Disney World Holiday and Christmas Activities in November and December 2011

by josh on November 7, 2011

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.

The 65 Foot Christmas Tree

Disney puts up an amazing 65-foot-tall Christmas tree right at the entrance to Main Street at some point in December.  Over the past few years, they have typically waited to install it until after the Christmas Parade taping.  This year, the Parade is taped on December 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, which means the tree probably won’t be up until December 7th or 8th.  The reason they wait is because the tree would get in the way of filming.

Holiday Decorations

November 3 – January 7, 2012

Other than the snow effects on Main Street, all of the Christmas decorations that you would see during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are up for the entire holiday season.  All of the bows, wreaths, Christmas trees, bells, and everything else will be present beginning at Park opening.

“Free” Events From December 19th to January 1st (Expected, Not Confirmed)

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, Holiday Wishes, and Christmas Character Meet and Greets

Several of the prominent events that take place during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party occur during regular theme park hours from December 19th through January 1st.  This includes Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade (daily at 3pm or 3:30pm with a second Parade possible at 12pm over Christmas Week), Holiday Wishes (nightly between 8pm and 10pm depending on date), and Disney characters dressed up in their holiday finest for meet and greets.  If your vacation begins during the third week in December, you may want to either elongate it to include December 19th and future dates or plan to visit the Magic Kingdom between December 19th and January 1st.  The Christmastime Parade is one of the best Parades at any Disney theme park in the world and Holiday Wishes is a great fireworks show, especially if you can also catch “Regular Wishes” during an earlier date.  This is one of the reasons why I don’t recommend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party more strongly – the best events are included with Park admission after the last Party on December 18th.

Events With An Extra Fee

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

November 8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, 27, 29, and 30;
December 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, and 18

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is Disney’s most heavily promoted holiday event, probably because it’s also the most expensive.  The Party requires a separate ticket purchase that costs between $57 and $67 for adults and $55 – $62 for kids between the ages of three and nine.  For my full review of the Party, see: Is 2011 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party MVMCP Worth the Cost? This includes what to expect from the Party and tips on how to get the most for your money.  In short, the Party is definitely a lot of fun, but the cost continues to increase year after year at the same time that Disney removes some of the Party’s most fun events.  A family of four can expect to pay about $240 on just the tickets.  Considering the cost to add an additional day to a Magic Your Way theme park ticket is about $8 per day after the third day and the cost to stay at a Value or Moderate resort is between $95 and $174 per night, you could very easily add an additional day to your vacation for less than the cost of the Party tickets.  However, if you’re short on time and have the benefit of a larger budget, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a lot of fun, especially if your trip doesn’t include dates between December 19th and January 1st, when the special Parade, Fireworks, and characters can be seen during regular Park hours at no additional cost.

Epcot

“Free” Events

Candlelight Processional

November 25 – December 30

The most publicized holiday event at Epcot is the Candlelight Processional.  And for good reason.  Each of the three 45-minute shows each evening features a celebrity narrator telling the story of Christmas, a 50-person orchestra, mass choir, and plenty of spiritual songs.  Unfortunately, the popularity of the show and the limited capacity of the theater have made seeing the Candlelight Processional a hassle that requires an expensive meal or a long wait.  I have written a full review and explanation of everything having to do with the Candlelight Processional at, Is the 2011 Candlelight Processional Dining Package Worth It? In short, the Candlelight Processional is a powerful show that I would recommend to anyone who might enjoy it.  If you’re considering seeing the Candlelight Processional or the Dining Package, be sure to read the linked article above.

Holidays Around the World

November 25 – December 30

Along with the Castle Dream Lights at Magic Kingdom, this is one of the best under-publicized holiday events.  Working in tandem with the Candlelight Processional, the World Showcase at Epcot transforms into a holiday storytelling paradise.  Each of the countries in Epcot features special storytellers that explain what makes the holiday season special in their respective countries.  In Japan, you might hear about O-Shigatsu, the traditional Japanese New Year.  In Germany, learn about how Germans spread the Tannenbaum (Christmas tree) tradition around the world.  The United Kingdom tells the story of how they developed the first Christmas card in 1843.  Not to mention the origins of the mistletoe, the legend of the Monkey King, and second Christmas Day in Norway.  The stories are fascinating and the storytellers are enthusiastic and authentic, many accompanied by gorgeous Christmas set pieces.  Several of the storytellers don’t appear until after 2pm so be sure to check your Times Guide.

