Spotlight on Christmas at Walt Disney World! I know, I know, you are thinking wait, we haven’t even celebrated Halloween yet and we’re talking about Christmas!? Why yes we are. If you are planning a trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth for the first time or have planned many trips in the past, you know that planning early is key. After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year. It truly is. And what better way to spend the holidays than having a good old family Disney Christmas trip. Magical, right? Well, yes it is.
November and December offer perfect weather (a little bit cooler than usual – you might actually need a coat!), entertainment, festive decorations, scrumptious holiday snacks, and so much more. But there is also a lot you need to know to start planning. In this Disney World Christmas Guide to all things Holidays I’ll share with you all that you absolutely need to know in order to plan a successful and memorable Christmas at Disney World.
Christmas at Disney World Overview
Table of Contents
The 2023 holiday season officially kicks off across the Walt Disney World Resort on November 11th, 2023. By that date, all of the holiday decor will be up in all the parks, resorts and Springs, with the exception of Epcot (where the holidays officially kick off on November 24 – more on that later). Magic Kingdom will be the first park to complete its holiday overhaul just in time for the first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on November 9th. The holiday festivities and decor will typically come down sometime during the first week of January, 2023. So there are about two full months of holiday cheer to enjoy. And this year is extra special because it marks 40 years of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party! It all started back in 1983 so there have been 40 years of magical holidays at Walt Disney World.
Planning a Disney Christmas Trip?
So how best does one start to prepare for a Disney Christmas trip, and what can you expect once you get there? That’s a great question. It seems in years past the planning process has gotten a bit more complicated than it used to be, and if you miss a step, it could impact your family vacation. It’s best to be aware and prepare and that’s where this guide will help.
Let’s jump in and break it all down.
Here are the TOP 10 MUST DO’s & TIPS for Planning a Disney Christmas trip:
Make park reservations EARLY
Park reservations do book up and reach capacity, especially during peak seasons. And they are still required through the end of this year for all ticket holders. Plan accordingly. As soon as you have a Disney Christmas trip booked, buy your tickets and book your park reservations. There are no exceptions, if you show up to the gate without one, you will not be allowed in.
Be mindful of park hopping and park capacity
I highly recommend adding the park hopper option to your park ticket so it gives the ability to move around the parks during your Disney Christmas trip. Be aware however that parks do reach capacity often during the holidays (especially during the week between Christmas Day and New Years Day), so be sure to call 407-560-5000 at any time to check capacity levels before hopping. Also keep in mind that you cannot park hop until 2pm each day, so plan accordingly.
Learn the basics of My Disney Experience and Genie
It will be advantageous to you if you spend a bit of time researching and understanding the basics of the My Disney Experience (MDE) app and how Genie works. Be sure to download the app to your phone and get to know the features before your trip, you will use it more than you can imagine.
Also, take some time to learn the fundamentals of Genie and Genie+ if you plan to use either during your vacation. You will save a lot of time and frustration if you take a bit of time to research and understand the basics before you go. MDE is used for the Genie planning tool, Genie+, Mobile Ordering, Mobile Key for your hotel room, and so much more!
Book dining reservations as EARLY as possible
Dining reservations are hard to come by these days. As soon as you know you are heading to Walt Disney World for Christmas, book your dining reservations. You can make reservations up to 60 days out from day one of your trip. If you are having trouble finding what you want, keep checking. Be persistent. Guests cancel reservations all the time and things open up.
Pack your patience
Prepare for enormous crowd levels, especially for the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. If you go into your vacation already knowing this, it’s half the battle. It will be crowded, lines will be long, tempers might flare. Take breaks throughout the day and find a quiet place in the park to take a breather. It does help. If you visit in within the first week (and sometimes into the second week) of December, the crowds tend to be a bit lower. Patience is still required, but it’s all a bit more tolerable and manageable.
Have a plan, but be flexible
Always have a plan, prioritize what is most important for you and your family. But also be flexible. Things will change, things will happen and you need to be able to pivot if needed. Disney is magical no matter what. The best way to handle a Disney Christmas trip is to roll with the punches. Also, buffer a LOT of time to get from one place to another. Most have some kind of plan or itinerary, but don’t underestimate how long it make take to get to your destination with the crowd levels.
Put the phone down
Enjoy what is happening around you and in front of you. Christmas at Disney World is pure magic and you don’t want to miss any of it. You have worked hard to plan this vacation, be present and enjoy every moment of it!
Check Park Hours; Arrive Early and Stay Late
Park hours change all the time and are usually extended during the holidays. Know what time the park opens and closes each day so you can plan accordingly. Be an early bird and a night owl all at the same time. Take advantage of early morning entry (if applicable) and extended night hours. Take a break midday if needed and then head back to the park. With park reservations, if you head back to your starting park for the day, you will be guaranteed re-entry.
