When it comes to the holidays at Walt Disney World, there are three questions we receive more than any others: “When will Christmas decorations go up in the parks & resorts?” That’s what we’ll answer in this post. (Updated July 12, 2021.)
Just in case you’re curious, the other most common question is: “How do you get tickets to see the ABC Christmas Day Parade live in person at Walt Disney World?” (Sorry, we have some bad news on that one.) Rounding out the top three, “when are Christmas decorations taken down? (Answered in our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World.)
Now that Disney has announced 2021 Christmas at Walt Disney World Dates & Details: What’s Coming & Cancelled, we’re receiving this question more. This is likely because the holiday season isn’t starting until November 12, 2021–one week later than normal. Suffice to say, Christmas 2021 at Walt Disney World is going to look a little different, including the decorations.
Before we get to the good news, let’s start with the bad news. We really don’t know what the decorations will entail this year. As with last year, Christmas is likely to be scaled back at Walt Disney World this year.
However, it’s for a very different reason. Last year, travel had plummeted and a number of modifications for health and safety were made. This year, the changes are due to Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, which begins on October 1, 2021 and will take center stage, overshadowing both Halloween and Christmas in the process. Consequently, things will be a bit different for Christmas 2021.
First, we know that there will be no Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, which is a big blow.
Instead, there will be projections throughout the evening, with Christmas scenes (see above) and “Beacons of Magic” for the 50th Anniversary on a rotating basis.
It’s also likely the regular Christmas decorations throughout Magic Kingdom will be scaled back. While Walt Disney World has not offered specific details, they have for the Halloween modifications.
Per Walt Disney World, Imagineering and the Holiday Services team will blend a fall look with the enchanting story of Cinderella by creating special pumpkin coach decorations that will add to the park’s sparkling EARidescence during the 50th Anniversary Celebration and Halloween 2021. We’d expect something similar for Christmas, albeit minus the pumpkin stage coaches.
In every other park and resort, the 2021 Christmas decorations should more or less return to normal.
Expect to see the icon Christmas trees at all parks and hotels, and gingerbread houses also return to most Deluxe Resorts. In other words, the reduction in decorations will mostly be confined to Magic Kingdom.
The good news if you’re hoping to see Christmas decorations at Walt Disney World is that they go up earlier than you might expect. No, not as early as the holiday aisles at Target or Walmart, but decorating usually begins immediately after Halloween has ended. Like, literally overnight right as the fall decorations go down.
One of the common misconceptions about Walt Disney World and the holiday season is that all of the decorations appear overnight, all at once. There are a variety of reasons why this is a persistent urban legend. For one thing, it used to be true. Back when Walt Disney World was just two theme parks and a few resorts, the Holiday Services team did almost everything overnight.
Second, because Walt Disney World still releases time-lapse videos showing the transformation of Main Street USA from Halloween to Christmas. In large part, that does occur overnight–but even that now usually takes two nights, not just one.
Finally, it’s a matter of guest perception. You can leave Magic Kingdom one night and see Halloween decorations on your way out and enter the next morning to see the scene magically transformed to Christmas. It’s an impressive sight to behold, and one that you might be convinced happens “all at once.” However, not all of the details are there at that point, nor are the other parks totally decorated.
Anyway, perception aside, the reality is that Christmas decorations go up pretty early in the parks.
Despite the Christmas 2021 season not officially starting at Walt Disney World until November 12, the reality is that decorations will go up before then.
This year, you can expect Magic Kingdom to be mostly decorated by November 2, 2021 and fully decorated by November 8, 2021.
This is a safe assumption because many decorations will go up as Halloween decorations come down, and since Disney Very Merriest After Hours begins on November 8, 2021.
Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be next up after Magic Kingdom.
The timeline there is a little less certain. Both parks have been known to put up more ‘ambiguous’ holiday decorations in late October. For instance, tinsel stars at Disney’s Hollywood Studios have gone up between October 21 and 27 each of the last few years.
There are a lot of decorations that will be visible during the daytime hours, but the finished product won’t be ready and the lights likely will not be lit up at night until closer to the official November 12, 2021 start date.
Disney Springs also begins its Christmas offerings in early November 2021. Sometimes that happens gradually, so expect some items not to be up until the following week. That’s the good news.
Epcot is the last park to get in on the holiday time fun, and that’s because the lucrative 2021 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival runs until November 20, 2021. Consequently, decorating for Epcot will begin shortly before Thanksgiving and finish by November 26, 2021.
Due to all of the construction at Epcot, do not expect Future World to receive extensive decorations this year. The Epcot International Festival of the Holidays should ensure that World Showcase receives its normal decor for each pavilion.
The resort hotels are the true wildcard. Last year, decorations went up about a week earlier than normal throughout the resorts. We are anticipating that this trend will continue, with almost all major hotels (Deluxe and Moderate Resorts) having their Christmas trees, gingerbread displays, etc. up by mid-November.
Gingerbread displays are usually prioritized, likely because these are accompanied by snack stand kiosks that generate revenue selling snacks.
Usually, Holiday Services can do an entire resort in a single night, with teams deployed to multiple resorts simultaneously. This means that, for instance, Wilderness Lodge (usually done in mid-November) will be completely transformed into the Christmas spirit overnight–in the same evening that Coronado Springs, for example, receives its holiday decor.
However, due to the sheer number of resorts throughout Walt Disney World, even if Holiday Services decorates two hotels in a single night, the process would still take over two weeks to complete. Moreover, there are no hard and fast rules as to the order that resorts receive their decorations. It varies from year to year.
With all of that said, if you’re visiting on or after November 1, you’ll start to see some decorations at Walt Disney World. By that weekend, you’ll see even more items installed–the process should be about half-finished.
By November 8, 2021, you will find that the 3 of the 4 Walt Disney World theme parks are either partially or fully decorated and some of the resorts are decorated. If you visit a week after that, you’ll have the same amount of in-park decorations, but now half of the resorts will also be decorated. Another week and the resorts will be totally decorated. Visit for Thanksgiving week or at any point in December, and everything at Walt Disney World will be decked out for Christmas!
Finally, a few plugs. First, our free Vacation Kingdom at Christmas eBook is available for download! This free eBook is 90 pages, with 100+ photos, and tons of great tips & info for the holiday season at Walt Disney World. For more details on how to get this totally-free ebook, click here. Did we mention that it’s free?! 😉
For comprehensive tips for planning your Christmas-time trip to Walt Disney World, check out our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World. For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
What do you think of Walt Disney World’s ‘process’ for getting decked out for the holidays? Is November 8, 2021 too early for Christmas decorations? Are you excited to experience the holidays at WDW? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!