Epcot International Festival of the Holidays is an event featuring special entertainment and snacks around World Showcase during Walt Disney World’s Christmas season. In this post, we’ll take a look at Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, which runs November 18 through December 30, 2018, and offer tips for making the most of Candlelight Processional, IllumiNations: Peace on Earth, and the Holiday Storytellers (mostly versions of Santa) during this event. (Last updated November 21, 2018.)
Of course, there’s also the food. We’ve covered that extensively in our Food Guide to the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays (and our individual booth reviews), so we aren’t going to spend too much time rehashing that here. Suffice to say, with the name change to Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, it’s easy to view this event as an extension of the popular fall Food & Wine event at Epcot. Some Walt Disney World fans joke that the other seasonal events are all “Epcot Food & Wine Festival Lite.” They’re not wrong–all of the booths for Festival of the Holidays are simply Food & Wine booths that weren’t removed with the rest, and instead received new signage and a holiday theme.
However, we think the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays is about so much more than eating, and if you focus solely on the food, you’re missing the heart of the event. As we’ve pointed out elsewhere, pretty much this exact event has existed at Epcot for nearly the last two decades, with the only substantive changes being the removal of the Lights of Winter and Christmas Tree Lighting Show, both of which occurred nearly a decade ago. While we really miss the Lights of Winter, we still enjoy the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays–with or without food…
Let’s start with brief overviews of the entertainment available in Epcot during Festival of the Holidays:
Holiday Storytellers– These international storytellers share winter traditions from their native countries and (in a few cases) religions. In the European countries, these are mostly versions of Santa Claus. In addition to the Santas, representatives at the American Adventure describe the celebrations of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. In other countries, different traditions are recounted, usually with an emphasis on entertaining performances.
The Storytellers can be hit or miss, and whether you want to spend the time seeing listening to their stories will depend upon your personal preferences. If you are on the fence, we’d recommend starting your tour around the World Showcase in Mexico and continuing to Norway second as the most engaging Storytellers are near the beginning of the tour that way. If you don’t enjoy those countries’ Storytellers, chances are that you won’t enjoy any of the rest. (For our Holiday Storytellers at Epcot Tips, click here.)
Candlelight Processional – A retelling of the Christmas story with a celebrity narrator, mass choir performing seasonal melodies, and a 50-piece live orchestra. Candlelight Processional runs nightly from November 22 (Thanksgiving) through December 30, 2018, with performances at at 5:00, 6:45, and 8:00 p.m. You can find the celebrity narrators for each night by clicking here (opens in new tab).
One tip for Candlelight Processional is to book a dinner package if you’re visiting when one of the popular narrators is in town. They’re not too much of a premium if you were already planning on eating a table service meal, and will save you tons of time. We were there for the second night of Neil Patrick Harris’ run a couple of years ago, and we saw people waiting in line FOUR HOURS before the show. (For more info on Candlelight Processional, click here.)
IllumiNations: Peace on Earth Holiday Tag – Walt Disney World kicks the pyro into high gear during the Christmas season as the explosive “Peace on Earth” holiday finale to the standard IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show ends things with a heart-warming bang.
Walt Disney World is billing Christmas 2018 as the “Farewell Season” for IllumiNations: Peace on Earth, as the regular fireworks show is being replaced at the end of Summer 2019. The ‘Peace on Earth’ holiday tag is seriously good, so be sure to catch the earth-shaking finale if you haven’t before. (For more on IllumiNations: Peace on Earth, click here.)
Chip and Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree – Naturally, there’s a paid scavenger hunt, as is the case with other festivals at Epcot. For the holidays, it’s Chip and Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree, which is akin to the Figment and Ratatouille ones during other festivals at Epcot. Chip and Dale are collecting ornaments for their Christmas tree, and you go around looking for them as they gather ornaments from holiday decorations in each World Showcase pavilion. Once finished, you receive a festive ‘reward.’
Now, here’s how we’d approach a day at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays…
Strategy, Tips & Itinerary
With all of that out of the way, our planning recommendation for the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays is pretty simple. We’d recommend rope-dropping the park (see our morning strategy for Epcot here), and doing as much as possible in Future World before 1 p.m.