Know the transportation options and always factor in extra time
There are thousands of Guests using Disney transportation at any given time, but during the holidays, that amount can rise exponentially. If you are using the bus, monorail, skyliner or Minnie Van, the waits may be longer than usual. Factor this in if you need to be somewhere at a specific time. If you think it will take 20 minutes, plan for 40. Always double or triple your time. Trust me on this one.
Have a safety plan for the children.
It’s easy to get separated in the crowds. Before the day starts, decide on a place to meet if this happens.
Introduce them to Cast Members, if they get lost or separated from you, let them know they can seek out any of the Cast Members to help them. Take a picture of them at the beginning of the day. If you do get separated, you’ll be able to show a pic of what they look like and what they are wearing (something you might forget in a moment of panic).
What are the BEST weeks to visit during the holidays?
Are you wondering when the best time to travel to Walt Disney World might be for the holidays?
In my experience the first and second week of November and the first and second week of December are usually the best times to visit the parks. The crowds tend to be lighter during these weeks. I emphasize the word usually because these days it is a bit harder to predict. Since the pandemic, crowd patterns have changed significantly, and now with so many pandemic restrictions lifted after the last couple of years, 2022 and 2023 seemed to be the years of travel. So while the general best travel times may still be accurate, crowd levels could potentially be more intense this year.
Where can I find the best holiday food at Walt Disney World?
Disney always releases the sweetest foodie guides during the holidays. And don’t forget about all the uniquely themed (and tasty) cocktails to go along with those tasty treats! You will find the most options at Magic Kingdom during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – it seems this is where the best of the treats are highlighted. But during regular park days, you can find lots of delicious snacks across all four parks. So far, Disney has only released holiday treats during their halfway to the holidays celebration in July – but it won’t be long before the officially treat guide will be shared. Once it does, be sure to highlight all of the great snacks and cocktails you can’t wait to try!
Which Resorts are the best to visit during your Disney Christmas Trip?
Have a day off from visiting the parks? Be sure to take time to tour the magnificent hotel lobby’s; each one meticulously decorated and themed appropriate for each hotel. They are just as much an event as the parks themselves. And they deserve to be seen. I would personally prioritize the Deluxe resort lobby’s (Contemporary Resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Wilderness Lodge, etc.). I think they go the extra mile in decorating for the season.You will not be disappointed.
Although one of my all-time favorite Moderate hotel lobby’s is in the Destino Tower. The reflective golds and shimmering jewel tones are absolutely gorgeous – you definitely need to stop by! It is magnificent during the holidays.
And be sure to stop by Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa hotel to see the ginormous Gingerbread House that is built in the hotel lobby. Made from real ingredients, this lifesize house not only smells amazing, but is an actual shop that sells gingerbread goodies to all Guests. It is spectacular and worth the extra trip – it’s super easy if visiting Magic Kingdom. It’s just a quick resort monorail stop away. The Gingerbread House is on usually on display from early November through January 1 (official dates have not yet been released).
What’s happening at the parks for the holiday season?
There are so many things to do at Disney for Christmas across all four parks, it will be hard to get it all in this guide. I’ll highlight the best of the best at each park; be sure to add these to your park itinerary when you visit.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) is the highlight of the holidays at Magic Kingdom. It’s back in all its holly jolly glory.
MVMCP kicks off on November 9th, the first of 25 party dates scheduled this year! Celebrate a Disney Christmas with special entertainment like “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade”, Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks, snow on Main Street U.S.A, and more! You’ll also find lots of characters out in the park wearing their holiday best, unlimited cookies and hot chocolate and elaborate decorations across the park. It’s fun for all ages! There is no better event to get everyone in the Christmas mood.
Event dates are selling out quickly, the first two parties have already sold out. If you want to attend, you can purchase your tickets here.
Note: if you are visiting during the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, all of the entertainment offered during MVMCP is free to all day Guests. Plan to include some of these into your Magic Kingdom itinerary.
Holiday overlays are also a huge attraction (no pun intended) at Magic Kingdom during the holidays. While Disney can’t change attractions overnight, they can decorate them to get into the holiday spirit. One of the best attraction holiday overlays at Walt Disney World is the Jungle Cruise (known as the “Jingle Cruise”) for the holidays. The queue, the jokes, the boats and more all have a holiday twist that you can’t miss. It is one of the most popular attractions during the holidays – Disney fans can’t get enough of the corny, jingling jokes! Be sure to make this attraction a priority!
EPCOT gets started a little later with their holiday festivities then the other three parks. Disney needs to wait until the Food and Wine Festival ends (on November 18th) to bring in any of the holiday entertainment, food, drink, etc.
