Walt Disney World at Christmas it a truly magical place; the decorations, the music, the shows, and the overall Christmassy atmosphere just take that Disney magic to the next level and it is an unforgettable experience. It’s my absolute favorite time of the year to explore the parks, and not just because it’s actually cool enough to enjoy them! I have a complete guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World, but there’s one thing we look forward to above everything else. My favorite Walt Disney World Christmas tradition is the Epcot Candlelight Processional; it’s something we see multiple times each year, and never fails to put me in a Christmas mood. We’ve been taking our kids to the Candlelight Processional since our eldest was a few weeks old, and they’ve never missed a show. Each year I get questions from people asking if the Candlelight Processional is suitable for kids, and how best to see the show, so I thought I’d put together a guide with everything you need to know about experiencing the Epcot Candlelight Processional with kids. Take a look!
The best way to experience the Epcot Candlelight Processional with kids
What is the Epcot Candlelight Processional?
The Candlelight Processional is a show performed nightly at Epcot from the end of November to the end of December at the America Gardens Theater in Epcot’s World Showcase (in 2018 the show runs from November 22nd to December 30th). The show features a live orchestra, traditional Christmas carols sung by a cast choir and high school choirs, as well as the Voices of Liberty singers, and a celebrity narrator telling the Christmas nativity story. It is performed three times a night (5pm, 6.45pm and 8.15pm) and you have two options if you want to see the show: you can wait in the stand-by line, or you can participate in the Candlelight Processional dinner package and receive guaranteed seats that way. Although it is best experienced from inside the theater, it is possible to see and hear parts of the show from outside in the America pavilion. The show is incredibly popular, and is included with your admission to Epcot.
Do I need the Candlelight Processional dinner package to see the show?
Do you need it? No. Would I recommend it? Absolutely.
The dinner package is not mandatory and there is a stand-by line to see the show, however that line can get very long very quickly. During peak times such as Thanksgiving weekend or Christmas itself, as well as times the most popular celebrity narrators are in attendance, people start waiting in these lines when World Showcase first opens – that’s at 11am! In the past Disney have tried various things such as handing out tickets to those who get there early so they’re not spending their entire day in line, but this hasn’t been a consistent practice, and you always run the risk of waiting in line for a show that you might not even get in to.
The dinner package is the only way we have seen the show for years, especially now we have kids. The package offers a meal at one of a number of restaurants (at both Epcot and a couple of the neighboring resorts) and tickets for one of the Candlelight Processional shows that evening. The meal offered varies a little by restaurant, but is generally either a buffet meal or an appetizer, entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic drink for a set price. You can find the list of participating restaurants here as well as their prices (which are generally lower for breakfast and lunch than for dinner) and reservations are available now. Some restaurants tend to fill up more quickly than others, so if you have a favorite location, try to make your reservation as early as possible – similarly, if you know only one date will work for you, get in there quickly before that day all fills up. The time of your meal does not necessarily correspond to the show you will attend – it is possible to have a breakfast reservation and still see the 8.15pm show, for example – but sometimes you have to play around a bit with the reservation times to get the combination that you want (the only rule is that your meal has to be before the show, it cannot be afterwards).
We have done the Candlelight Processional dinner package at a number of restaurants over the years, including Via Napoli, the Rose and Crown, Les Chefs de France (which was a tradition for us for years) and Teppen Edo (my kids favorite!) If you know you’re going to be looking for a table service meal during the day and you know you want to see the show, this really is the best way to go. The package is 2 table service credits per meal, which I don’t personally think is a great value – I’d recommend paying out of pocket if you have the dining plan. You can make reservations for the dinner package by calling 407-WDW-DINE or booking online.
The tickets are guaranteed for seating as long as you arrive at the theater at least 15 minutes before the show, but be warned, people will line up WAY before that! The line for the dinner package is to the left of the theater (with the stand by line to the right) and it’s not uncommon to see that line stretching right the way from the America pavilion to the France pavilion. If you know you want to sit close to the stage or in the center of the theater (or under the awning that covers the first few rows in case it rains!) then it’s advisable to get in line about an hour before your show begins. We’ve only ever had an issue with our seating once, and that was a few years ago on a holiday weekend with a very popular narrator, and we left it to the last minute to arrive at the theater. As long as you arrive with plenty of time, you’ll be fine.
