Candlelight Processional at EPCOT will occur November 24 to December 30, 2023 at Walt Disney World. This covers the normal narrator lineup, celebrity appearance dates, whether the dining package is worth the money, and our review of this Christmas-time show. (Updated September 24, 2023.)
For those unfamiliar with it, Candlelight Processional at Walt Disney World is the telling of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator with music sung by a mass choir and performed by a 50-piece live orchestra. It’s one component of the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays, which also includes the World Showcase Storytellers and Holiday Kitchen food booths.
Please note that Walt Disney World has not yet officially announced 2023 Candlelight Processional dates, narrators or dining package details. However, it follows a familiar pattern every normal year–making it easy to predict with a high degree of certainty that Candlelight Processional will return November 24, 2023 through December 30, 2023 as part of the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays. That’s not the only thing it’s possible to predict about this year’s event, either!
September 24, 2023 Update: We’ve started to receive a lot of questions about Candlelight Processional, and with the Advance Dining Reservation window right around the corner, we figured we’d pop-in with a quick update. First of all, contrary to some concerns–everything is okay. Walt Disney World has already confirmed that Candlelight Processional is returning for 2023.
Last year, the preliminary Candlelight Processional narrator lineup was released on Sept. 26, with a couple of schedule changes announced 2 days later. Some years, the final and full schedule doesn’t come out until October. Even then, there are times when last minute schedule changes have happened. So it would seem like things are right on schedule, right?
Wrong. For one thing, in previous years, the Candlelight Processional narrator lineup was released in part as early as July. It’s just been delayed the last couple of years as Walt Disney World has been trying to restore a sense of normalcy, resulting in pretty much everything being delayed. But that’s probably not what’s happening here.
Instead, it’s highly likely that the 2023 Candlelight Processional will be delayedfor one simple reason: the actors’ strike. There’s currently an ongoing labor dispute between the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) that started this summer.
Most past and potential Candlelight Processional narrators are members of the former, and Disney is a member of the latter. In fact, CEO Bob Iger has been one of the key figures at the negotiating table of the strikes. Many SAG-AFTRA members might opt against participating in Candlelight Processional as a matter of principle/solidarity even if it were granted an exception or deemed not to be “struck work.” (This is likely why the Bacon Brothers pulled out of the Eat to the Beat Concert Series–because Kevin Bacon is an actor and SAG-AFTRA member, not just a musician.)
The actors’ strike hasn’t been the only one happening over the last several months. There was also the writers’ strike, but the WGA and AMPTP met for bargaining talks on several consecutive days over the weekend and finally came to a tentative agreement after 146 days. Once that’s finalized, it’s expected that the SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP dispute will be resolved fairly quickly by comparison with similar contract updates.
It’s possible that Walt Disney World is waiting for this to happen, and will move quickly on securing celebrity narrators as soon as it does. Alternatively, if these talks break down and a deal falls apart, Walt Disney World will almost certainly pivot and seek alternative narrators that are not part of SAG-AFTRA. There are plenty of famous people capable of narration who aren’t actors!
One way or another, Candlelight Processional will happen. The actors’ strike only impacts the potential pool of celebrity narrators–not any of the other performers in Candlelight Processional. The show will go on, regardless. Either it’ll occur with celebrity actor narrators and a schedule coming out later than normal, or it’ll happen without celebrity actor narrators…and probably still a slightly later-than-normal schedule. It’s possible that Candlelight Processional Dining Packages will still be released in early October 2023, but we could see Disney waiting on that. Those will sell out regardless, so there’s really no huge rush.
With that update explaining why there’s no substantive update out of the way, here’s what we know about the 2023 Candlelight Processional at EPCOT…
Candlelight Processional performances are held in the America Gardens Theatre across from the American Adventure in World Showcase. There’s a reason one of the most popular events of the Christmas season at Walt Disney World is the Candlelight Processional at EPCOT: it’s a beautiful show that many guests find to be a moving and spiritual experience.
Calling Candlelight Processional one of the most popular events is no exaggeration–long lines plus expensive dinner packages have sort of contributed to us being “over” Candlelight Processional. We have really enjoyed it in the past, but it’s something that is a huge hassle if you don’t have a dining package or don’t mind watching from outside the theater.
The 2023 Candlelight Processional narrator schedule has not been released yet. This is the one thing that is not possible to predict, as the lineup changes each year in ways big and small. However, most of the same celebrities narrate each year (about 80% return) and many do so around the same dates (plus or minus a few days) each year.
