Top Ten Holiday Experiences at Walt Disney World

Top Ten Holiday Experiences at Walt Disney World

There is nothing quite like Central Florida near the holidays. Temperatures are usually pleasant during the day and cool in the evenings. The entire area decorates. You’ll see advertisements for everything from Christmas at Gaylord Palms to the Grinch as Santa at Universal. It’s a special time of year with more to do than you ever dreamed possible.

No one does Christmas quite like Walt Disney World. They love to decorate. You’ll find that Christmas is definitely in the air at all four theme parks, the resort hotels and Downtown Disney. There are giant Christmas trees, garlands, and more lights than you’ve ever seen elsewhere. Some of the restaurants offer special holiday favorites, including desserts. Holiday themed merchandise is for sale. While Disney makes magic every day of the year, there seems to be even more magic at Christmastime.

Listed here are some things that you will want to do if you are in Florida between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Some of the activities run through the beginning of January, others end earlier. Unless stated otherwise, events in the parks are included in park admission. Expect crowds, even if you’re there on a day that is not all that busy. The locals love to take part in Disney Christmas events as well and will often make a special trip.

10) Now Snowing Nightly

Celebration, Florida

While Celebration is not technically a part of Disney World, the town was developed by the Walt Disney Company. Now Snowing Nightly is a Celebration tradition. “Snow” falls each evening on the hour starting at 6:00 and ending at 9:00. There’s a story that is played over loudspeakers before the snow starts and holiday music adds to the experience. Kids especially love it but it is fun for all ages. In 2012 there will be a special Christmas concert in Celebration on December 8 featuring Ryan Beatty and IM5. Another concert, featuring Teddy Geiger, Jordyn Kane and Bryan Malpass, will be held on December 15. The whole thing wraps up on New Year’s Eve with a concert by Katty Shack. There will be fireworks at midnight to bring in 2013. There is no cost for the concerts or enjoying the snow, although there is an “ice” skating rink that does cost extra.

9) Joyful! A Gospel Celebration of the Season

Fountain of Nations Stage, Epcot

There is so much going to at Epcot for the holidays that this show is easy to miss. The lively concert started back in 2009. The group D’Vine Voices performs daily at 1:15, 2:15, 3:15 and 4:15. It is an outdoor show and there is no seating, although you’re free to sit on the ground. Upbeat holiday classics are sung with a Christian Christmas theme. The members of D’Vine Voices put their hearts into their performances for a concert that everyone will enjoy. The show lasts for approximately 25 minutes.

8) Castle Dream Lights

Cinderella Castle Stage, Magic Kingdom

Each evening at 6:30 through December 31 Cinderella Castle is transformed. There is nothing quite like seeing the castle all decked up with thousands of twinkling lights. There is a short ceremony at the castle stage where Mickey and friends, with the help of the Fairy Godmother, make the transformation possible. The show lasts only about eight minutes. It’s pure Disney magic.

7) Explore the Deluxe Resorts

Various locations

While all of the hotels decorate to some extent, the deluxe hotels go over the top. Visit as many as you can. If you’re short on time the “don’t miss” resort is probably Disney’s Grand Floridian. Not only will you be awed by the giant tree in the lobby, you’ll be astonished by the life sized gingerbread house. It’s a Grand Floridian tradition, 2012 is the 14th year. You can buy a shingle to eat and there are plenty of places to take great photos. If you have time, hop on the monorail and explore Disney’s Polynesian and Disney’s Contemporary as well to see how they have decorated for the holidays.

Another favorite to visit at Christmastime is Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. The rustic theme is a sharp contrast to the elegance at the Grand Floridian. You could also head over to Disney’s BoardWalk Resort and look at not only the decorations there, but also at the Beach Club, the Yacht Club, the Swan and the Dolphin. All are themed differently and worth a peek.

Remember if you’re driving that you will need to have a photo ID ready to visit a resort hotel. Tell the guard at the security station that you’re there to look at the decorations. You will then be instructed where the best place to park is.

