Religious Resources at Walt Disney World
For some people, maintaining religious practices is important even on vacation. Although Walt Disney World is not immediately thought as a destination for people of faiths, it’s popularity and universal themes for all people does mean that people of all faiths come to the vacation capital of the world. Here are some of the resources for finding a house of worship, descriptions of special events or attractions of interest for faith communities, and some additional religion-specific information for three of the major religions in the United States.
Like many other large American cities, the Orlando area has churches of almost every denomination thinkable. While there are not generally church services on Disney property (the exception being Easter services often held at the Contemporary Resort), there are many churches within a short drive or taxi ride. Some of the churches specifically cater to visiting tourists, but local non-tourist-driven churches are also accepting of visitors. For a listing of churches in the area around Disney, you can search on web sites like ChurchFinder.com or FaithStreet.com. The nearest towns to search in would be Celebration, Kissimmee, Winter Garden, Windermere, Clermont, and Orlando (although especially for Orlando, you’ll want to check the location of the church as places with Orlando mailing addresses can be anywhere from five miles to twenty-five miles from Walt Disney World). For zip codes, try 32821, 32836, 34714, 34747, 34786, or 34787. If you are searching for houses of worship for a specific denomination, your best bet is to use a search engine to search for “(name of denomination) near Walt Disney World”.
At Walt Disney World, there are a few events during the year that may be of interest to members of the Christian faith.
During the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, make sure to look for the life-size nativity scene done in lights. A must-do for people of faith is the inspirational Candlelight Processional. Many of the storytellers around Epcot for the holidays also have wonderful connections to Christianity, including La Befana’s search for the Christ child and, in past, the Three Kings in Mexico.
For two nights in September, the Magic Kingdom holds a hard-ticket after-hours event called Night of Joy. This event is billed as a time to “soak up the spirited sounds of a contemporary music festival featuring performances by Christian superstars in rock, pop, and gospel.”
Outside of Walt Disney World, there are two major religious tourism attractions in the area. The larger is The Holy Land Experience, located on Vineland Road, just beyond Universal Studios. With attractions based on the Garden of Eden, the world’s largest indoor model of Jerusalem, and a procession of Jesus to the cross, this is not your typical theme park experience.
Also near Walt Disney World on Vineland Road (next to the Vineland outlet mall) is the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, which is especially popular with Catholic visitors. The location features a Rosary Garden, indoor and outdoor chapels, and a museum of Christian art.
Although not as prevalent as churches in the area, there are houses of worship for members of the Jewish faith. Some locations within a 30 minute drive from Walt Disney World include:
Orthodox: Services for tourists may be available at the Lower East Side Restaurant (8550 Palm Parkway, Lake Buena Vista), which is within walking distance from Downtown Disney. (It is advised to call ahead to confirm the minyan, however.) Another option is Chabad of South Orlando (7347 W Sand Lake Road, Orlando).
Conservative: Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation (11200 S. Apopka-Vineland Road, Orlando)
Reform: Congregation Shalom Aleichem (3501 Oak Pointe Blvd., Kissimmee) or Congregation of Reform Judaism (928 Malone Drive, Orlando)
Currently, Chabad of South Orlando is in the process of raising funds to build a Mikvah, but for now, the nearest one is in Maitland, Florida (a 45-minute drive from Disney). It is available by appointment only.
If you are traveling during Pesach, there are vacation homes that be fully kashered for your needs.
For those who wish to keep kosher during their visit to Disney, we cover kosher dining here.
There are also some Jewish-specific elements at Walt Disney World at different times of year. At Chanukah, you will find the menorah set up at most resort check-in desks, along with a menorah in the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing lights. There is a Chanukah storyteller in Epcot during the holidays. Many years there is a sukkah set up in the walkway between the Amaze and Imagine parking lots at Epcot for Sukkot.
Also, I’d be remiss to mention Judaism without directing you to Todd Perlmutter’s great article about the Best Chanukah Ever on his trip to Walt Disney World.
The three main needs that come up as questions among Muslim guests are dietary accommodations, prayer locations, and concerns about being singled out based on appearance.
Information about dietary concerns and keeping halal at Disney can be found here. In short, contact Disney in advance of your stay for table service restaurants and accommodations can be made available. There are also many off-property options for dietary needs.
Finding places to pray in the parks can be a bit more problematic. Some guests have reported luck visiting Guest Relations at the front of each theme park to ask for suggestions for quiet, out of the way prayer locations, while others simply try to find a place out of the way on their own. Here are some suggestions or places where I have seen people praying at different times in the park.
Magic Kingdom: For a park with such high attendance levels, there are a surprising number of locations to get away from the crowds. On the right side of Main Street USA approximately halfway to the castle, there is a small side “street” that does not get much in the way of traffic and is a great place for quiet. Also, to the area to the right of Space Mountain, there is a small resting area. Other good locations include parts of counter service restaurants (like the Tomorrowland Terrace) when they are not serving but still accessible for the general public.