You can thus look at the below schedule from last year and get a fairly good idea of the general timeframes that most narrators will appear at the 2023 Candlelight Processional. Just don’t go making any firm plans with this info. If you’re dead-set on seeing Neil Patrick Harris, for instance, it’s likely he’ll narrate in early to mid-December 2023, but not necessarily the dates below.
With that said, here’s the full Candlelight Processional at EPCOT narrator schedule from last year:
Simu Liu – November 25 and 26
Chita Rivera – November 27 through 29
Raul Esparza – November 30 and December 1
Whoopi Goldberg – December 2 and December 3
Isabella Rossellini – December 4 through December 6
Daymond John – December 7 and December 9
Josh Gad – December 10 through December 12
Gloria Estefan – December 13 and December 14
Neil Patrick Harris – December 15 through December 18
Mariska Hargitay – December 19 and December 20
Cal Ripken Jr. – December 21 through December 23
Marie Osmond – December 24 through December 26
Courtney Vance – December 27 and December 28
Angela Bassett – December 29 and December 30
Candlelight Processional Dining Packages
Another thing that can be predicted with a high degree of certainty is that Candlelight Processional Dining Packages are also returning, and will do so with slight price increases (typically +8% annually). As always, they’ll be difficult to book, as demand far exceeds capacity. On the plus side, this leaves much more seating for standby!
Dining packages sell out within minutes of being released, but more availability is usually released or otherwise open up. Between staffing improvements and cancellations (which occur regularly as people release extra reservations or change their plans), we’d recommend regularly refreshing the Candlelight Processional Dining Package page for availability.
Last year, you could choose from several table service restaurants in EPCOT offering Candlelight Processional Dining Packages at lunch and dinner. Each package includes:
An appetizer, entrée and dessert or one (1) full buffet (where applicable), along with a non-alcoholic beverage
One (1) guaranteed seat per person to the Candlelight Processional held on the same day
Explore participating restaurants and dining package prices, which exclude tax and gratuity:
For the 2023 Candlelight Processional, it’s highly likely that Akershus Royal Banquet Hall will join the list. It’s participating in the Eat to the Beat Concert Series, which is a good predictor for Candlelight Processional.
If you’re not able to score elusive ADRs for Candlelight Processional sit-down dining packages, fear not. You may be able to purchase a same-day dining package, which allows you to:
Dine without reservations at Spice Road Table or Regal Eagle Smokehouse: Craft Drafts & Barbecue that day
Enjoy guaranteed seats to a Candlelight Processional performance later that day
To check availability for same-day dining packages, visit Spice Road Table or Regal Eagle’s Distinctly Patriotic Smokehouse: A Salute to All Foods, But Mostly Barbecued Meats ~ A Sam Eagle Craft Drafts & BBQ Joint. Same-day Candlelight Processional Dining Packages are subject to availability and may not be available on peak dates.
Last year, both of these restaurants had a ton of same-day availability. It was downright easy to score Candlelight Processional viewing via these walk-up restaurants than by booking Advance Dining Reservations at the eligible table service restaurants.
The difference is that there were only 4 table service restaurants last year, and this year there are 5. That’s still far fewer than 2019 or prior years, when there were 16 (!!!) participating table service restaurants in EPCOT and the Crescent Lake Resorts. Not only that, but 3 of those 16 restaurants offered breakfast dining packages in addition to lunch and dinner.
Don’t stress out if you’re shut out of ADRs and are “forced” to do the same-day Candlelight Processional dining packages. While the uncertainty might be unpleasant, the options are good. We are fans of Regal Eagle, but it’s not our ideal way to eat around World Showcase during the holidays.
Spice Road Table is without a doubt the way to go if you’re to do a same-day Candlelight Processional Dining Package. Yes, it’s $12 more expensive, but it offers at least that much more bang-for-buck, with a menu that’s more approachable than you might think.
We recently did lunch at Spice Road Table and had a fantastic meal–I guess I better get to writing that review!
On the table service front, we highly recommend Biergarten Restaurant. This is always our top pick thanks to its jovial Christmas atmosphere, music, and value for money. Read Our Christmas Feast at Biergarten Restaurant for what the holiday time experience is like there.
