Our Christmas Guide to Walt Disney World offers tips for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and includes Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Candlelight Processional, free tours & things to do, and everything else WDW does for the holidays.
Throughout this post, we’ll provide our tips and tricks for best-experiencing the Walt Disney World at Christmas-time. This thorough guide will offer helpful advice for everyone from first-time guests to yearly visitors. This isn’t merely regurgitated press releases and generic info about Christmas at WDW. Instead, we provide a frank assessment of things and insight so you be best prepared to have a great time during the holidays.
This guide is comprehensive and includes links to many of our other resources for Christmas at Walt Disney World, our best holiday guide is our free Walt Disney World ChristmaseBook. The latest edition of our Vacation Kingdom at Christmas eBook is 100 pages, with 200+ photos, and tons of great tips & info! To download this totally FREE eBook, click here.
Our free Walt Disney World Christmas eBook contains a huge new chapter on Animal Kingdom, everything new at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and the changes you can expect during the holidays this year as Epcot is in the midst of unprecedented construction.
One of the most common questions people ask is When Do Christmas Decorations Go Up at Disney World? That post contains the long answer, but the short answer is that the majority are up now! Between now and Thanksgiving, Epcot and the remainder of the resort hotels will receive their decorations, too.
On the topic of decorations, if you’re looking to get out of the crowds, our Free Self-Guided Yuletide Resort Touris an awesome option. This is an itinerary for a single day, but during this time of year, we’d recommend stretching it out to multiple days and spending more time relaxing and unwinding. We’ve heard from many readers who found our Yuletide Tour to be a highlight of their WDW Christmas vacation!
Another common question we receive about Christmas at Walt Disney World concerns filming of the ABC Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade. No, that isn’t filmed live. Read our Info About Disney’s Christmas Day Parade Filming for more on how to watch that live…and whether you should.
Finally, many readers ask when Christmas at Walt Disney World ends. Officially, some of the entertainment runs through December 30 or 31. Other offerings conclude on January 5. Christmas decorations usually start to come down around the second week of January (after Marathon Weekend), and removal is done faster than installation.
We highly recommend a trip to Walt Disney World at Christmas-time. Whether you’re looking for advice on Christmas or general tips and planning info (including the best time to visit) for Christmas, we’ve got you covered!
We’ll start with Walt Disney World’s with when to visit during the Christmas season, then move on to park-by-park entertainment, decorations, and more!
When to Visit
If you don’t mind missing out on Christmas in all of the resorts or at Epcot, we expect November 17-23 to be a solid time to visit. With Thanksgiving falling later than normal, that week will potentially be even better than the week before it due to Veterans Day falling on a Monday.
December 1-7 and December 8-14 will be the least-crowded weeks to visit Walt Disney World during the full Christmas season. However, there are downsides to each…
The second week is Pop Warner, a youth football and cheer & dance competition held annually at Walt Disney World. The impact of Pop Warner is sometimes overblown, and you may not notice it impacting crowds at all. Conversely, if you stay at a resort where participants are also staying or get stuck in line behind hordes of them a few times, you’ll dread your misfortune.
Note that all of December is significantly busier than it was even a few years ago, so “least-crowded” above is relative to Christmas week. All of December is still going to be significantly more crowded than June or September. Same goes for November.
Another thing to keep in mind is that school breaks, other holidays, and sporting events like the aforementioned Pop Warner Football Championship and cheerleading competitions can contribute to “pockets” of crazy crowds throughout November and December.
If you are visiting during these events (especially Pop Warner), we highly recommend avoiding the Value Resorts (particularly All Star Sports). Ever been at a hotel or in a theme park with thousands of teenage football players and cheerleaders? I have, and it’s scarier than Saw movies.
Yet another thing to be mindful of is the placement of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party nights in the Magic Kingdom schedule. When these nights occur, Magic Kingdom closes to day guests at 6 p.m., which causes many guests without Park Hopper tickets to avoid Magic Kingdom on these evenings, postponing their visits until the following non-party night.