Epcot: By its design, Epcot is the easiest place to find places for prayer. Many Muslim guests already know about the area in the Morocco pavilion where you can pray in relative peace (and prayer rugs are available at the adjoining store). If you are in Future World, a good location is the area outside of the bathrooms along the right side of the Imagination pavilion. It is a wide, open area, but with minimal foot traffic. I have seen individuals praying there undisturbed.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: With the current closures of so many different locations, there are a lot of areas with little going on. It is also difficult to predict where good out-of-the-way places will be once the park is reimagined into whatever it will become. For now, the location right outside of where the Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow used to be is a good option. (Currently, it is the entrance to the “Soundstage Lounge“, which might also be an option as it is expected to be “lightly attended” with next to nothing inside of it.) Depending on time of day, the area just to the right of the restrooms outside of Lights, Motors, Action is also lightly traveled.
Animal Kingdom: One of the design features of Animal Kingdom is little alcoves hidden throughout the park. Many of the paths around the Oasis and the Tree of Life have quiet resting spots. There are also quiet corners of the building at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which have the added benefit of being indoors.
The best advice I have seen is to look at park maps in advance and don’t be shy about asking a cast member if there is a place nearby where you could pray in quiet. Cast members are trained to assist with all sorts of guest concerns and will do their best to assist you.
I have seen many questions online from Muslim guests wondering if they would experience any sort of discomfort from people around them by wearing their desired clothing to preserve modesty. With Orlando International Airport now offering non-stop flights from Dubai, and with the growth of Islam in the United States, the number of Muslim tourists at Walt Disney World has increased. To maintain modesty, I have seen many Muslim women wearing everything from full-cover swimwear at the resort pools to hijab to burqa in the parks. I’ve also seen Catholic nuns in their habits, Mennonite women in plain dress and prayer caps, Jewish men wearing yarmulkes, and Buddhist monks in saffron robes enjoying all that Walt Disney World has to offer. Walt Disney World is an incredibly accepting place of people from all walks of life, and no one should feel any sort of concern coming to visit because of their religion.
Other Religions and Spiritual Paths
There are a variety of religious and spiritual houses for all faiths in the Orlando area. For Buddhists, the largest temple in the area is the Guang Ming Temple a short distance from Orlando International Airport (6555 Hoffner Avenue, Orlando). If you are Hindu, the Maa Durga Sri Sai Baba Temple (11414 S Apopka-Vineland Road, Orlando) offers events throughout the year a short distance from Downtown Disney. For Sikhs, the Gurdwara Nanaksar temple is located at 2480 N Hoagland Blvd. in Kissimmee (down 192 East from Kissimmee). Wiccans and Neopagans can network for local events through the Circle of the Sublime Elm or through Mystic Grove at the First Unitarian Church of Orlando.
For those who keep with vegetarian or vegan diets, whether out of personal preference or belief requirements, Disney is very accommodating. Many counter service and all table service restaurants have vegetarian options, and many table service locations can also accommodate vegan requests. (For example, see Emily Woesthoff’s articles about vegan dining at Walt Disney World.) Outside of Walt Disney World, you can find many types of restaurants to meet different dietary needs as mentioned above, and including Jain-friendly meals.
No matter what your religion, or no religion at all, Walt Disney World can be an ideal vacation location. It really is a small world after all, and everyone who comes to this place is certainly welcome.
8 thoughts on “Religious Resources at Walt Disney World”
We love to stay on Disney property and have successfully walked to the Lower East Side shabbos morning minyan from Saratoga Springs (35 mins) and Old Key West (60 mins). We stay in a 2br villa and make use of the full kitchen for preparing our own food. Old Key West has roomier rooms which suits our family if 7 better so it’s worth the added walk! During “yeshiva week” (usually the 3-4th week in January when orthodox day schools have winter break) the Sheraton Vistana also has minyan.
Ive also had Lower East Side deli deliver shabbos food to Port Orleans Riverside.
There used to be weekly church services held in the Polynesian resort, have these now been stopped?
Yes, those services appear to have ended in 2002.
You should visit First Baptist Church in Winter Garden. It’s a great church that’s located in a cool building that is older than the Empire State Building. Also, it’s located in a Downtown area that has plenty of shops and restaurants to choose from within walking distance. Definitely worth a half day trip.
Great article – very helpful! You mentioned the little church in the model along the PeopleMover which is a fun find but don’t forget the Stave Church in the Norway pavilion. Also, there is an idol (Hindu? Buddest?) with fruit Y coin offerings near Expedition Everest in the Asia area of Animal Kingdom.
With the “Frozenification” of Norway, I’m a little nervous about mentioning the Stave Church. Although I’ve not seen any plans to have it removed, at this point while the building is still the traditional Stave Church design, the inside is Frozen all the way. It is a beautiful church building, though. Thanks for the reminder.
I’ll need to go look for the offerings near Everest — because I don’t ride roller coasters, I haven’t poked around there much.