Our guide to Christmas 2023 at Walt Disney World offers tips for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and hotels. It covers entertainment, crowds, food, free things to do, decorations, tips & tricks. Plus, what’s returning for the holiday season, dates & details. (Updated November 1, 2023.)
Walt Disney World officially kicks off Christmas on November 11, 2023. That’s the same date as last year, but a Saturday instead of a Friday. The holiday season will end on December 31, which is more or less normal for entertainment. The exception to this is the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays, which runs from November 24 through December 30, 2023. Even these dates are not firm.
Decorating starts earlier and is finished later than November 11 (see When Does Walt Disney World Decorate for Christmas?), and you’ll start hearing the sounds and seeing the sights of Christmas before the holiday season begins. Same goes for even after it ends. Decorations come down quickly at EPCOT to prepare for the big New Year’s Eve bash, but everywhere else is not so fast. Other than that, the festivities will wind down the first week of January 2024, with Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend being when things wrap up.
One big thing also starts a bit early. The 2023 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) will have its first date on November 9, 2023. Because of that it’s also a foregone conclusion that Magic Kingdom will be decorated prior to then, as will a couple of the resort hotels along the monorail loop.
Essentially, aside from some entertainment, there is no “hard” start date to Christmas 2023 at Walt Disney World. Once the calendar turns over to November, the holiday season is underway. So even if you’re arriving before the official start date of Christmas, you should experience some of the festivities and decorations if you’re visiting any time in November 2023.
Throughout this guide, we’ll provide our tips and tricks for best-experiencing the Walt Disney World at Christmas-time. This offers 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–including what’s still missing for 2023 as compared to a normal Christmas at Walt Disney World.
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. This is 100 pages, with 200+ photos, and tons of great tips & info! To download this totally FREE eBook, click here. (Note: this has not yet been updated for Christmas 2023 and thus has some temporary inaccuracies–we hope to release an updated version in late November once all of the holiday offerings debut!)
With that out of the way, here’s everything you need to know about Christmas 2023 at Walt Disney World, starting with the new additions…
What’s New for Christmas 2023
For Christmas 2023, there’s also the new Disney Jollywood Nights holiday party at Hollywood Studios. This brand-new nighttime event will occur select nights November 11 to December 20, 2023. This Christmas hard ticket party promises a shimmering holiday scene with glitz and glam galore and yuletide entertainment, including live bands, a musical variety show, and the return of the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! nighttime spectacular.
Another new addition for this year’s holiday season is “Frozen Holiday Surprise” with Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff on stage in new costumes. Join in the celebration as Olaf and more than 100 of his Snowgie siblings decorate Cinderella Castle with festive touches. ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ festivities culminate as Elsa adds sparkling finishing touches, transforming Cinderella Castle into a shimmering crystallized palace. ‘Frozen Holiday Surprise’ will debut on November 7, 2023 and will occur nightly throughout the holiday season.
November and December are roller coaster months for crowds, with the weeks around holidays (Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve) seeing elevated attendance and other weeks being more moderate. Accordingly, much of November and December 2023 will have elevated crowd levels due to those holidays and school breaks.
However, there will be pockets of low crowd weeks that are ‘sweet spots’ for holiday time trips. Basically, these two months have very high highs–but also some lows. Check out our list of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Weeks to Visit Walt Disney World in 2023 to 2025. That includes several weeks in November and December. In fact, most weeks make one of those lists or the other!
On New Year’s Eve, there’s typically special entertainment 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. 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.
On a tangentially related note, one common question we receive about “when to visit” for 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 info.
Now that Thanksgiving and Christmas specials are shot simultaneously, this usually starts in early to mid-November, with additional recording closer to Christmas, usually in early December. Dates and times are not announced, as the recording is not for public consumption. Don’t be disappointed if you miss this, as we cover in that post above, it’s not as exciting as it sounds, and can lead to congestion on Main Street and elsewhere in the parks.
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.
