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.
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.
Headed out to Hollywood Studios today for no reason in particular. The original plan was to visit Animal Kingdom, but having been there yesterday and not unearthing anything of any particular interest, decided to switch things up a bit. I noticed that the Studios was one of two “Recommended Parks” here and the only “Park to Avoid” on TouringPlans.com, so I thought it would be interesting to see what it looked like. Since we’re in between yesterday’s morning Extra Magic Hour/Double Fantasmic and tomorrow’s evening Extra Magic Hours/Double Fantasmic, it shouldn’t be bad today, even with two Fantasmic shows and slightly longer hours than other days this week.
Here we are arriving at 2:20pm. There was a light drizzle that was passing overhead, so I decided to grab a quick lunch at our favorite quick service (I say this as sarcastically as possible), ABC Commissary. Of course we have a longer wait than we would like at Toy Story Midway Mania, but there’s no way around that at this time of day. As we all know, Toy Story Mania is a “must do” at rope drop or your top FASTPASS priority. Otherwise, nominal waits considering the time of day.
This is the Chicken Curry ($8.49) from ABC Commissary. While it might seem like a gutsy (and pretty random) choice at first glance, it’s actually pretty good and by far the best item on the menu. Full menu, building pictures, seating pictures, and condiment pictures here: https://www.easywdw.com/menus-and-seating/abc-commissary-menu-commissary-lane-major-quick-service/. The fish is a lot of food for the money, but pretty terrible with a plastic texture and little flavor that isn’t fried oil. It’s not your Yorkshire County Fish Shop fish. The Burger is pretty silly with three fried shrimp stuck to the top of it – otherwise it’s your standard Disney burger. The Chicken Blue Sandwich is okay, but the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich at Studio Catering Company is much better. The curry here is served piping hot, which always makes the food better, and it does have a bit of a kick to it. It’s not overwhelmingly spicy by any means, but does have a very nice flavor. Unfortunately, the rice leaves something to be desired. It’s dry and often undercooked. You might be able to time it so the rice is “fresh,” but you never know. Disney would be better served purchasing some of those industrial rice cookers that your local Chinese/Thai joint uses. There isn’t a ton if chicken floating in there either. Overall, the Chicken Curry is the best item on the menu and a nice change of pace from your usual hamburgers and pizzas. With few good quick service choices at the Studios, it’s actually not a bad choice.
You may remember the Power Pack from a couple of days ago, which was previously only available at Fairfax Fare. It’s now offered at the other quick service locations at the Studios, including ABC Commissary, Toy Story Pizza Planet, and Backlot Express. Disney also continues to sell these R2-D2 dessert containers and the R2-D2 popcorn buckets are still available as well.
There were still openings for the American Idol Experience. Apparently it wasn’t a talented bunch today. You’ll see sign up people all around the American Idol building. Should you wish to audition, you’ll be sent/walked to the back of the building as pictured here.
Off to Animal Kingdom today, where it’s decidedly “not Christmas yet.”
Here we are arriving around 1:45pm. Animal Kingdom was the only recommended Park. I don’t like to limit your choices like that, but it’s really the only option on a Saturday during the Food/Wine Festival. Normally I like Epcot on the weekends, but not from September 30 – November 13. Magic Kingdom was also crushed with long hours of operation, Main Street Electrical Parade, Wishes, AND EVENING EXTRA MAGIC HOURS!!! ON A SATURDAY!! We’re talking 90 minute waits at Space Mountain, 50 at Jungle Cruise, 40 at Pirates of the Caribbean, 60 at Big Thunder Mountain over at Magic Kingdom and 80 minute waits at Soarin’ and 60 at Test Track over at Epcot. You could have gotten away with Hollywood Studios had you arrived early and “toured smart,” but November 6th will be so much better that it really isn’t worth risking.
Oh no!!!! My favorite piece of concrete is closed for refurbishment!! VACATION RUINED.
