Walt Disney World has announced Christmas dates & details, with new info about some of the entertainment, decorations, food, etc. at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Disney Springs, and the hotels. In this post, we’ll share everything revealed today as part of the “Halfway to the Holidays” celebration, and offer commentary about what’s coming, what’s (likely) cancelled, and what’s still unknown.
This year, Walt Disney World will celebrate Christmas beginning on November 12, 2021. Our expectation was that Christmas would begin one week earlier, which is roughly the normal start. No end date has been provided, but it’s still early. Last year, the holiday season ended on December 30, but with the 2022 Walt Disney World Marathon returning, it makes sense to restore the post-New Year’s end date. We shall see, though.
We’ve been nervously and anxiously awaiting this news, and are fairly excited. However, we should caution you now that this holiday time announcement is a mixed bag. With Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in only its second month when the Christmas season begins, there are unsurprisingly some cuts and compromises to the normal lineup. So brace yourselves for that. Let’s dig into the details!
We’ll get the bad news out of the way first. There will be no Cinderella Castle Dream Lights nor will Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party be held in Magic Kingdom. Pretty disappointing, but anyone who has followed our recent posts knew the writing was on the wall for both.
This is the second consecutive year both will not be held, which is undoubtedly disappointing for Walt Disney World fans who make annual Christmas-time trips. However, one silver lining here is that this year’s rationale differs from last year when both were cancelled out of necessity due to health and safety concerns. As such, we don’t really view this as concerning precedent–but more on that in the commentary section below.
Now, let’s turn to what is coming back, and new-for-2021 Christmas entertainment at Walt Disney World.
At Magic Kingdom, special holiday projections will appear most nights on Cinderella Castle, alternating periodically with the castle’s transformation into a Beacon of Magic for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
Additionally, in place of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Disney Very Merriest After Hours will be held on select nights in November and December 2021.
See Disney Very Merriest After Hours Coming to Magic Kingdom for full details and more than a little commentary!
Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Sunset Seasons Greetings returns to the Hollywood Holiday Tower Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. This park icon will twinkle with projection effects, transforming into a snowy corner of Arendelle, a Muppets gingerbread masterpiece, a Toy Story toy hotel, and a Dickensian village inspired by “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.”
As with the Cinderella Castle projections, this holiday show will also alternate with the tower’s nightly transformation into a Beacon of Magic.
Also at DHS, Minnie Mouse will be hosting a yuletide feast at Hollywood & Vine at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with the return of Minnie’s Holiday Dine (which we absolutely love). Santa Goofy will be there, along with Minnie and others in their holiday finery.
Continuing with characters, Santa Claus will bring some North Pole cheer to a motorcade down Hollywood Boulevard. You will also be able to enjoy “For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration,” with its festive finale featuring Olaf.
Animal Kingdom will bring back its seasonal décor and festive Disney character flotillas sailing down Discovery River to the sounds of joyful songs of the season.
Tree of Life is another Beacon of Magic most nights during Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. However, the holiday or winter wonderland edition of Tree of Life Awakenings also will take place most nights.
The EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays will return this year, from November 26 through December 30, 2021.
This will feature Holiday Kitchens around the park, performances by Voices of Liberty, the Cookie Stroll, and more.
At Disney Springs, the Christmas Tree Stroll will once again return. These elaborately decorated, Disney-themed trees will consist of returning favorites plus some new and some inspired by the World’s Most Magical Celebration.
Additionally, nightly snowfall will add a touch of wonder for holiday shoppers in Town Center.
Finally, Walt Disney World resort hotels will be decked out for the holidays, with their lobbies featuring iconic trees and other festive flourishes. Definitely good news for fans of Wilderness Lodge, Grand Floridian, Animal Kingdom, and other holiday favorites.
Additionally, a guest favorite will return for Christmas 2021, as select gingerbread displays will once again be part of the holiday season at Walt Disney World! Select resorts will also offer holiday menus and specialty food & drink at their restaurants.
This still leaves several unanswered questions. What about all of the following?
- Christmas Decorations in Magic Kingdom
- Merry Menagerie (critter puppets) at Animal Kingdom
- Candlelight Processional at Epcot
- World Showcase Holiday Storytellers (Santas) at Epcot
- Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- A Frozen Holiday Wish at Magic Kingdom
- Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at Magic Kingdom
If we had to guess, our prediction would be that most of this, save for 2-3 things, will return. It’s still very early (last year, this announcement was not made until September 8!), and there are still a lot of unknowns about this Christmas season. As with Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, we expect a lot of the details and specifics not to fall into place until the last minute.