Let’s start by taking a tour of Magic Kingdom at Christmas…
Cinderella Castle Dream Lights (NOT RETURNING FOR 2023) — As if suddenly dusted in a million ice crystals, Cinderella Castle shines like the galaxies, adding to the wintertime wonderment of the holidays in Florida’s Vacation Kingdom. And what a spectacle. That’s how Walt Disney World described the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, and it’s true–all of it. The Dream Lights are nothing short of spectacular and absoluting entrancing.
No projections can match the more than 200,000 tiny white lights that illuminate Cinderella Castle and transform it into a veritable ice palace. On paper or even in photos, it might seem simple and commonplace. In person, the display is anything but that. The Dream Lights stop you in your tracks, with the resplendent physical display being an absolute jaw-dropper. Words, photos, and video absolutely cannot do it justice. I’m not normally one for the flowery language in Disney’s press releases, but even the company’s marketing teams undersell the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. This is the highlight of the holiday season at Walt Disney World.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – This beloved after-hours party in Magic Kingdom is a special event that requires separate admission from your normal park tickets. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party features all things Christmas, and occurs on select nights throughout November and December 2023.
Normally, there are a few elements of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party that also happen during daily operations closer to Christmas in Magic Kingdom. The major one of these is Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade, discussed below. For more information about MVMCP, read our Guide to the 2023 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
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 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. We’d highly recommend consulting our Best Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Locations when it comes to picking a spot for watching Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime.
Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade — During Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, this parade is shown twice at night and features excellent lighting, ambiance, and SNOW on Main Street, USA. Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade also runs during the daytime in the week leading up to Christmas through New Year’s Eve.
While we strongly recommend watching the parade on Main Street 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, the music is catchy, and there’s a wide range of Disney and Christmas-y characters featured. It’s a must-see.
Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration Stage Show – In the days before Christmas, Mickey throws a holiday party and invites all of his friends, who sing Christmas Carols before the show is “is Christmas-wrapped up in one sensational, snowy, show-stopping finale.”
We love this stage show. It’s heartwarming, endearing, and a bit goofy (lowercase g). Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration is also incredibly popular, and the viewing area can be frustrating if you’re shorter. During Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, we recommend watching the last showing of Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration. Actually, we recommend the same during daily ops, too.
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 prioritizing it in your touring plan can be a good idea (see our 1-Day Magic Kingdom Itinerary for more recommendations). However, we prefer doing Jingle Cruise at night to get the full experience of the Christmas lights turned on.
Tomorrowland Ride Overlays – During Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the special event features holiday-themed overlays of Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Space Mountain, and Tomorrowland Speedway.
It’s unclear whether all of these attraction overlays will return for Christmas 2023. Walt Disney World has confirmed that the Space Mountain holiday overlay will return, but not the other two. However, the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor and Tomorrowland Speedway overlays happened last year without much advance fanfare, so it’s still possible.
Cinderella Castle Holiday Projections – These are a rotating kaleidoscope of designs including festive stripes and dots, a whimsical Christmas sweater look, a jeweled winter castle, and a regal overlay of red, green & gold ornamentation.
Each of these is essentially an animated backdrop featuring scenes of Christmas. There are some moving elements and details, but it’s not a projection show. These are fine, but nothing special–better than nothing, but far worse than the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights.
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.
Think of this as the “Epcot Food & Wine Festival Lite.” The Epcot International Festival of the Holidays will run from November 24 until December 30, 2023. With that said, 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.
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.
Candlelight 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. In a normal year, Candlelight Processional runs nightly with performances at at 5, 6:45 and 8:00 pm. You can find the full lineup of celebrity narrators for the Candlelight Processional and more details by clicking here.
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.
Living with the Land Merry & Bright Nights – In the Land pavilion, you can take a leisurely boat ride through the greenhouses of Living with the Land for a special, sparkling tour. Enjoy a peaceful cruise and view twinkling holiday light displays throughout the greenhouses.
We absolutely love Living with the Land. It’s one of the Walt Disney World attractions we do the most. We also absolutely love Christmas lights. Put those two things together, and we are squarely the target audience for Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights.
