or 8:30PM between November 25th through December 30th. The performance is the same no matter when you see it, though the celebrity narrator does change! In 2022, the schedule includes stars like Whoopi Goldberg, Josh Gad, Neil Patrick Harris, Simu Liu (who played Shang-Chi in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings), and more. Just be sure to check Disney’s schedule prior to making your park pass reservation if there is someone that you’d really like to see.
If this will be your first time seeing the show, it’s a good idea to consider making a reservation for a Candlelight Processional Dining Package. For a flat cost, you’ll receive a full meal (lunch or dinner) and guaranteed seating at a designated showtime that same evening. Participating restaurants include Biergarten, Coral Reef, Le Cellier, Garden Grill, and the Rose & Crown Dining Room. Reservations can be made 60 days in advance online or by (407) WDW-DINE.
THE THEME PARKS ARE DECORATED
It wouldn’t be Disney Christmas without some holiday decorations and the theme parks are decked out from head to toe! The Magic Kingdom Christmas decorations are some of the most noteworthy with giant wreaths, twinkling trees, and even snoap (soapy bubbles that look a lot like snow). But, that’s not the only park with festive decorations!
Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and even Disney Springs feature the most decadent Disney World Christmas decorations too. Plus, you’ll even be welcomed into every park by a massive Christmas tree towering 65 feet high! It’s all this and more that make up the many reasons why Disney fans will say this is the best time to visit.
THE PARK ICONS GET BEAUTIFUL HOLIDAY OVERLAYS
Along with the garland, tinsel, and decor that line the streets of the park, each park icon comes to life at night! For example, in Magic Kingdom, Cinderella Castle features special holiday projections that rotate, making it look like a peppermint castle, gingerbread castle, and more. In past years, the castle has also featured Christmas lights. However, this has not returned since 2019.
At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Tree of Life comes alive during The Tree of Life Awakenings – Holiday Edition. You’ll see three short animal stories on the park icon including one all about reindeer! The projections occur every 5 minutes and the best view is near the park entrance/exit.
If you’re at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for some late nights, you can see the Hollywood Hotel decked out in holiday projections during Sunset Season Greetings. Just find a spot on Sunset Boulevard to see them! And, at EPCOT, Spaceship Earth’s nightly Beacon of Magic lights transform for the season.
Each park icon lit up is something that you definitely don’t want to miss, so be sure that you plan to stay later in the parks each night!
MERRY MENAGERIE IN DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM
One of the most underrated holiday season offerings in Disney World is the Merry Menagerie at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Every year, you can interact with these life-size winter animals and snap a picture! These artisan-sculpted puppets come in the form of penguins, polar bears, and more and are super adorable and fun to see. You can usually find them by the entrance to the park near the Tree of Life.
Plus, while you make your way around the park you’ll likely stumble upon the Discover Island Drummers Festive Flotilla making its way around the Discover River. Be sure to keep an eye on the river, because you might also see some of your favorite Disney characters dressed up for the season!
SPECIALTY DINING EXPERIENCES ARE AVAILABLE
Disney World is known for having amazing dining experiences, but there are a few locations that offer up something extra special for the holidays. For example, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Hollywood & Vine transforms for Minnie’s Holiday Dine in November and December. So, for lunch and dinner, you can meet your favorite Disney characters dressed for the season while enjoying a delicious lunch or dinner buffet. Just keep in mind that you’ll need a dining reservation, which can be made up to 60 days in advance.
Don’t want to make your meal plans that far in advance? Not a problem! Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar in Disney Springs also gets a makeover for the holidays making it a really fun place to eat or stop by for a drink. This unique restaurant is inspired by Indiana Jones and in November and December, it gets decorated with Christmas lights, wreaths, and more to get you in the holiday spirit! Plus – speaking of spirits – you can also enjoy an exclusive holiday menu with festive foods and craft cocktails only available during this time.
