Holidays Around the World at Epcot is one of our favorite traditions at Walt Disney World during the Christmas (err…holiday…and in this case it isn’t a matter of being politically correct, as other holidays are celebrated in World Showcase!) season. The highlight for us is the ironically earth-shaking “Peace on Earth” tag at the end of Illuminations, but the Holiday Storytellers, decorations, and music acts also make for a festive time at Epcot. Candlelight Processional is another big aspect of it, but we’ve already separately covered that, so we won’t discuss it here. Of course, we still mourn the Lights of Winter display, and Epcot will never have the same luster during the Christmas season for us until those return or a replacement is added in their place. Holidays Around the World at Epcot typically starts the day after Thanksgiving and runs until the end of December.
We assume you won’t be taking a separate day to experience Holidays Around the World at Epcot (we don’t recommend that you do), so this article will share some of our tips for weaving the Holidays Around the World into your normal visit to Epcot, including our take on what you should prioritize, and what you can skip.
The Holiday Storytellers in World Showcase are the most time intensive aspect of Holidays Around the World, so let’s start with them…
We’ve seen all of these Storytellers over the years, but never all of them in the same day. While we haven’t put a ton of effort into it, we’ve never come up with a sound plan for efficiently seeing them all in order. Intuitively, it would make sense to us if you could start in either Mexico or Canada, see one Storyteller’s performance, and then go to the next country in order and catch that Storyteller’s performance. In our experience, it almost never works out that way–you have to leave one performance early, start another late, or skip certain ones completely. Here’s their schedule for 2013.
Another complicating factor is the weather. These performances mostly take place outside, and not in the shade (much like other World Showcase performances). This normally isn’t a problem, as December weather in Orlando is fairly mild. If it is sunny and hot, seeing more than a couple of these in an afternoon can be unbearable, though.
Despite afternoon being the hottest time of the day (if it is hot), that’s when we recommend seeing the Storytellers if you only have one day in Epcot. Crowds gather around the Storytellers, but they are typically pretty manageable at worst. Plus, usually crowds gather once they see something going on, so if you’re actually following a schedule and arrive 5 minutes before show time, you will have no issue getting a good spot, except perhaps on the busiest days of the year at Walt Disney World. We recommend the afternoon because this is the busiest time of the day at Epcot’s attractions, so doing as many attractions in the morning and at night is pragmatic, while using the Storytellers as a nice afternoon “break” or way to kill time while waiting for FastPasses.
When it comes to attractions and entertainment, we always recommend that you experience everything you can rather than relying on what other people tell you is good or bad. We will be the first to admit that we like things that are unpopular, and dislike popular things. Same goes for most guests. You can’t rely on the consensus, because invariably you will find an attraction (or more) you love that most others dislike, and another you dislike that most others love. With that said, it’s going to be near-impossible to see all of the Holiday Storytellers in a day while still doing other attractions at Epcot, and even if it is possible, you’ll probably lose interest. In our experience, seeing a few of the Storytellers is fun and interesting, but seeing them all is monotonous.
We recommend starting in Mexico and heading towards Norway, as the most interesting Storytellers are at the beginning of your tour this way, and if you’re bored by the end, you’re only skipping Storytellers in France and the United Kingdom, and end in Canada, with a high energy musical performance.
Here’s our brief recommendation with regard to each of them:
- Mexico – The Three Kings share the journey of Mary and Joseph and give insight into traditional Mexican holidays. They are interesting and their costumes are cool, and their performance is a good blend of educational and entertaining. Good, but not great.
- Norway – Storyteller Sigrid shares Norweigan Christmas traditions and lore about Julenissen, the gnome, who appears and mischieviously interrupts the storytelling. This is our pick for the top Epcot Storyteller(s)–it’s a can’t miss, and kids in the audience seem to love it.
- China – The Monkey King tells a dramatic tale in a humorous fashion. His mannerisms, costume, and humor alone make seeing this Storyteller worthwhile. While we really enjoy the Monkey King, we think it’s one performance you can leave early if you are short on time.
- Germany – Helga tells the story of the Nutcracker. It seems like Germany would be the perfect place for a “traditional” Saint Nicholas, but instead we get Helga. There’s nothing wrong with her, but we prefer other countries.
- Italy – La Benafa is Italy’s “holiday witch.” Really, she has a broom and everything. She tells the story of the Epiphany in Italy as well as some other holiday lore. This one is highly recommended.
- America – It has been a few years since we saw the America Storyteller, but when we did, Hannukah and Kwanzaa had separate presentations that were both dull but informative. (While other countries are historical and skewed towards entertainment, it seemed like America was a PC attempt to highlight minority-holidays; no knock against that since most Americans know the story of Christmas, while these two holidays are less understood by Disney’s main demographic.) We’ve heard that recently, the America Storytellers have also skewed more towards historical entertainment.
- Morocco – Taarji shares customs associated with holidays occurring during the month of Ramadan. This Storyteller is interactive, educational, and there’s an entertainment portion, too. It’s not the most exciting or humorous of the experiences, but it’s worth seeing.
