Christmas is Coming to Animal Kingdom!

Walt Disney World has announced some serious holiday overlays and entertainment will debut at Animal Kingdom this Christmas season, with new entertainment and decor in every land. In this post, we’ll cover the details and offer some thoughts on this news.

As you can see from the concept art above, the decorations begin as soon as guests cross the bridge to Discovery Island, where the area is in the midst of a celebration of winter. These holiday decorations are hand-crafted by the eclectic community of artists who make Discovery Island their home.

The village is filled with sparkling white holiday decorations, including colorful, animal-inspired luminaries on the rooftops, wireframe bird-shaped lanterns, and themed garland adorning the buildings throughout the land. In addition to these decorations, there will be both daytime and nighttime yuletide festivities…

At night, the rooftop luminaries and bird lanterns around Discovery Island create a warm and festive glow throughout the entire village. At Discovery Island’s center, new Tree of Life Awakenings will tell a series of winter tales, complete with a familiar and heartwarming holiday-inspired musical score. Between the Awakenings, the Tree of Life shimmers and sparkles with the magic of nature and the spirit of the holidays.

During the day, Discovery Island springs to life with life-size, artisan-sculpted puppets that include reindeer, foxes, polar bears, penguins, and more. These winter animals are accompanied by serenading musicians, and they interact with guests to create a playful atmosphere of festive fun.

In Dinoland, other Disney characters gather for Donald’s Dino-Bash get into the spirit with eclectic Christmas decorations in the style of Donald Duck and each of his pals. At night, guests will gather ‘round the “Truck-O-Saurus” for the Holiday Hoopla Dance Party, featuring Chip ‘n Dale plus plenty of interactive fun and games.

In Asia, the residents of Anandapur have decorated the theatre district in celebration of Diwali, the holiday festival of lights in India. (This debuted, at least in part, last Christmas and was an underrated gem that really gave life to this area of Animal Kingdom at night.) Glowing flowers, lanterns, and more illuminate the square between Anandapur Theater and the waterfront stage.

The village of Harambe in Africa features a unique holiday presentation, blending the inspiration and style of western traditions with the colors and textiles of authentic African celebrations. The various musical groups and entertainers appearing throughout the day in Harambe introduce holiday-inspired enhancements, including costume additions and new music. The holiday fun continues at Tusker House, where Mickey and friends will have a holiday overlay for this popular (and excellent) character dining experience.

Last but not least, the holiday spirit will stretch off-planet to Pandora – The World of Avatar. The ex-pats who call the moon of Pandora home will bring a taste of Christmas to their alien home, with kitschy holiday decor at Pongu Pongu that combines vintage pieces from Earth with handcrafted items crafted from materials indigenous unique to Pandora. Per Walt Disney World’s announcement, this will begin on November 8, 2019.

It’s worth noting that Animal Kingdom has celebrated Christmas (or more aptly, the holidays; like World Showcase, Animal Kingdom is a multicultural park that highlights winter traditions from around the globe) for years now. There was obviously the icon Christmas tree outside the park, but even within the lands, you could find subtle decorations that were on theme.

Most notably, this has been evident in Africa, where wreaths and garland evinced a handmade sensibility as if they were crafted from found materials. These blended in really well with the rest of Africa, to the point that unless you had a keen eye looking for details, you might’ve missed them. From what it sounds like, we might be seeing more of the same in Africa and Pandora, where subtlety is the ideal approach so the decor doesn’t feel at odds with the innate themes of the lands.

Given that, we aren’t expecting a ton from some of these decorations. What’s added to Asia, Africa, and Pandora probably won’t be on the level of the decorations added to the European countries of World Showcase that celebrate Christmas. Rather, it’ll be restrained and tastefully-done enhancements of those lands. (Not to say World Showcase’s holiday overlays aren’t tasteful, but I think you get the idea.)

What has us most excited about this announcement is unquestionably Discovery Island. If what’s covered in the press release comes to fruition in the manner suggested, it sounds like we could be in store for an experience with exceptional atmosphere and entertainment.

The most obvious comparison for the life-size animal puppets is Kevin, which debuted in Discovery Island this year and has already been a smash hit with guests. Digging a bit deeper into the Walt Disney World archives, this reminds me a bit of Tapestry of Nations, which was performed in Epcot for the Millennium Celebration, and remains a fond memory of many WDW fans.

These puppets during the day (I really hope they run until dusk so there’s some overlap between the puppets and everything being illuminated) plus the lanterns and holiday-themed Tree of Life Awakenings at night should be a nice enhancement to the Walt Disney World Christmas-time scene. The other additions elsewhere in Animal Kingdom offer varying degrees of potential, but my hopes are reasonably tempered for those. I’m flat-out excited for these Discovery Island offerings.

As for the why of this, my answer is the standard explanation for most enhancements this year: Star Wars Land. We’ve heard credible reports that hotel bookings for this Christmas season at Walt Disney World are very strong, with November and December far outpacing September and even October. If attendance matches forecasts, Walt Disney World will need counter-programming in the other parks to draw guests away from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is exactly what that offers.

Overall, irrespective of the motivations, we are thoroughly excited about the prospect of more Christmas offerings, decorations, and entertainment at Walt Disney World. While no single addition has filled the void of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, there have been a number of smaller enhancements in each subsequent year since those were retired, and the cumulative impact of these additions is really starting to add up. Suffice to say, we can’t wait to see what’s in store for Animal Kingdom this Christmas!

Finally, a few plugs. First, our free Vacation Kingdom at Christmas eBook is available for download! This free eBook is 90 pages, with 100+ photos, and tons of great tips & info for the holiday season at Walt Disney World. For more details on how to get this totally-free ebook, click here. Did we mention that it’s free?! 😉 

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.


What do you think of Animal Kingdom getting into the festivities this Christmas season? Are you excited for all of the offerings on Discovery Island? Which other lands do you think will have the best holiday decorations and entertainment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

15 Responses to “Christmas is Coming to Animal Kingdom!”
  1. Jennifer November 10, 2019
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