Around then, bounce to World Showcase, and grab the Turkey Poutine from Refreshment Port before continuing on with your schedule of Holiday Storytellers. In between these performances, make some time to grab snacks at the various Holiday Kitchens, and schedule time for a few attractions, as well. (Mid-afternoon would be a great time for a Frozen Ever After FastPass+.)
Our rationale for doing actual attractions in addition to the Holiday Storytellers is that all of the Storytellers perform outside, with zero shade. Moreover, all of the lines for the Holiday Kitchen are outdoors, in unshaded areas. Ditto the tables for the food. Are you spotting a trend yet?
Even on a November or December afternoon, it can be in the 80s at Walt Disney World. If you do happen to get lucky with more favorable temperatures, you still have to deal with that Florida sunshine. The weather this time of year is delightful, but the potential for getting sunburnt doesn’t go away just because the temperature drops below 70 degrees.
The good news is that sunset occurs around 5 p.m. this time of year, so you can save a lot of your Holiday Storyteller and snacking experiences until around that time (note that some Storytellers end early, so make note of show schedules in advance).
The Holiday Kitchens all close at 8 p.m., so you’ll definitely want to grab the last of your snacks by that cut-off point. We’d recommend grabbing a surplus of items and grabbing a viewing spot for IllumiNations: Peace on Earth, which is the normal Epcot fireworks show with a earth-shaking holiday finale. (Read our IllumiNations Viewing Tips for the best locations.)
Alternatively, you might opt for the last showing of Candlelight Processional (that’s the one we’d recommend attending) at 8:15 p.m., in which case you’ll want to line up before 8 p.m. to watch that–or just hang out in the American Adventure courtyard and enjoy the performances from afar. If you do opt to watch Candlelight Processional, we’d recommend doing a FastPass+ for IllumiNations, as it’s really popular this time of year, especially among locals.
It is possible to do the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays entertainment in addition to regular Epcot attractions. However, as we note in our 1-Day Epcot Ideal Day Plan, the park is already pretty much a 2-day park, and doing the above as your second day at Epcot just makes things so much easier, and will allow you to have a much slower pace.
That’s what we recommend, and usually when we visit Epcot around Christmas-time, it’s primarily to enjoy the holiday offerings. We’ll also do some regular rides and shows if we have time, but there are so many seasonal offerings that they can easily take up the whole day (or, at least the entire afternoon and evening).
New Year Celebration Soba: Buckwheat Soba Noodles in Hot Dashi Soup with Chicken and Spinach
Holiday Green Tea “Yule Log”: Delicate Spongecake rolled with Whipped Cream Filling
Ichigo Milk Boba: Popping Strawberry Boba Cream Drink with Japanese Calpico (non-alcoholic)
Sapporo Draft Beer
Cinnamon Apple Cider: Plum Wine, Orange Juice with Lemonade and Apples
LAS POSADAS HOLIDAY KITCHEN (MEXICO) Food:
Enchilada de Pollo con Mole: Chipotle Chicken in a Corn Tortilla topped with Mole Negro and garnished with Shredded Oaxaca Cheese and Sesame Seeds
Tamal de Camarón: Corn Tamal stuffed with Guajillo-marinated Shrimp topped with Mole Rojo and Shredded Cotija Cheese
Arroz Con Leche: Rice Pudding with Cranberries
Cerveza Mexicana Artesanal: Allende Mexican Craft Ale served with a Floater of Kahlúa
Noche Buena Margarita: Libélula Joven Tequila, Cranberry and Lime Juices and Agave Nectar topped with Lime Foam and Sprinkles
La Posada Margarita: Cazadores Blanco Tequila, Horchata-Cinnamon Liqueur, and Agua de Horchata topped with Cinnamon
Don’t feel bad about gorging yourself at these booths. You’ll be learning about holiday culinary customs in other cultures as you graze, so the argument could be made that you’re doing all this eating to learn. The way we see it, we pretty much have to try all of these snacks. It is our responsibility as citizens of the world. 😉
Do you have any favorite things from Epcot International Festival of the Holidays/Holidays Around the World at Epcot? Which Holiday Storyteller is your favorite? Do you enjoy a particular Candlelight Processional narrator? Thoughts on the Peace on Earth tag? Any questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!