Unsurprisingly, we absolutely love this overlay. I could go on and on about this, gushing about the calming atmosphere, thoroughness, and understated simplicity of it all. Suffice to say, do not miss Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights!
‘Joyful! A Gospel Celebration of the Season’ – Joyful performs at the front of World Showcase from the end of November until the end of December throughout the day, rotating with other performers on the stage.
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.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Sunset Season’s Greetings – This 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.
Normally, there are also giant projections on “billboard” screens around Sunset Boulevard, and synchronized lights on palm trees.
Echo Lake “Flurry of Fun” – This 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.
Minnie’s Holiday Dine – This Christmas-themed character meal at Hollywood & Vine is a ton of fun. Minnie’s Holiday Dine will once again be a buffet and offer character hugs, autographs, high-fives, etc.
Santa Claus Motorcade (STATUS UNKNOWN FOR 2023) – Catch the Santa Claus Merry Motorcade, where old St. Nick will travel up Hollywood Blvd. in his candy-apple red convertible, packed with a sack of presents!
This occurs multiple times per day, and is short and sweet–literally just the elves and Santa Claus in a convertible. This happens in lieu of a meet & greet with Santa at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration – This Frozen show is always “holiday-adjacent” given the film it features, but during Christmas season, there’s a cute holiday finale, too.
A few years ago, Animal Kingdom upped its holiday game significantly, debuting serious holiday overlays and offerings, with new entertainment and decorations in every single land–including Pandora: World of Avatar.
All in all, Animal Kingdom is great during the holiday season. Walt Disney World has really enhanced this park’s holiday offerings, and the Merry Menagerie in particular is simple yet pure and awe-inspiring.
Tree of Life Holiday Awakenings – Holiday Edition – These are projection-mapping vignettes that begin shortly after sunset and continue until park close. The Holiday Awakenings tell a series of winter tales, complete with a familiar and heartwarming holiday-inspired musical score.
Note that there are many evenings in December when Animal Kingdom closes before sunset. Plan accordingly.
Discovery Island Luminaries – 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.
The merriment on Discovery Island continues long into 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.
Merry Menagerie – 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.
Festive Flotillas (STATUS UNKNOWN FOR 2023) – Animal Kingdom’s Christmas entertainment features festive flotillas that float around Discovery River. On one of these, you can see Santa Claus as he waves to a world-beat holiday soundtrack.
Another is the Discovery Island Drummers Festive Flotilla–feel the beat as a colorful group of percussionists cruise along the Discovery River, entertaining Guests like you on the shore.
Christmas Tree Stroll – This features numerous trees each themed to a different Disney characters (including one dedicated to Mickey & Minnie, The Muppets, Tangled, and more!). Rather than being done as a distinct trail this year, it has returned as the “Christmas Tree Stroll” with spots scattered around Disney Springs.
Aside from the beautiful decorations, you can expect some live entertainment, holiday carolers, a street party, photo ops, and Santa Claus.
During the Christmas season, Disney Springs is insanely busy on weekends. On busy dates, there can be waits to enter Disney Springs as the complex closes to capacity. We don’t expect that to occur in November or December 2023 because the circumstances are different, but it’ll still be very, very busy.
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. For everything else you need to know about making the trip, consult our Tips for Disney Springs at Christmas post.
Highlights include the Deluxe Resorts but other hotels are spruced up with wreaths and trees decorated with miles of garland, ribbon and glistening ornaments. The biggest draw of all is edible gingerbread houses, which are a staple of certain hotel lobbies during the holiday season. For where those will be this year, see Giant Gingerbread Houses & Displays for Christmas 2023 at Disney World.
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. This is an itinerary for a single day, so if you’re looking for something longer, check out our 2-Day Yuletide Tour of Walt Disney World. We’ve heard from many readers who found our this to be a highlight of their WDW Christmas vacation!
We love these WDW Yuletide Tours so much that we do them every single year–sometimes more than once. 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.
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 over 4,000 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!