Walt Disney World is always a magical place to visit, no matter the time at year. However, even if you aren’t an over the top Christmastime aficionado like I am, the holidays at Disney World will still fill you with that extra bit of joy and cheer. But as with anything at Disney World, you need to narrow it down a bit, so below I have my top 10 things to definitely do during a holiday trip to Walt Disney World this year.
1. Candlelight Processional
Alright, this is one of the easiest and most obvious inclusions, but that is for good reason. If you aren’t familiar, the Candlelight Processional is a nightly occurrence in Epcot where a celebrity narrator tells the Christmas story with the help of an orchestra, enormous choir, and the Voices of Liberty.
The narrators this year include perennial favorites like Whoopi Goldberg and Neil Patrick Harris alongside brand new additions like Alfonso Ribeiro and Auli’i Cravalho. As one of the most popular shows of the holiday season, you can generally either wait in a standby line, or guarantee seating through a dining package. Either way, this should definitely be one on your list.
2. Nighttime Entertainment at DHS
Since the last time I was able to visit Walt Disney World at the holidays, one of the biggest changes is the holiday entertainment at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Since then, the Osborne Lights have left, but I am now excited to see two nighttime holiday shows for the first time. First, is Sunset Seasons Greetings, which uses lasers and projection mapping to transform the Hollywood Tower Hotel into a whole range of Disney characters sharing holiday cheer at intervals throughout the evening.
The other new big edition is Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!, a new holiday nighttime spectacular that makes great use of the fireworks, projections, lasers, and more that can otherwise be seen as part of the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular. Even though I’m not that familiar with the Prep and Landing cartoons that provide the story behind this show, I am really looking forward to seeing it myself in person. If you will be in Disney World this holiday season, definitely make a plan to head over to the Studios at night and enjoy the spirit of the season.
3. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
One of the most known offerings during this time of year at Disney World is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Much like it’s slightly spookier cousin around Halloween, this party is held several days a week throughout the holiday season and features special character meet and greets, special shows and dance parties, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime parade, Holiday Wishes and more.
The character meets are fun and special, the parade is festive (including a great display by the toy soldiers) and Holiday Wishes is bound to fill anyone with the spirit of the season. Especially if you have never been to the party, it is worth doing at least once. (Side note, if you are going very close to Christmas day, you can see both the parade and the fireworks as part of the normal operations at the Magic Kingdom).
4. Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs
With the re-imagining of Disney Springs, the possibilities for holiday activities increased dramatically, and one of the most interesting is the Christmas Tree Trail. This walk through area, which is free to visit, incorporates nearly 30 trees themed to all kinds of Disney characters and is sure to get you in the holiday spirit.
5. Diwali in UP! A Great Bird Adventure at DAK
This is a brand new, but exciting, addition to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The revamping of this show, which teaches guests about exotic birds, incorporates Russell and Dug from Up. During the holiday season, this show will also incorporate the Indian festival of lights, Diwali, and should be on the list of anyone visiting the Animal Kingdom.
6. Resort Hopping
The Walt Disney World itself is its own sort of attraction. The themeing at the resort hotels can transport you to many wonderful places and times, and the holiday season takes that themeing and turns it up to 11. Especially at the deluxe resorts, you could easily spend an entire day just going from resort to resort checking out amazing gingerbread creations and beautiful trees.
If you can’t make it to all of them, you should definitely try to check out the main tree in Jambo House at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Gingerbread display in the Contemporary, the Christmas tree in the Wilderness Lodge, and basically everything at the Grand Floridian.
Photo by Rikki Niblett
There are some beautiful and exciting decorations at some of the other resorts as well, but those would be my first tier if you are limited on time.
7. Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
Photo by Rikki Niblett
If you’re in Epcot, there’s probably a festival going on, and since we are talking about the holiday season, that is the Festival of the Holidays. Now sometimes, when we say “holidays” we really only mean Christmas, but with the World Showcase in particular, this truly is a celebration of many holidays and traditions. First, as with most things in Epcot, is the food, and you have special Holiday Kitchens, where you not only get special holiday treats from the usual places like China and Italy, but also delicious bites themed around celebrations, like Hanukkah and the Feast of the Three Kings. But this being Epcot, the food is also just the beginning.
Photo by Rikki Niblett
Throughout the park there are storytellers sharing holiday traditions from across the world and musical performers with special seasonal performers.
One of those you should be sure to check out is actually one of the few not in the World Showcase, Joyful! A Celebration of the Season. This R&B and Gospel showcase takes place at the Future World Fountain Stage and was one of my favorite holiday experiences across all the parks last time I was there this time of year. Really, just set aside a bunch of time to just be in Epcot, and you won’t be sorry.
8. Toy Story Land Makeover
Since it opened, Toy Story Land has had a continual taste of Christmas in its everyday, so the news that it would be doing some extra touches for the holidays was very welcome, but not too surprising. The one surprising thing for me was the scope of the festive flair. We have a Hamm sugar cookie, Green Alien Ornaments, special ride soundtracks, and character costumes at a minimum. Every corner of the land seems to have little holiday touches and I can’t wait to check them out.
9. Jingle Cruise at night
One a normal day at the Magic Kingdom, once you get away from Main Street USA there isn’t a lot that really ties into the holiday season. One of the major exceptions to that is the Jingle Cruise. Now a few years old, the Jingle Cruise is a holiday overlay of the Jungle Cruise, bringing that same sensibility to an updated and holiday themed experience. It is pretty much always my recommendation to ride the Jungle Cruise when it is dark, and that is especially true here. It’s fun, it’s festive, and its classic Disney.
10. Frozen Holiday Wish
Cinderella Castle is said to be the most photographed building in the world, and with good reason. Everyone walking into the Magic Kingdom wants their picture in front of it, and it is the centerpiece to all of the action in the Magic Kingdom. Combine that centrality with a whole lot of Christmas lights, and you can start to imagine why “A Frozen Holiday Wish” is a must-see for anyone visiting Disney at the holidays.
This show features favorite characters from “Frozen,” a rendition of the song that no one can give up, and a special awe inspiring moment at the end. The lighting happens twice each night, and even on Christmas Party nights, one of the shows happens while day guests are still allowed to be in the park, so make sure you add it to your schedule.
When he isn't busy planning his next trip to The World, Tim enjoys reading, running, gardening, photography, and playing piano and video games. Tim is also a composer - you can listen to his music at timrogersmusic.com. When not in Orlando, Tim spends his time in Central Texas with his wife and two cats, one of which sounds a lot like Chewbacca.