Tis the Season!! It’s that time of year again where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow. Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? There’s no better place to celebrate the holidays than at Walt Disney World.
It’s exciting this year to have the holidays return in a big way to the parks. Last year we didn’t get much of anything because of the pandemic and restrictions, so it’s great to see festivities back in the park to celebrate the season. And with the ongoing 50th celebration, there is even more excitement happening across all four parks!
Are you you planning a trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth for the holidays? There’s so much to look forward to, so let’s jump in and break it down piece by piece.
Here’s all you need to know!
- When do the holidays officially start at Walt Disney World?
- When do decorations go up in the parks?
- What’s missing in 2021?
- Magic Kingdom Park
- Hollywood Studios
- Animal Kingdom
- Disney Springs
- Disney Very Merriest After Hours
When do the holidays officially start at Walt Disney World?
The holiday season officially begins November 12th across the Walt Disney World Resort, including parks, resorts and Springs.
When do the decorations go up in the parks?
In previous years, anyone visiting Magic Kingdom on October 31st would get to enjoy Halloween/Fall decor, and upon returning November 1st would see Christmas decor.
The decoration switch literally happens overnight (as you can see from the below older video from Disney Parks). I imagine this year will be no different, and the Christmas decor will gradually go up across all four parks starting November 1st. You can absolutely guarantee the holiday decor will be completely up in Magic Kingdom Park by November 8th, the official start date of Disney Very Merriest After Hours event.
What’s missing in 2021?
Let’s get this part over with right up front. Unfortunately, with all the adjustments Disney has had to make surrounding COVID and the 50th Anniversary overlapping with the holiday season, there are a few things that we will not see this year in the parks.
- Castle Dream Lights – Castle Dream Lights in Magic Kingdom will not be returning this year, this will be the second year in a row we have not seen them. I’m certain this year it is because it would interfere with the Castle’s royal makeover and planned Beacons of Light for the anniversary celebration. The celebration does run for 18 months, which means it doesn’t end until March 2023. This means that the Dream Lights could be an issue for the 2022 season, as well. Only time will tell.
- Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – As with many of the known and beloved events, this holiday season Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party will not be returning to the Magic Kingdom. Instead, Disney has announced a replacement event called Disney Very Merriest After Hours. More on that here.
- Character Interactions – Traditional Meet & Greets have still not returned to the parks. Characters are scattered throughout the parks and available for socially distanced photos.
- Tony’s Most Merriest Town Square Party – This unique add-on party during the previous Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is not returning this year. I don’t know how popular this was in the past and if it will ever return.
Magic Kingdom Park
Magic Kingdom park typically has the most holiday events and decor of all the parks.
As we already know, this year Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party will not be returning, but will instead be replaced with Disney Very Merriest After Hours event.
Disney Very Merriest After Hours party will be offered on select nights starting November 8th through December 21st. It includes three hours of party time after the park closes to day guests. Guests will enjoy a showing of Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show which is a fantastic huge fireworks show with projections and the return of Mickey’s Once Upon a Time Christmas Parade! This will be the first full fledged parade shown since COVID shut down the parks in March 2020. And this year an all-new Holiday stage show is coming to Cinderella’s Castle stage during the Very Merry After Hours party called Mickey & Minnie’s Very Merry Memories! This is an entirely new show we’ve never seen before.
Also find holiday overlays on select attractions during the Christmas party, including Laugh Floor and Jingle Cruise.
Special holiday projections will appear most nights on Cinderella Castle, alternating periodically with the castle’s transformation into a Beacon of Magic. Remember, the holiday celebration will be happening simultaneously with the 50th Anniversary celebration.
Festival of the Holidays will be returning this year from November 26th through December 30th and will feature everything returning in a full festival experience including the holidays around the world performers, Candlelight Processional and of course the food which is some of the best of any Epcot festival in my opinion. Details on the festival are here.
The beloved and fan favorite Candlelight Processional will also be returning this year! A limited list of dates and narrators have been announced. More could be added. Stay tuned!
- The following celebrity lineup will lend their talents to the performance:
- Chita Rivera – November 29 through December 1
- Jodi Benson – December 2 through December 4
- Alton Fitzgerald White – December 5 through December 7
- Lisa Ling – December 11 through December 13
- Steven Curtis Chapman – December 23 through December 25
- Blair Underwood – December 26 through December 28
- Pat Sajak – December 29 through December 30
You can also book a dining package for the Candlelight Processional that guarantees you a seat at the event. This can save you a lot of time, since the Processional is popular and draws a crowd. You can start booking on October 26th. If you decide to book one I recommend Germany’s Biergarten. Dining packages can be found here.
One of my favorite parks to visit during the holiday season, Hollywood Studios will be kicking the holiday season into full gear once again this year.
Sunset Seasons Greetings (projections and effects on Sunset Boulevard and Tower of Terror) will be returning this year. The full show includes lasers, projections, and “snow”, it’s anticipated that the full show will return in its entirety. It’s a beautiful show and shouldn’t be missed; it does play repeatedly throughout the night from dark to park closing, so you can visit Sunset Boulevard at any time throughout the night to see it. It also doesn’t draw a massive crowd so you don’t have to worry about being early and saving a viewing spot. It’s a low-stress easy show to experience. This holiday season show will also alternate with the tower’s nightly transformation into a Beacon of Magic for the 50th. More than likely, Disney will share a detailed schedule as we get closer on when we can expect to see both shows during the season.