The Festival of the Holidays kicks off on November 24th and runs through December 30th. This festival is one of the shortest offered throughout the year, but it is the most celebrated and joyous of all the festivals. There is nothing more spectacular than EPCOT (and the World Showcase specifically) during the holidays.
Similar to all other festivals in EPCOT, the holiday festival offers some incredibly delicious food and drink options at the various festival food booths (called “Holiday Kitchens”) throughout the park. There are not as many booths (or “kitchens”) as the Food and Wine offers, but there are still a lot of yummy options!
Don’t miss out on the Holiday Cookie Stroll – visit various locations around the World Showcase to get special cookies. Get them all and you get a free bonus one! It’s super fun and delicious, too!
The Candlelight Processional is one of the most beloved holiday traditions found across all four parks at Walt Disney World. Hear the story of Christmas presented by a celebrity narrator, accompanied by an orchestra and choir. This amazing celebration of Christmas is shown nightly from November 24 to December 30. Similar to the concerts that happen during other festivals, this is included in your Epcot ticket, but is insanely popular so if you know you want to attend consider booking a dining package for guaranteed seating at one of the shows.
Hollywood Studios has quickly climbed the ranks to become one of my favorites to visit during the holiday season. If you love retro and vintage Christmas like I do, this park is for you! Hollywood Studios is covered in vintage and festive decor. You’ll want to spend extra time at this park just to take it all in.
The most beautiful area is Echo Lake, near Gertie (the big dinosaur). Here’s where you find the massive park Christmas tree, amazing holiday cocktails, old-school holiday music (think Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams), and an old-world vintage charm that you will absolutely fall in love with. This whole area is pure Disney Christmas magic, full of nostalgia. Be sure to come back at night and see how spectacular the lights glisten on the lake.
After you take in the lights on the lake, be sure to wander down Sunset Boulevard to catch Sunset Seasons Greetings, a projection show on the Tower of Terror. And now with the return of Fantasmic, this area will be bustling at night. I suspect it will be full of Disney Christmas cheer and festive vibes. I actually love the projection show and I highly recommend it. It plays continuously all night from dark to closing so it’s easy to fit into your park plans. They have four different mini-shows playing on a loop with various soundtracks and projections so make sure to stick around to see them all. Watch how the whole street becomes a winter wonderland as it snows on Sunset Boulevard. The best place to watch is close to the Tower to ensure you see all the fun details in the projections.
New this year is Disney Jollywood Nights! This exclusive limited-capacity event will take place on 10 nights during November and December at Hollywood Studios. Experience a festive night of glitz and glam with all-new entertainment like a DJ spinning a mix of holiday tunes, a special Theater of the Stars hosted by none other than Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, a jazz lounge at The Hollywood Brown Derby, a soiree at The Hollywood Tower Hotel Courtyard, the return of Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM, and so much more! Buy your tickets now for this limited event.
Animal Kingdom probably has the least holiday festivities of all the parks, but where they excel is the exceptional decor and overall holiday vibe.
The Merry Menagerie, adorable life-size animal puppets, have quickly become a crowd pleaser. Although a schedule has not yet been released, they usually begin on or about November 11th (at the start of the holidays at Walt Disney World) where they can be found wandering all over Discovery Island, right at the entrance to the park near the Tree of Life. These artisan-sculpted puppets of arctic animals—like penguins, reindeer, foxes, and polar bears are the most charming things. Videos or photos do not do them justice. You just have to go and see them. Live musicians stroll around as well, making this whole area so magical.They are an absolute hit and quickly became a fan fave when they debuted just a few short years ago.
Keep in mind they do take some breaks throughout the day, so you may need to hang around the area to see them all. They also don’t stay out late so visit before 4:00 or 5:00 pm to see them.
Also typically scheduled to begin on or around November 11th is the Tree of Life Awakening – the Holiday Edition, a special projection and musical show presented on the Tree of Life. Like all the things at Animal Kingdom, this show is unexpectedly sweet and magical, and they have several different mini-shows that play from dark till closing so hang around a bit to see them. You can only see these on the front of the Tree closest to the entrance.
Christmas at Disney World is by far the most magical and joyous time to celebrate and visit. There are truly so many things to do and see at Disney for Christmas, there is no shortage of fun to be had. While planning a Disney Christmas trip can be intense, once you are there be sure to take it all in, enjoy the festivities, and treasure the time with family and friends. Disney Christmas is pure magic. If you are going to visit Walt Disney World, make it during Christmas-time!
And there is no better time to stay on property at Walt Disney World. Receive a Disney Dining Promo Card This Holiday Season when staying at select Disney Resort Hotels. Contact your Love of the Magic Vacation advisor today to learn more!!
For all the current Walt Disney World promos, visit here.
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