Unfortunately, the Lights of Winter archway is no longer a centerpiece at Epcot during the holidays.  This was a gorgeous archway adorned with more than 30,000 lights.  The Christmas Tree lighting also no longer occurs.  Hopefully Disney will replace them with something even better.

D’Vine

November 25 – December 30

A gospel choir by the name of D’Vine Voices debuted at the Fountain Stage (near Innoventions) in 2009, replacing the Lights of Winter and the water and music show that accompanied it.  D’Vine Voices is an engaging and enthusiastic group that sings traditional gospel music with a live band.  They’re definitely worth taking a minute to enjoy.  They play 25 minute shows beginning at 1:15pm, 2:15pm, 3:15pm, and 4:15pm.

Voices of Liberty and the American Adventure Pavilion

November 25 – December 30

The Voices of Liberty is an a cappella group that sings patriotic songs in the American Adventure Pavilion throughout the day.  Their sets usually last about 15 minutes and serve to entertain guests while they wait for the American Adventure animatronics show to begin.  For Christmas, Voices of Liberty sings Christmas carols and traditional holiday favorites.  The rotunda inside the Pavilion is beautifully decorated with Christmas trees, wreaths, and lights.  Even if you’re not staying for the animatronics show, I would recommend stepping in to the Pavilion to hear Voices of Liberty if you enjoy Christmas music.

Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus also make appearances each day during Holidays Around the World.  They are available for pictures and quick chats.  Their schedule is usually 1:30pm–3:30pm, 4:10pm–6:10pm, and 6:50pm–8:50pm.  The best time to get in line is a little before 1:30pm so that you can be among the first to meet Santa.  He is much more popular in the evenings after 4pm because the World Showcase is busier in general and the Candlelight Processional brings a lot of people interested in Christmas festivities to the area.  If possible, fit in your meet and greet between 1:30pm and 3:30pm.

Holiday IllumiNations

November 25 – December 30 at 9:30pm

A special holiday finale is added to the “regular” IllumiNations show for the holidays.  Titled “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” the segment lasts about four minutes and includes additional firework displays and messages of hope and peace.  It’s a nice holiday bonus to an already “wonderful show.”  As always, I highly recommend seeing IllumiNations, with or without the holiday bonus.  Because the World Showcase is so large, there are plenty of excellent places to see it.  I prefer to stand in the Mexico or Norway Pavilion along the railing because it affords a direct view that isn’t compromised by trees or other hindrances.  With late dining reservations, the view from La Hacienda de San Angel in the Mexico Pavilion is excellent (provided you get a table near the window), as is the view from Rose and Crown Dining Room in the United Kingdom Pavilion.  Plan to reserve a table between 60 and 90 minutes before IllumiNations is scheduled to begin.  There is also seating and an excellent view from La Cantina de San Angel, the counter service in the Mexico Pavilion.  Note that it is very difficult to get seats there because it is so popular.  On the other side of the Pavilion, the bridge between the United Kingdom and France is an excellent spot.  Basically, anywhere that you can see the water in the middle of World Showcase Lagoon and the sky above is a great location.  If you’ve purchased the Candlelight Processional Dining Package, it includes standing-room-only space in a private viewing area at the base of World Showcase (Showcase Plaza on the Epcot map).  This is also an excellent place to view the show and affords an easier opportunity to exit Epcot before the crowds.  See the Candlelight Processional overview for more information.

Hollywood Studios

“Free Events”