Unsurprisingly, this leads to huge crowds in Magic Kingdom, which is often compounded by evening Extra Magic Hours. To avoid crowds at Magic Kingdom during the holiday season, we’d strongly encourage you to visit during the day on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party evenings, and then Park Hop elsewhere…assuming you have Park Hopper tickets. (Read our Park Ticket Tips & Info for Walt Disney World for more recommendations about which tickets to purchase.)
Keep in mind that these are not the “secret” best times of the year to visit. The entire Christmas season is popular, and word about early December has gotten out (especially among Disney Vacation Club members), so don’t expect Walt Disney World to be a ghost town, or anything close to it.
Disney veterans know that the week leading up to Christmas and the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are terrible times to travel if you dislike crowds. This is also a bit of a misconception, depending upon how you approach the visit. If you don’t like being in dense crowds, these times of year are probably out.
If you don’t mind navigating heavy crowds Christmas and New Year’s weeks can be good to go for a couple of reasons. The main draws for the hard ticket Christmas event, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (see below for details), are presented during regular park hours for free.
Since these tickets can cost over $100 per person, if you have a large family that would otherwise attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas, visiting during one of these weeks can amount to considerable savings.
Likewise, on New Year’s Eve, there are elaborate fireworks displays at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you are thinking of visiting for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we highly recommend reading our Tips for Visiting Walt Disney World at New Year’s to avoid crowds and have a better experience.
Besides the crowds, there are a few other downsides to visiting during these two weeks. First is the room rates for on property hotels. These can easy eat away at any savings on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party tickets. The second is holiday surcharges at buffets and some other restaurants around property. Definitely keep these costs in mind if you’re approaching this from the perspective of savings.
No matter when you go, you will also want to remember to pack for the season. Check out our Winter Packing Tips for Disney post for more insight on what to take on your trip. Just because it’s Florida doesn’t mean it won’t be cold! You don’t want to waste money buying a bunch of $60 sweatshirts from the gift shops because you only packed shorts and t-shirts. (Believe me, I’ve been there.)
Another way you can save money is by not purchasing Christmas gifts while at Walt Disney World. This is so tempting, and something we have done too many times (it’s Disney’s favorite time of year because guest spending on merchandise is through the roof!).
Instead, check out our Essential Disney Fan Gift Guide for great, money saving gift ideas for Christmas. You can save a ton of money by buying many of the same (and similar) souvenirs and gifts online instead of in the gift shops!
Okay, now that you know when to visit (or now that I’ve further confused you and made the decision even more complicated), let’s figure out what you should experience…
We’ll start in the Magic Kingdom, which does the most for Christmas out of all of the Walt Disney World parks. No matter what the other parks do, there’s just something to be said for walking onto Main Street and seeing the “town” decked out for Christmas, and that grandiose icicle castle beckoning at the end.
Christmas is my favorite time in Magic Kingdom because I enjoy taking photos of the decorations lit up; to take photos like my photos in this post, read my Tips for Christmas Photography.
Alright, now let’s take a tour of Magic Kingdom at Christmas…
Jingle Cruise – The Jingle Cruise overlay consists of decorations in the show scenes and a special spiel from the skippers, who are “homesick” and wanting to celebrate Christmas. The queue is decorated and the boats receive Christmas-inspired names. While holiday overlays are divisive, we are big fans of the idea here and think Jingle Cruise is generally well done.
This gets popular during the Christmas season, so using a FastPass+ can be a good idea (see our Guide to FastPass+ at Walt Disney World for more recommendations). We prefer doing Jingle Cruise at night to get the full experience of the Christmas lights turned on.
Castle Dream Lights – Every night at dusk beginning in mid-November, “A Frozen Holiday Wish” show lights Cinderella Castle with beautiful white lights. During this show, Queen Elsa will use her powers to transform the Castle into a glistening ice palace for the holidays, illuminating the castle with 200,000 shimmering white lights.
This is a short, cute little show, and people will camp out well in advance for it. Seeing the Dream Lights turned on is a “wow” moment for sure, but it’s important to point out that this is meant to be a cute little show. Don’t wait for an hour expecting something long and drawn out, because it’s not.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is an after-hours party in Magic Kingdom with separate admission from your normal park tickets. The special event features all things Christmas, and occurs on select nights throughout November and December.
