Main Street is adorned with decorations, Christmas carols fill the air and Santa Claus is on hand, taking note of childrens’ Wish Lists. It could be a scene straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, or it could be something akin to A Nightmare Before Christmas. We’re here to help you find all the wonder and magic that a December trip to Walt Disney World can provide, and your job is to slow down, forget about the crowds and the queues, and immerse yourself in the joy of the season.
There is no park that says “Christmas” more than MAGIC KINGDOM, and with European fairytales all around you it’s impossible not to feel the nostalgia. It’s also impossible to miss the Castle Dream Lights, when Cinderella castle becomes a fantasy of twinkling lights. Even the most Scrooge-like visitor is bound to take several photographs of this spectacular transformation, which occurs every evening at twilight. The (very short) lighting ceremony at 6.15pm is dubbed A Frozen Holiday Wish, with Queen Elsa from the hit movie Frozen using her powers to cast a glimmering sheen of ‘ice’ over the castle. Then, Holiday Wishes night-time fireworks spectacular adds a seasonal overlay to the nightly display.
But the magic starts well before dusk, with favourite characters meeting and greeting guests, decked out in their holiday finery; the Jungle Cruise attraction is re-themed as the Jingle Cruise; and Buzz Lightyear, Stitch, and Mike Wazowski summon Santa Claus in A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas song and dance party, several times daily. And, of course, there’s Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, the perfect place to pick up a new ornament for your tree.
If the ‘free’ stuff isn’t enough, purchase tickets for the popular Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, filled with character meet-and-greets, cookies and hot cocoa, speciality merchandise, Celebrate the Season stage show, and Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade, with Santa himself (the parade also runs during regular park hours after mid-December). Many attractions stay open, an ideal antidote to the long daytime queues.
Although Magic Kingdom corners the market for pure Christmas fantasy, EPCOT has even more to offer in the way of special events and magical memories. No visit to Epcot during December would be complete without taking in several Storytellers Around the World, and it’s worth devoting a day to seeing them (with a few attractions thrown in!). Each of the World Showcase countries has its traditional story, as told by costumed interpreters. Even the Train Display near Germany gets a Christmassy old-world make-over.
Santa and Mrs. Claus meet guests at American Adventure; Joyful! A Gospel Celebration of the Season show rings with gospel music; Voices of Liberty and American Music Machine a capella groups add Christmas favourites to their line-ups; and die Weihnachts Ecke shop in Germany has all your ornament needs.
But the absolute must-not-miss event is the annual Candlelight Processional, a moving celebration of Jesus’ birth in a pageantry of song. Possibly Disney’s stand-out Christmas offering, it runs three times nightly, with a special celebrity guest narrator telling the nativity story in immensely moving fashion.
The show is extremely popular, and those who prefer not to queue for it should reserve a Candlelight Dining Package, with select dining in World Showcase and priority seating for the show.
The paid-for event here is the IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party, with confections from several World Showcase countries, plus beverages (including, of course, sparkling wine), and a priority IllumiNations viewing location.
2015 will be the final year for HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS’ much beloved Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, a jaw-dropping display of lights, choreographed to upbeat Christmas tunes, which extends the length of Streets of America and beyond. It’s a massive fan favourite, showing from dusk until park closing daily, but will be ending this year to make way for new park construction.
As a final send-off for the dancing lights, the Studios park offers a paid-for Merry and Bright Dessert Party, with speciality desserts, a VIP viewing location, and a stadium blanket souvenir to keep you warm. Santa Goofy is on hand for keepsake photos.
ANIMAL KINGDOMmay be the poor relation this year, with ongoing construction for Avatarland, Rivers of Light, and other upcoming attractions, but go anyway. The themed Christmas tree in the central courtyard and some lovely holiday decorations around the park add a festive touch to help counteract all the hoardings.
When you’ve had enough of the parks, head to the RESORTS for even more Christmas cheer. Of special note are the Gingerbread House and Gingerbread Demo at Grand Floridian; the confectionary Carousel at the Beach Club; Carriage Rides at Port Orleans; Sleigh or Wagon Rides at Fort Wilderness, plus a Golf Cart Parade on Christmas Eve and decorated campsites all month long.
For the ultimate in shopping, Disney Days of Christmas at DISNEY SPRINGS is the place to be, and while there are even more hoardings here than there are at Animal Kingdom, the area is nicely decorated, with live and recorded Christmas music lending a yuletide joy to the atmosphere. Santa Claus can be found here, too, in the Marketplace section of Disney Springs.
2015’s must-have seasonal souvenir is the Holiday Popcorn Bucket, shaped like Mickey Mouse dressed as an elf or as Santa Claus. It even has a convenient shoulder strap so you can carry it around easily, and Mickey’s head acts as a lid, making it a useful container after you return home.
And if you’re not satisfied yet, there are two paid-for TOURS worth watching out for: Holiday D-Lights is a 5-hour, 3-Park (not Animal Kingdom) glimpse into how Walt Disney World is transformed for the Season, and includes priority viewing of Candlelight Processional and Osborne Lights (ages 16 and up); while Disney’s Yuletide Fantasy visits Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and a Resort hotel for an insider look at how Christmas comes to the World, including time with the Holiday Services Cast Members who make it all happen.
It’s easy to devote a week or more just to the seasonal offerings around Walt Disney World, and if you remember to pack your patience before you arrive, it truly is the most magical time of the year.