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

November 10 – January 7

No Lights December 8

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is probably the third biggest holiday draw at Disney World, behind Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and the Candlelight Processional.  It might even be bigger than the Candlelight Processional, depending on who you ask.  The Osborne Lights features over 5 million lights synchronized to music in the Streets of America section of Hollywood Studios.  All in all, the Osborne Lights consist of about 350 miles of light strands that take about 21,000 cumulative hours to install.  Each night around 6pm, a special lighting ceremony occurs and a lucky guest will get to flip the switch that turns the lights on and starts the magic.  This is an absolute must-see if you’re visiting the Hollywood Studios over the holidays.  The least crowded time to visit the Lights is right before the Studios is scheduled to close for the evening.  If Hollywood Studios is scheduled to close at 7pm, head over around 6:50pm.  The Lights stay on and the section remains open for at least 30 minutes after the Park officially closes and Disney runs buses for at least 90 minutes after the official closing time to take guests dining at restaurants back to their resorts.  If you’re planning to get in line for Toy Story Mania at the end of the night, the second best time to see the Lights is about 30 minutes after the lighting ceremony.  The ceremony draws a substantial number of people and it will take them between 20 and 40 minutes to exit the area.  Of course, the lighting ceremony itself is also a lot of fun and I would recommend it if you’ve completed everything you wanted to do during the day.  You might consider catching the ceremony itself and then return a bit later to walk through and enjoy the lights.  The problem is that the Streets of America are somewhat narrow and it’s difficult to move around and see the entire show when a lot of people are present. Most people spend about 20 minutes looking at the lights, but there is no time limit to how long you can spend.

Holiday Decorations

November 4 – January 7

Hollywood Studios is also adorned with many Christmas decorations throughout the Park, including a 70-foot-tall Christmas tree out front.

Animal Kingdom

“Free” Events

Holiday Decorations, Camp Minnie-Mickey, and Goofy’s Wild Wonderland

November 10 – January 2

The Animal Kingdom is known as being the “least themed” of the major theme parks over the Christmas holiday season.  While it’s true that the Animal Kingdom does not host an event as spectacular as the Osborne Lights, Candlelight Processional, or Castle Dream Lights, the theme park is tastefully decorated and does feature a 65-foot-tall Christmas tree at the entrance to the Park.  Camp-Minnie-Mickey is the most decked out area.  You’ll find Mickey, Minnie, and friends in their holiday finest, posing for pictures and signing autographs.  There is also an entire forest of Christmas trees, each themed specifically to a Disney character.  Goofy’s Wild Wonderland is my favorite part of Christmas at the Animal Kingdom.  Goofy is actually dressed up like Santa Claus and will be more than happy to take a picture and listen to your Christmas wish list.  I’m not sure those gifts will end up coming, but it doesn’t hurt to hedge your bets on Santa Claus by also asking Goofy.  All in all, small touches add up to something extra special at the Animal Kingdom and it’s well worth taking the time to enjoy the holiday magic.

Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade – 3:45pm Daily

November 10 – January 2 (may be extended to the 5th or so)

Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade takes the place of Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade at the Animal Kingdom from November 10th through January 2nd.  The Parade is not leaps and bounds different than the “regular” Parade that is shown most of the year, but it does feature a Christmas-y theme and it’s well worth checking out if you enjoy Parades or were going to watch it anyway.  Just don’t expect to see anything too out of the ordinary.  In previous years, Disney has extended Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade for a couple of days into January.  Since most of the other Christmas events in the other Parks have been extended through January 7th, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Jingle Jungle Parade extended further into January as well.

Paid Tours That Visit Multiple Locations

Holiday D-Lights

November 28, 29, 30

December 6, 12, 13, 14

Holiday D-Lights is a tour hosted by the Disney Institute.  Guests must be 16 years of age or older to participate and the cost is $199 plus tax.  On the plus side, it does not require Park admission.  The tour takes participants to the warehouse where Disney keeps all of the holiday decorations, to the Magic Kingdom for Castle Dream Lights, to Hollywood Studios for Osborne Lights, and to Epcot for the Candlelight Processional and IllumiNations.  During the five hour tour from 4pm to 9pm, tour guides will explain the history of the holidays at Disney World and talk about how Disney prepares for the holiday spectacles and events.  “Backdoor” entrances are used at each of the theme parks, meaning you and the group will walk right in rather than having to wait at a ticket booth or deal with the crowds inside of the main entrance.