Not a lot of people entering the Park. Looking good.
I just want to take a moment to thank Halloween for at least giving Disney World an excuse to put off celebrating Christmas until November 1st. Can you imagine when Christmas would start without Halloween? August? September? May? So thank you Halloween. Without you, Disney would be selling tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Parties with dates in July and I’m not talking about one of those “Christmas in July” holiday bazaars.
The Monorail hours we’ve become accustomed to seeing continue to be in place. Epcot is open until 10pm to ensure everyone has an opportunity to get hammered and swear at little kids, which means the Monorail operates until 11pm.
Just take me where I want to go.
Not quite as involved as the Halloween exhibit, but there’s something to say for these oversized poinsettia things.
Right off the bat we see some nice wreaths adorning the train station. Like the Halloween decorations, we should see another round of stuff added over the next couple of days.
Chip and Dale were appearing out in front of the train station which is rare. The television crews are in town to shoot some commercials and that may have something to do with it. If you ever have the pleasure of watching a Disney World planning DVD or commercial, you can usually pick out about 100 things that are unrealistic. I still remember seeing people standing up on the Tower of Terror on the commercial and was so surprised to see that it was a seated attraction.
A nice Photopass opportunity out front as well.
Pluto also appearing. Pluto should be near the flag pole and Chip and Dale belong in Tomorrowland.
Some wreaths on Town Square Theater. We should see some additional decorations in the next few days.
On the light posts:
We’ll see some other designs in a moment.
Am I the only person weirded out by the fact that it’s November? It seems like the RealFeel was 114 degrees at 11am just the other day (i.e. Florida any day in June, July, August, or September). Maybe it was all those late nights at the Food and Wine Festival double fisting mimosas, but it seems like October whizzed by. Such is life. Anyway, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, it’s not Halloween anymore, which means it’s Christmas. We’ve got the first night of Cinderella’s Holiday Wish and Castle Dreamlights at Magic Kingdom tomorrow at 7:15pm. That’s scheduled Saturday at 7:15pm and then at 6:15pm for the rest of the holiday season. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party kicks off November 8th. Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios begins November 10th (and has been extended through January 7th 2012). Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade at Animal Kingdom transforms into Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade on November 10th as well, with the help of a couple of holiday wreaths and some Santa hats. Holidays Around the World and the Candlelight Processional return to Epcot beginning November 25th. Not to mention all of the resort transformations, Goofy’s Wild Wonderland in Animal Kingdom, and the rest of the theme park decorations. It’s one of the most fun, most special, most exciting times at Walt Disney World.
We’ll pick things up today (November 3rd) at Hollywood Studios.
There is this tree in front of Hollywood Studios now. It’s big, fake, and doesn’t have much of a Disney theme at all. I’m not sure if that makes it tasteful or lame. One and the same probably.
A details shot.
I’m always crestfallen to see that Sounds Dangerous isn’t operating. Every time I visit I hope that it’s my lucky day. I’m not sure why Disney opted to add a second Fantasmic tonight, they certainly didn’t need it.
This is one very tall cast member or one very small tourist. One and the same probably. Not very busy here at 4:25pm.
For George – I thought this t-shirt was hilarious. Mickey should know he isn’t allowed up front anymore though and assuming he’s the driver, I would hope that he’s watching where he’s going. Actually, the fact that Mickey’s driving and isn’t paying attention would explain some of my more recent monorail rides. My favorite monorail is pink or magenta or whatever it is that leaks, wobbles from side to die (boss edit: I think you mean side here), and has a max speed of 12 miles per hour.
Here’s some more holiday merchandise, this time found at Mickey’s of Hollywood at Hollywood Studios. Most/all of it should be available in the various stores at the other theme parks as well.
The gray Santa hat is “new.” $19.95. My favorite is the Minnie Mouse, but I’m a sucker for anything with a bow.
I don’t think we’ve seen these two stockings yet, but maybe we have. $22.95 each.