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    Holiday (Christmas) Activities

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Typical Dates: Late November to Early January

Spending the holidays at Disney World is a truly enchanting experience. There are seasonal lights, trees, special events, and much, much more that make the end of each year very special.

Just the act of decorating the resort is a Christmas miracle in itself. While most tourists are asleep in their beds a team of decorators works to turn the Florida resort into a winter wonderland. Using around 40 trucks that are turned over up to 150 times, this efficient night crew can make a park sparkle overnight...literally. They work from approximately 10 pm until the wee hours of the morning so that guests do not see anything unfinished.

As you know, the Walt Disney World Resort consists of four theme parks, the Disney Springs shopping area, and many hotels operated by Disney. To blanket all of this space in holiday cheer requires 1,300 trees (all artificial), another 1,300 wreaths, 15 miles of garland, 300,000 yards of ribbon, and a whopping 8.5 million lights. And you thought your attic was full of seasonal decorations!

Magic Kingdom

As always, the Magic Kingdom is the figurative heart of Walt Disney World (as everyone knows, the literal heart is buried under Seven Seas Lagoon). This centerpiece park does not fail to impress during the holidays. The giant 65 foot Christmas tree placed in the center of Town Square, alight with thousands of twinkling bulbs, can send even the most hardened adult into a fit of holiday giggles. The tree is one of many that are referred to as “icon” trees that Disney places throughout the resort. They range from about 30 feet tall up to the gigantic 65 footers like the one in Town Square.

Main Street, U.S.A., itself, is fully decorated with garland and wreaths, including wreaths attached to the lightposts in a familiar mouse-shaped silhouette.

Disney Very Merriest After Hours

For 2021 Disney has shifted from the ever-popular Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party to the newly titled Disney Very Merriest After Hours. The main difference between the two is that the After Hours is a little shorter but still offers limited capacity and shorter ride waits in exchange for an always-increasing extra price tag.


Unlike the other three parks, you will not see an icon tree near the entrance. The Epcot tree is located near the World Showcase lagoon, in between World Showcase and Future World. The tree here is adorned with giant globes and bells, but the most fun ornaments here depict flags from countries around the world.

World Showcase

It is not a stretch to say that World Showcase at Epcot is one of the most interesting areas of any theme park. There may be no other place where a guest can find architectural, cultural, edible, and drinkable examples from so many different places at once. The fine detail and immersive qualities of the World Showcase pavilions are second to none.

Not surprisingly, this translates very well into holiday celebrations as each pavilion is decorated in a manner traditional to that country. What really puts Epcot's International Festival of the Holidays celebration over the top are the storytellers, who, starting just after Thanksgiving, periodically regale passersby with tales of tradition from their areas of the planet. Each pavilion has its own storyteller and they are all unique, excellent, and interesting.

Candlelight Processional

Undoubtedly one of the most popular holiday events, the Candlelight Processional has a long tradition with Disney parks. The America Gardens Theatre in Epcot serves as a wonderful venue for the processional’s performances, which sees three shows nightly (at 5:00 pm, 6:45 pm, and 8:15 pm) from the Friday after Thanksgiving through December 30.

Even with the greatly expanded number of performances, the Candlelight Processional plays routinely to a packed theater. Capitalizing on this, Disney offers dining packages that include seats for the show. Many World Showcase restaurants participate, and the price depends on which restaurant you choose.

Alternatively, you can wait in a sometimes long “standby” line to occupy whatever seats are left after those who purchased meal packages have been seated. As you might expect, the more popular the narrator, the longer the line. If you are unable to get a seat, the show is visible from the walkway at the back of the theater. However, there is not a lot of room there, and you will most likely be trying to look over or around someone’s head. Plus, standing for 40 minutes is tiring, and security may put limits on the number of folks allowed to linger here. If you are interested only in hearing the show, note that it is loud and can be heard clearly from anywhere in the plaza outside the American Adventure building.

The narrators are different every year, for the most current list visit our Candlelight Processional page.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios' decorations tend to be understated, but wonderful on their own. Echo Lake is where you will find the Icon Tree and the entire area is surrounded by classic decorations and the soundtrack is full of jazzy standards. Toy Story Land is playful and adorable as always, and Sunset Boulevard features the wonderful Sunset Seasons Greetings.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has very few holiday decorations. As the park is rarely open at night, lights do not make much sense. Much like Hollywood Studios, however, Animal Kingdom has a massive icon tree sitting outside of its gates.

The Animal Kingdom tree is one of the more interestingly decorated icon trees. Along with the traditional snowflakes and lights are animal masks, large depictions of animals, and drums. There are few other trees that display zebras, hippos, lions, and giraffes so readily, and the result is fun and whimsical.