STAY LATE IN MAGIC KINGDOM FOR MICKEY’S VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS PARTY
If you’re looking to go all out for your Christmas celebrations in Disney World, then there’s nothing better than Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party! This after-hours event takes place on select nights from early November through late December. Last year, the event was altered from its traditional format and renamed Disney Very Merriest After Hours, but beginning November 8th, 2022, it is back in Magic Kingdom with all of its signature features.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is one of the best ways to celebrate the holidays because it features everything that you know and love about the parks, with a touch of Disney magic! For example, during the special ticketed event, you can sip on unlimited (and free!) hot chocolate and cookies and take advantage of shorter lines for the most popular rides in the park. Plus, you can see exclusive holiday shows like a parade, fireworks spectacular, and a stage show at Cinderella Castle. Of course, you also just might run into Santa Claus – if you’re not too busy dancing it up at one of the holiday dance parties, that is!
Disney is also introducing some new holiday traditions for Disney World’s most magical celebration. In 2022, everyone who attends Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party will be able to take advantage of three new photo ops. Just look for the official Disney PhotoPass Photographers! And, on your way out, you’ll receive a special 50th Anniversary souvenir for the holidays.
The cost of a party ticket ranges from $149 to $199 per person depending on the day that you plan to visit. Keep in mind that you’ll be able to get into the park as early as 4PM with that ticket, and the party start time is 7PM. So, take advantage of the extra hours and soak in all that Magic Kingdom has to offer during Christmas and the New Year!
THERE’S A HUGE CHRISTMAS FIREWORKS SHOW ON SELECT NIGHTS
Speaking of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, you definitely don’t want to miss the fireworks show that only takes place on nights that the event is taking place. Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks is Disney’s exclusive nighttime spectacular that only guests who have tickets to the party can see – well…kind of!
Highlights of the show include animated projections on Cinderella Castle, seasonal songs, and of course, lots of fireworks (including some 360-degree ones!). There’s really no bad place to see this show, but if you can get a spot near Cinderella Castle in the hub area (the big circle connecting all the lands), then you’ll have the best view for the special effects.
Keep in mind that, while Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks only takes place on party nights (which you need to purchase a separate ticket for), you can also see the fireworks show from the monorail resorts. This includes Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and Disney’s Contemporary Resort. You won’t be able to see the castle projections, but they do usually pipe in the music to go along with the show at certain locations in the resort.
THERE’S A CHRISTMAS PARADE ON SELECT NIGHTS
If Christmas fireworks make you excited, then you’re going to love the Christmastime parade too! Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade is another signature part of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, usually occurring two times each event night. This parade has been making its way down Main Street, U.S.A. for years and is one of the big reasons that Disney fans will call the holidays their favorite time of year in the theme parks.
The parade features many beloved Disney characters dressed up for the colder weather (though, it may not necessarily be cold in Florida when you visit!) including Minnie Mouse, Snow White, other Disney Princesses, and more. But, one of the most unique parts is that many of the over-the-top Disney-themed floats even have a holiday scent to them like cookies or candy – that’s some holiday magic! And, of course, Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus make an appearance.
This is another holiday activity that you can only see if you purchase a ticket to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, though there are a few exceptions! Guests who are visiting the Magic Kingdom as a day guest on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are able to see the holiday parade without paying extra. Just keep in mind that crowds are usually much higher on these two days, so you’ll want to stake out your spot for the parade early.
YOU CAN SEE AN EXCLUSIVE CHRISTMAS SHOW AT CINDERELLA CASTLE
In addition to the holiday fireworks show and parade, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party also features an exclusive stage show at Cinderella Castle! Titled Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration, you won’t want to miss this cute and fun way to celebrate the season during the party. It all centers around Mickey and his pals (including Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and more) and features extravagant performances to some of the most iconic Christmas tunes.
Check the times guide when you arrive for your event night so that you know when you can catch it throughout the night. It is usually performed a few times around the fireworks show and parade.
