There’s something extra magical about Disney and the rest of Orlando at Christmas time. Between the lights and decorations, the festivities and the warm weather, Christmas in Orlando, FL has quickly become our favorite time of year.
Two of our favorite places to visit during the holidays in Orlando include Magic Kingdom and Disney Springs. If you want a break from the Disney crowds, Icon Orlando and the town of Celebration also offer fun things to do in Orlando during Christmas. Keep reading for more on what to do in Orlando for Christmas, both inside and outside of the theme parks.
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Christmas at Magic Kingdom
While I haven’t tested out all of the Disney parks at this time of year to pick “the best,” Magic Kingdom sure does Christmas right. The decorations alone make it worth the visit around the holidays. Wondering, does Magic Kingdom decorate for Christmas? It’s typically from early November until January each year. Not long after they take the Halloween decorations down!
From the minute you step into Magic Kingdom at Christmas, the spirit of the holiday season is everywhere you look. Guests are welcomed into Main Street with a huge Christmas tree. (Which makes a great photo op as you can see from our post on preparing for one day in Disney.) The train station at the entrance is also beautifully decorated, as well as the buildings and streets lining Main Street USA.
Related Post: Tips for the Best Day in Disney with a Toddler
Pro Tip: For the best Disney prices during the holidays, we recommend going the first week in December after Thanksgiving. Disney World in early December is ideal if you want to experience Magic Kingdom at Christmas with slightly less crowds.
Holiday Themed Rides in Magic Kingdom at Christmas
While many rides at Magic Kingdom have hints of Christmas decorations along the way, none do it better than the Jungle Cruise. This ride is transformed into the “Jingle Cruise” around the holidays. From the time you step in line, no detail is left unturned. There are decorations to keep guests occupied throughout the queue until they board. During the cruise, each of the stops and animals are decorated along the way. The tour guides are also equipped with extra corny holiday jokes.
If you’re looking for the best rides for toddlers in Magic Kingdom, the Jungle Cruise is one of our kiddos’ favorites and it’s being updated in 2021!
Wondering, when do Christmas decorations go up at Disney World? Disney starts decorating for Christmas the night after Halloween, but officially Disney World is decorated for Christmas by the second week in November.
Mickey’s Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom also exclusively offers an after hours Christmas party at Disney, one of the most popular Disney Christmas events. This special event includes everything from access to rides, holiday treats and drinks, snow on main street and performances throughout the evening.
Note: Disney just announced the event lineup for Disney Christmas 2021 that will include a “Disney Very Merriest After Hours” party plus “Minnie’s Wonderful Christmas Fireworks.” It looks like the best time if you’ve ever considered Disney World at Christmas time!
Looking to spend more time in Disney World at Christmas 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 info on Walt Disney World Christmas events, see here.
Disney Springs During the Holidays
In true Disney fashion, Disney Springs is completely decked out for Christmas. The biggest draw to this area during the holidays is the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail. This trail includes Christmas trees themed after different Disney movies, and it’s at the top of our list of free things to do in Orlando for Christmas. The Christmas trees are decorated with the most amazing ornaments, and the trail also has holiday music along the way. If you have a chance to go at night, there’s also “snow” falling at the Christmas Tree Trail.
At the end of the Christmas Tree Trail, you’re greeted by Santa’s Chalet, where you can take a picture with the Disney Springs Santa. Anyone wanting to see Santa can “check in” as early as 10:30am to get yourself electronically “in line.” Santa then 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.) Your best bet is to go right around 10:30am to get your name in for pictures.
Christmas Shopping at Disney Springs
While in Disney Springs at Christmas time, be sure to check out the Disney Days of Christmas. This Disney Springs Christmas store is available all year round, but it’s extra special around Christmas time. One of the main draws to the store is the personalization station, which is great for that perfect ornament to commemorate your holiday trip to Disney. We started a travel tree with our son, so we couldn’t resist getting an ornament to memorialize his first trip to Disney.
The World of Disney store at Disney Springs is also fully decked out in red and green. In addition to decorations within the stores, the window decorations are also updated for the holidays. (If you’re looking for fun Disney World Christmas decorations during your trip to Disney at Christmas, I definitely recommend stopping for the decor alone!)
Additional Holiday Activities at Disney Springs
In addition to the Christmas Tree Trail and shopping, there are more fun activities and Christmas events in Orlando, FL that can be found at Disney Springs.
- Participate in Stitch’s Holiday Gift Hunt. This scavenger hunt is designed for kids to search out Stitch in various stores across Disney Springs. Kids can pick up a booklet to guide their search at participating stores. There’s also a prize at the end if you can find all of the hidden Stitches.
- Ride the Carousel located by the Disney Days of Christmas store. (It’s open all year round but the horses are extra festive for the holidays.) Tokens are $3 for one ride and $5 for two rides.
- Take a ride on the little train. (The train at Disney Springs is also open all year round.)
- Catch a Christmas concert at the Marketplace stage; a popular place for Orlando Christmas shows.