Which is the best night to see the show?
If you’re here on vacation, then you’ll be somewhat limited as to your choices when it comes to dates. My first suggestion is to look and see who the celebrity narrator is for the nights you can choose from (you can find the narrators for 2018 here) and see if there is anyone you’d particularly like to see. Some narrators return year after year and are very popular; Neil Patrick Harris consistently draws huge crowds, and Gary Sinise is always a popular choice. Some narrators will only come once, and if they’re a big celebrity, those dates can be a little busier. Holidays and weekends will always be more popular as well. If you plan to do the Candlelight Processional dinner package, take a look at the restaurant options for the nights you’re considering to see what’s available.
There’s really no bad time to see a show. I always find that the closer dates to Christmas have a more excitable, festive atmosphere, but the show is so fantastic, it can be enjoyed at any time.
Which show time is the best?
I don’t necessarily think one show time is the best, however there are advantages to each one. The 5pm show is perfect for those with younger children who may not be able to stay up for the later show times. It also has the advantage of being the first show of the night, meaning that if you are stood in line, you won’t catch glimpses of the previous show that might spoil it for you. On the down side, it is rarely completely dark at 5pm, and the lighting for the show doesn’t show up quite as well. The opposites are all true for the 8.15pm show; it is completely dark so the lights really look spectacular, however it is a later time for younger children, and you do hear parts of the previous show while stood in line (which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you view it!) 6.45pm presents a compromise, although I have struggled more to find dinner package times for that particular show. Really, any show will be beautiful, it’s just each one has their own advantageous features.
If you’re looking for other things to do at Epcot while waiting on your show time, definitely make time to experience everything the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays has to offer, with special festive treats, holiday decorations, and stories from each country as to how they celebrate the festive season. It’s a fantastic way to get into the holiday spirit – you can even meet Santa and Mrs Claus!
How can I guarantee I’ll get the best seats?
The only way to do this really is to get the dinner package and line up early. If you arrive at the theater at 4pm for the 5pm show, chances are you will be in a great position to take your pick of seats. Even if you line up super early for stand-by, they fill the theater with dinner package guests first, so seating for stand-by is usually at the back of the theater. To be honest, there’s really no huge advantage of sitting up close, aside from being under cover and maybe getting a better glimpse at the celebrity narrator. The music and singing will be easily heard throughout the theater.
What do I need to know about experiencing the Epcot Candlelight Processional with kids?
We love experiencing the Epcot Candlelight Processional with kids, but I know the experience isn’t for every child, and you know yours best. My eldest son watched this show for the first time at 2 weeks old, and has been every year since. He has sat beautifully still throughout each performance, enjoying the music and the lights and whole atmosphere of the theater – however, he loves the theater in general and can happily sit through a 2-hour Broadway show! My youngest did fine the first year when he was just a few months old, but struggled last year at 18-months old, losing interest within the first 10 minutes. This of course meant one of us had to take him out the theater, which is always frustrating, but even more so when you’ve paid a premium for the experience, which we had with the dinner package! I’ve seen plenty of kids absolutely spellbound by the whole show, enjoying every minute of it, and other kids who were obviously bored within minutes. It all depends on your child’s attention span, and if they would enjoy this kind of thing. If you’re not sure, I would suggest trying to catch a bit of the show from outside the theater on one of the first nights of your trip, and gauge their interest levels. If they seem like they’d want to see the show from inside the theater on another night, you can come back and do it then (chances are there will still be a few dinner package spots on every night available, unless that night is especially busy). If you want to see the show but know that your kids won’t like it, then watching and listening from outside the theater is a good option too.
Will I enjoy this if I’m not religious?
This is a hard question to answer, but I would imagine most people would find something to enjoy in the show, religious or not. Obviously, the story being told by the celebrity narrator is the nativity story, and many of the Christmas songs are traditional carols. However, the music is beautiful and the atmosphere is so festive and fun, I think it’s easy to enjoy the performances even if you are not religious. If you’re concerned about this, however, you could search on YouTube for a recording of the show so you have an idea of what to expect.