Visiting Disney World During the Holidays

by LivingByDisney

Christmas and New Years are one of the most popular times to visit Disney World. And it’s no wonder since the holiday activities and events add so many special events to see and do, and so many people have time off from school and work.

Not only that, but the weather is at its best here in Orlando Florida. With all the special activities and great weather, the drawback can be higher crowd levels. But, it really only gets very busy Thanksgiving weekend and the final two weeks of December. So there are still many days to visit that won’t be extremely busy.

That being said, I always say, I can do hot weather, or I can do crowds, but I can’t do both.

So at least with the last two weeks of the year, the weather will be comfortable, and crowds can be navigated with some advance preparation.  I highly suggest you check out my article about dealing with crowds for my best tips for this.

I also recommend you pay special attention to the park hours for December when planning your visit to Magic Kingdom. With the parties happening 3/4 nights a week, that means there are many nights when the park will close at 6 pm for other guests. For more information about how the party nights effects crowds and planning check out What You Need to Know About Magic Kingdom Party Nights.

Here are all the events for Disney World’s 2018 holiday season, listed by location so you can plan your visit for November and December. Each park has different things, and they start on different dates, with Magic Kingdom always starting their holiday decor the soonest for the Christmas party. So pay attention to start dates for each park. Bookmark this article, as I’ll keep it updated with new information and changes as they’re released.

Overview of when Holiday events begin:

  • Magic Kingdom –  Nov. 8th
  • Epcot – Nov. 18th
  • Hollywood Studios – Nov. 8th
  • Animal Kingdom – Nov. 8th
  • Disney Springs – TBD
  • Resorts – TBD (typically around mid-Nov.)
  • Holiday Events at MK during regular hours – Dec. 22nd- 31st

Magic Kingdom


Summary: Lots of holiday decor all over the park, with a fully decked out Main Street. A giant Christmas tree in the town square, and icicle lights on the castle each night. The Christmas party is their main event, and once that ends on the 21st, all the holiday entertainment will happen daily during regular park hours.


Magic Kingdom has the most popular and classic holiday happenings. First is, of course, those castle lights. The first official night they are scheduled to be on is Nov. 8th, however, sometimes Disney will decide to do them early, so check the time’s guide for that week if you’re visiting then.  Update: word is that the first lighting will be Sunday November 4th.

Trust me when I say, as pretty as they are in pictures it’s nothing compared to seeing them in real life. I love to be there when they first turn them on each evening. You can hear people just gasp. It’s pure magic.

All the holiday decor, snacks, treats, and merchandise will be up by November 8th. However, it is possible to see it come out a day or two before this “official” beginning.

Holiday Show Schedule:

NOTE: What a lot of people don’t realize is that after Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party nights finish up, most of the special events they do at the party (parade, fireworks, snow on Main Street, Holiday castle show) can be seen during regular park hours (without a special party ticket) from Dec. 22-31! That’s why the parties stop on the 21st. At that point, the events get spread throughout the park day, with the Christmas parade replacing the regular Festival of Fantasy, the stage show playing through the day and evening instead of Mickey’s Friendship Faire, and the Christmas fireworks replacing Happily Ever After.

A Frozen Holiday Wish – this is the show that happens each night to first turn the castle lights on. Elsa “freezes” the castle during a Frozen themed show on the castle stage with Anna, Olaf, and Kristoff.  Happens nightly at 6:15 pm. Nov. 8-Dec. 31

Note: You can still see this show on party nights even if you aren’t attending the party.  (You can hang around the castle and Main Street area until 7 pm, even though it’ll list 6 pm as closing time.)