SOME RIDES GET A HOLIDAY OVERLAY
One thing that might surprise you about the holidays in Disney World is that several rides get a special overlay for the season. This means that you’ll get to experience some of the most classic (and even new) rides in a way that most guests never see!
In Magic Kingdom, the iconic Jungle Cruise attraction transforms into Jingle Cruise, so your boat ride through the jungle will be filled with corny jokes and puns from Christmas. And, even Space Mountain, Mad Tea Party, Tomorrowland Speedway, and Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor get a special holiday makeover during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party!
At EPCOT, the newest roller coaster in Disney World – Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind – features a brand new soundtrack with what Disney is calling a “mash-up of seasonal jams.” So, instead of the traditional soundtrack of classic songs like I Ran and Everybody Wants To Rule The World, you’ll ride through the galaxy to the tune of a holiday mix made exclusively by Disney Imagineers for the ride.
EPCOT’s Living With The Land also gets decked out for the holidays with Mickey Santa Claus topiaries and Christmas Lights. And at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration wraps up with an extra festive finale featuring Olaf and a holiday song.
EXCLUSIVE HOLIDAY PHOTO OPS ARE AVAILABLE FOR THE PERFECT FAMILY CHRISTMAS CARD
Need the perfect family Christmas card photo? Disney has you covered! During Christmas time, search for the Disney PhotoPass photographers who are scattered around the theme parks and see if they are offering any special holiday photo ops. You can find holiday-themed Magic Shots at all four parks, according to Disney.
Some of the best spots to snap the perfect holiday photo include Town Square in Magic Kingdom (where you’ll have Cinderella Castle as your backdrop), or at the Disney PhotoPass Studio at Disney Springs, where special virtual backdrops are available. Or, you can opt for a selfie and take advantage of new holiday Disney PhotoPass Lenses available as part of the purchase of Disney Genie+ in the My Disney Experience app.
SEE STAR WARS, PRINCESS, AND OTHER DISNEY-THEMED CHRISTMAS TREES AT DISNEY SPRINGS
Another fun holiday activity in Disney World is the Christmas Tree Stroll! Taking place annually at Disney Springs, you can walk the massive shopping and dining district and find Disney-themed Christmas trees all around. The themes usually feature fan-favorite characters and franchises including Star Wars, The Little Mermaid, Haunted Mansion, and more. And, the Disney Springs Town Center even gets an extra touch of holiday magic with fake snow falling from above in celebration!
All you need to do is pick up a map for the scavenger hunt and find all the trees. Bring your completed map back and receive a free prize. And, the best part? No theme park ticket is required for this one!
YOU CAN MEET SANTA CLAUS
Along with all of the Disney characters you can normally meet year-round in the parks, Santa Claus comes to town…well…Disney World! You can see him as part of the Santa Claus Merry Motorcade in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, on a festive flotilla making its way around Discovery River in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and in the American Adventure Pavilion in EPCOT telling the story of Christmas.
In these locations, you’ll only be able to wave to Santa Claus. But, if you want to snap a picture and share your Christmas wishlist, you can head to Disney Springs where he greets guests daily.
YOU CAN EAT THE BEST HOLIDAY TREATS
It wouldn’t be a Disney World celebration without some specialty eats and drinks! Each year, Disney rolls out a huge selection of specialty holiday treats throughout the parks and resorts.
They range from cakes to cocktails to hot chocolate and ice cream, making the holidays both the best time to be at the parks and eat at the parks!
THE RESORTS ARE DECORATED TO A TEE
In the same way that the parks get decorated from head to toe, all of the Disney Resort hotels also get a holiday makeover. Be it Deluxe Resorts, Moderate Resorts, or Value Resorts, it doesn’t matter where you stay – you’ll be immersed in the most decadent Christmas celebrations.