This is a fun and efficient tour that is especially beneficial if you’re short on time at Disney World.  It hits all three major holiday events at three different Parks in just about five hours.  On the other hand, at $200+ per person, it isn’t particularly economical and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it unless you’re a Disney aficionado and want additional perspective on how Disney operates.  It is a lot of fun if your budget allows.  The only real downsides are the fact that it’s pretty rushed and the seating at the Candlelight Processional and Castle Dream Lights aren’t spectacular.  At least last year, the seats to the Processional were in the back and it’s difficult to see the front of Cinderella Castle from Tomorrowland Terrace where you’ll be viewing Dream Lights.  Other than that, it’s an informative tour and I would recommend it if you’re looking for an exclusive tour to enjoy or want something to brag about to your Disney-loving buddies.  Call 407-WDW-TOUR to book or visit http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/tours-and-experiences/holiday-d-lights-tour/ and click on “book online” to the right of the page.

Yuletide Fantasy Tour

November 28 – December 30, excluding Christmas Day

This three hour tour costs $84 per person and departs daily at 9am and 1:30pm.  Like Holiday D-Lights, participants must be 16 years of age or older and theme park admission is not required.  The emphasis is on the backstage elements that go into preparing Disney World for the holiday season.  It includes a visit to Epcot’s World Showcase, the Magic Kingdom, the warehouse where Disney stores the holiday decorations, and usually a trip to the Grand Floridian to see the Gingerbread House and Christmas tree.  Because the tour is during the morning or afternoon, it does not include admission to the evening events.

This is another tour I would recommend if you’re looking for additional perspective on how Disney prepares for the holidays.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense on your first or second trip to Disney World because there’s so much to see without needing to go on an expensive tour, but it might be something you consider for a fourth or fifth trip.  These tours are also an excellent way for adults to spend some time together, away from the kids.  Call 407-WDW-TOUR to book or visit http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/tours-and-experiences/holiday-d-lights-tour/ and click on “book online” to the right of the page.

Downtown Disney

“Free” Events

Festival of the Seasons

November 18 – January 1

Disney does an admirable job decorating Downtown Disney for the holidays, probably because they want you to visit and purchase Disney merchandise, or at least visit Ghirardelli.  Really, it would only take one holiday light, if that, to make me visit Ghirardelli.  On the other hand, no amount of Christmas cheer would make me set foot in Captain Jack’s again.  Anyway, Downtown Disney is lovely for the holidays, featuring plenty of holiday decorations and a meet and greet with Santa Claus (5pm to 10pm from November 18 – 24 and 12pm to 10pm from November 25 – December 24) and 3pm – 10pm from December 25 – January 1.   Of course, Santa is conveniently located right in front of the World of Disney Store, the largest Disney Store in the world.  Chalk that one up to coincidence if you like.  Christmas carolers, jazz ensembles, religion-specific holiday displays, street performers, and more are feature events over the holidays at Downtown Disney.  There’s also a nightly dance party hosted by a DJ from 7pm to 10pm every night across from the World of Disney Store in the Marketplace as well as daily Santa stilt walkers.  It’s a lot of fun, especially on the weekends.  Disney tends to schedule more and more acts as it gets closer to Christmas and the weekends are your best opportunity to see the most performers.  Weekends are also the busiest, so you’ll want to be sure to either have a dining reservation or be prepared to wait at one of the counter services if you’re planning a meal there.  All in all, I recommend visiting Downtown Disney if you have a free evening after visiting one of the theme parks or plan to take one day easy.  Just keep in mind that you won’t necessarily be dodging crowds as you get closer to Christmas, especially in the evenings and especially on the weekends.

Resort Holiday Decorations and Activities (Resorts should be fully decked out by November 19th.  These are expected decorations – things can always change)

Generally speaking, the more expensive the resort, the better the holiday decorations.  The Value and Moderate resorts do add some holiday touches, but not enough that they are worth going out of your way to visit.  I certainly won’t stop you if you have your mind set on visiting All-Star Music, but there really isn’t enough there to draw most guests staying elsewhere.  The resorts I do recommend visiting specifically for the holidays, in order, are the Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Beach Club, Polynesian Resort, Yacht Club, Contemporary Resort, and BoardWalk Inn.  An honorable mention goes out to Fort Wilderness Cabins and Campsites, but it’s difficult to see much of the property without renting a $65 a day golf cart.  The Grand Floridian has the most to offer, with a 16-foot-tall gingerbread house made of over 1,000 pounds of honey, 700 pounds of chocolate, and 800 pounds of flour.  That’s just the three top ingredients.  It is truly a sight to be seen and it’s relatively easy to get to the Grand Floridian from the Magic Kingdom via the monorail, which is another bonus.  Be sure to check out the gorgeous Christmas tree as well.

