If you’re spending time at Walt Disney World over the holiday season, you’re probably a little overwhelmed with all the ‘must-do’ activities there are to do (read all about Christmas at Walt Disney World here!) and my favorite park over the holidays is Epcot.
Not only do they have the Candlelight Processional, which is one of my very favorite things to do over the holidays, but they go all out with celebrating holidays around the world at the International Festival of the Holidays (previously called Holiday’s Around the World, in case you’ve been before!)
With food, decorations, and stories from each country highlighting how they celebrate the holiday season, there is so much to see and do, it really is a fantastic experience. Here is my guide for 7 things to do at the International Festival of the Holidays at Epcot with kids.
1. Listen to stories of holidays around the world
Each of the countries around the World Showcase features a storyteller during the International Festival of the Holidays, and these storytellers tell the story of how that particular country celebrates the holiday season.
These are the absolute highlight of the festival for me, and a great way to not only learn more about how the different countries celebrate and their particular traditions, but also keep kids occupied as you walk around World Showcase.
The storytellers are engaging, and the performances are the perfect length of time so that the little ones won’t get restless. The performances are all outdoors, so they are weather permitting; weather this time of year is generally very pleasant, but on a hot day, or a rainy one, you might not get to see them all.
The festival guide has a list of the times each storyteller will be out, and it’s pretty difficult to catch all of them, so definitely pick your must-sees. My personal favorite this year was watching the Chinese Lion Dancers who told the story of good fortune and happiness in the Luna New Year. This is one of my favorite things to do at Epcot during the holidays!
2. Try different countries holiday treats
Pretty much every festival at Epcot these days includes food booths, and this one is no exception. You can pick up a festival passport when you enter Epcot, and this lists the food and drink options you can find at each booth.
Each country features different holiday treats and drinks, and just like with the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, portions are small and perfectly sized for sampling without getting too full.
There are usually new food items to try each year, and it’s fun to grab a snack or a drink as you sit down to watch a storyteller, or wander around World Showcase.
My favorites this year included the traditional holiday favorites from American Holiday Table, the Chirashi Sushi Tree from Shi Wasu Holiday Kitchen in Japan, and the Smoked Salmon Potato Latke from L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen between Morocco and France.
A new addition from last year is the Holiday Cookie Trail, which I think is a really cute idea. You purchase five particular cookies from around the festival, and get your festival passport stamped in each location, then turn your completed passport to Holiday Sweets and Treats for a complimentary cookie and glass of milk.
The cookies are only $2.50 each so this is a pretty reasonable activity, and you don’t have to buy them all on the same day; just bring the same passport on each trip during the festival so you have all of your stamps in one place.
The cookies we tried were delicious, and we’re excited to turn in our completed passport once we’ve completed the set for our free cookie and milk!
3. Admire the holiday decorations
No one decorates for the holidays quite like Disney does, and Epcot is no exception! Every pavilion is decorated for the holidays, and at night, the lights are beautiful.
The America Pavilion is my personal favorite for the decorations, with a gorgeous Christmas tree outside the gift shop, as well as the beautifully decorated American Gardens Theater. My kids love all Christmas decorations, and the ones at Epcot are some of their favorites!
4. Meet Santa and Mrs Claus
There are a few different places you can meet Santa at Walt Disney World over the holidays, but only in the American Pavilion at Epcot can you meet Mrs Claus as well!
Tucked in the back of the pavilion next to the gift shop (and just for the record, next the nicest bathrooms in all of Epcot!) you can find Santa and Mrs Claus meeting and greeting guests. The setting for the meet and greet is beautiful, and there is a Photopass photographer there to capture the moment.
We visited during the week in November in the middle of the day to find absolutely no line, and plenty of time to chat with Santa (not that my toddler wanted anything to do with him!) but I’m sure the lines can get long on the weekends or closer to Christmas. Santa and Mrs Claus have set times to meet guests every day, and these can be found in the event guide.
5. Shop for merchandise
It would’t be Disney without a little Christmas shopping! Not only will you find plenty of themed t-shirts, sweaters, pins, and other holiday paraphernalia, but the World Showcase offers unique holiday markets with more one-of-a-kind souvenirs. In the Germany Pavilion, for instance, my son was enthralled with a professional glass blower who was making the most beautiful Christmas ornaments.
A word of caution however: there are also plenty of pop-up stores I noticed around World Showcase with huge arrays of Disney toys, and my kids had to be hustled past those pretty quickly!
6. Watch the Candlelight Processional
Hands down one of my favorite Christmas traditions at Walt Disney World is the Epcot Candlelight Processional. Running from mid-November to the end of the holiday season, the Candlelight Processional is performed at the American Gardens Theater in World Showcase three times a night, so there are plenty of opportunities to catch a show.
The Candlelight Processional is the retelling of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator, accompanied by a live orchestra, the Voices of Liberty singers, a Cast Member choir, and high school choirs from around the country, singing Christmas carols and other holiday favorites. We have seen this show every single year since we moved to Central Florida in 2006, and have taken our kids along since they were tiny babies.
Regardless of whether you are particularly religious or not, the music and songs from this show are fantastic, and really get you in the holiday spirit. The celebrity narrators vary from year to year, but one recurring narrator, and our personal favorite, is Neil Patrick Harris, who does a great job telling the story.
I’ve seen kids of all ages in the theater to watch the show, and most seem to do really well with the show; there is a lot going on with all of the music and lights, and it seems to hold most kids attention. Our eldest has done well with the show every year, but this was the first year our youngest didn’t make it all the way through before losing interest. Obviously you know your kids best, and whether or not this is something they would enjoy sitting through.
Depending on how popular the narrator is on the night you plan to attend, you might want to look into the popular Candlelight Processional dinner package. This comes with a meal at one of the Epcot restaurants (Trattoria al Forno on the Boardwalk and Ale and Compass at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort are included as well) and reserved tickets for the show.
What time you eat dictates the show time you get tickets for, so if you have a breakfast or lunch reservation on the package, you’ll be seeing an earlier show, whereas a dinner reservation will get you tickets to a later show. When a narrator is extremely popular (Neil Patrick Harris is one of those narrators!) then it is very hard to see the show waiting on a stand-by line; folks have been known to line up as early as 1pm for a 5pm show, and there is no guarantee of getting a seat at all.
If you can’t get into the theater at all, there is the option to stand in the back to watch and listen, and this might be a great option if you’re not sure how your kids will like the show. You can read my full review of the Candlelight Processional here.
7. Take part in the Chip and Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree Scavenger hunt
One of our favorite things to do at any of the Epcot festivals are the scavenger hunts and for the Festival of the Holidays, this year sees the return of Chip and Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree. This is a really cute scavenger hunt around the World Showcase pavilions that results in a reward for completed maps.
The maps can be purchased at most of the merchandise locations and come with stickers to put in place as you spot Chip and Dale in each of the World Showcase countries. I’ll be honest – these were not as easy to spot as some of the other scavenger hunts we’ve done; Chip and Dale are found in little wreaths (like the one pictured below) and they blend in with the other decorations very well. On more than one occasion we had to ask for help from a Cast Member!
Once your map has been completed (and the Cast Members really aren’t checking to make sure you’ve put the stickers in the right place!) you can turn it in to Disney Traders or World Traveler at International Gateway for your reward. This year the reward is a Christmas ornament, you get a few different options; we went with the Christmas tree.
This is such a good way to keep kids engaged and occupied as you walk around World Showcase, and the reward at the end makes it even better!