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party The flagship holiday event is a separate ticket party. Held three nights a week in November and goes to four nights/week in December. It lets you enjoy the park with limited-attendance and featured several special shows: Holiday Wishes fireworks, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, Frozen Holiday Wish castle-lighting ceremony, and Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration stage show. There’s also cookies and hot chocolate throughout the park and a few various dance parties. The party begins at 7 p.m. on

-November 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 25, 27, 29 and 30
-December 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 21

NEW! Tony’s Most Merriest Town Square Party This is a new add-on event option for MVMCP. It’s basically an open appetizer and dessert buffet set up at Tony’s Restaurant. You can come and go from 9:30 pm on, as much as you please to enjoy the food and drink options available. Then you’ll get special reserved seating at 11 pm for the final parade as part of this package. This add-on is $99/person and can be booked here.

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade – this is the parade that’s featured during Mickey Christmas party above. The difference is that during the party the parade is at night and from the 22nd on it’s during the day in place of Festival of Fantasy, usually at 12 and 3 pm.

 

Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration – This is the Holiday castle show that can be seen during party nights up to the 21st and during regular park hours from Dec 22-Dec. 31 replacing Royal Friendship Faire.

Holiday Wishes – This is the Christmas fireworks show. Again, can only be seen during party nights up until the 21st and then nightly during regular park hours from Dec 22-Dec. 31, replacing Happily Ever.

Snow on Main Street: While not exactly an “event” this is one of the most magical things that you’ll see during the Holiday season. Done only after dark, the fake snow will fall on Main Street at regular intervals during the Christmas party. But it will also happen each night during regular park hours from Dec. 22- Jan. 1st.

 

 

New Year’s Eve: For Magic Kingdom, this actually happens on two nights, Dec. 30th, and 31st (so you can see all the NYE stuff at MK on the 30th and then go to another park on the 31st if you want).  All of the above events will happen on these nights, in addition to special DJ dance parties spread throughout the park, (including a big one in front of the castle) and the big New Years fireworks at midnight. That means you’re really getting all the Christmas entertainment and all the New Year’s entertainment on these nights.

Hollywood Studios


Summary: At Studios, you can expect lots of holiday decor through the whole park, huge garlands that hang across Hollywood Boulevard,  and a giant tree near Echo Lake.  You’ll have a nightly projection/fireworks show called Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam, a projection show and “snow” nightly on Sunset Boulevard and Tower of Terror, Toy Story land characters in Holiday outfits, and a Santa meet and greet. All of the events at Hollywood Studios run Nov. 8-Jan. 6th


Sunset Seasons Greetings – On Sunset Boulevard from dark until park close you’ll see projections happening on the Tower of Terror showcasing characters such as Mickey and Minnie, Toy Story, Muppets and Olaf. These are short, individual little shows. You can hang around and watch them all, they are random, but there are at least four different ones. Each time the show begins it’s coordinated with the snowfall. TIP:  This is an easy show to catch since it happens all night, so just catch it when you happen to be over in that area. The snow is the best part to me. There’s also always some special Holiday treats in the food spots around here, like Fairfax Faire, so check those out to grab a snack or treat while you watch the little show. Runs continuously throughout the night starting November 8th.

Sunset Seasons Greetings Projection show

Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! –  Returns each night, this nighttime projection show takes the place of the Star Wars fireworks for the holidays.  It happens at the Chinese Theater and features projections, some fireworks, laser lights, and lots of “snow”. Younger kids will particularly enjoy this show, as it’s definitely designed for a younger audience.  TIP: They schedule this so you will have to choose whether to watch Fantasmic or Jingle Bam, so if you want to see both you’ll need two evenings at Studios. If you have little ones (under 6) with you, this show may be better, otherwise, I would always pick Fantasmic. Especially since you can sit and be comfortable for that, while the other will require standing like a typical fireworks show.

Jingle Bell Jingle BAM Dessert Party- They have a dessert party option for this show, but honestly, I don’t feel like it’s really worth the money since getting a decent spot to see this show isn’t really hard and just getting desserts doesn’t justify the price tag. For me personally, you’d be better off saving your dessert party money for a show like Illuminations at Epcot where you do have to spend lots of waiting time to get a good viewing spot, and you’ll really enjoy that premium viewing area that you’re buying with your ticket.

