Annual events at Walt Disney World are highly anticipated by the locals, and tourists coming to Orlando often plan their visits to coincide with the festivals, especially if they’ve been to them before. Although every visit to the House of Mouse is special, these events add an extra bit of magic to your stay.
Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival
Epcot looks amazing at any time of year, but it bursts into full bloom in springtime during the Flower and Garden Festival. Whimsical topiaries featuring Disney characters fill the park, along with spectacular floral set-pieces, a walk-through butterfly house, special children’s play areas, and dozens of Master Gardeners ready to answer guests’ questions. Want to delve even deeper? Lectures, presentations and seminars (some free, some paid-for) round out the offerings. Extra entertainment includes the Flower Power concert series at the American Gardens Theatre, with special musical guests performing three times a day. For anyone with green fingers, this is a major treat, and it’s all free with park admission.
- When: Early March to mid-May
St Patrick’s Day Mighty Festival at Raglan Road Irish Pub
This major Irish shindig is commonly marked by parties and other festivities in the US, and Orlando is no exception. But, if you’re visiting Walt Disney World over the 10 days surrounding St. Paddy’s Day, the place to be is Raglan Road Irish Pub. Along with their own ridiculously talented musicians and Irish dancers, Raglan Road brings in half a dozen other bands, adds world-renowned choreographer Ronan McCormack of Riverdance fame, and throws in Irish dance lessons, stilt walkers, face painting, and more. And, of course, their barkeeps know how to pull the perfect pint.
- When: St. Patrick’s Day week (for 10 days, dates vary)
- Location: Disney Springs/The Landing
Star Wars Weekends
The annual Star Wars Weekends event isn’t just popular with visitors to Orlando, it’s a major draw for locals, too, and there’s nothing quite like seeing hundreds of them dressed up as their favourite Star Wars characters. But the real starring roles go to the vast number of characters from the films, posing for pictures and adding a genuine sense that you’ve stepped through the movie screen and into another world. Stars from the films are on hand to sign autographs and give fascinating lectures, while specially themed food and drinks are available, and you’ll find a warehouse of merchandise in Darth’s Maul. Ages 12 and under will probably want to try the Jedi Training Academy, and the extensive Star Wars Parade is simply not to be missed.
- When: Weekends during May and June.
- Location: Disney's Hollywood Studios
U.S. Independence Day
As you would expect, Independence Day is a big deal in the U.S., and the main attraction is the evening fireworks. Magic Kingdom’s “Disney’s Celebrate America—A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky” is by far the most elaborate, and the crowds that pour into the park for the preview showing on 3 July and the premier showing on 4 July reflect the display’s immense popularity (arrive several hours in advance or risk not getting in). A slightly more sedate experience can be had at Epcot, with an additional Heartbeat of Freedom fireworks tribute at the end of the nightly IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show. Hollywood Studios gets in on the celebration, too, with an evening Rockin’ Fourth of July party with a DJ, and a night-time fireworks display set to rock music. Epcot also features patriotic mini-concerts by the Voices of Liberty a capella group, a musical salute by the Fife and Drum Corps, and characters appearing in Americana-inspired costumes.
- When: 4 July
- Location: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios
Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival
This massively popular festival takes place in the autumn as 25 ‘global marketplaces’ line the walkway around World Showcase, featuring a selection of ‘small-bite’ food and beverage selections based on each host country’s traditional cuisine. Celebrity Chefs give cooking demonstrations, special dining events are on offer, food and wine lectures and seminars are well worth attending, and hands-on training courses are geared toward beginners as well as serious foodies. As with Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival, various well-known bands add an extra high-energy touch with Eat to the Beat concerts, held three times daily at the American Gardens Theatre. The festival and concerts are free with park admission, but food and beverage samples, dining events, and some lectures and seminars cost extra.
- When: Mid-September to mid-November
- Location: Epcot
While there are no special events on Thanksgiving Day, several restaurants in the parks and resorts will offer a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of roast turkey and all the trimmings. Restaurants vary yearly. Take a look at our blog on Halloween and Thanksgiving in Orlando.
Christmas (or ‘The Holidays’ in America)
From the snowfalls on Main Street to visits with Santa Claus, Christmas is truly the most magical time of year in Walt Disney World. Magic Kingdom offers the paid-for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and a special Christmas themed Wishes fireworks show; Epcot has the hugely popular free-with-admission Candlelight Processional show featuring seasonal music sung by a massive choir and a celebrity guest narrator, plus holiday-themed storytelling from around the world in World Showcase; Hollywood Studios comes to life with the new Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! spectacular; and Disney Springs features a Disney-themed Christmas tree trail and meet-and-greets with Santa himself. You’ll even find horse-drawn ‘sleigh’ rides at Fort Wilderness Campground.
- When: Early November to early January
- Location: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Disney Springs, Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground
New Year’s Eve
Ring in the New Year in the Happiest Place on Earth! Although Magic Kingdom and Epcot generally reach capacity and close to further guests by mid-day, seeing the year out Disney-style is something a bit special. Magic Kingdom features two fireworks displays—Holiday Wishes and Fantasy in the Sky—plus a DJ dance party in front of Cinderella's Castle; Epcot adds party hats and horns, a special fireworks ending to IllumiNations, a dance party and plenty of temporary bars for the 21 and up crowd; and Hollywood Studios hands out party hats and horns for their dance party, along with a Lights, Camera, Happy New Year! fireworks display at midnight.
- When: 31 December
- Location: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios