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, December has quickly become our favorite time to visit the Orlando area.
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, however, Icon Park and the town of Celebration also offer fun things to do around Christmas in the Orlando area. Keep reading for our favorite places to celebrate the holidays in Orlando, 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 fairly pick “the best,” Magic Kingdom knows how to do Christmas right. The decorations alone make it worth the visit around the holidays. Wondering, when is Magic Kingdom decorated 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 Little Kids
Tip: We visited Magic Kingdom during the first week in December and went to Magic Kingdom for a day on a Friday. The crowds weren’t bad at all and we got great deals on our flights. We highly recommend early December if you want to experience Magic Kingdom at Christmas without the crowds at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
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 was our son’s favorite after “It’s a Small World.”
Mickey’s Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom also exclusively offers Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This special event includes everything from access to rides, holiday treats and drinks, snow on main street and performances throughout the evening. We didn’t get to go on our last visit 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, though! For more information on tickets and attending Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party, see here.
Tip: If you’re not planning to stay at Magic Kingdom for a full day, the crowds at Magic Kingdom tend to be lower during the day when Mickey’s party is taking place. According to the Park staff, many people don’t want to spend the money on a ticket when the park closes at 6:00pm.
Looking to spend more time in Disney World outside of Magic Kingdom at Christmas? 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 is completely decked out for Christmas. The biggest draw to this area during the holidays is the Christmas Tree Trail in Disney Springs. This free trail includes Christmas trees themed after different Disney movies. 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 big guy in red. 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 you’re at Disney Springs, be sure to check out the Disney Days of Christmas. This Christmas themed 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.
Additional Holiday Activities 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.
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.
Disney Character Breakfast at Christmas in Orlando
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 Sunday Disney Character Breakfast at the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace in Disney Springs. It’s an awesome alternative to the Disney World property character breakfasts if you can’t get a reservation for those.
The entire hotel, including the Letterpress restaurant, are 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, Florida
While Disney is usually the first thing people think of when it comes to Christmas in Orlando, the nearby town of Celebration is arguably just as festive. Celebration was once 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 situated close to Magic Kingdom. And you can’t help but feel the magic around you when you step foot in town.
Celebration completely embraces the holiday season, starting with “Now Snowing.” This nightly snowfall takes place in of a huge Christmas 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 it takes place from November 30- December 31.
Additional Things to Do in Celebration, Florida at Christmas
If you’re visiting Celebration, Florida during the holidays, there are so many fun activities throughout December. (In addition to “Now Snowing.”) Below are a few of the fun things to do in Celebration during the holidays.
- Attend Countdown to Christmas, a concert featuring up and coming musicians from across the US. (Most notably, Justin Beiber performed on this stage in the past.)
- “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 around the town of Celebration.
Celebration, FL also has a number of great restaurants and shops. See here for a listing.
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, both indoors and outdoors. 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 Disney during the holidays, we had a blast at SeaLife Orlando and The Wheel. 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 popular attraction 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 this huge ferris wheel in Orlando at night to see the city lit up for the holidays. In addition to The Wheel and SeaLife, there are several other attractions at Icon Park. See here for more.
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. You can also find some great Disney Christmas gear here.
Please share in the comments if you have any recommendations on the best places to experience Disney at Christmas in Orlando.
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