(Article last updated: July 1, 2017)
The holiday season at Disney World includes a whole lot of different things - special events in the parks, beautiful decorations in the resorts and a couple of special tours.
Here is a guide to everything that takes place at Disney World during the holiday season, including tips and videos.
In this article
- Animal Kingdom
- Magic Kingdom
- Hollywood Studios
- Disney Springs
- Special holiday tours
Characters in holiday-themed attire
Meet Mickey and Minnie in their holiday themed attire at the Adventurers Outpost. Santa Goofy, Donald, Chip & Dale and Baloo & King Louie also meet in seasonal outfits during the holidays.
Tree Lighting Ceremony
Once the tree is up at Magic Kingdom, there's a tree lighting ceremony that takes place every evening at dusk (around 5:15-5:30).
The Jungle Cruise transforms during the holidays into the "Jingle Cruise", complete with holiday themed jokes, decorations and background music and radio broadcasts for the queue.
Castle Dream Lights and A Frozen Holiday Wish
Not only does the castle look different during the holidays, but there's a little ceremony that precedes the lighting of the castle.
From early November to early January, Queen Elsa from Frozen appears twice each evening to get the Castle Dream Lights lit up for the night in a 7 minute show called "A Frozen Holiday Wish." On non-party nights, this occurs at 6:15 and 7:30 p.m. On party nights, the times are 6:15 and 8 p.m.
I don't think Disney communicates the details of this show clearly because they want people to think this is only part of the Christmas party but the party doesn't begin until 7 p.m. and the first showing occurs daily before that time.
Tip: The best place to watch the stage show is close to the stage. If you want to be able to view the whole castle better, it's best to stand back a little bit further. Show up about 30 minutes beforehand to make sure you get a good spot to watch.
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
The biggest event held during the holidays is the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) which takes place on select evenings at Magic Kingdom. It features exclusive holiday entertainment, snow falling on Main St., and complimentary cookies and cocoa.
Get all of the details about this party in my complete guide to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.
In the outdoor American Gardens Theater in the American section of the World Showcase, celebrity narrators read a presentation of the Christmas story. A huge choir and 50-piece orchestra are also a part of this very moving event.
This 40 minute show takes place 3 times a day from late November to late December with show times at 5:00, 6:45 and 8:15 p.m.
There is no cost to attend, although it is very popular so securing a seat can be a challenge.
One way to guarantee a seat is to book a Candlelight Dinner Package. This package includes:
- Meal with appetizer, entree, dessert, non-alcoholic beverage (or, if the meal is a buffet, you get 1 buffet meal)
- Reserved section to sit in during Candlelight Processional
People using the Disney Dining Plan can use 2 Table Service credits to pay for the package.
You can get the list of narrators and dining package booking info at https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/epcot/candlelight-dinner-packages/.
Reservations can be made at the link above or by calling 407-WDW-DINE.
Take a look at a sampling of a show that was hosted by my pretend BFF, Neil Patrick Harris, who normally narrates CP for a couple of nights in late November or early December.
Holidays Around the World Marketplaces
For most people, a trip to Epcot isn't complete without sampling food and drink from around the World Showcase. From late November through the end of December you can find special holiday "Marketplaces" serving up traditional holiday foods and drinks from several different countries and regions of the world.
World Showcase Storytellers and other entertainment
From the end of November through the end of December, storytellers throughout the World Showcase spend about 10 minutes or so telling stories from their respective cultures.
The following storytellers and entertainment appear several times a day.
- Mexico - Mariachis and dancers appear at 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, 2:30, 4:00, and 5:00 daily
- Norway - Sigrid teaches you about the Christmas Gnome, Julenissen at 2:15, 3:00, 3:40, 4:30, 5:45, 6:30, 7:05, and 7:45
- China - Chinese lion dancers appear daily at 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30
- Germany - Helga talks about the first Christmas and the tale of the nutcracker
- Italy - La Befana reflects on Christmas 2000 years ago. Presented daily at 12:35, 1:30, 3:20, 4:15, 5:50, 6:40, and 7:40.
- The American Adventure- Mr. and Mrs. Claus are available and you can hear stories about Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. Mr. and Mrs. Claus appear at 1:30, 3:30, 5:30, and 7:30. Hanukkah story sessions are at 11:30, 12:15, 1:00, 1:45, 2:30, 3:15, 4:00, and 4:45. Kwanzaa sessions are daily at 11:15, 12:00, 12:45, 1:30, 2:15, 3:00, 3:45, and 4:30.
- Japan - the Daruma doll seller explains the Japanese New Year customs at 12:10, 12:50, 1:35, 2:20, 2:55, 3:45, 4:45, and 5:55 daily
- Morocco - Tour of Moroccan holiday celebrations presented at 12:30, 2:00, 2:45, 4:20, 5:30, 6:05, and 7:20 daily
- France - Pere Noel recreates the magic of Christmas through the eyes of a child at 11:20, 11:55, 12:30, 1:15, 2:05, 3:30, 4:20, and 5:05 daily
- United Kingdom - Father Christmas shares Christmas traditions at 12:30, 1:25, 2:20, 3:20, 5:40, 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 daily
- Canada - The Canadian Holiday Voyageur, a musical show presented at 11:20, 12:10, 1:05, 2:00, 3:00, and 4:30 daily
Special ending to Illuminations
The Illuminations nighttime show has a different segment on the end that doesn't play any other time of year. Skip to 13:09 on the video below to see it.
