Secrets to Christmas at Walt Disney World

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Think about it: All the beauty, music and message of the Christmas season combined with Disney.  Absolutely amazing...and the secret is, you don't have to fight the crowds to enjoy it all.

Here are some things to think about as you consider whether going to Walt Disney World while they're decorated for Christmas:  Like anything at Walt Disney World, how you plan and what you know is as important as anything else...90% of the people just show up; but for the 10% like you, it can be a wonderful time.

Timing is Everything!

When's the most crowded time of the year for Walt Disney World?  a) Thanksgiving, b) Easter, c) Spring Break, d) None of the above.

The answer is D.  While the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can run under 30,000 Guests per day, the week between Christmas and New Year's Day runs closer to 75,000 Guests!  Even the summer months at 55,000 to 60,000 don't compare.  For veteran Guests, these crowds can be daunting...for the first-timer, they can ruin a vacation.  But Christmas decorations are up the weekend after Thanksgiving, and WDW is in full Christmas swing after that.  Avoid the crowds and go in early or mid-December.

Dress Accordingly - Weather Does Play a Role

Although there is a trade-off going in December, temperatures are still reasonable (especially if you're a northerner escaping Old Man Winter).  Average highs are around 73 in the day, with the thermometer dipping near 50 at night.  If you're planning on being out late, a light jacket or a sweater is not a bad idea.  In addition, if you're a big swimming pool fan, realize that some of the Disney themed water parks may be under renovation during December, and the water will certainly be a tad cooler.  But the reason for going to WDW in December isn't the's Christmas!

Christmas at Epcot

Just an amazing place.  Throughout both Future World and World Showcase area are beautifully decorated.  Each country in World Showcase is decorated as would be expected for that particular country; that in itself makes the trip worth attempting.  And in each country, if you keep your eyes open, you may see Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Per Noel or another view of how St. Nick appears in each country...there, he tells about himself and the traditions that make Christmas special in each country.

One of our most favorite festivities during the Christmas Season is the Candlelight Processional.  Presented by Cast Members who volunteer their time each evening the shows are held, the Candlelight Processional is a magnificent hour of carols sung by 100+ singers, accompanied by a large orchestra.  No frilly songs here...this is a tribute to the birth of Jesus Christ, with a guest narrator reading biblical passages from the Gospel of Luke, telling of the coming and birth of the Lord.  There are normally three shows on the nights this is held, and seats fill up very quickly.  We took advantage of a Candlelight Processional dinner package, which then guaranteed us seating...reservations can be made for before or after the performance; otherwise, you will have to literally stand for hours to get a seat for one of the shows (note: if you're on the Disney Dining, this costs TWO sitdown meals to do).  Even with the dinner package, we stood for nearly an hour to guarantee excellent seats.  It was well worth the effort and was one of the highlights of our time at WDW.

A secret for Epcot: Ride the monorail from the Ticket and Transportation Center to Epcot in the evening...with the monorail traveling through the park at night, seeing all the beautiful Christmas lights is just amazing.

Christmas in Disney's Hollywood Studios

Take a trip back in time for Christmas, Hollywood style.  As with Epcot, Christmas music fills the air.  But it's really at night - when the Spectacle of Lights kicks in - that the atmosphere really takes on a magical turn.

Years ago, you may remember the family in Ft. Smith, Arkansas - Jennings Osborne - who created a wonderland of lights for his family, putting up over 3 million Christmas lights; people from around the world came to see it.  But neighbors got tired of the lines of cars going through their neighborhood, and sought a court order to shut the display down.  After going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the display was finally silenced...until Disney stepped in and suggested that the Osbornes could move their display down to Walt Disney World.

Since then, Disney has nearly doubled the number of lights, with nearly six million lights emblazing the streets of Disney's "back lot."  The lights glow and will regularly put on a spectacular music-and-light show, and Disney even has it "snowing" as you walk through the streets.  Cast Members from various eras add color to what is already an astounding place.