The Wilderness Lodge is another resort worth visiting, both during the holidays and the rest of the year.  The Wilderness Lodge always has a rustic feel and the holiday spirit feels more alive at the resort than many other similarly decorated places around Disney World.  The lobby can barely contain the breathtaking 60-foot-tall Christmas tree adorned with over 60,000 lights.  Wreaths, smaller Christmas trees, and holiday lights are everywhere, both inside and outside the resort.  Take the boat from the Magic Kingdom directly to the Wilderness Lodge for easy access.

The Beach Club features a life-size, fully edible carousel made of gingerbread, sugar, chocolate, and candy canes.  This delicious-looking marvel of modern technology will test your ability not to eat it.  Like the other resorts, Christmas trees, wreaths, and lights adorn the rest of the property.  Similar to the Beach Club, the nearby Yacht Club Resort showcases another marvel created out of gingerbread.  This time, it’s a working train set that chugs around a gingerbread Christmas village.  It’s worth a look if you’re nearby.  The BoardWalk Inn’s holiday display is also made entirely of edible delights.  This time, it’s a miniature version of Atlantic City, complete with Ferris wheel, carousel, and beach.  Be sure to pop in if you’re visiting the BoardWalk area.  The easiest way to get to these three resorts is by exiting Epcot through the International Gateway between the France and United Kingdom Pavilions.  Either walk along the water or wait for the boat to take you to the BoardWalk Inn.  You can also hop on any bus destined for the BoardWalk Inn, Beach Club, or Yacht Club.

The Animal Kingdom Lodge is amazing in its own right, with or without holiday decorations.  Its Christmas tree is every bit as amazing as those found at the Wilderness Lodge or the major theme parks.  Make sure to spend some time at the public observatory viewing the animals on the savanna as well.  One of my favorite days at Disney World is spending the day at the Animal Kingdom and then transferring to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner.  The Lodge features three fantastic restaurants – Jiko, Sanaa, and Boma.  Even Mara, the resort’s counter service, offers a nice selection of food and is a fine choice if you’re looking for a less expensive meal.

The Contemporary Resort has a holiday village made of gingerbread and chocolate on display on the 4th floor, near the monorail terminal.  Look out for it if you’re stopping at the Contemporary to look around or planning a meal at Chef Mickey’s, The Wave, or California Grill.  It isn’t necessarily worth going out of your way to see, but the Contemporary Resort is so convenient to the Magic Kingdom and the Monorail Deluxes that you may want to step off the monorail and check it out if you’re zooming by on your way to another destination.

Fort Wilderness Campground can also be a lot of fun, thanks to hundreds of campers that set up holiday decorations around their campsites.  It’s similar to what you might find if you have a “holiday lane” near where you live with houses decorated for the holidays.  You might not want to visit with an intent to see decorations until the two weeks prior to Christmas because that’s when the majority of campers with decorations will arrive.  In November, few campsites will be decorated.  Keep in mind that Fort Wilderness is a huge resort and it’s difficult to see many of the campsites by foot.  The resort does rent electric vehicles for $65 per day or you can ride the internal bus around the resort, get off multiple times, and see the resort that way.  There’s also a free campfire and movie every night (around 7pm) with Chip ‘n Dale that you might want to attend if you’re visiting the Fort as well.  Another fun activity is the holiday horse-drawn carriage ride.  For $60, your group of up to four adults or two adults and three children can take a 25-minute tour of Fort Wilderness.  The easiest way to get to Fort Wilderness is via boat launch from the Magic Kingdom or a resort bus from one of the theme parks.

A Holiday Vacation

Is there a better place than Disney World to spend the holidays?  Maybe, but I can’t think of more than three off the top of my head.  The moon comes to mind.  Italy would be fun.  I’ve always wanted to go to Tokyo DisneySea.  Other than that, I can unequivocally say that Disney World is your best choice for a holiday vacation and that’s not just because I happen to run a Disney World website.  There is just so much going on and so many holiday events, that it’s impossible not to get in the holiday spirit.  Almost all of the holiday extras are included in Park admission, including the Candlelight Processional, Holiday IllumiNations, Holidays Around the World, Cinderella Castle Dream Lights, Goofy’s Wild Wonderland, Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade (depending on when you go), and Holiday Wishes (depending on when you go).  For those looking to spend a little extra, there are several holiday tours, special meals, and of course, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.  Disney World is a fantastic vacation destination throughout the year and the holidays bring out its best qualities and add even more depth to an already magical experience.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Mitzi November 12, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Thank you SO much for this super informative article about all there is to do at WDW during the Christmas holidays. This will be our first time with Mickey during this time of year and we’re all SO very excited. Now, with your article, I won’t have to worry if we’re missing anything. Kudos!