- Japan – This is the story of O-Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year. It features the Drauma doll, which has an important cultural role. We find this Storyteller more dry and slow-developing than others. We typically skip it.
- France – Pere Noel reads a little girl’s letter and tells of French tradition, including kids leaving out their shoes for Christmas. France is the first of two (normally three) consecutive Santas who will be most historically recognizable to Western guests. While each tells a different story and each are pretty interesting, we recommend seeing only one of the three for the sake of variety and time.
- United Kingdom – Father Christmas shares historical traditions of Christmas in the United Kingdom. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen this one, but it doesn’t stick out as anything memorable. Cool outfit, though, so at least stop for a couple photos.
- Canada – Canada used to have Papa Noel, who was our favorite traditional Western Storytellers. For 2013, he has been replaced with the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs, which is a band with songs inspired by Canadian holiday customs. We have yet to see them, but it looks to be a good show.
We don’t consider any of these Storytellers “bad” (to the contrary, they’re all good), but it’s tough to see more than a few in a day. The only can’t-miss ones for us are Norway, China, and Italy. With their new band, Canada might also be can’t-miss, but we haven’t seen that yet. Pencil any other Storytellers in as time allows.
Entertainment & Decor
The bulk of the Christmas festivities are in World Showcase, but Future World does have Joyful! A Gospel Celebration of the Season. Joyful performs on the Fountain of Nations Stage. Joyful talented, high energy act that we think is well-worth seeing. In our experience, Joyful is something to catch in passing rather than actually planning to see. There are four sets in the middle of the day spaced around an hour apart, with each set lasting around 30 minutes. Chances are, if you are in Future World during this time, you’ll pass by the Fountain of Nations stage at some point while they’re performing.
In terms of decorations, Epcot has Christmas topiaries in Future World (in front of Spaceship Earth) and at the entrance to World Showcase. Future World has other minor decorations, with the bulk of the decorations in World Showcase, where each country has its own unique holiday decor (make sure to look inside gift shops, too).
While Epcot actually may have the greatest amount of decorations of the four Walt Disney World theme parks, it feels less decorated to us than the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Disney’s Animal Kingdom shouldn’t really be considered in this conversation, as not much is done to celebrate the holidays there). This is probably because Epcot lacks what we’ll call a “Christmas icon.” Basically, what we mean by this is something breathtaking that sets a Christmas tone in the park…sort of like a park icon, but for Christmas. The Magic Kingdom has the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the Osborne Lights. Epcot used to have the Lights of Winter, which filled this role, but it now has nothing. Its Christmas tree doesn’t suffice in that regard (every park has one or more) nor do the front of the park topiaries (while neat photo ops, these are there for virtually every season, and I don’t think they’re especially “wow” inducing).
Basically, regardless of what Epcot does in terms of Christmas decorations, until the park restores the Lights of Winter or replaces them with a wow-inducing Christmas icon that isn’t obsolete ;), it will feel lacking in the Christmas spirit. To us, at least.
Illuminations: Peace on Earth Tag
Illuminations is shown as normal, but concludes with a pyro-heavy “Peace on Earth” tag (after the grand finale of the normal show…so don’t move!) with heart-warming narration by Walter Cronkite. It’s a bit odd: you have this sentimental narration talking up peace, and then you have World War III after that, with fireworks blasts that shake the ground.
We absolutely love this tag, and it is the perfect way to end a day at Epcot. I get goosebumps every time I hear Walter Cronkite recites his lines: “During this glorious time of year there is one message that rings out around the world in every language. Peace on earth. Good will to men is a wish to hold in our hearts throughout each passing year. A gift of immeasurable value. A treasure being handed down with care, from generation to generation. And so our holiday wish is that everyone, everywhere share in the spirit of the season. Peace on earth, good will to men.”
Good views are available all around World Showcase Lagoon, but we recommend arriving no less than 30 minutes in advance (more if you’re there at a busy time) and grabbing a “front row” spot in between the two gift shops (we call this the “Front of the House” as it’s the true front view for Illuminations) at the entrance to World Showcase, in front of the Italy pavilion, or on the bridge between France and the United Kingdom.
That does it for Holidays Around the World at Epcot! With Candlelight Processional, the Holiday Storytellers, Joyful, and Illuminations: Peace on Earth, plus holiday snacks and decor, you could probably spend a day taking in just the Holidays Around the World at Epcot. However, that’s not what we recommend, as seeing every Storyteller in succession would be fairly taxing, especially for kids. Instead, mix some of these holiday offerings with a normal day at Epcot to give a Christmas flare to a normal day in the park.
For comprehensive tips for planning your Christmas-time trip to Walt Disney World, check out our “Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World.“ For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
For updates on Walt Disney World, the latest news, discount information, and tips, sign up for our free newsletter!
What do you think of Holidays Around the World at Epcot? Which aspect of it is your favorite? (If you have any pent up rage about the Lights of Winter being gone…save that for next week’s post! ;)). Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!