Minnie’s Holiday Dine at Hollywood and Vine – this character meal is the only one that changes their outfits and themes seasonally. Starting Nov. 6-Jan. 7 you can catch Minnie and her friends in their cute holiday outfits. This meal got a redo a few years ago and the food is much better than it used to be. So if you haven’t tried it in a while give a try. Make reservations in advance.

Visit Santa Claus: He meets guests at Once Upon a Time shop (the one back by Muppets and Mama Melrose’s) Santa is there November 9 to December 24, 2018—or meet Santa Goofy from December 25 to December 31, 2018. (You can also meet Santa at Disney Springs)

 Epcot


Summary: At Epcot, you can expect lots of Holiday decor, especially in World Showcase, with a giant tree just as you enter the showcase, the Candlelight processional show starts Nov. 22,  the Festival brings seasonal food booths, and Illuminations has a special Holiday ending each night.  Everything officially starts Nov. 18th, but you may some decor and food and merchandise items appear earlier. New Year’s Eve is one of Epcot’s most popular nights with an amazing fireworks display and unique entertainment throughout the park.


Epcot International Festival of the Holidays starts Nov. 18-Dec. 30, and is basically a smaller Food and Wine Festival that incorporates holiday traditions, entertainment, and food from the World Showcase countries. Holiday Kitchens – (the name for the food booths) are scattered throughout the World Showcase and have special seasonal food and drinks. They’ve released menus for the Kitchens with some fantastic food and drink options. Check those out here.

Chip & Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree – This is the seasonal scavenger hunt style game. You pay $5.99 and get a special map. There’s one item hiding in each country around World Showcase. Whether you find them all or not, you collect a special pin at the end of your hunt. This one features Chip and Dale who are collecting ornaments for their Christmas tree.

Candlelight Processional One of the most popular Epcot traditions. The Candlelight Processional is a retelling of the Christmas story as told by a celebrity narrator accompanied by 50-piece orchestra and a mass choir. The show takes place at the America Gardens Theatre each evening at 5:00 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Nov. 22-Dec. 30. If you know you really want a great seat for this show then the dining package is a good option. You will pay a set price for the meal depending on which Epcot restaurant you choose, and then you’ll get a reserved seating area for the show. You can still see the show without that, just be aware you will need to line up quite early to get a seat. I’d recommend arriving about an hour early, possibly more for the Neil Patrick Harris nights.

Chita Rivera – November 22 to 23, 2018
NEW! Helen Hunt – November 24 to 25, 2018
NEW! Alfonso Ribeiro – November 26 to 27, 2018
TBD – November 28 to December 2, 2018
Neil Patrick Harris – December 3 to 6, 2018
Whoopi Goldberg – December 7 to 9, 2018
NEW! Bart Millard – December 10 to 12, 2018
Blair Underwood – December 13 to 14, 2018
Gary Sinise – December 15 to 17, 2018
Pat Sajak – December 18 to 20, 2018
NEW! Auli’i Cravalho – December 21 to 23, 2018
Edward James Olmos – December 24 to 25, 2018
Jodi Benson – December 26 to 27, 2018
Cal Ripken Jr. – December 28 to 30, 2018

Holiday Entertainment – Throughout the World Showcase there are shows that highlight each country’s holiday heritage and traditions. Check the Times Guide when you get to the park for all the show times.

Fireworks Finale – The nightly fireworks display, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, will feature a special holiday ending each night from Nov. 18-Dec. 30.

New Year’s Eve – They haven’t released details for 2018 yet, but in year’s past they have dance parties scattered around World Showcase. Japan has a silent party with everyone using headphones to hear the music, China has a giant fire-breathing dragon over the dance floor that goes off regularly, Italy has a traditional rave-style party with laser lights and American Gardens has a Latin music party. There are two chances to see Illuminations, an earlier show, and then the big one at midnight. The park stays open until 1 am.

