Walt Disney World, in and by itself, is a wonderful, magical place to visit, but if you travel during the holidays the experience is truly enchanting. There are seasonal lights, trees, special events and so much more that make this season very special. Walt Disney World consists of 4 theme parks, Disney Springs and the 24 resorts operated by Disney and to cover all this in holiday spirit, takes a little more than Pixie Dust. There are approximately 1,300 trees (all artificial), another 1,300 wreaths, 15 miles of garland and over 300,000 yards of ribbon, and to top it all off over 8.5 million lights ! And I thought I had a lot of decorations to put up each year.
Considered by most to be the centerpiece park, it is probably the most favorite of visitors and that leaves a lot up to expectations around the holidays. In true Disney fashion, it does not disappoint.
As you enter the park you are greeted with a giant 65’ Christmas tree placed in the center of town square, covered in bows, ribbons, decorations and 1000’s of twinkling lights, enough to make even Scrooge smile in Christmas joy. This tree is one of the many that Disney places up during the season and is referred to as an “icon” tree. They can range from 30 feet tall up to the enormous 65 footers, like this one in Town Square. As you stroll “Right Down the Middle of Main Street USA” (you know you sang that in your head) you will find yourself surrounded on all sides with store fronts fully decorated and wreaths attached to light poles, in that familiar mouse-shaped silhouette we all know and love. That is, until your eyes are drawn to one of the most breathtaking sights to be seen, Cinderella’s Castle.
While seeing the castle on a normal vacation is a treat, and even brought some visitors to tears, during the holiday season it is breathtaking. A team of Disney technicians start installing Dream Lights in early September and the finished effect is worth every day the crane is parked outside of the castle. The curtains of sparkling white, ice-like LED lights are draped from top to bottom, completely covering everything from the turrets to the ramparts and if that wasn’t enough, The Dream Lights periodically twinkle, creating an air of pure Disney Magic. Each night, Elsa from Frozen lights up the castle as only she can do, with a flurry of magic that can be seen in the short show A Frozen Holiday Wish.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
It is one of Disney’s most popular hard ticketed events and it certainly lives up to hype and excitement. It is a signature holiday staple for most visitors during the holiday season and adds a whole new dimension to the celebration.
Being in Magic Kingdom after closing is not the only perk, there is also a special parade that runs twice an evening, unique firework show, special dance parties, festive stage shows, cookies and hot chocolate, and it even SNOWS ON MAIN STREET ! Right in the heart of Florida, you can experience snow in the most magical place on Earth.
This party occurs from 7p-12am on certain evenings at the Magic Kingdom in November and December. The 2018 dates for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are as follows:
November 2018: 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 25, 27, 29, 30
December 2018: 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21
Unlike the other 3 parks, Epcot does not greet you with an icon tree near the entrance, but you are in for a treat nonetheless. The Epcot tree is located near the World Showcase lagoon, in between World Showcase and Future World and this tree is adorned with bells, giant globes and ornaments depicting flags from the countries around the world.
The trimmings in most of Future World are subtle, with the emphasis on the topiaries and their festive look. Gardens brimming with poinsettias are filled with pine trees, oversized presents and shrubberies in the shape of Mickey Mouse and Friends. The fun and unique decorations make this little area feel alive.
World Showcase – International Festival of the Holidays
World Showcase, as a whole, is as unique as each country represented there, so it should come as no surprise that the holiday celebration is a spectacle to behold. There is no other theme park where you can travel around the world, soak in culture, shop and eat exotic foods and still walk under 3 miles (2.78 to be exact). Not surprisingly this translates into the holiday festival, with each country decorating in the manners that are traditional to their homelands.
What really puts the International Festival of the Holidays celebration over the top are the storytellers. Starting just after Thanksgiving, they will periodically regale visitors with stories, or tales of the traditions of their respective countries. Each pavilion has its own storyteller and they are engaging, unique, and as interesting and you can imagine.
One of the most popular holiday events at Walt Disney World is the Candlelight Processional. It has been long standing tradition with the Disney Parks and routinely plays to a packed theatre every night. The America Gardens Theatre in Epcot serves as the magical venue for the performances, which play 3 times at night at 5:00 pm, 6:45 pm, and 8:15 pm.
You can purchase a lunch or dinner package that will allow for designated seating to enjoy one of the performances. If you are unable to snag a coveted dining reservation, there is a “standby” line that will fill whatever seats are leftover after those that have purchased have filled in the theatre. As you can imagine, the more popular the speaker, the quicker the seats and “standby” line fill up. If you don’t’ mind hearing the show and not seeing the speaker, it can be heard from anywhere in the plaza outside the American Adventure building.
