The moment that last piece of Halloween candy has been eaten, I’m ready to start putting up the Christmas decorations! Christmas is absolutely my favorite time of year, and I’m lucky enough to live a few miles away from a place that does Christmas like no other (if you’re on the other side of the pond for the holidays, check out this post on Disneyland Paris at Christmas instead!) Walt Disney World is a magical place to visit any time of the year, but Christmas at Walt Disney World really kicks the magic up a notch. The decorations, the music, the incredible festive atmosphere; I don’t know anyone who has visited Walt Disney World during the holidays and had anything less than an amazing time. If you’re planning to visit Walt Disney World at Christmas, this is my list of absolute must-do Christmas activities.
1. Attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
If you only do one thing at Walt Disney World during the holiday season, this should definitely be it! Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a hard-ticket event (meaning it’s not included with park admission, it’s something you pay for separately) that’s held on select nights in November and December. The party is held at the Magic Kingdom from 7pm until midnight – although you can enter Magic Kingdom with your party ticket from 4pm – and includes a holiday parade, special holiday fireworks, shows, dance parties, and more. The party also has free cookies, hot chocolate, warm apple cider, and other holiday treats included with admission. The majority of the Magic Kingdom rides will be open too, usually with much shorter wait times since the party is open to a limited amount of guests.
The parade, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime parade, is our favorite thing to do at the Christmas party. You’ll want to camp out early to get a good seat, so be sure to pick up a cookie (or a stack of cookies…) and a warm drink to snack on while you wait. The parade features all of your favorite Disney characters, all dressed up for the holidays, as well as dancing reindeer and gingerbread men, marching soldiers, and of course, it wouldn’t be a Christmas parade without Santa! My favorite spot to watch the parade is on Main Street; the decorations are spectacular, the castle all lit up for the holidays provides a breathtaking backdrop…oh, and it snows! Stay put after the parade for a great view of Holiday Wishes, a special fireworks arrangement with 180 degree fireworks (the fireworks aren’t just in front of you, they’re to your left and right too!)
If you’re headed to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, be sure to think about what you’d like to do in advance. Trying to do everything will probably be impossible, as well as stressful, so pick out a few things that sound really fun, and work your night around them. This is an event I would really encourage anyone visiting during the holidays to experience at least once.
2. Watch the Candlelight Processional show at Epcot
Hands down, this is my very favorite thing to do at Christmas at Walt Disney World. The Candlelight Processional is a nightly show at Epcot that begins towards the end of November and runs throughout the holiday season. The show features a live orchestra and choirs singing Christmas carols to accompany the telling of the nativity story by a celebrity narrator. It is shown three times a night, and every show will be packed! My suggestion for seeing the show is to purchase the Candlelight Processional dinner package. This package is offered at a number of Epcot restaurant, and includes a full meal as well as reserved seating for the show that night. This is such a fantastic way to see the show; you can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at a great restaurant, and then arrive to the show around 30 minutes before it begins to claim your reserved seat.
The music and songs from this show are spectacular, and it’s definitely something to see. You can read my full review, including prices for this years Candlelight Processional here.
3. Visit the Gingerbread House at the Grand Floridian
Although Christmas in the Walt Disney World parks is incredible, the resorts do a pretty amazing job of decorating for the holidays as well. My favorite resort to visit at Christmas is the Grand Floridian Resort, specifically to see the amazing gingerbread house in the resort’s lobby. This gingerbread house is bigger than my first apartment – the ingredients to make it include 600lbs of powdered sugar, 700lbs of chocolate, and 800lbs of flour. Although the house itself looks amazing, it actually functions as a shop, selling gingerbread and other festive holiday treats. The house is usually open from around Thanksgiving onward, and it is always fun to stop by to pick up a gingerbread cookie and look at all the details on the house. Just a little tip: sometimes the line for the gingerbread house can get pretty long, but the other stores at the Grand Floridian sell a limited amount of gingerbread products as well if you don’t want to wait.
You can visit the Grand Floridian from the Magic Kingdom by jumping on the monorail, or a resort boat.
4. Celebrate Holidays Around the World at Epcot
A really cool thing to do at Epcot at Christmas is to walk around World Showcase and experience the International Festival of the Holidays. Just as each country has their own holiday traditions, each pavilion does something different to celebrate the festive season. Generally each pavilion will have a storyteller, and often a traditional snack or drink from that country. The storytellers are awesome; I love hearing traditional holiday tales from each country, and the narrators always do a great job of getting the crowd involved. The snacks and drinks are always fantastic too, and it’s great to try some new foods. My personal favorites are the Caramel Kiss drink from Prost! in the German pavilion (basically a melted salted caramel in a glass), and the Chocolate Honey Baklava from the Tangerine Cafe in the Morocco pavilion. Every year they add yummy new goodies so definitely pick up a guide when you enter Epcot to see what looks good this year.
Check out more on the International Festival of the Holidays here.
5. See the Gingerbread Carousel at the Beach Club
Continuing with the gingerbread theme, another amazing gingerbread creation is the carousel at the Beach Club Resort. This is a life-size carousel, complete with horses! The detail that goes into this carousel is amazing, particularly the detail on the horses themselves. We always have fun looking for the hidden Mickeys all over the carousel!
If you want to visit the Beach Club, the easiest way is to walk or take a boat from Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
6. Meet Santa Goofy
While you can meet the actual Santa Claus at Walt Disney World over the holidays, meeting Santa Goofy is equally awesome! Santa Goofy can be found all over the place at Christmas at Walt Disney World, depending on exactly when you visit – some of the places to find him this year include Minnie’s Holiday Dine at Hollywood and Vine at Hollywood Studios, and at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Meeting him is as traditional in our family as meeting Santa himself!
7. See Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM and Flurries of Fun at Hollywood Studios
Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM was began at Hollywood Studios last year, to somewhat replace the beloved Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios (although in my opinion, NOTHING can fully replace those!) The show is a mix of fireworks, and projections on to the Chinese Theater in the parks hub area. It features holiday scenes from Disney films such as Beauty and the Beast, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and Bambi, classic Christmas songs, and of course, there will be snow! The show is only 15 minutes long, but in order to get the full effect of the projections and fireworks, you’ll need to camp out to get a good spot in the hub area. Alternatively, look into the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM dessert party, where you can enjoy drinks and dessert with a reserved spot to watch the show.
New last year was Flurries of Fun, another projection show that actually projects images onto the Tower of Terror. Expect to see all manner of holiday scenes, as well as your favorite different characters lit up on the building, all set to a festive soundtrack. This runs continuously in the evening so it’s easy to catch a showing, and there are different projections at different times, so it’s worth sticking around to see the different scenes.
8. Watch the castle lighting ceremony at the Magic Kingdom
Think Cinderella’s Castle is pretty during the rest of the year? Wait until you’ve seen it all decorated in shimmering icicles for the holidays! ‘A Frozen Holiday Wish’ is a show that begins around the start of November, and runs every night through the holiday season. The show is a short story featuring Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf, ending with Elsa using her magical powers to transform the castle into a sparkling ice castle, featuring 200,000 lights. Seeing the lights turned on is a jaw-dropping moment, and it’s worth getting a spot early to see the show. Once the show is over, the castle will remain illuminated for the rest of the night, providing plenty of opportunities to get some great photos.
9. See Illuminations at Epcot with the Message of Peace finale
Illuminations at Epcot is my favorite fireworks show at Walt Disney World; I’m not usually a huge fireworks fan, but I absolutely love the score to this show, and I love the incorporation of the globe and lights on the pavilions of the World Showcase. Over the holiday season, Illuminations becomes even more special, with an ending holiday tag, the Message of Peace. This additional finale is only a few extra minutes, but the message of peace on earth that it conveys is beautiful. ‘Peace on earth’ is translated into various languages, and as each message is read out, that pavilion lights up. It’s one of those things that sounds super cheesy, but actually stood there watching it at Christmas always makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
Read more about the special holiday version of Illuminations here.
