Walt Disney World is magical any time you visit, but I think that when you are able to coordinate your vacation with a holiday or holiday season it sprinkles just a little extra pixie dust on your trip. Holiday times can make the parks a little more crowded than usual since more people are out of school or off work, but some of the extras you can experience are worth the extra busy-ness you may feel. Here’s a look at 6 of the major holidays and what you can expect if you find yourself at Walt Disney World during them:
1. New Year’s
Let’s kick it off celebrating a brand new year and the events surrounding New Year’s Eve & Day at Walt Disney World. During the day most of the celebrations at Walt Disney World are still centered on the Christmas Holiday Season with the décor in the resorts and parks. But, at night the sky lights up with a New Year’s celebration of fireworks you will find few other places. At Magic Kingdom you can experience the Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks for the New Year on either December 30 or 31 (or both!) You can also experience special dance parties in Frontierland and Tomorrowland those evenings. At Epcot there are several fun things happening to create a New Year’s party atmosphere. Around World Showcase there are various dance parties, and at America’s Garden Theater there is live music on New Year’s Eve. The culmination is the special fireworks beginning at 11:40 which can be viewed around the World Showcase Lagoon. The show ends with a countdown to the New Year. And remember 2018-19 is the last New Year’s Eve to see Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. Disney’s Hollywood Studios also gets in on the action with fireworks ringing in the New Year. If you would rather stay out of the parks there are a few parties happening across Walt Disney World: Countdown to Midnight at and Pixar Party: A New Year’s Eve Celebration both held at the Contemporary Resort. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is absolutely the most crowded time to visit Walt Disney World. You will want to plan your vacation as far in advance as possible to have your choice of resorts and room categories, along with the availability of dining and FastPasses. Consider staying in a resort where you can view the fireworks from your room or the resort (like the Polynesian or Contemporary). Arrive to the parks early and plan to stay especially on New Year’s Eve as they could fill to a point where they begin staged closures to certain guests (most likely at Magic Kingdom)
Spring is in full bloom when Easter rolls around and there are a lot of fun ways to celebrate. At Epcot you can experience the beauty of the International Flower & Garden Festival which puts everyone in a spring mood. The Festival usually includes an egg hunt throughout the World Showcase Pavilions that ends with a prize egg to take home. On Easter Sunday you may also find an egg hunt in the maze in the United Kingdom Pavilion. Over at the Magic Kingdom there is a special Easter parade featuring the Azalea Trail Maids from Alabama in their pastel finery along with the Easter Bunny himself. And the Easter Bunny also meets guests in the Magic Kingdom at select times. The resorts host a lot of fun activities in the morning on Easter Sunday and this has been one of my family’s favorite things to plan for on our Easter/Spring Break vacations. Most of them will host a Candy Crawl (don’t be late—the candy gets picked up quickly even though there is a ton, and you don’t want to miss the pictures the Cast Members make out of it before it begins), set up special crafts, and feature special character meet & greets. Some of the Deluxe Resorts like the Grand Floridian have displays of artistic eggs created by chocolate artists on their culinary team. The Contemporary Resort ballroom hosts both a Catholic Mass and Protestant Service on Easter Sunday. Depending on when Easter falls in the Spring Break season it can be a quite crowded time to visit. It seems like the earlier it is the heavier the crowds with later April Easters being more manageable. Whether crowds are heavier the week before or after also seems to depend on the date.
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3. Fourth of July
Once we get into summer we hit the Fourth of July—a very popular travel time during summer vacation for families. Magic Kingdom park celebrates our country’s independence with dance parties in Tomorrowland and Frontierland, along with very special fireworks on both July 3 and 4. “Disney Celebtates America! A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky” puts any local fireworks show to shame with its amazing pyrotechnics and music—you don’t want to miss it if you are at Walt Disney World on the 3rd or 4th. On the 4th Epcot features character meet & greets at the America Pavilion in their patriotic attire, special patriotic music by the amazing Voices of Liberty, and a patriotic finale to the fireworks that night. Several resorts may also host special activities like patriotic crafts and games around the pools and other recreation areas. And, like all holidays, there will likely be a special cupcake or drink specific to that day. This is a crowded time to visit the parks so be sure to have a good plan in place and start early.
Halloween at Walt Disney World starts in mid to late August with decorations going up in the Magic Kingdom and the beginning of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parties. The Halloween Party is the biggest attraction for the season featuring an incredible parade, a special fireworks show, stage shows, dance parties, characters in costume, rare characters, and trick-or-treating. If you want to attend the party on October 31 plan ahead because it usually sells out. Around the rest of the “World” you will see some special Halloween merchandise and Halloween or Fall themed food items. On past trips we’ve planned our Mickey’s Not So Scary Party date not on Halloween because our resort had some special activities on October 31. We’ve met special characters at the resort and enjoyed trick or treating through certain areas of the resort hotel. If you are looking for a fun but spooky experience Fort Wilderness Campground offers “The Return to Sleepy Hollow” experience that includes a viewing of the animated Legend of Sleepy Hollow in the Tri-Circle D Ranch stables, galloping ghosts and the Headless Horseman himself! October in general has become a busy time at Walt Disney World with a combination of school fall breaks, the hope of cooler weather, Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, and the Halloween parties. Halloween itself is not necessarily more crowded than the rest of the month (it may be slightly better), but the exception is the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on Halloween night that will be packed.