Animal Kingdom


Summary: They don’t add much holiday entertainment to Animal Kingdom but they do have an animal themed tree at the entrance and some animal-themed decor throughout the park. New this year, they’re adding a holiday version to the UP bird show.


Diwali at UP- A Great Bird Adventure: The show will add a special holiday version talking about Diwali—the holiday festival of lights in India—during a special version of this show from November 8 to January 1.

Disney Springs


Summary: The main event here is the decorated trees. Otherwise, it’s mostly decor and shopping. Every corner of Disney Springs is decorated for the holidays. Definitely take some time to enjoy the scenery, shop and eat at some fantastic restaurants. Many of the food spots will offer seasonal treats and snacks as well.


Christmas Tree Trail – This trail of themed Christmas trees is sort of thrown together.  They do play holiday music and sometimes have the “snow” blowing too. It’s cute, but not something I’d make a big effort to see, given all the other options available.  But if you happen to be at Springs already you can walk down to the older end (near Earl of Sandwich) and see this trail of decorated trees.

Santa’s Chalet – Santa’s meet and greet (also at Studios) near the Christmas Tree Trail.

 

Holiday Fun at the Resorts

Every Disney resort decorates for the holidays in keeping with their individual themes. My personal favorites that are really worth a special visit:

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort has a life-sized holiday gingerbread house. It’s in the resort lobby and they sell homemade treats from the little house. It makes the entire lobby smell like gingerbread and it’s worth going for that alone.  Combined with the orchestra that plays holiday music and it’s a great evening. TIP: Remember that Grand Floridian is on the Magic Kingdom monorail loop so it makes a great park break on an MK day. Hop on the resort monorail (not the Express that only goes to the parking lot) and ride it over to the resort. If you have more time you can stop by all three hotels on the loop (Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian) and see all their different decor and themes.

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge- they have a huge Christmas tree in the lobby and you can enjoy the giant fireplace (it’s actually cool enough to want a fire) and relax with a cup of hot cider and snack on holiday treats.

Disney’s Beach Club Resort has a life-size edible gingerbread carousel (and Yacht Club has a holiday village with a miniature train).

 

New Years Eve At Disney World

Magic Kingdom: this actually happens on two nights, Dec. 30th, and 31st (so you can see all the NYE stuff at MK on the 30th and then go to Epcot on the 31st if you want).  All of the above events will happen on these nights, in addition to special DJ dance parties spread throughout the park, (including a big one in front of the castle) and the big New Years fireworks (Fantasy in the Sky) at midnight. That means you’re really getting all the Christmas entertainment and all the New Year’s entertainment on these nights.

Epcot: They haven’t released details for 2018 yet, but in year’s past they have dance parties scattered around World Showcase. Japan has a silent party with everyone using headphones to hear the music, China has a giant fire-breathing dragon over the dance floor that goes off regularly, Italy has a traditional rave-style party with laser lights and American Gardens has a Latin music party. There are two chances to see Illuminations, an earlier show, and then the big one at midnight. The park stays open until 1 am.

Pixar Party: A special ticket party at the Contemporary geared for families from 8- 12 on December 31, 2018  Price: $190 per Guest. Details here. 

Countdown to Midnight: Private ticket party in the Fantasia Ballroom at the Contemporary Resort. An upscale party that includes a private balcony viewing of the Magic Kingdom’ fireworks show. $275/person. Details and booking here.

Ink and Paint Club Lounge: Private VIP lounge party that’s only available as an upgrade to the Countdown to Midnight party. $450/person. Details here.

 


As I said, keep this page bookmarked, as I will be keeping it updated as new information is released for 2018. Remember that the holidays are the most crowded time for Disney World, so having a plan will really help. In order to deal with the higher crowds, just have realistic expectations. Instead of trying to cover everything, make a smaller list of must-dos, and focus instead on enjoying all the extra holiday entertainment and soaking up that part of the experience. Slowing down and enjoying that will take away a lot of the stress.

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