If you’re visiting in November or early to mid-December and haven’t experienced it before, you should strongly consider Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Tickets are expensive, but it’s a lot of fun and worth the money if your budget allows. The last party is usually the Sunday before Christmas Day, with approximately 3-4 parties per week before that.
In this post we want to focus on what you can do during Christmas at Walt Disney World that is included with your regular theme park admission, so if you want to read more about this special event, including whether it’s worth the money and our step-by-step plan for making the most of the event (it’s impossible to see & do everything, read our Complete Guide to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Additionally, we posted our Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Recap & Photos post that includes our report on attending that party a few weeks ago. As always, we had a lot of fun on our Christmas trip, and hope our tips help you with your own visit!
The party is a bit pricey and there’s a lot to know about it, so we highly recommend reading that before your trip. Party tickets are a pretty common impulse purchase among Walt Disney World guests–and you can avoid that by just reading up on the party a bit in advance. Click here for more details on party dates, pricing, tips, etc.
There are a couple of elements of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party that need to be mentioned on their own…
Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade – This is an integral part of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, but it’s mentioned by itself because it is shown during regular park hours after December 22. During the Party, it’s shown at night and features excellent lighting, ambiance, and SNOW on Main Street, USA, but after December 22, it runs during the daytime, so obviously there are no lights nor is the ambiance as impressive.
While we strongly recommend watching the Parade on Main Street during the Party for full effect, during the Christmas and New Year’s weeks, you can watch it from anywhere along its route without much of a difference in the experience. The floats are very cute, and you can expect Princess Anna, Queen Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf from Frozen all to be featured in the parade again this year.
Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks – This show is not to be missed. Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks is a replacement for the Holiday Wishes fireworks show. As the name suggests, this nighttime spectacular is hosted by Minnie Mouse, celebrating the magic of Christmas with medleys of beloved holiday songs.
The fireworks feature “Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney and also includes “Joy to the World,” “Deck the Halls,” “Up on the House Top,” “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” and other favorites. Projection mapping also features heavily, with the end result being that Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks evokes heartfelt moments of home and family, and the spirit of the season before an incredible finale.
Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks thematically incorporates fireworks so they fit not only the name of the show, but more importantly, with the accompanying song lyrics. While the fireworks play an important role, it’s really the whole package that makes this show fun.
For Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks, we’d highly recommend the green areas in our Best Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Locations. Additionally, the yellow areas that are closer to Cinderella Castle also work, but are slightly less desirable.
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays– Epcot has rebranded its Holidays Around the World as the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. It’s still basically the same thing, just with a different name. There are Marketplace booths open around World Showcase offering different seasonal snacks from around the world.
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays is about a lot more than just food. You’ll also find other entertainment options, decorations, and more around both World Showcase and Future World.
Be sure to stop in to MouseGear to pay your respects to Santa Figment. There you can also pick up maps for Chip and Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree, which is a paid scavenger hunt (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.
Candelight Processional – Candlelight Processional is a retelling of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator, along with a mass choir performing seasonal melodies, and a 50-piece live orchestra. Candlelight Processional runs nightly from November 27 – December 30, 2020 with performances at at 5, 6:45 and 8:00 pm. 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.
Your enjoyment of Candlelight Processional will depend on whether you like the traditional Christmas story and choir Christmas music. We love the music, but if you don’t like either, this may not be for you. Although the narrators show some personality, don’t expect Candlelight Processional to be “Comedy Hour with Neil Patrick Harris.” It’s not.
Holiday Storytellers– Throughout World Showcase in Epcot, there are international storytellers (most of whom are that country’s version of Santa Claus) who share traditions and tales from their native country. These Santas and other characters appear dressed in location-appropriate outfits and describe what happens on Christmas Eve and Christmas in their homeland. In addition to the Santas, representatives at the American Adventure describe the celebrations of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah.
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 (instead of Canada) 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.
‘Joyful! A Gospel Celebration of the Season’ – Joyful performs on the Fountain of Nations Stage from the end of November until the end of December. Showtimes should be 1:15pm, 2:15pm, 3:15pm, and 4:15pm (daily).
It’s a fun show, actually, it’s surprisingly good, but it’s still not an adequate replacement for the gorgeous Lights of Winter that were deemed obsolete a few years ago.