For more information on celebrating the holidays at Disney Springs, see here.
Disney Character Breakfast at Christmas in Orlando, FL
The holidays can be a busy time at Disney World. In our experience that also applied to restaurant reservations in addition to the parks. Luckily, we discovered the Hilton Disney Character Breakfast on Sundays at the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace in Disney Springs. It’s an awesome alternative to Disney World character breakfasts if you can’t get a reservation for those held on property.
The entire hotel, including the Letterpress restaurant, is fully decorated for Christmas. When we were there, Minnie, Goofy and Pluto were rotating throughout the restaurant. We were sat in an area in the back that wasn’t very crowded, and my son was ecstatic to get so much one-on-one time with the characters.
Tips for a Disney Character Breakfast at Hilton Buena Vista Palace
- The Letterpress restaurant doesn’t accept reservations for character breakfasts.
- If you want to avoid the crowds, I definitely recommend going early. We went around 9am and it was the perfect time for our group of 8 to be seated right away.
- You can order from the breakfast buffet or a-la-carte. The breakfast buffet is free for kids 2 and under.
- Have your parking to be validated for free if you’re only visiting for breakfast and not staying onsite. The manager confirmed that they offer this benefit to any dining guests who aren’t staying at the hotel.
Christmas in Celebration, FL
While Disney World is usually the first thing people think of when it comes to Christmas in Orlando, the nearby town of Celebration is also known for its awesome holiday events in Orlando, Florida. Celebration, Florida was originally created by Disney. And it’s just about as happy of a place as the name suggests. While the Disney Company no longer “owns” Celebration, Disney has still has ties to this cute little town close to Magic Kingdom. And you can’t help but feel the magic around you when you step foot in town, whether you’re celebrating Christmas at Celebration, Florida or are there another time of year.
Celebration completely embraces the holiday season, with some of the best Christmas lights in Orlando. If you’re looking for fun (and free) things to do in Orlando for Christmas, you can’t miss “Now Snowing.” This nightly snowfall takes place in front the huge Celebration, FL Christmas tree in the town’s center. It takes place amongst the Celebration, FL Christmas lights with holiday music playing in the background. Historically, the artificial snow falls every hour from 6:00-9:00pm. Dates and details for the 2021 Orlando Christmas events in Celebration are TBD.
Additional Things to Do in Celebration, Florida at Christmas
If you’re looking for more Orlando, Florida Christmas activities, there are several more events in Celebration throughout December. Below are more of the Celebration, Florida Christmas things to do during the holidays.
- Attend Countdown to Christmas, one of the most popular Christmas events in Celebration, Florida, featuring up and coming musicians from across the US. (Most notably, Justin Beiber performed on this stage at one of these popular Orlando Christmas shows.)
- “Ice skate” on a plexiglass rink. If you have young kids who want to skate, they also have braces to help them stay up.
- Take one of many horse-drawn carriage rides offered.
- Ride the train in Celebration, FL around town.
There is also great shopping in Celebration, FL and a number of awesome places to eat. See here for a listing of Celebration, Florida restaurants and stores.
Icon Orlando at Christmas Time
Icon Park is another great place to visit if you’re in Orlando at Christmas time. The entire complex is decorated for Christmas, making it another great spot to see Christmas lights in Orlando. Icon Orlando also offers Santa visits and a holiday themed train ride. My son in particular loved the train and the grassy area to run around.
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Orlando besides Disney, Icon Orlando should be high on your list. During our last visit to Orlando, we had a blast at SeaLife Orlando and The Wheel. The SeaLife aquarium focuses on conservation efforts, and there are several rescued marine mammals on site. If you’re going to SeaLife in Orlando with a toddler, there are several tunnels to run through and hands-on areas to explore. If you happen to be visiting SeaLife at Christmas like us, be sure to look for the diver dressed as Santa!
The Wheel (also known as the Orlando Eye) is another one of the most popular things to do at Icon Orlando. This slow moving, enclosed ferris wheel takes you up 400 feet in the area for the best views of Orlando and beyond. While we went during the day on this trip, I’d love to ride it at night to see the Orlando Christmas lights throughout the city.
In addition to The Wheel and SeaLife, there are several other attractions at Icon Park. See here for more information
Family-Friendly Hotels in Orlando
We’ve stayed at a number of family-friendly hotels in Orlando over the years in addition to staying with family in the area. Below are some of our recommendations for the best places to stay in Orlando, FL.
- Reunion Resort: Offers access to several pools including the Reunion Resort Waterpark, restaurants, Reunion Resort golf courses and more. Search here for Reunion Resort top villas and condo rentals in Orlando, Florida.
- Sheraton Vistana Villages: This Walt Disney World Good Neighbor hotel is one of the best Orlando hotels with two bedroom suites. It offers several pools, restaurants and other amenities and is a short drive to Disney World. To check rates and/or book the Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort, go here.
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort: This Disney Value Resort has great Disney theming and is the best Disney resort for toddlers.
Please share in the comments if you have any recommendations on the best things to do in Orlando for Christmas.
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