If you’re wondering whether it might be worth doing plus some ideas for making the most of the Candlelight Processional Experience, we have some tips & tricks and a review in this post…
While the America Gardens Theater where Candlelight Processional is held can seat over 1,000 guests per performance, between 50% and 75% of these seats are reserved for guests who purchase dinner packages. All of these dinner package guests are guaranteed seats in one of the three nightly Candlelight Processional performances.
(Note: the percentage reserved for dining packages was far lower last year due to far fewer participating restaurants. Our guess is that the same will NOT be true for the 2023 Candlelight Processional. Staffing shortages are no longer as much of an issue, and more restaurants are likely to be added to the lineup.)
The higher the percentage allocated to dining packages, the more “competitive” the standby line for Candlelight Processional performances. Ridiculously long.
So long that if you’re a tourist or visiting on vacation, you should get a lunch or dinner package for the Candlelight Processional, especially when a popular narrator is presenting. When Neil Patrick Harris last presented, we saw people lining up for the 5 p.m. performance of Candlelight Processional around noon!
The dinner packages include a meal consisting of an appetizer, entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage (or full buffet “experience,” where applicable) and reserved seating at one performance of Candlelight Processional. For what you get, the dining package is not that expensive (or at least the cost is not badly inflated).
Your time on vacation is definitely worth the price. I know the three hours or so of waiting in line that we’ve saved by purchasing the dining package has been well worth it–to us at least!
If you elect not to do the dinner package and don’t want to wait hours in line, you have a couple of options. First, show up to the standby line ~15 minutes before the last show of the night starts. Depending upon the popularity of the narrator and how busy EPCOT is that evening, sometimes this last showing will still have seating. If not, at least you didn’t waste a ton of time standing in line.
In many scenarios, that strategy will work just fine. You may not have the best seats, but you’ll still be able to see the show and have a seat. If the theatre is already full, we recommend trying to watch from the walkway behind the America Gardens Theatre.
Cast Members will manage crowd flow back here in the walkway, but you can simply stand behind the theater (not in the walkway) and watch the show. This is actually a really good view for Candlelight Processional. Think of it as sitting (well, standing) in the balcony of the America Garden Theatre.
While we strongly recommend the dining package for those wanting good, guaranteed seats, if you’re on a tight budget or Candlelight Processional is not as much of a “must-do,” we think those strategies are good alternatives to save a bit of money, which can be spent on other holiday entertainment at Walt Disney World.
A lot of people absolutely love the Candlelight Processional at Walt Disney World. We like it quite a bit, but we aren’t absolutely gung-ho, call Disney Dining the very first day the packages go on sale, crazy about it like some people. It’s very beautiful, but definitely not the highlight of our trip.
Our favorite narrator for Candlelight Processional is Neil Patrick Harris. We’ve seen him a couple of times, and as NPH fans, we enjoyed this. I cannot say he really invigorated the show–it’s pretty solemn irrespective of host–but it was cool to see him.
A few years ago, we booked the package, but it was mostly to see John O’Hurley, or J. Petermann, as fellow Seinfeld fans may know him. More recently, we went to see Whoopi Goldberg, because seating was included with our D23 Magic & Merriment event package. Whoopi Goldberg was okay, but on the “cool scale” she just doesn’t stack up to NPH or J. Petermann for us.
Overall, Candlelight Processional, at the bare minimum, has “do it at least once” status. Some people love it to the point that it’s their favorite Christmas offering at Walt Disney World. Others find it too dry and slow, and are not moved by the story. I don’t think it’s quite fair to compare Candlelight Processional to a Christmas Eve church service, and I think there’s a good chance that even those who are not religious will enjoy it.
You really don’t know until you try it–and in order to try it, you really should book one of the dinner packages. With that said, if your budget doesn’t allow for both Candlelight Processional and the Christmas Party, I’d recommend the latter over the Candlelight Processional Dinner Packages without hesitation.
For comprehensive tips for planning your Christmas-time trip to Walt Disney World, check out our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World. Additionally, you can download our free eBook, Vacation Kingdom at Christmas, which offers tips for visiting Walt Disney World during the holiday season. This eBook is 75+ pages, with 100+ photos, and tons of great recommendations & information! For more details on how to get this totally-free ebook, click here.
Are you a fan of Candlelight Processional? Which narrator have you seen for Candlelight Processional? Do you usually book the dining package or wait in line? Do you have any strategy for seeing Candlelight Processional without waiting in line? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? 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!