Disney's Resort Hotels

Each of the Disney resort hotels decorates for Christmas in their own special way. Value and Moderate resorts general have a fully decorated tree in the lobby area as well as smaller decorations, often themed to match the overall theme of the resort.

The really special bits of Christmas cheer however, are found in Walt Disney World’s Deluxe resorts. Each of the Deluxe and DVC resorts has a large tree and many decorations, but several of the top class hotels have one-of-a-kind adornments to celebrate the season.

Contemporary Resort

As one of the most visible resorts from the Magic Kingdom, it is appropriate that the Contemporary is fitted with the most visible of holiday decorations. Affixed to the side of the Contemporary Resort facing the Magic Kingdom, just above the hole into which the monorail disappears, sits an enormous Mickey Mouse shaped wreath. With a 25 foot round face and 18 foot round ears, this 25 piece behemoth is unmissable. At night, the wreath glows with light and can be seen from quite a distance away.

Inside, the resort used to be sparse with its decorating. Recently, a 17 foot high gingerbread tree was assembled on the concourse level along with a small display dedicated to the art of Mary Blair. You may not know Ms. Blair, but you do know her art. A large mural is on display in the Contemporary concourse, right behind the gingerbread tree. Of course, she also designed much of the "it's a small world" attraction.

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

If you are taking the monorail loop, the Grand Floridian is by far the most, well...grand, as far as Christmas decorations are concerned. The center of the lobby is adorned with another giant, Victorian decorated Christmas tree, and the balconies and nooks are all decked out, as well. The unmitigated star of this show, however, is the gingerbread house.

This massive house is big enough for a person to live in (disclaimer: said person must be under three feet tall and really, really like the smell of gingerbread). Almost entirely built with natural ingredients, this house takes months to plan and build. The gingerbread is made from an old Austrian recipe of honey dough, which needs to rest for quite a while. If you are curious, this particular recipe requires 1,050 lbs of honey, 600 lbs of powdered sugar, 800 lbs of flour, 180 lbs of apricot glaze, 140 pints of egg whites, and 35 lbs of spices (and one really big stand mixer).

The house itself is 16 feet high and 17 feet wide with a central structure made of 60 pieces of plywood. Since this is Disney, it houses 80 square feet of retail space, and this space is used to sell...gingerbread shingles. This tiny venue sells around 18,000 shingles during the season and, trust us, taking bites directly out of the structure is discouraged.

Disney's Wilderness Lodge

If you are so inclined, a short boat ride from the Magic Kingdom or the Contemporary over to the Wilderness Lodge Resort is well worth it. The towering lobby of this beautiful hotel is a perfect place to decorate, and Disney does not disappoint. Once again, the eye is yanked upwards as an enormous Christmas tree towers above you.

Much like the Grand Floridian, the balconies and nooks reveal extra treats as holiday deer, pine cones, and antlers complete the woodland critter Christmas motif. Thanks to this large tree, a variety of the detailed decorations found throughout the resort, along with an excellent background loop, Wilderness Lodge is our pick for the best Christmastime resort at Walt Disney World.

Wilderness Lodge’s decorations evoke memories of a traditional American Christmas, and between the antlers in all of the decorating and the fireplaces throughout the resort, you might just forget you’re in the middle of 80 degree weather in Florida when you sit down in the Wilderness Lodge at Christmas.

Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resorts

Disney’s Beach and Yacht Club Resorts each have their own unique touches within their shared theme. These touches extend to their respective Yuletide decorations as the Beach Club is full of light and fun accents while the Yacht Club is classy and refined.

The Christmas trees at the Beach Club are fun, whimsical, and beachy (too easy), with tropical, seaside themed ornaments and color schemes. The central display of the lobby is an edible carousel that really turns, although I have never tested its edibility. Like all of these displays, the detail is amazing from the horses’ manes to their teeth to their bridles. With a base of gingerbread and horses of fondant and chocolate, this layout is impressive.

The Yacht Club lobby contains a wonderful Christmas village and train that is so finely crafted it really has to be seen to be appreciated. As would be expected, the remainder of the Yacht Club’s many decorations are nautically themed.

Disney's BoardWalk Inn

Traveling across Crescent Lake brings you to the BoardWalk Inn, which also has an elaborate Christmas display. BoardWalk’s lobby contains an edible gazebo and a miniature chocolate amusement park. Both of these are fantastically detailed and require an impressive amount of time and skill to create.

Animal Kingdom Lodge

Since the colossal, soaring lobby of the Animal Kingdom Lodge is African-inspired, it only makes sense that the holiday decorations are as well. Yet another gigantic tree welcomes you to gaze at its tribal adornments. Wandering through the lobby rewards you with many smaller displays of subtle tribal decoration that are equally beautiful, if not as grand.

If you are interested in even more information you can find it in our Walt Disney World Holiday Season eGuide along with over 150 spectacular photos.