Illuminations Holiday Tag
With the news that Illuminations will be leaving Epcot in Summer for 2019, this will be the final year for this magical show. Between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve, Illuminations: Reflection of Earth takes place at 9:30 pm (instead of the normal 9:00 pm) and is followed by a short “Holiday Tag”, this is an explosion filled rendition of Let There Peace on Earth, which lights up the sky with an immense amount of shells.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
The name, Hollywood Studios, brings to mind old Hollywood, glamour, extravagance, and over the top opulence. Unfortunately, when it comes to the seasonal decorating, Sunset Blvd doesn’t quite overwhelm you, like the all out spectacles at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, but there are cherry decorations throughout the park and an amazing display on Echo Lake.
As you walk up to Hollywood Studios you are greeted with their icon tree, another immense celebration of the season is waiting for you outside the park gates. Wrapped with a film strip around the base of the tree, it can be seen whether you arrive by boat, walking from Epcot resort area or from the bus hub.
Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!
Relying heavily on projections on the Chinese Theatre, this cute holiday show brings to life the characters from ABC’s Prep and Landing who are looking for Kris Kringle. Along with this cute little story, lasers and some fireworks you can also catch modern classics, like, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Beauty and the Beast, Nightmare Before Christmas and more all sharing scenes during this nighttime spectacular. There is even a holiday dessert party available, if you want priority seating (and few good treats) for this holiday show.
Sunset Season Greetings
As night falls on Hollywood Studios, an unforgettable scene starts to unfold all around you. Billboards come to life, colorful projections engulf the Tower of Terror, snow falls from the sky and lasers come to life. Songs and stories of holiday cheer are told, courtesy of iconic Disney Characters, all sharing their love of the season.
Guests of all ages will be transfixed as the magical celebration comes to life, with special holiday dessert and unique themed beverages, it makes for a great evening of indulgence and celebrating. These spirited holiday scenes include:
- Mickey and Minnie reminiscing about a hometown Christmas as the scene shifts into a romanticized, Norman Rockwell-inspired town—starting in black and white before slowly changing into color.
- The Toy Story characters guessing which new toys are coming this Christmas as the scene becomes covered in holiday wrapping paper.T
- The Swedish Chef from The Muppets babbling as only he can while the scene turns into giant gingerbread houses.
- And finally, Olaf pining over his holiday wish as iconic music plays and the scene freezes over into a Frozen winter wonderland—complete with dancing Aurora Borealis lights and projected falling snow.
You can visit with the big guy himself from November 9th to December 24th, but once he flies home to the North Pole don’t worry, there’s still some just as special to meet. Santa Goofy will join you from December 25th to December 31st in the big guy’s place.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom, is to some, Disney’s most unique and unusual theme park. Not quite a zoo, not quite an amusement park, it’s a wonderful mesh of attractions that only Disney can pull off. So it should come as no surprise that their holiday decorations would be just as unique. Their icon tree is decorated with not only traditional snowflakes and lights, but includes animal masks, drums, large depictions of animals and so much more. Throughout the park there are a few other trees that display lions, zebras, hippos and giraffes.
Each land has their own unique decorations out for the Christmas season, some tacky and kitschy and some all natural and very native. As you explore the park, keep your eye open, some of the decorations are very subtle.
A few of the shows will be getting a little holiday cheer added to them this year. The new live show, UP! A Great Bird Adventure will receive a little holiday touch this year with the addition of The Festival of Lights in India and will run from November 8th through January 1st.
If you happen along Tusker House, don’t’ forget to check out the 3 foot long Gingerbread holiday display, called the Gingerbread African Marketplace. It is another example of Disney decorators at their magical beast. This display contains 23 lbs of flour, 6 lbs of eggs, 1 lb spices, 8 lbs of honey, 5 lbs of white chocolate, 9 lbs of icing, 25 lbs of dark chocolate, 5 quarts of egg whites and 10 lbs of confectioners sugar. Thank goodness I don’t have to do that much holiday baking.
It’s safe to say that Disney has a high standard for everything they do, but that is no more apparent than with all the little extras they do for the holiday season. As I stated before, there is so much holiday magic, cheer, and all out wonderment in each of the 4 theme parks even Scrooge would have a great time. But, the decorating doesn’t stop in the parks, all of the resorts also get in on the merriment.
If you want to visit Walt Disney World during the holiday season and experience some of these magical event for yourself contact Erin Benge at [email protected] and she would be more than happy to help make your holiday vacation one full of pixie dust, a little Disney magic and lots of holiday cheer.