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6) Festival of the Seasons

Downtown Disney

Not wanting to be outdone by the theme parks, there is plenty going on for the holidays at Downtown Disney. Festival of the Seasons runs through December 27, 2012. There are lights, carolers, trees, special holiday music and even a holiday dance party. Santa himself is there through December 24. On December 25-27 Goofy Santa appears instead. It’s a great picture opportunity, located in Downtown Disney Marketplace.

5) Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade

Africa, Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Through January 2 the daily parade at Disney’s Animal Kingdom has been transformed with a holiday twist. The characters are dressed up in their seasonal clothes, Christmas music plays and everyone has a great time. The parade runs each afternoon at 3:45. If it’s a must do on your list you’ll want to grab your spot as soon as the cast members start putting down the tape, it will get crowded quickly.

4) Holidays Around the World

World Showcase, Epcot

Christmas traditions from around the world are celebrated in World Showcase at Epcot. Costumed storytellers will talk about various holiday related customs. You can learn about Kwanzaa, Father Christmas and even the Monkey King. You might even see several different versions of Santa Claus. If you miss the story there’s information on each country’s tradition as part of the display. Holidays Around the world is fun and educational at the same time.

3) Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

Magic Kingdom

On select nights the Magic Kingdom will close early for a separate ticketed event. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is meant for the entire family. There’s free hot cocoa and cookies. A special Christmas parade takes place, with Santa himself as a part of it. The most popular rides and attractions stay open with shorter wait times. Disney characters, in Christmas outfits, are available to take pictures with your whole family. “Snow” falls on Main Street, U.S.A. There is also a special holiday edition of Wishes. The closer it is to Christmas, the harder it is to get tickets so you might want to try right away by visiting http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/magic-kingdom/special-events/mickeys-very-merry-christmas-party

2) The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Streets of America, Disney’s Hollywood Studios

This one has to be seen to be believed. It started simply enough, Jennings Osborne decorated his Arkansas home each year to the hilt but as it grew the town eventually wouldn’t allow it. Someone from Disney heard about the home display and realized that it would be a perfect addition at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It has wowed holiday crowds since 1995. Each year the display grows bigger and better, with over 5 million twinkling lights. Every few minutes a fictional radio station will come on over the speakers and play a holiday classic. The lights are perfectly choreographed to the music. Sometimes cast members will hand out free 3D glasses, which will give a whole new spin to the show. Expect the area to be packed, it is without a doubt something that everyone wants to experience. The lights go on around 6:00 each evening and stay on until the park closes. The show runs until January 6, 2013.

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1) Candlelight Processional

America Gardens Theater, World Showcase, Epcot

This is another event that you will not want to miss. Each evening there is a show unlike any other. A celebrity narrator will retell the Christmas story, backed up by a mass choir and a 50 piece orchestra. It is a truly moving experience. It is also extremely popular, people start lining up hours in advance in order to get a good seat. To assure that you and your party have a place to sit you might want to look into the Candlelight Dinner Packages. They can be booked at http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/candlelight-dinners/ and the reservation will assure that you and your party are seated in a separate area.

If you have never experienced the Candlelight Processional (or even if you have) you will want to make sure that it is a part of your holiday trip. You won’t be disappointed.

About PaulaK

I grew up in Western Massachusetts. When I was nine my family went to Disneyland and I was hooked. I grew up, attended New England College in Henniker, NH and eventually moved to Virginia. I worked as a disc jockey, married and became a full time mom when our daughter was born. Fast forward several years. In 2010 we moved to Central Florida and my Disney obsession grew. I now work as a freelance writer and spend my spare time in the parks. Under the name Paula Brown I penned the novels Dream Wanderers and The Coffee Cruiser. I also am a co-author of Dining at Walt Disney World: The Definitive Guide. I'm obsessed with Star Wars, so this is a good time to live in Central Florida. I've been a vegetarian for well over a decade, a choice that my daughter eventually made as well. While my husband still hasn't joined us fully he has given up most meats except for seafood. I was relieved to find that vegetarian dining is not difficult at Walt Disney World.