I’ve been to Disney World many times since I was a little girl but never during the holidays until recently. We just got back from a family trip to Orlando, and I’m not sure if it was the moderate weather, the decorations, or the fact that it was our son’s first trip, but it quickly became my favorite time of year to visit. In my mind, Disney is always magical, but it’s especially wonderful during the holidays. Below are our recommendations on three great places to experience the magic of Disney during the holidays, both inside and outside of the theme parks.
Holiday Festivities at Magic Kingdom
While I haven’t tested out all the parks at this time of year to fairly pick “the best,” the first Walt Disney World theme park in Orlando sure knows how to do Christmas right. The decorations alone make it worth the visit around the holidays, and Magic Kingdom is decorated from early November until January each year. Guests are welcomed into Main Street with a huge Christmas tree after walking through the decorated train station and into the beautifully decorated buildings and streets lining Main Street USA.
While various rides have small decorations along the way, none do it better than the Jungle Cruise, which transforms into the “Jingle Cruise” around the holidays. Starting with the waiting line, no detail is left unturned with decorations to keep guests occupied during the wait up until they board their specially named holiday boat. During the cruise, each of the stops and animals are decorated along the way, and the tour guides are equipped with extra corny holiday jokes. Besides “It’s a Small World,” this was our son’s favorite ride at 19 months old.
Magic Kingdom also exclusively offers Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which includes everything from access to rides, special holiday treats and drinks, snow on main street and several performances throughout the evening. While we didn’t go this year since our son was still a little too young to stay up late enough to enjoy the party, I can’t wait to do this in the future. For more information on tickets and attending Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party, see here. Tip: If you have younger kids or don’t plan on staying at the parks a full day, we learned from the staff that the best days to go for lower crowds are on the days the Christmas parties or other specially ticketed events are offered, since many people don’t want to spend the money on a ticket when the park closes at 6:00pm.
If you’re looking to experience the holidays outside of Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Epcot also offer a number of decorations and special performances during the holidays. Most of the festivities occur from the beginning of November until the beginning of January, however, actual dates vary. For more on Walt Disney World events during the holidays, see here.
Disney Springs During the Holidays
In true Disney fashion, Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) was completely decked out for Christmas. The biggest draw to this area during the holidays is the Christmas Tree Trail, which has 20 Christmas trees themed from top to bottom after different Disney movies. The trail also has music along the way and guests are welcomed with “snowfall” if they walk through the trail at night time. At the end of the Christmas Tree Trail, Santa’s Chalet can be found to take a picture with the big guy in red. Anyone wanting to see Santa can check in at the podium as early as 10:30am to get yourself electronically “in line,” and Santa arrives at 11:00am to start taking pictures. Tip: If seeing Santa at Disney Springs is at the top of your list, go early. Santa visits can have a long wait (as long as 7 hours the one day we were there) and your best bet is to go right around 10:30am to get your name in for pictures.
While you’re at Disney Springs, be sure to check out the Disney Days of Christmas, a Christmas themed store that’s available all year round but is extra special around Christmas time. The store offers ornament personalization that can be done on any ornament with a smooth surface. It’s the perfect place to get an ornament for your tree, especially if you’re starting a “travel tree” like us. While the other stores are also beautifully decorated for Christmas, this one can’t be missed.
Other holiday activities include:
- Participate in Stitch’s Holiday Gift Hunt, which is a scavenger hunt designed for kids to search out Stitch in various stores across Disney Springs. They can pick up a booklet to guide their search at participating stores and obtain a sticker at each place they spot Stitch, completely with a prize for finding all of the hidden Stitches.
- Ride the Carousel located by the Disney Days of Christmas store (it’s open all year round but the horse are extra festive for the holidays.) Tokens are $3 for one ride and $5 for two rides.
- Catch a Christmas concert at the Marketplace stage.
Be sure to leave extra time to walk around so you take in the decorations, with each of the stores and windows decked out for the holidays.
For more information on the holidays at Disney Springs, see here.
“Now Snowing” in the Town of Celebration
Many people aren’t aware that Disney once created a town called Celebration, which is just about as happy of a place as the name would make you think. While the Disney Company no longer “owns” Celebration, Disney has still has ties to this cute little town situated close to Magic Kingdom, and you can’t help but feel the magic around you. Celebration completely embraces the holiday season, starting with “Now Snowing,” a nightly snowfall in front of the beautifully decorated tree in the town’s center, complete with Christmas music in the background. The soap based snow falls every hour from 6:00-9:00pm and takes place from November 24- December 31.
Other offerings during the holiday festivities include:
- Countdown to Christmas, a concert offered on December 8th and again on December 15th, featuring up and coming young musicians from across the United States (most notably, Justin Beiber performed on this stage in the past.)
- Ice skating on a plexiglass rink with supports offered for little kids
- Horse-drawn carriage rides with a number of options available
- Train rides around town
Celebration also has a number of great restaurants and shops that can be found here.
Can’t make it to Walt Disney World this Holiday Season? There are several specials available on ABC for all the Disney fans out there, including the upcoming Disney Parks Magical Christmas Parade airing on December 25.
Please share in the comments if you have any recommendations on the best places to experience the magic of Disney at Christmas.
Will’s Trip Stats: Orlando, Florida/ December 2018/ 19 Months Old
Children’s Book Inspiration: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Christmas by Susan Amerikaner
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