Isn’t the saying, ‘Dis the season? 😉
In all seriousness, spending a magical time of the year, the holiday season, at the most magical place on earth is incredible. House of Mouse spares no detail when it comes to decor- it’s stunning- and with so many special events and delicious treats at the parks, Christmas at Disney is the best kind of indulgence.
Every year, there are new treats, shows and events, and plenty of bloggers who cover every detail- Google ‘Disney World at Christmas’ to see what I mean. This post isn’t a step-by-step guide for enjoying Disney at the holidays. Instead, I’m sharing my favourite bits from our two week trip in 2017/2018.
I’d been to Disney in the lead-up and post-holiday season a few times over the years for runDisney races in November and mid-January. But, I hadn’t been to the parks in the midst of peak holiday season since my sophomore year of uni.
I couldn’t have been more excited to spend almost two weeks with my family at Disney last year. Instead of flying to Pittsburgh, my mom planned the trip of a lifetime for all of us at Walt Disney World.
We spent most days at the parks, which meant we had at least 2 days in each park. Since we weren’t in a rush to see everything in one day each time we visited a park, our visit felt fairly relaxed. Of the two days we didn’t go into the parks, we spent one at Disney Springs / relaxing at the hotel, and on the other one, my parents visited resorts while my sister and I went to Target. Ah Target, something I never thought I’d be so excited to go to until I moved abroad.
We wanted to soak up as much park time as possible, so we opted to stay on property, but at a ‘value’ resort- All Star Sports. I’ve stayed at the All Star resorts many times for races and always have a great experience.
Generally, the rooms are spacious, and I appreciate the trails that connect all of the resorts- perfect for morning runs and walks. They’re designated value because they’re ‘no frills’ in comparison to some of Disney’s more luxe properties, like Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Yacht Club or the Polynesian. More families also tend to stay at them because of the convertible room options- our room had two bathrooms, a master bed, kitchen, and huge living room which included a sofa bed and sleeper chair. Value resorts are a great option if you want to be on property, but not dole out an insane amount of money (Disney’s expensive enough as it is ;)).
By the way, if you’re a Disney novice, the biggest benefit to staying on property is your ability to use the park’s shuttle system- by far, the easiest way to get from hotel to park or even park to park.
One more thing before we get to the parks: If you decide to stay on property during the holidays, bring a few things from home with you to make the experience more enjoyable.
Think: Favourite holiday treats for the room, wine/beer/drinks you enjoy, holiday lights to decorate with, and Christmas crackers to pop outside. Even the simplest touches in the room ensure every part of your stay is magical. If you fly to Orlando and can’t bring food/drink with you, Disney has a grocery order service partnership that delivers to its hotels.
At the Parks + Hotels
Perhaps my favourite park during the holidays, the World Showcase puts on quite a show.
Each country is decked out for the holidays with storytellers, decor and special touches. It’s fun to learn about traditions around the world while roaming the park. As part of the International Festival of the Holidays, each country also has its own festive tipples and bites, a few of our favourites:
-Mexico: Not quite the picture of Christmas, but margaritas are no less delicious!
-Germany: Don’t miss the cider flight or gluhwein (mulled wine). The fondue is also cheesy deliciousness
-America: Giant turkey legs and firenog (fireball and eggnog)
-France: Mickey Macarons and a sweet cranberry Grand Marnier cocktail
-Morocco: Hot moroccan mint tea in the Tangerine Cafe for warming up
-United Kingdom: Hot applejack cider (mulled cider with whisky and spices)
Throughout the park, there’s fun garden art, and a dazzling tree at the beginning of the World Showcase.
One thing that can’t be missed: the Candlelight Processional, a retelling of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator along with a choir and live orchestra- exceptional.
We chose to spend New Year’s Eve in Epcot, and after an excellent dinner at Canada’s Le Cellier Steakhouse, watched the fireworks over the lake. Before we settled in to wait for the show, we walked around the showcase, take note: Italy does a rockin’ party 😉
While we waited for the fireworks to start, we sipped on pints from the UK and cocktails from France. The fireworks show in Epcot is amazing, we found our view in front of the UK/Canada to be a great vantage point for the entire performance.