Vicky March 7, 2011 at 6:32 am

I completely agree, we take the family every christmas to Disneyworld without fail, it is the most magical experience available. We couldn’t image vacationing anywhere else in the world!

stevenmilz November 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm

“but Orlando is rarely uncomfortable weather-wise in November or the first two weeks in December”… famous last words my friend. We froze our behinds off there the second week of December last year. We’re trying again this year (as you know). Hopefully we can leave the winter coats, mittens and hats behind!

Kelli November 7, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Is the GF’s gingerbread house open yet? Do you know if the gingerbread house in Epcot will be open next week, too? I am hoping that the GF’s house will be open next week!

RaySharpton November 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Most Excellent Information, Josh, as always. Outstanding. A few more weeks and I’ll be there. Thank you so much for all you do. I come to your website every day for interesting information. I have never been disappointed. Thank you, Josh.

Heather November 7, 2011 at 8:26 pm

I disagree about having the Poly so high on that list. They haven’t had anything special the last few years. The boardwalk’s display (the last few years a gingerbread display of a fireplace with stitch & daisy) is much better. Also agree with stevenmilz, the last 2 Decembers have been cold, but last year it was freezing! One day the windchill was in the teens.

Vicki November 8, 2011 at 4:22 am

Josh- i just found this article – great job compiling all the holiday activities! I also agree with Heather above that the Poly’s decorations were disappointing the year we were there. I would probably switch the Poly and the Boardwalk on that list. But to each his own!

Kay November 8, 2011 at 4:54 am

Goodness gracious. Great article. I had found these in bits and pieces in other places, but everything you need to know is right here. Forwarding this to some first timers as I have done MANY times before with this site. Thanks for the hard work.

Carrie November 8, 2011 at 7:13 am

Are your dates for Downtown Disney’s Festival of the Seasons correct? Disney’s site has different dates. We were hoping the decorations would be up on November 12 when we visit Downtown Disney. Also, when will they start to decorate Epcot? Any idea when the Christmas tree will be up?

Robin November 8, 2011 at 7:38 am

Great info as always. I’m so glad I found your website. After 16 DW visits, I still learn from, and enjoy reading all the info on your site!!!

josh November 8, 2011 at 7:49 am

Carrie – Do you have a link to the page that has different dates for some of the events?

Kim November 8, 2011 at 1:20 pm

So if I’m reading this correctly-the castle dream lights will still be up and lit until the 7th? That would be great, usually all we that week is the crane!

Carrie November 8, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Josh, here is the link for Festival of the Seasons. It says it starts Nov. 9, 2011, but Santa doesn’t arrive until Nov. 18.
http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/downtown-disney/special-events/festival-of-the-seasons/

r fulton November 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm

What/where is Goofy’s Wild Wonderland? I haven’t heard about this before and since Goofy is my wife’s favorite would like to check it out.

Joyce November 30, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Josh:
Before Thanksgiving you did a lot of articles with Christmas merchandise. I thought I remembered you taking a picture of a wine glass at the emporium on main street. It had gold Mickey heads with stripes of red and purple I believe it was. I was there the week before Christmas and left without getting one. I called Disney Merchandise, but she couldn’t find it. I thought if you had a picture it might help me in getting this wine glass for my daughter. She collects them. She loves, loves wine! Thank you
Joyce

josh November 30, 2011 at 2:15 pm
mike September 23, 2013 at 5:47 am

there are 3 things I love to do at epcot that time of year one is the christmas processional two are the holiday shows and 3 is get reallyplastered

Anonymous November 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Thanks for the great info!! Really wanted to visit MK on January 1st. When will we know if the Christmas parades and characters will be around on that day for sure?

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