Voices of Liberty Christmas Carols
The Voices of Liberty is an a cappella group that sings year round in the American Adventure pavilion in the World Showcase section of Epcot. During the holidays, they sing Christmas carols and favorite holiday songs. You can see them daily at 11:45, 12:30, 1:15, 2:00, 2:45, 3:30, and 4:15.
Joyful! A Gospel Celebration of the Season
From the end of November to the end of December, D'Vine Voices appear a few times every afternoon on the Fountain of Nations Stage at Epcot. Each show lasts for about 25 minutes and takes place at 1:15, 2:25, 3:25, and 4:25.
Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!
Utilizing some of the same technology that has made Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular so popular, (state-of-the-art projections, special effects, fireworks, fantastic music and, special for Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!, snow), Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! returns in 2017 on select nights in November and December. The show tells the story of a search-and-rescue mission to get Santa returned to the North Pole in time for the big day and includes holiday moments from several Disney classics including “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Pluto’s Christmas Tree,” “Bambi,” and Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
For guests wanting to make a special night of it, Disney offers a dessert party that is available for an additional charge ($69 adults/$39 children). The party includes reserved viewing, desserts, specialty beverages and 3D HoloSpex® glasses to use while watching the show.
Like Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, the best viewing for this show will be close to the Chinese Theater (where the Great Movie Ride is located) so if you are interested in seeing this show make sure you claim your spot early.
Meet Santa and Goofy Santa
If meeting Santa is on your list of holiday must-dos, you'll find a new opportunity to meet him at Hollywood Studios. In 2016, Santa will begin greeting guests at the Once Upon A Time shop located on Sunset Blvd from November 14 through December 24. Goofy Santa takes over from December 25 to December 31 to give Santa some time to recover from his big night.
Minnie's Holiday Dine
For the past several years, Minnie has hosted year-round seasonally themed meals at Hollywood & Vine including a holiday themed one. The Holiday Dine meal includes a buffet with holiday themed foods (including desserts), character greetings and photo opportunities with 5 of your favorites: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald & Daisy, all decked out in their holiday attire.
Minnie's Holiday Dine costs $46.99 per adult and $27.99 per child (plus tax and gratuity) and it is included on the Dining Plan. There is also Fantasmic! Dinner option (also available on the Dining Plan) that costs $53.99/adult and $32.99/child, plus tax and gratuity.
In 2016, you can dine holiday style with Minnie November 7, 2016 – January 6, 2017.
Christmas Tree Trail
From mid-November (November 11th in 2016) through the beginning of January, Disney Springs hosts a seasonal walk-through trail that includes 15 trees themed after a Disney character or story. For 2016 the themes include:
- Mickey and Minnie Mouse
- Disney Villains
- “Beauty and the Beast“
- “The Little Mermaid“
- “The Princess and the Frog“
- “Alice in Wonderland“
- “The Jungle Book“
- “101 Dalmatians“
- “Mary Poppins“
- The Muppets
Nightly tree lighting and dance party
Every night during the holidays you can watch the lighting of the giant tree at the Once Upon a Toy fountain followed by a holiday-themed DJ dance party.
Holiday-themed entertainment, window displays & Santa
From November 11th - January 8th 2016, toy soldiers and snowflake stilt-walkers, carolers and more will entertain guests as they shop Disney Springs. In addition, several windows in select stores will host elaborate holiday themed displays and you can also find special performances celebrating Kwanza (Dec. 26th & 27th) and Hanukkah (Dec. 24th - Jan. 1st).
Santa Clause (Nov. 11th - Dec 24th) and Santa Goofy (Dec. 25th - Dec. 30th) will be meeting with guests in their cottage which is located across from Ghiradelli's Ice Cream and Chocolate shop (near World of Disney). This Santa meet & greet is perfect for people that don't like standing in long lines as it lets you check in and receive a pager which allows you to shop nearby as you await your turn. Santa (and later Santa Goofy) meet from noon until 10:00 pm daily and your photos are included with Memory Maker.
Nighttime Light Show
This brand new show was just announced for 2016 and although there aren't many details available yet, it looks amazing!
The Disney resorts are all decorated for the holidays and many of the Deluxe resorts are worth a stop to check it out.
Some things you will find in some of the resorts:
- Grand Floridian - a 16 foot tall gingerbread house sit in the lobby and smaller versions are available to purchase. If you visit just 1 resort, this should be the one.
- Wilderness Lodge - a 60 feet tall tree fills the lobby (it takes 18 hours to put up!)
- Beach Club - lots of decorations, including a large, edible carousel
- Yacht Club - decor includes an edible train
- Boardwalk Inn - an edible, miniature version of Atlantic City, complete with Ferris wheel, carousel, and beach sits in the lobby alongside other seasonal decorations
- Animal Kingdom Lodge - gorgeous resort is made even more beautiful with a big tree with themed ornaments decorating it
- The Contemporary Resort - a holiday village made of gingerbread and chocolate sits near the monorail platform
Special holiday tours
The Yuletide Fantasy Tour gives you a look at how the decor is done in some of the parks and resorts. The tour is $99/person, available late November through late December, takes place 9 a.m. daily except Sunday and begins at Epcot. You must be at least 16 to attend.
Disney's Holiday D-Lights includes a performance of the Candlelight Processional, a trip on the Jingle Cruise, an opportunity to meet some of the staff that transform the Disney World Resort and a family-style barbecue dinner. The Holiday D-Lights tour costs $259 and is offered on select nights in November and December. You must be at least 12 to attend.
You can book both of these tours by calling 407-WDW-TOUR.