While I appreciate the seasonal offerings of Epcot, it’s hard to argue anywhere is more decked out and ready for the holidays than the Magic Kingdom.
Don’t miss a walk down Main Street USA, watching the Christmas parade (we stopped to see it a few times- never gets old!), or the nightly firework show, Wishes.
Pop in the bakeries to ogle the festive treats, enjoy a cinnamon roll shaped like Mickey’s ears, and if you’re looking for an extra special treat Christmas morning- head to Starbucks (the line moves quickly, promise) for a fun frappuccino.
The New Year’s Show at the Magic Kingdom is said to be one of the best, but also most crowded, fireworks displays in the world.
Pro tip: On the 30th, they run the same show to practise. We watched the first show on the 30th, and could not believe how incredible it was. If we weren’t also keen on seeing Epcot’s show, I would have definitely returned to see it a second time on New Year’s Eve. If you’re skeptical of how good it is, I’ll say this: 360 fireworks- seriously, they’re happening all around your head. Actual magic.
With seasonal decor throughout the park, including a Goofy Santa in Dinoland, AK is a joy to wander through at the holidays. It’s not as traditional Christmas as the other parks, but if you keep an eye out, you’ll notice wreaths in Africa and festive touches in Asia. Because Animal Kingdom is open late night, it’s less decorated and with fewer holiday shows than the other parks.
Not specific to the holidays, but beautiful nonetheless, the River of Light show in the evening is gorgeous.
And, if you’re looking for a fun tipple while in the park, try the dole whip with dark rum or cocktails from the Nomad Lounge.
PS. The Flight of Passage avatar show in Pandora is unmissable. Make sure you book this ahead of time on a FastPass so you definitely get to experience it.
Whilst the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights are no more, there are plenty of other holiday touches in the park to warrant a visit.
Indulge in the hot chocolate flight (or mini martini flight if that’s more your style), grab festive photos with characters, and take in Sunset Season’s Greetings show- a projection of vignettes from some of Disney’s top films, along with lasers, tunes and a flurry of snow. Anywhere on Sunset Boulevard will be the perfect spot to take in the action.
Just like the parks, you’ll find tons of festive fun at Disney Springs. Better yet, Disney Springs is free to enter. There’s no shortage of shopping and dining to be done, but don’t miss the tree trail – each tree is decorated to fit a fun theme.
And, treat wise, Sprinkles has delicious seasonal cupcakes, and Goofy’s Candy Kitchen is seriously well stocked for every craving you could have. Sunset drinks at The Boathouse are always special, but feel even more so when the Old Fashioned has a holiday touch.
If you find yourself in need of a break from the parks, consider resort hopping. All of the resorts are decked out in gorgeous holiday decor this time of the year-.
Short on time? Take the monorail from Magic Kingdom to see three resorts in one go.
Starting at the Contemporary, grab a churro cupcake at the Contempo Cafe. Then, head onwards to the Grand Floridian to see a giant gingerbread house that’s also serving up frozen hot chocolate. Interested in a different kind of drink? Head upstairs to the lounge to enjoy an espresso martini whilst listening to jazz. When we visited, they were playing Christmas songs, the epitome of lovely.
And, finish out your monorail crawl with a stop at the Polynesian. Holiday decor here has a tropical spin to it. In need of a drink? Head to what I believe to be Walt Disney World’s best bar, Trader Sam’s for a tiki inspired tipple.
One more thing to note…
Disney during the holiday season means intense crowds. All of December is significantly more crowded than any other time of year, but especially during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
We found the crowds a bit tough to navigate at times, but had no real complaints. After wall, despite all the crowds, we were spending the holidays in the happiest place on earth.
Have you ever been to Disney World during the holiday season? What was your favourite part of your visit?