In terms of viewing tips, the key to Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! is being close to Grauman’s Chinese Theater. This is important to note if you’ve already consulted our Best Disney’s Hollywood Studios Fireworks Viewing Spots post & map, as that information is now out of date. We do recommend watching Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! from closer to Grauman’s Chinese Theater than Trolley Car Cafe (Starbucks).
Above is a look at the Sunset Season’s Greetings, which along with Echo Lake Christmas is the Christmas entertainment at Disney’s Hollywood Studios that WDW has dubbed its “Flurry of Fun.” This debuted last year and has expanded a bit, with some new effects and visuals.
Sunset Season’s Greetings is a projection show consisting of vignettes from Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, the Muppets, and Toy Story, plus appearances by the Prep & Landing characters. There are also giant projections on “billboard” screens around Sunset Boulevard, and synchronized lights on palm trees. Sunset Season’s Greetings is a cute offering, albeit an odd juxtaposition on the normally spooky Tower of Terror.
Over at Echo Lake, the Flurry of Fun consists of decorations throughout the area, including the introduction of SANTA GERTIE! There are also oversized Christmas ornaments in Echo Lake, as well as a giant Christmas tree, and other decor.
There’s also decor on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, and the park once again feels appropriately festive for Christmas. It’s all very well done, and a nice addition to Disney’s Hollywood Studios this Christmas. Still, no Osborne Lights, but it’s doubtful we’ll ever see something of that caliber again with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land coming in the next couple of years.
In terms of characters decked out for Christmas, the highlight is Minnie’s Holiday Dine, a holiday-themed character meal at Hollywood & Vine. We dined here last November, and shared our thoughts and photos in our Minnie’s Holiday Dine Review. There’s also a new Santa meet & greet, and also new holiday outfits for some of the characters. That’s about it, though.
Until last year, our Animal Kingdom section basically said that the park is now open after dark during the holiday season, which was actually viewed as an improvement because previously, it was somewhat rare to see Animal Kingdom’s icon Christmas tree with the lights on.
Now, everything is different. As we cover in our Animal Kingdom’s Awesome Christmas: Tips & Info post, the park has debuted serious holiday overlays and offerings, with new entertainment and decorations in every single land–including Pandora: World of Avatar.
The epicenter of the yuletide fun is on Discovery Island, where the area is in the midst of a celebration of winter. There are holiday decorations hand-crafted by the eclectic community of artists who make Discovery Island their home, including colorful, animal-inspired luminaries on the rooftops, wireframe bird-shaped lanterns, and themed garland adorning the buildings throughout the land.
During the day, Discovery Island is alive with a life-size “Merry Menagerie” of artisan-sculpted puppets that include reindeer, foxes, polar bears, penguins, birds, seals–and probably other critters we missed.
These winter animals are accompanied by serenading live musicians who mingle amongst guests and the Merry Menagerie of critters to create festive atmosphere. The Merry Menagerie of animal puppets is like Kevin (the bird from Up, who also roams Discover Island), but less quirky and funny, and more majestic and awe-inspiring. Seriously, these puppets are something special.
The merriment on Discovery Island continues long after the Merry Menagerie critters head off to hibernate for the night. The rooftop luminaries around Discovery Island create a warm and festive glow throughout the entire village, imbuing Discovery Island with a ‘winter wonderland’ elegance.
The Tree of Life is projected with a shade of deep blue, while snow collects on its trunk. Every few minutes, new Tree of Life Awakenings tell a series of winter tales, complete with a familiar and heartwarming holiday-inspired musical score. In each vignette, you’ll see some of the same wildlife from the Merry Menagerie engaged. As always, the Tree of Life Awakenings are awesome.
Our biggest piece of advice would be timing your visit to see the Merry Menagerie when crowds are lowest. Discovery Island is most busy as guests are arriving and when they’re leaving. This leaves the middle of the day, from around 1 pm to 3 pm, as the sweet spot. Note that the Merry Menagerie ends before sunset, with their last set currently ending at 5 pm.
Photos of the Tree of Life Awakenings will be easiest to capture as early in the evening as possible, shortly after dusk when there’s still some color in the sky. However, this is also when Discovery Island is busiest, so if you favor a low-crowd experience, wait until the end of the night to watch the Tree of Life Awakenings.