10. Listen to the Voices of Liberty singing Christmas carols
Voice of Liberty are an a capella singing group who can usually be found signing patriotic songs in the American pavilion in Epcot. At Christmas time, however, they adjust their song list to perform classic Christmas carols. The 8-member group have absolutely beautiful singing voices, and it’s a real treat to be able to sit in the rotunda of The American Adventure, sipping a hot chocolate, listening to Christmas songs.
Members of Voices of Liberty can also be spotted in the Candlelight Processional show at Epcot.
11. Try the Holiday treats
For me, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the food! Walt Disney World does an amazing job of adding holiday treats to all of its parks and resorts, and sampling these festive goodies is one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season!
As already mentioned, Holidays Around the World at Epcot has some incredible holiday offerings, and I would strongly suggest checking out some of their food options. Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom all boast some amazing holiday offerings, including specialty cupcakes, cookies, and popcorn. Disney Springs is adding some special Christmas treats this year, including a Chocolate and Nut Holiday Tree at The Ganachery, a White Chocolate Peppermint milkshake at D-Luxe Burger, and a Bouche de Noel at Amorette’s Patiesserie.
Be sure to save room for some gingerbread if you plan to visit the resorts!
12. Visit the Contemporary Resort Gingerbread Village
Finishing up my list of all things gingerbread is the Gingerbread Village at the Contemporary Resort. This is actually a huge gingerbread display inspired by the designs from ‘It’s a small world’ and Disney Legend, Mary Blair. The village features the cast of Frozen, with Anna, Elsa, and the rest of the gang depicted in gingerbread, complete with a castle! Over 1,500 gingerbread shingles are used to make up the display, as well as 222lbs of icing, and 273 eggs. New for 2017 is the depiction of Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom.
The Contemporary Resort is a short walk from the Magic Kingdom, or a quick hop on the monorail. I always love taking a trip around all of the monorail resorts (the Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Village Resort, and the Grand Floridian Resort) to see their individual Christmas decorations, finishing up at the Magic Kingdom to see all of their Christmas decorations. It’s a great way to spend a day!
13. Meet Santa at Disney Springs
From mid-November until Christmas Eve, Santa can be found enjoying the Disney Christmas spirit in his chalet at Disney Springs! Santa’s Chalet is an adorable little wooden lodging where kids can meet with Santa to share with him their Christmas lists. There’s no waiting in line here; just check in and grab a pager, spend some time exploring the rest of Disney Springs, and then return to the podium when you receive your message from Santa’s helpers that he’s ready to see you. This is a great way to meet Santa without too much of a wait, and perfect for families traveling with young kids who might not have the patience to stand in line.The best part is that, if you’ve purchased Memory Maker, your photos with Santa will be included!
While you’re at Disney Springs, check out their fantastic tree trail, with different Christmas trees decorated for different Disney movies, characters, and even attractions. Read this post for more on the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail.
14. Pick up some Holiday merchandise
A Disney trip wouldn’t be complete without a souvenir or two, and each year Walt Disney World rolls out some really cute holiday merchandise. Think holiday ear hats, cute sweaters, unique pins, gift tins stuffed with holiday treats – the list goes on and on. Each resort and park will offer its own unique merchandise, so be sure to look in the different stores to see what they each have to offer. Be sure to ask about Annual Pass and Disney Vacation Club exclusive merchandise too!
My personal favorite over the years was the Mickey Santa hat that my husband rocked in New York City on our Christmas trip a few years ago!
15. Ride on the Jingle Cruise
One of the most classic Disney rides, The Jungle Cruise, gets a Christmas overlay during the holiday season, and it makes the ride even more fun than it usually is! The Jingle Cruise debuted in 2013, with the backstory that the skippers have grown homesick over the holidays and added their own Christmas touch to the boathouse and the cruise itself, with a few Christmas jokes thrown in. The overlay doesn’t detract from the ride itself, which is always a must-do for my family, but adds a really nice festive touch that really helps to get me in the Christmas mood! When we visit the Magic Kingdom during the holidays, it’s our first stop to start the day off right and get us all in the Christmas spirit!
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Have you visited Walt Disney World during the holidays? What are your absolute must do festive activities?