Updated November 16h for 2011 – added more information about Downtown Disney and Joyful! at Epcot will indeed be back.

Holidays and Christmas Activities at Disney World

There are several distinct advantages to visiting Disney World during the holiday season.  Outside of holiday weeks, most of November and December sees average to slightly below average crowds and the cost to book a Disney resort is relatively low.  Due to “the economy,” Disney has been generous with promotions and discounts, offering free dining, room-only savings, and gift cards for many dates that traditionally are not discounted. For the budget conscious, avoiding the week of Thanksgiving and December 23rd – January 1st is smart, because prices and crowds increase dramatically.  The weather is also cooperative for those of us who overheat easily in the summer months.  High temperatures hover around 75 degrees in November and 72 degrees in December, with lows of about 55 degrees daily.  Of course, this varies from year to year, but Orlando is rarely uncomfortable weather-wise in November or the first two weeks in December.  If you’re looking for warmer weather, consider the first week in November when highs are usually in the low 80s.

Of course, cost, crowds, and comfortable temperatures aren’t what make Disney World so special over the holidays.  If that’s all we were concerned about, we could visit in January or February and be just as happy.  No, what makes Disney World so special during the holidays is the abundance of holiday extras.  There are Christmas parades, holiday fireworks, Cinderella Castle lighting ceremonies, Cinderella’s Holiday Wish Stage Show, snow effects on Main Street, a 65-foot Christmas tree,  meet and greets with Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and your favorite Disney characters in their holiday finest, dessert parties, and more.  And that’s just at the Magic Kingdom.  I haven’t even begun listing the special events at Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Downtown Disney, and the various Disney resorts on property.

Here’s a rundown of the holiday events you can expect to find at Disney World in November and December 2011.  This does not include New Year’s Eve events, which will be covered in a future article.

Magic Kingdom

“Free” Events

Cinderella Castle Dream Lights and Cinderella’s Holiday Wish Stage Show

Nightly at 6:15pm, November 4, 2011 to January 7, 2012

This is one major event that Disney does not publicize well, probably because they want you to think that it’s part of the “hard-ticket” Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.  This isn’t the case, and the Dream Lights ceremony/Cinderella’s Holiday Wish Stage Show is performed nightly, even on evenings that don’t have a Mickey’s Christmas Party.  First performed on November 11, 2007, Cinderella’s Holiday Wish is brief (about seven minutes), but powerful.  Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald all participate alongside Cinderella and Prince Charming at the base of Cinderella Castle.  The culmination of the show is the lighting of Cinderella Castle with over 200,000 LED white icicle lights.  The best place to experience Dream Lights  is near the Castle Forecourt stage, but far back enough that you can see the whole Castle .  On nights when the Magic Kingdom closes at 7pm for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, announcements will begin soon after the show concludes that the Park is closing for the Party.  You can ignore these announcements right up until 7pm.  The 6pm to 7pm hour is an excellent time to revisit the major rides because so many people will exit immediately after the show.

Magic, Memories, and You With Holiday Flair

15 Minutes Before Wishes and Possibly A Second Show 35 Minutes After Wishes on Non-Party Nights, 9:15pm During Mickey’s Party Nights – November 8 – ?

The Magic, Memories, and You Castle projection show will add a special holiday segment beginning November 8th – officially, “The nightly light show on Cinderella Castle gets in ‘the spirit’ throughout the holidays with a special segment that wraps the Magic Kingdom landmark in colorful bows and boughs, gift paper and ribbons, ornaments, candy stripes and multi-colored strands of lights … and gingerbread.”  When Magic Kingdom does not close at 7pm for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Magic Memories, and You begins 15 minutes before Wishes.  There may be a second Magic, Memories show that begins 35 minutes after Wishes as well.  For example, if Wishes begins at 8pm, the Magic, Memories, and You show would begin at 7:45pm with the possibility for a second show at 8:35pm if Magic Kingdom is open past 8pm.  The show is not offered during regular Park hours on Mickey’s Party nights, but the show is scheduled at 9:15pm for Party ticket holders with Holiday Wishes (the special Fireworks show) scheduled at 9:30pm.  As far as viewing locations, you need to be very close to the Castle to see the pictures of guests that are being projected.  Unfortunately, locations right up close to the Castle aren’t necessarily preferable for Fireworks viewing.  In order to take in the perimeter fireworks for Holiday Wishes specifically, you would need to be further back – near Casey’s Corner on Main Street is usually best.  Unless you want to see if your picture is projected, I recommend standing further back on Main Street.

Santa and Mrs. Claus Meet and Greet

November 24 – December 24

Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus are available near City Hall at the front of the Magic Kingdom for the traditional, “What would you like for Christmas?” meet and greet.  Santa will begin to make November 24th and will continue appearing through Christmas Eve from 10am to 6pm daily in Tour Guide Gardens.  Tour Guide Gardens is located to the left of City Hall, just inside the Magic Kingdom entrance.  Rumor has it that the real Santa Claus takes the place of one of his helpers on Walt Disney’s birthday and the anniversary of his death, December 5th and 15th respectively.  If you have a chance to visit on either of those dates, it’s your best chance to chat with the real thing.  The best time to visit with Santa is from 1pm to 3pm.  Because the meet and greet area is near the entrance, people tend to see it and visit Santa as they enter the theme park between 10am and 12pm.  That area clears out from 1pm to 3pm, but begins to get busier again after the 3pm Parade.  Technically, you’ll find the shortest wait if you line up at 9:30am, but then you’re missing the best two hours to see the most popular attractions.  If meeting Santa is more important than Space Mountain or Dumbo, you’ll want to get in line prior to 10am.  Otherwise, 1pm to 3pm is usually best.

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