There are a lot of new entertainment options and Christmas decorations at Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs shopping and dining ‘district.’ This post covers info & tips about what you can expect, when we recommend visiting, and what to do during your holiday visit to Disney Springs.
For starters, Disney Springs has received a lot of new Christmas decorations. Last year it had a number of 3D pop-up style holiday card displays, and these were pretty cool. They’re all back, as are the standard Disney Springs Christmas decorations.
For 2016, there are also a number of new decorations. Most notable is Town Center, which wasn’t open last year. There are lights in all of the shrubbery around Town Center, garland hanging overhead, and a gorgeous “icon” Christmas tree, the newest at Walt Disney World.
This tree is gorgeous. It’s elegant and lavish without feeling ostentatious. (It makes me wish Magic Kingdom would get a new tree, because the difference in quality between this and Magic Kingdom’s laughably dated, circa-1987 tree is really something.)
Some of the decorations, on the other hand, strike me as a bit eclectic and trying too hard to convey a sense of opulence…much in the same way wearing a Burberry check shirt and carrying a Louis Vuitton monogram bag is a “little” excessive.
Perhaps it somehow all makes sense in the eclectic backstory of Disney Springs, but it’s not that big of a deal either way. The added decorations are largely nice; between those and the returning ones, the area looks like it’s in the Christmas spirit.
In terms of entertainment, let’s start out with the bad. The Christmas Tree Trail is the most highly touted new Christmas entertainment at Disney Springs and our question is why?! We were excited to see this, and were happy to hear Disney Springs was adding more to see for Christmas. This is not what we had in mind.
It’s located in what used to be a bus pick-up area, meaning its on random pavement outside of Disney Springs. The walls of the “trail” are defined by the same type of planters you see in the park that “hide” construction walls, except with random cellophane (or some type of cheap plastic) randomly added throughout the area because ??? …I don’t even know.
Then there are the trees. Surely the trees could redeem the horrific show quality that is more or less what you could find in a Home Depot parking lot…right? The trees are all themed to different characters or films, and this is a really cool idea in concept. Until you actually see them. These look like they were mostly decorated with ornaments found for 90% off the leftovers of Hobby Lobby’s post-Christmas sale sometime in early February.
Suffice to say, the Christmas Tree Trail is an unmitigated disaster. It’s hard to believe that Walt Disney World’s wonderful Holiday Services division came up with this, which more looks like it was thrown together by a couple of chimpanzees after polishing off a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
It’ll only take 5-10 minutes to see, so you might as well walk through and form your own opinion, but we think it’s so bad that it’d be better if Walt Disney World just didn’t offer it. This is not up to Disney standards.
Fortunately, there is plenty of good holiday entertainment, and the Christmas Tree Trail being quarantined off from the rest of Disney Springs means it doesn’t blemish the otherwise excellent Christmas atmosphere. There is a holiday-themed DJ dance party, toy solider and snowflake stilt walkers, oversized roaming toys, classic carolers, a capella groups, and more.
And really, “atmospheric” is probably how the rest of the holiday entertainment at Disney Springs should be viewed. This is in part because you can’t really plan to see any of the aforementioned entertainment (save for the dance party, which occurs outside Once Upon a Toy). These performers all roam Disney Springs starting nightly at 6 p.m., but you don’t know where they will be at any particular time.
There are enough of them that you will randomly encounter them while perusing Disney Springs, which is probably the idea. We saw the stilt walkers, a capella group, a mobile piano man, plus a band on the main stage during our visit to Disney Springs, and we stopped to watch the latter three (the stilt walkers were on the move!) perform a couple of songs. It was fun, and certainly got us into the holiday spirit.
There were other things that we missed. Also at 6 p.m., there’s a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the Fountain Stage. There’s a free scavenger hunt “hosted” by Stitch. There’s Santa’s Chalet where you can meet Santa Claus (and Santa Goofy the week after Christmas). There are cultural celebrations later in the season (consult a times guide) and live entertainment on a nightly basis.
