There’s just one time of year where “snow” fills the streets of Walt Disney World (WDW), Mickey Mouse parades through Magic Kingdom with a troop of toy soldiers, and singers fill EPCOT with holiday carols recited by candlelight. The holidays and Christmas at WDW are truly among the merriest times to visit, but there’s a lot of extra festive details for parents to know about.
Whatever way your family celebrates during the holiday season, visiting Walt Disney World for some holiday cheer is a special perk of Orlando.
Read on for everything you need to know about visiting Walt Disney World during the holidays and Christmas.
Orlando Parenting’s guide to the holidays at Disney World has the following sections:
- Planning ahead
- Basics of the holidays at Walt Disney World
- Magic Kingdom Park Christmas details
- Holidays at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- EPCOT’s International Festival of the Holidays
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park holiday events
- Disney Springs holiday events
- Walt Disney World resort hotels during the holidays
Planning ahead for your holiday visit
The holiday season may feel far away but it’s one of the busiest times of the year at Walt Disney World. This means it’s important to start planning your Christmas visit to WDW as soon as possible.
Be sure all tickets or annual passes will be valid on the date you plan to visit, and make those advance park reservations far ahead of time, as the dates are likely to fill up.
It’s also a great idea to start saving now for the added expenses of visiting Disney World during the holidays.
In addition to the normal ticket, dining, parking, and resort costs of a Disney visit, the holidays bring extra things you and your kids will want to buy. From amazing treats at each theme park, Disney Springs, and Disney resorts to holiday-inspired merchandise, there are definitely added expenses when it comes to visiting Disney Parks during the holidays.
Basics of the holidays at Walt Disney World
The 2023 holiday season will start at Walt Disney World in early November and run through early January 2024.
Some of the festivities start as early as Thursday, November 9, 2023.
During this time, each theme park, Disney Springs, and each Disney resort hotel is decorated for the holidays, and special holiday food and beverage options are sold throughout the property.
Santa Claus appears at each of the four theme parks and at Disney Springs, making for some sweet family photo opportunities.
The closer we get to the 2023 holiday season, the busier WDW gets, with the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s being the absolute busiest. Because of this, it’s important to buy tickets, book theme park reservations, reserve dining, and decide on a hotel far in advance.
Disney World Christmas decorations
There are few places as festively decorated and stunning during Christmas as Disney World. Holiday cheer is everywhere. Guests can take in decorated Christmas trees, festive lighted menorahs, and everything in between, just by strolling around the property.
NEW for 2023! Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and the Snowgies in front of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom for “Frozen Holiday Surprise,” a brand new “Frozen”-inspired entertainment experience that will illuminate the castle in a whole new way.
This delightful new offering can be seen during regular park hours and during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Magic Kingdom and EPCOT have the most traditional decor. If your family is big on holiday traditions, you’ll love strolling down Main Street, U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom Park and taking in all of the traditional holiday decorations that line the street.
At EPCOT, it’s all about celebrating holiday traditions from around the world, so be on the lookout for stunning Christmas trees and other festive touches.
Animal Kingdom goes wild for the holidays. For the more adventurous, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park gets decked out in decor that matches each part of the world represented in the park. From animal-themed holiday ornaments to decorations made from recycled materials, the park has a holiday uniqueness all its own.
Hollywood Studios is the epitome of old Hollywood glam. `30s-inspired holiday decor decks out this TinselTown-themed park, from the giant vintage ornaments on display to floating ornaments adorning Echo Lake. Even Toy Story Land gets a holiday overlay at Disney’s Hollywood Studios — including a Santa hat-wearing Hamm sugar cookie.
Magic Kingdom Park holiday events
Best for: Disney characters, classic decorations, meet and greets with Santa
For complete details, jump over to Christmas at Magic Kingdom: Everything Parents Need to Know.
Holidays at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Best for: Festive decorations, Santa sightings, fake snow
Disney Jollywood Nights – a new, separately ticketed event from 8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. on 10 select nights Nov. 11-Dec. 20, 2023.
Get ready to dress in your holiday glam best or festive flair, dance the night away to merry mashups, indulge in divine treats and bubbling spirits, and snap selfies with iconic characters during this new festive event.
For complete details, jump over to Christmas at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Everything Parents Need to Know.
EPCOT’s International Festival of the Holidays
Best for: Entertainment, holiday eats and drinks, trying different Christmas cookies
EPCOT’s International Festival of the Holidays celebrates the way holidays are celebrated in each of the countries around EPCOT’s World Showcase.
Festival of the Holidays takes place November 24, 2023 -Dec. 30, 2023.
Don’t miss the Holiday Storytellers, who share tales of holiday traditions throughout the day in their respective pavilions along the World Showcase! The storytellers are great for families! You can deepen your own family’s holiday traditions by learning about others from around the world.
The Living with the Land attraction and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Rewind get some holiday upgrades as well. This festival also includes the Candlelight Processional, a nightly retelling of the story of the nativity, complete with a gigantic choir and celebrity narrators.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park holiday events
Best for: Unique decorations, nighttime experiences
Although Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park may be the least festive of the four theme parks during the holidays, the Christmas festivities have increased there over the last few years.
In the Merry Menagerie, for example, puppet animals come to life as they’re walked through the park by performers. These life-sized, artisan-sculpted puppets range from reindeer to polar bears and interact with guests while being accompanied by musicians.
Seeing little ones interact with these precious puppets is pure and heart-warming.
Look for Santa, Goofy, Chip ‘n’ Dale, and other friends along the park’s Discovery River, where they ride on river boats showing off their festive attire and blasting cheerful holiday music. On nights when the park is open after dark, the Tree of Life also lights up with a wintry display of animated projections set to holiday music.
Disney Springs holiday events
Visiting Disney Springs during the Christmas season is a true treat, from special themed food and beverage to elaborate Christmas trees and holiday decor throughout. It’s also a nice stop during the holidays if you’re not interested in purchasing a theme park ticket but want some Christmas Disney magic.
Don’t miss the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll, a collection of Christmas trees spread throughout Disney Springs themed around various Disney movies and characters. Guides for this special event are available at the Disney Springs Welcome Center.
The Christmas Tree Stroll at Disney Springs is a free and fun event!
Santa Claus at Disney Springs
The Santa Claus photo opportunity at Disney Springs is popular. Take advantage of the virtual queue system. Keep reading for details.
Disney operates this experience using a virtual queue, so you’ll need to find the entrance (near Once Upon a Toy) and scan a QR code to put yourself on the waitlist. There are usually QR code locations at each Disney Springs parking garage as you walk into Disney Springs.
When it’s Santa time, you’ll receive a message on your mobile device and can return to the meet-and-greet area to take your turn.
At Walt Disney World resort hotels, there’s no shortage of holiday decorations and Christmas trees to be seen. The top tier of holiday decorations at Disney resorts, however, is at deluxe resorts like Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
At Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, there’s even a must-see giant gingerbread house in the lobby.
Since Disney prefers that only those who are staying at a resort hotel or dining at one visit the property, we suggest either staying at one of these properties for a holiday staycation or making a dining reservation at a restaurant inside.
You can also hop the Walt Disney World Monorail from Magic Kingdom Park or any of the monorail loop resorts and make your rounds to each, checking out the decor.
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