With the Christmas Holiday Season starting as soon as they can take down the Halloween décor in Magic Kingdom after the last Halloween party ends at midnight, Thanksgiving itself pretty much gets gobbled up into Christmas (see what I did there?). Thanksgiving Day will see some restaurants on property featuring special menus for the day—obviously featuring turkey and fixings. Sometime in the late spring they usually announce which ones those will be. But, if you want to make reservations before that to make sure you have a great place to dine for Thanksgiving think about something like Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom, Garden Grill, or 50’s Prime Time Café—both of which seem very fitting to the Thanksgiving themes of colonial America (Liberty Tree), Harvest (Garen Grill), and home & family (50s). Other than that Thanksgiving week is pretty much Christmas. There are not Christmas parties that week, but the other celebrations are happening, and it usually marks the first week of Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays with food booths and the Candlelight Processional. Thanksgiving is a popular time to visit Walt Disney World with many families on vacation from work and school—plus it eliminates who is cooking and who is cleaning up! But, it is not as bad as some of the other holidays and can be very manageable with a good plan. Most important is securing a reservation for a Thanksgiving meal if a table service restaurant is important to you.
Christmas pretty much begins November 1 and runs through New Year’s. It is truly the Most Wonderful time of the year to visit Walt Disney World (in my opinion). The parks and resorts go all out to present a beautiful winter wonderland in sunny Florida. At Magic Kingdom you can attend one of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas parties with cookies & cocoa, my favorite parade, fireworks that will make you cry, stage shows, dance parties and snow on Main Street. The park itself is decorated in such a grand style it will take your breath away. Some of the rides even get in on the fun like the Jingle Cruise (known as the Jungle Cruise the rest of the year). At Epcot the International Festival of the Holidays features food booths around World Showcase with holiday favorite dishes from all over the world, the countries have storytellers in costume telling of their holiday customs, decorations are all around, and then there is my favorite Candlelight Processional. This is a beautiful retelling of the Biblical Christmas story by a celebrity narrator accompanied by an orchestra and mass choir—one of the most moving things I’ve done at the holidays. My recommendation is to get a dining package with reserved seating if you want to see the show. Each night Illuminations: Reflections of Earth ends with a breathtaking special holiday add-on that will leave you awestruck and with tears in your eyes. 2018 is the last holiday season for Illuminations, but hopefully some form of the holiday “tag” will remain in the next show. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a Flurry of Fun for the holidays and the retro mid-century décor there is absolutely my favorite. On Sunset Boulevard you can catch the Sunset Season Greetings which are vignettes projected on the Tower of Terror with the billboards on the street animated along with the show. It also includes laser effects and snow! Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! is a super cute holiday themed projection show on the Chinese Theater that will give you all the feels. It features the Prep & Landing Team along with clips from some of your favorite Disney holiday shows. And—fireworks! Minnie’s Holiday Dine at Hollywood & Vine features a Christmas Meal every day with characters in their holiday finery. Over at Animal Kingdom you will find décor that is inspired by Africa, Asia and the natural world. The resorts are never more fabulous than at Christmas with all of them getting in on the action with trees and garland themed to the resort itself (I love Pop Century’s retro vibe and the colorful décor at Art of Animation). Deluxe resorts go all out with gigantic trees and gingerbread creations. Be sure to plan in time to resort hop to see them all. Grand Floridian has a life sized Gingerbread House in the lobby that doubles as a shop—you don’t want to miss it for the smell alone. The Gingerbread and Chocolate Carousel at the Beach Club is my personal favorite with so many details. If you are visiting on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day look for special activities at your Disney resort hotel. Disney Springs is part of the action too with decorations, a Disney themed Christmas Tree Trail, Christmas merchandise and sales, and Christmas food. All across property you will find delicious and decadent treats for Christmas, so many that is hard to narrow it down to an amount you can actual eat (I recommend sharing & sampling). Each park has its own food specialties for the season. And if you are looking to meet Santa and give him your list there are several places where you can find the Jolly Old Elf before he returns to the North Pole for his Christmas Eve run. As I mentioned with New Year’s, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is the busiest of the year, so plan accordingly—but there are a lot of amazing experiences to be had during that time. Remember that you can experience the Christmas season earlier as well in November and early December. None of these times will be “un-crowded,” but you can find some relatively less crowded times to visit and still see and experience the holidays. Just remember that the festivities have staggered start times, but by Thanksgiving most everything is in full swing!
What is your favorite holiday to visit Walt Disey World?