With that said, it will be a lighter-than-normal Christmas at Walt Disney World. This is in part due to the 50th Anniversary taking center stage and overshadowing the holiday season. It’s also in part because of ongoing labor shortages and cost-cutting.
Merry Menagerie and Candlelight Processional are the the big things that are up in the air, from our perspective. If Merry Menagerie doesn’t happen, it’s entirely a matter of cost-cutting. There was barely sufficient health safety justification for not offering that last year. This year, there’s none.
Candlelight Processional is a different story, as it involves more moving parts and elements that are outside Disney’s control. However, those dinner packages are a cash cow for Walt Disney World, so we’re more optimistic that the 2021 Candlelight Processional will happen. It’ll probably just take more time to firm up the specifics and make an announcement. (See our Guide to Candlelight Processional at Epcot for more.)
One big wildcard is Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade.
While cavalcades were announced for Boo Bash from the get-go, they are conspicuously absent from the Very Merriest After Hours event announcement. It’s possible there won’t be Christmas cavalcades or parades at all, but it’s also possible that Walt Disney World is holding off on making an announcement about parades until the details are finalized, and the intent is to run Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade during the day for all guests throughout the holiday season. This is totally speculative, so don’t hold your breath.
As for what likely won’t be back, the World Showcase Holiday Storytellers probably will not return. Even before last year, these always felt like they were on the chopping block, often not mentioned in the initial press release about Christmas. Yet somehow, they always ended up in Epcot once the season got started.
With so much other entertainment at Epcot being slow to return, it seems like the Holiday Storytellers luck has probably run out. If Walt Disney World were going to add more atmospheric entertainment to World Showcase, it would probably make sense to restore any of the beloved regular performers that have been missing since reopening. Our expectation and fear is that the Holiday Storytellers are gone forever. Here’s hoping we are wrong about that.
The other thing that probably won’t return is A Frozen Holiday Wish at Magic Kingdom. For those who are unfamiliar with this, it is the hugely popular “stage show” with Elsa and other characters from Frozen who transform Cinderella Castle into a brilliant, wintery wonderland.
A Frozen Holiday Wish draws colossal crowds and I’ve always wondered what guest satisfaction is on this, as some people wait for an hour or more to watch a quick performance that’s over in a few minutes. The big reveal is undeniably impressive, but it’s also impressive without being anywhere near the stage. It’s Cinderella Castle’s transformation that wows guests, not Elsa waving her hands around. In any case, with no Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, there’s really no reason for A Frozen Holiday Wish to be performed.
As for the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, this one is a big blow–but an expected one. (Not that that makes it any easier!) With Cinderella Castle getting a “Royal Makeover” for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary and receiving animated enhancements via projection mapping and nighttime lighting, it was a foregone conclusion that the Dream Lights would be on hiatus for another year.
Our only fear here is that with two years of no Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, that makes it easier for Disney to axe this display in the future. While the holiday scenes last year were a fun one-off, they didn’t hold a candle to the physical icicle lights that brilliantly glow on the facade of the Magic Kingdom icon.
Those lights usually begin installation several months in advance of Christmas, and are undoubtedly more expensive from a labor and maintenance perspective. Disney getting a taste of that cost-savings and wanting to continue it is what worries me. Conversely, the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights being a huge holiday draw that probably pay for themselves several times over just in PhotoPass sales is what reassures me that they’ll likely return.
Ultimately, these details of Christmas-time at Walt Disney World don’t have us too excited. Right now, this is pretty much the same slate as last year, plus the After Hours event and gingerbread houses–but minus cavalcades and other details. Of course, the differences between last year and this year should be obvious–last year we were happy just to get anything and have the parks open.
With that said, it’s still early. This is not presented as an exhaustive lineup of Walt Disney World’s Christmas-time entertainment and offerings. Several more things will almost certainly be announced in the coming months, so let’s not be too quick to grab the pitchforks. This is merely a teaser for this #HalfwaytotheHolidays (or Christmas in July), but honestly, I honestly wonder why they bothered with this announcement at all given how light it is on details–and likely to leave fans disappointed and discouraged.
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What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? What about Christmas entertainment, decorations, and various offerings this year? Will you be disappointed if there aren’t lights up for the holidays? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!