The final piece of new entertainment is Starbright Holidays, the drone show that is a collaboration between Disney and Intel. Starbright Holidays performs nightly at 7:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. from now through January 8, 2017. Unfortunately, the technical rehearsals scheduled for the night of our visit to Disney Springs were cancelled, so we didn’t have a chance to see it. Irrespective of that, we recommend making the time to see this show, consisting of 300 drones that illuminate the sky to an arrangement of Disney and classic holiday songs recorded by a full orchestra.
This is the first time a drone show of this scale has ever been performed in the U.S., and it’s groundbreaking from a technical perspective. The consensus we’ve heard from friends who had the chance to see the show was that it’s a real wow moment when you realize just what you’re seeing. These same people have indicated that once the initial shock of seeing something you’ve never seen before wears off, there’s not really much substance to the display, and it feels very much like a first generation preview of what could be done with this technology.
As for when to go, weekdays are always our recommendation for Disney Springs. It tends to be significantly less crowded on weeknights because locals who don’t have Annual Passes head to Disney Springs on weekends as an inexpensive/free entertainment option. A surplus of locals plus tourists makes for the most crowded nights of the week–by far.
That’s not the only reason we favor weeknights. On weekends, the parks are open later, usually until at least 11 p.m. or midnight. By contrast, there are at least a couple nights per week during the holiday season when every park aside from Epcot closes at 7 p.m. Doing Disney Springs for a few hours after the other parks close is the perfect amount of time to see the nighttime entertainment, and maybe even a bit of shopping. This is especially true if you don’t have a Park Hopper ticket, and don’t want to go to bed at 7 p.m.
Note that this recommendation is just for the holiday entertainment and decor. If you typically visit Disney Springs for a half day or a few hours on your non-park day, you’ll still want to do that. We think it’s not a bad idea to go one morning (before the crowds show up) and then returning a different evening if you really enjoy wandering around Disney Springs.
In terms of Christmas shopping, we aren’t sure how practical it is to do gift shopping while you’re on vacation. Most airlines charge for checked bags and the vast majority of the regular stores at Disney Springs also existing in your local mall. Instead, we recommend focusing on the Disney-owned stores here for purchasing unique items you’ll only find at Walt Disney World. Obviously, World of Disney is a favorite option. We also recommend The Art of Disney, Disney’s Days of Christmas (obvious one), Once Upon a Toy, Trend-D, and the six shops in Marketplace Co-Op.
One exception to our above tip to not bother with the regular stores is UNIQLO. If you haven’t heard of UNIQLO before, they are a Japanese clothing company with approachable pricing. Think of them like a mix of Gap, J.Crew, and Abercrombie & Fitch, with some cool Disney designs thrown into the mix (I loved this Mickey holiday sweater). We first discovered them on a trip to Tokyo, and it became one of my go-to stores on that visit thanks to its mix of quality and reasonable pricing.
Unless you live on a coast or in Chicago, you probably don’t have UNIQLO near you, and this trendy brand is popular with “the kids” making its “ill threadz” a great gift that will ensure your status as a true hero on Christmas morning. Aside from that, if you don’t follow our Packing Tips for Winter at Disney post, UNIQLO is the best spot to pick up inexpensive sweatshirts, coats, etc. when you’re already at Walt Disney World.
Our overall impression of Christmas at Disney Springs is positive. While I’d scrap the Christmas Tree Trail completely, everything else is done well. The decorations are plentiful and do a nice job mixing old and new. There is likewise a lot of roaming entertainment to get you in the Christmas spirit. The drone show is icing on the cake that will offer a brief “wow” moment for guests to enjoy. It now makes sense to devote a half-day of your trip to Disney Springs any time of year, something we’ve discussed in our Disney Springs Tips & Tricks post. The way the district now exudes a sense of Christmas that makes it an inviting place to visit during the holiday season means you could probably extend that half-day visit and still feel satisfied.