All in all, now is a great time to visit Animal Kingdom during the holiday season. Walt Disney World has really enhanced this park’s holiday offerings, and the Merry Menagerie is simple yet pure and awe-inspiring.
Another new Christmas offering two years ago was the Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs, which now features numerous trees each themed to a different Disney characters (including one dedicated to Mickey & Minnie, The Muppets, Tangled, and more!).
This started out being very underwhelming, and has improved each year. The highlights are actually unique attraction posters commissioned to spruce up the Christmas Tree Trail walkways, and it’s worth seeing for those alone. The trees themselves have also improved, but this is still not a flagship Walt Disney World holiday offering.
Aside from the beautiful decorations, you can expect live entertainment, holiday carolers, a street party, photo ops, and Santa Claus. Over at the Once Upon a Toy fountain, toys will “come alive” for an interactive nightly holiday dance party. There will be pin trading, a nightly tree lighting ceremony, and more.
Last year, we went to Disney Springs several times during the Christmas season and noticed a few things. First, there were way more decorations than in the past few years. It was festive in a way that it has not been in at least 5 years–maybe longer. Expect that to increase even more this year, as construction has nearly winded down.
Second, and most importantly, it was insanity on weekends. For a lot of locals who don’t have Walt Disney World Annual Passes, Disney Springs is a way to enjoy free Christmas entertainment during the holiday season. These locals are most likely to visit on weekends. Add to that the normal mix of tourists, and you have huge crowds.
As such, we strongly encourage you to visit Disney Springs on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Arrive by 4 p.m. and stay until just after dusk, or arrive really late (after the parks close). Disney Springs will be busiest between 6 and 8 p.m. nightly.
Highlights include the Deluxe Resorts (Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Beach Club, BoardWalk, etc.) but other hotels are spruced up with wreaths and trees decorated with miles of garland, ribbon and glistening ornaments. Custom-made “edible” decorations at the resorts change yearly.
We cover the details of each hotel’s display as well as a best plan of attack for visiting the hotels efficiently on our “Free Self-Guided Yuletide Tour” page. Definitely check this out if you want to visit the resorts to see their decorations.
That’s a tour we made up a few years ago for ourselves to do during the morning on days we were attending Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (back before we had Annual Passes), and we love it so much that we still do it every year. We’ve had a lot of readers tell us they’ve really enjoyed following the steps of that tour, so we’d highly recommend checking it out, and potentially trying it for yourself!
Several Deluxe Hotels have either a large Christmas tree or a seasonal display that is well worth seeing. The great thing about most deluxe resorts is that they’re in close proximity to one another. You can easily reach the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary from the Magic Kingdom monorail station and Wilderness Lodge via boat.
Similarly, the Yacht & Beach Club and Boardwalk are easily accessible by foot or boat from Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios. About the only Deluxe that is worth visiting that’s not easily accessible is Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Moderate & Value Hotels
There are some neat decorations at the Moderates and Values, and the decorations are all themed to the specific resort, which is pretty cool. If you have interest in a specific “style” of Christmas, you might want to check out a specific resort (for example, if you like New Orleans’ take on Christmas, check out Port Orleans French Quarter).
Same goes if you’re a really, really big fan of Christmas decorations. Everyone else probably should bother making trips to the Moderates and Values to see their decorations. While neat, it just isn’t worth the time.
The one exception to this might be Fort Wilderness. There are some awesome displays put up by long-terms guests on the campground loop. If you have time one afternoon, take a boat over from the Magic Kingdom, have dinner at Trail’s End, and enjoy some of these cool displays.
We’re already at 5,000 words, so we’ll wrap up this Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World here. Hopefully, it’s everything you need to plan your dream Griswold-style Christmas Vacation to Florida. In case it wasn’t already made clear, we truly love Christmas at Walt Disney World.
The holiday season is our favorite time of year in Walt Disney World. November and December offer a mix of perfect weather, entertainment, festive decorations, great holiday snacks, and so much more. If you’re only going to visit WDW once, make it during Christmas-time!
What are your top tips for enjoying Walt Disney World during the holiday season? Have any questions about the holidays at Walt Disney World that aren’t answered here? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below! 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!