Traditionally, guests are greeted in the hotels by massive towering Christmas trees that are decorated to match the theme of the resorts. Plus, you can usually find some holiday activities going on each day hosted by the resort activity team. Just check in the lobby or with a Cast Member for the schedule!
Wilderness Lodge is famous for its beautiful Christmas decorations, so if you can swing a stay here — you’ll be surrounded by all things holiday.
Read More: WDW RESORTS COMPARISONS + INSIDER TIPS
YOU CAN SEE GIANT GINGERBREAD DISPLAYS (THAT ARE ACTUALLY MADE OF REAL GINGERBREAD!)
Speaking of Disney Resorts, you’ll want to take a break from the parks to visit two hotels that get something extra special for the holidays. First up, every year the lobby at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa transforms with a life-size gingerbread house front and center! What’s even more amazing than the size of the house is that it is actually made of real gingerbread – you read that right! The bakery team works for weeks baking the gingerbread and then constructing the house in the lobby.
The second display is a massive Gingerbread Carousel that can be found in the lobby of Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Each year, the carousel’s theme changes so you never know what it might be! In the past, Disney has themed the life-size spinning carousel after The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, Donald Duck, and more.
The displays usually remain up in the lobby through the first week of January so you can stop by to see them and even pick up some gingerbread treats no matter when you’re visiting!
THE PARKS ARE USUALLY OPEN LONGER
Christmas time in the Disney parks has always been one of the busiest times to visit, so you can certainly expect some huge crowds if you’re planning a trip. Rides tend to have long lines, viewing spots for the parades and fireworks shows begin to fill up early, and securing Park Pass Reservations at the last minute can be difficult. But, that shouldn’t deter you from going!
Disney knows that crowds flock to the parks during this time of year, so they usually extend park hours early into the morning and late into the night. Longer park hours mean more time to enjoy the parks, so you’ll find that you can still experience everything that Disney World has to offer. There just might be more planning involved!
YOU MIGHT SPOT CELEBRITIES
Each year, Disney hosts two TV special events around the holidays on ABC and you may actually spot some celebrities in the parks filming for them if you’re lucky! Disney usually films these in early November and early December, so you might run into some random stages set up for filming throughout the parks. If you do happen to see a stage, it’s a good idea to hang around because you never know who you might see!
And, even if you can’t make it to the parks, Disney fans can tune into ABC on Thanksgiving night to watch The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration. And, watch The Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade in the morning on December 25th!
STOCK UP ON HOLIDAY-THEMED DISNEY SOUVENIRS
Along with all the decorations, events, potential celebrity sightings, and holiday snacks, there’s also a ton of Christmas merchandise in Disney World around the holidays.
Disney releases several different wintery collections featuring fan-favorite characters and more (including Minnie Ears) so that you can get all your Christmas shopping done for the Disney fans in your life. Plus, if you’re attending Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party you can even get some event-specific items too!
DISNEY PUTS ON THE BIGGEST (AND BEST) FIREWORKS SHOWS FOR NEW YEAR’S EVE
The holidays at Disney World come to a close on New Year’s Eve with the biggest (and best) fireworks show you’ll probably ever see! In Magic Kingdom, Cinderella Castle comes to life with an enormous display of fireworks. And, at EPCOT, you can count down to midnight with all of the pavilions around World Showcase ending with a fireworks show over World Showcase Lagoon.
Just keep in mind that New Year’s Eve is one of the busiest days in all four parks, so you’ll want to look into booking your park passes through the park reservation system early.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR THEME PARK VACATION
- YOUR THEME PARK VACATION
- ROLLER COASTERS: 9 Thrilling & Fun Disney World Roller Coasters
- DISNEY DINING: Dining With Disney Characters: 14 Spots You’ll Love
- DISNEY TIPS: 80 Best Disney World Tips For A Magical Vacation
- DISNEY FOR ADULTS: 17+ Fun Things Adults Will Love At Disney World
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