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 tours, things to do, decorations, tips & tricks. Plus, what’s returning for the holiday season, dates & details.
Walt Disney World has not yet released official dates or details for Christmas 2023. However, we know a lot based on past precedent, and Walt Disney World usually kicks off its Christmas celebrations the second weekend in November. This year will potentially be a bit different, as the second weekend falls a tad later than normal and encompasses Veterans Day–but the same was true last year, and Christmas still started then.
Nevertheless, our expectation is that Christmas will begin on November 10, 2023. The only exception to this will be Epcot, which will almost certainly celebrate Festival of the Holidays from November 24 through December 30, 2023. 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. Walt Disney World has not announced an official end date for Christmas the last couple of years, which is because it’s staggered–entertainment concludes at the end of December, but decorations stay up until the second week of January.
There’s also a reasonable possibility that Walt Disney World will get a headstart on the holidays, beginning the seasonal celebration on November 3, 2023. This is what should happen in our opinion, as Veterans Day is historically busy and starting Christmas a week earlier helps spread out the crowds a bit.
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 a good chunk of the festivities and decorations if you’re visiting any time in November 2023.
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. 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…
When to Visit
Normally, 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.
Our expectation is that the entirety of November and December 2023 will have elevated crowd levels. All days will likely be varying degrees of busy, with heavy attendance until mid-January 2024. Suffice to say, do not expect the normal pockets of low crowd weeks that have been sweet spots for holiday time trips.
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…
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.
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 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.
Totally Tinsel Tomorrowland Trio – During the last year that Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party was held, the special event debuted holiday-themed overlays of Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Space Mountain, and Tomorrowland Speedway.
It’s unclear whether these attraction overlays will return. For Halloween, both the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor and Space Mountain overlays returned. We’d expect the same for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, so the only wildcard is Tomorrowland Speedway.
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 definitely not a projection show. There are also spotlights and trees around the Central Plaza are bathed in lights that match the projections. With the “Beacons of Magic” debuting for the World’s Most Magical Celebration, these holiday-themed projections will rotate with 50th Anniversary ones.
Cinderella Castle Dream Lights (POSSIBLE FOR 2023) — 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.
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.
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!
Guardians of the Galaxy: Christmas Rewind – Also at EPCOT, Walt Disney World’s new Marvel roller coaster is getting a holiday overlay in its very first year! Only a brief teaser about the changes coming to Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind have been released thus far, but we’re excited.
‘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 – 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.
Two 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.
Unfortunately, only some of this returned last year. For Christmas 2023, it’s unclear what Animal Kingdom will do in terms of entertainment. Here’s what we do know…
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 – 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.
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.
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. Last year, there were multi-hour waits to enter Disney Springs as the complex closed 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.
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!