My suggestion for first-timers is to stand near the entrance of the back lot - actually at the END of the walking area - for the lighting (so you can see the effect).  Then, go and enjoy a ride or two as the crowds pour through the back lot.  Wait about 30 to 40 minutes before taking the walk through the streets yourself, and you'll find things much less crowded and far more enjoyable.

For pin collectors, special limited edition Spectacle of Pins designs are usually offered during this time.

During the day, a special Hollywood Holly-Day Parade replaces the normal daily parade in the park.

Christmas within the Magic Kingdom

Main Street USA, with its turn of the 20th Century charm, looks even better when dressed for Christmas.  The decorations are beautiful and everywhere you turn, there's the sights and sounds of the season.  Expect to see lots of mistletoe and trees, lights and ornaments.  Most of the finery is on Main Street USA, but there are touches of Christmas seen throughout the park.

I was surprised to see how Disney brought Christmas to Mickey's Toon Town.  We had avoided going back there in the past, because it was more for just youngsters, but the way they have each house decorated for Christmas is darling.  Of course, Disney updates their parade during the day, giving it a Christmas flair.

As with all the Disney parks, going at night brings the Christmas excitement to a whole new level, with lights being turned on and the music filling the air.

For individuals willing to pay a more for a special treat, there's Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.  Though it comes with a hefty price, it's a wonderful evening of special Christmas parades, shows, fireworks, Christmas caroling, snow on Main Street, cookies and hot chocolate, and staying up late.  It is crowded, so you need to plan.  We went to the first show we could get into, saving the "free" photograph, treats and strolling the park for later.

If going, dress'll not only feel better, but it actually adds to the Christmas feel.

Animal Kingdom Christmas

Even within the animal world, Christmas is celebrated somewhat.  Although it's much less emphasized, you'll find appropriate decorations at various points in the park, but the main celebration comes with Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade (which takes place nearly closing time each day).  Even if you've seen Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade, this one's different enough that it's worth seeing.

Disney's Hidden Christmas: The Resorts

Most Guests to Walt Disney World don't take advantage of some of the most elegant and spectacular decorations in the entire WDW complex: the designs at the various resorts.  Although all of the resorts have some holiday faire to spice things up during December, there are a few real stand-outs:

  • Grand Floridian - Elegant any day, it is gorgeous during the holidays.  One of its main features in the six-story atrium is a large hand-crafted gingerbread house, large enough to actually use as a place to sell gingerbread "shingles."  The grounds are just beautiful and someone could spend quite a bit of time just roaming the place.
  • Wilderness Lodge - Just the rustic setting with Christmas added is romantic and very earthy.  You can even rent a sleigh ride through the area.
  • The Yacht, Beach and Boardwalk Resorts - Some spectacular displays are found within these Boardwalk resorts, including a large candy rollercoaster.
  • Dolphin and Swan - Activities are held throughout the week with an emphasis on entertaining kids.  From Santa's Workshop and cookie decorating to meeting Santa or having s'mores on the beach, the holidays are celebrated to the fullest here.

We make a point of exploring the resorts when we come; Disney's way of making Guests feel at home even while on vacation is evident everywhere, but especially during the Christmas season.  Take a bus from one of the parks to a resort, or from Downtown Disney.

Final Thoughts

Like everything at Walt Disney World, planning is paramount.  Do your homework before you go on vacation; make your dining reservations well in advance.  Ask for a planning DVD from Disney and pick up a good guidebook on eBay (Sehlinger's "Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World" is my favorite, though Birnbaum's official guide is good as well).  Realize you're not going to see everything in one trip, and just go and relax...have a good time.

Christmas at Disney will leave you with great memories and a warmth in your heart.  It's a time when the best in people come out, and a time you won't soon forget.

If you found this guide helpful, I'd appreciate you marking it as such (below).  And if you're wanting general information on saving money and time and Walt Disney World, I have several other articles that may be helpful to you.  Thanks for reading and have a wonderful trip!

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