Our Christmas 2021 Guide to 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, and everything WDW does for the holiday season. (Updated November 14, 2021.)
Christmas-time is now underway at Walt Disney World, and will run until early January 2022, with a couple of exceptions. First, not every resort and restaurant is decorated for Christmas, but that is changing quickly and might not still be true by the time you read this. Second, Epcot will celebrate Festival of the Holidays from November 26 through December 30, 2021. Other than that, the festivities will wind down the first week of January 2022, leading up to the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.
As with last year, Christmas 2021 will be different at Walt Disney World. This year, it’s mostly due to Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. The World’s Most Magical Celebration takes center stage, overshadowing the holiday season a bit, and necessitates operational and decorational concessions. Throughout this guide, we’ll note what has been cancelled, what’s happening, and what’ll likely be back in 2022. Basically, we’ll cover everything you need to know if you’re planning a trip for Christmas 2021…
Speaking of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, the Main Street decorations in Magic Kingdom have been refreshed for the occasion. The garland, wreaths, and everything else are essentially the same, but they’ve had some red ribbon and ornaments swapped out with gold ones for the 50th.
Here’s everything you need to know about Christmas 2021 at Walt Disney World, starting with two frequently asked questions that don’t really fit anywhere else…
One 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 info.
Acts have already starting filming for this year’s holiday specials–we spotted Chance the Rapper on a rainy day last week at Epcot–and it’s likely that will be wrapped up by mid-November 2021 to have the give sufficient time for shooting and editing the Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Celebration and Disney Holiday Singalong specials. Don’t be disappointed about missing 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.
Finally, many readers ask when Christmas at Walt Disney World ends. Officially, Walt Disney World has not provided an end date, which is abnormal. Unofficially, the vast majority of this year’s entertainment will run through December 31. A few offerings will extend further, concluding on January 5, 2022. Christmas decorations usually start to come down around the second week of January.
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
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. For Christmas 2021, all bets are off. Crowds will likely be high throughout the entirety of November and December 2021.
This is due to the holiday season being the second and third months of the World’s Most Magical Celebration, the aforementioned Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary event. Accommodations for November and December are booking up fast, with some hotels already sold out and next to no DVC availability.
Accordingly, our expectation is that the entirety of November and December 2021 have elevated crowd levels. All days will likely be varying degrees of busy, with heavy attendance until mid-January 2022. Suffice to say, do not expect the normal pockets of low crowd weeks that have been sweet spots for holiday time trips.
With that said, there will still be some dates that are better than others. Read more about crowd forecasts in our November 2021 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar and December 2021 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar.
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.
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…
Disney Very Merriest After Hours (NEW FOR 2021) – This hard ticket holiday event replace Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party for 2021. For full details about this special event, what it is (and isn’t!), read our Guide to Disney Very Merriest After Hours Christmas Party. That covers everything you need to know if you’re thinking about attending.
In a nutshell, Disney Very Merriest After Hours focuses on lower crowds and wait times, offering 4 hours of holiday festivities, including character greetings, Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show, holiday attraction overlays, and more. This event occurs after Magic Kingdom closes to day guests, running from 9 pm until 1 am.
We’ve already attended this new Magic Kingdom Christmas party, and share our experience in Photos & Review: Is Disney Very Merriest After Hours Worth It? As the title suggests, that also answers the key questions a lot of readers have had–whether the new special event is worth the money.
Additionally, here’s a rundown of some individual components of Disney Very Merriest After Hours, which might also be shown to day guests December 23-31, 2021. (Strong emphasis on might–Disney hasn’t made an official announcement one way or the other.)
Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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 (RETURNING FOR 2021) – In a surprise move, Walt Disney World announced that Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade will be part of Very Merriest After Hours. During the Party, it’s shown at night and features excellent lighting, ambiance, and SNOW on Main Street, USA. This is the first full parade that will return to Walt Disney World since reopening.
In a normal year, Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade would run during the daytime in the week leading up to Christmas through New Year’s Eve. It’s unclear whether it’ll be shown for “free” to regular guests during that time, but if so, it would begin daily operations on December 22, 2021 and run through December 31, 2021.
While we strongly recommend watching the parade on Main Street during the Very Merriest After Hours 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.
Jingle Cruise (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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 (MONSTERS RETURNING FOR 2021) – In the last year 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.
Disney Very Merriest After Hours indicates holiday-themed attraction overlays will return, but it only specifies that the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor overlay is returning. The others might come back this year, but probably not. Hopefully in 2022!
Cinderella Castle Holiday Projections (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (NOT RETURNING FOR 2021; POSSIBLE FOR 2022) – This 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.
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 and why it’s not coming back for 2021 but is still possible for 2022, read our Guide to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Cinderella Castle Dream Lights (NOT RETURNING FOR 2021; POSSIBLE FOR 2022) – 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 (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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 26 until December 30, 2021. If you’re really interested in the culinary component, we review every single dish in our Food Guide to Epcot International Festival of the Holidays.
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 (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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 lineup of celebrity narrators for each night by 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 (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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 (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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!
(While the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays doesn’t start until November 26, this usually starts earlier. Decorating began in late October of this year, and we’d expect Living with the Land Merry & Bright Nights to start running around mid-November 2021.)
‘Joyful! A Gospel Celebration of the Season’ (RETURNING FOR 2021) – Joyful performs in World ShowPlace 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 (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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. It’s unclear whether these will return for Christmas 2021, as Sunset Season’s Greetings will run alongside the Beacons of Magic for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.
Echo Lake “Flurry of Fun” (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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 (RETURNING FOR 2021) – This Christmas-themed character meal at Hollywood & Vine is a ton of fun. We’ve done this, and shared our thoughts and photos in our Minnie’s Holiday Dine Review.
Read our Christmas at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Info & Tips post for info on what else you should do at Disney’s Hollywood Studios during the holiday season.
“Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!” (NOT RETURNING FOR 2021; MAYBE 2022?) – This fireworks show is the centerpiece of the Christmas lineup at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
This was expected to return for 2021, and at present, DisneyWorld.com’s official page for “Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!” still says “Enjoy a holiday spectacular when this jolly fireworks display returns in 2021.” However, it was never mentioned in press releases about Christmas 2021 and has no showtimes, so we’re guessing the official site is mistaken. Here’s hoping it’s back for Christmas 2022!
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
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 2021, it’s still unclear what Animal Kingdom will do in terms of entertainment. Here’s what we do know…
Tree of Life Holiday Awakenings (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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 (RETURNING FOR 2021)– 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 (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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. Seriously, these puppets are something special.
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.
Christmas Tree Stroll (RETURNING FOR 2021) – 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 2021 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. Additionally, a guest favorite will return for Christmas 2021, as select gingerbread displays will once again be part of the holiday season at Walt 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. These are also the resorts most likely to have lifesize gingerbread displays for Christmas 2021.
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!
If you’re interested in learning more about hotels, our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page is a good place to start. For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides” are great for determining what to do and when to do it. For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!
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!