Get to see Santa Claus on his motorcade riding throughout the park at various times during the day. Usually the motorcades are sporadic and not announced, but we may see actual times posted in the Entertainment Guide. Be sure to grab one on your way into the park to see what is happening the day you are visiting.
Here’s what else you can expect at Studios:
- Frozen Sing-Along will receive holiday add-ons to the show with special appearances from Olaf.
- Hollywood & Vine character meal will have a festive holiday overlay with all of the characters dressed in their holiday best, including Santa Goofy.
- Find vintage-themed holiday decor returning around Echo Lake. This has to be one of my very favorite areas of the park. Listen to classic holiday tunes, sip unique holiday cocktails and enjoy the retro decorations.
Animal Kingdom is the most recent park to join in the holiday festivities. Here’s what you can expect if visiting. Animal Kingdom park generally closes the earliest, usually anywhere between 7 -9 PM, depending on the time of year. And because of the animals, you will never experience fireworks in this park, rather a more subtle holiday display.
The “Flotillas” (Animal Kingdoms version of a cavalcade) will be getting a seasonal holiday overlay. These are characters on boats that periodically float down the rivers throughout the park during the day. Similar to last year, Santa will be joining them once again this season.
- Here’s the proposed schedule:
- Santa Claus Festive Flotilla – See Santa Claus as he sails down the Discovery River to a jolly, world-beat holiday soundtrack.
- Donald’s Dino Bash Festive Flotilla – Spot Donald Duck and friends taking their holiday celebration to the water, waving to everyone as they traverse the Discovery River.
- Chip & Dale’s Festive Flotilla– Groove with Chip ‘n’ Dale as they bring their own style of festive flair to the park’s waterways, jingling through the jungle to the rhythm of the holidays.
- Discovery Island Drummers Festive Flotilla – Feel the beat as a colorful group of percussionists cruise along the Discovery River, entertaining Guests like you on the shore.
The Tree of Life will receive a special holiday edition of Tree of Life Awakenings, which will take place most nights. This runs repeatedly after dark until park closing. There is plenty of space to view it, it’s nothing you have to hold a spot for. It’s beautiful, don’t miss it. Keep in mind, the Tree of Life will also be one of those “Beacons of Magic” on most nights (joining the other park icons) during the 50th-anniversary celebration.
And the Merry Menagerie will be returning to Animal Kingdom!! These adorable puppets are much more enchanting than you may think, and I’m thrilled they are returning. These amazing hand-crafted life size puppets debuted in 2019 and everyone instantly fell in love with them. Don’t miss them!
Springs receives its own unique holiday fun, most seen by way of special seasonal treats and drinks. Disney often shares a foodie guide as it gets closer to the kickoff of the season so you know what to expect.
The ever-popular tradition of the Christmas Tree Stroll will be returning, with elaborately decorated, Disney-themed trees – some new and some inspired by “The World’s Most Magical Celebration.” Looking for magical “snow”? Be sure to stop by. 😉
Enjoy themed food and beverages at various locations throughout Springs; Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar will once again transform into Jock Lindsey’s Holiday Bar, with a delicious limited-time menu filled with festive favorites. This is a fan favorite!
The parks aren’t the only places you can experience the holidays across the Walt Disney World Resort.
The Resort hotels will be decked for the holidays, with iconic trees and other seasonal touches.
Gingerbread displays will once again be part of our holiday season! Guests can enjoy experiencing the ever-popular giant Gingerbread House that will likely be displayed in the Grand Floridian lobby. It’s absolutely worth a stop.
Select restaurants at the resorts will offer holiday menus and specialty food and drink. More details to come, stay tuned!
Disney Very Merriest After Hours
Disney Very Merriest After Hours replaces Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party this year at Magic Kingdom.
This all-new party will run on 24 select nights starting November 8th through December 21st from 9:00pm – 1:00am. The special hard ticket event will feature exclusive entertainment, food & beverage, merchandise, and more. Guests with a party ticket will be able to enter Magic Kingdom at 7:00pm; a park reservation is not required.
The event will include the nighttime spectacular “Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks” and the special holiday-themed parade “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade.” This is the parade and fireworks show that was featured in Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party. It’s super exciting to see the return of a large-scale parade, as it’ll be a first since the parks reopening in July 2020. And this year an all-new Holiday stage show is coming to Cinderella’s Castle stage during the Very Merry After Hours party called Mickey & Minnie’s Very Merry Memories! This is an entirely new show we’ve never seen before.
While we hope for the potential return of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in 2022, the Very Merriest After Hours is a solid replacement and fair compromise while we continue to navigate the un-chartered (and choppy) COVID waters.
- Holiday attraction overlays – the Jungle Cruise transforms into the Jingle Cruise, and Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor will get new jokes for the holidays.
- Magical “snow” on Main Street U.S.A – there is seriously nothing like it
- Complimentary snacks will be served around the park like the other After Hours parties, such as ice cream novelties, popcorn, select beverages and a seasonal treat. Carts will be stationed throughout the park.
- Extremely low wait times on most all attractions at Magic Kingdom. Here are some of the many attractions open during the event:
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Jungle Cruise
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Haunted Mansion
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- Space Mountain
Here are the dates for “Disney Very Merriest After Hours”:
- November: 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23, 28, 30
- December: 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19, 21
As of the post date of the article, none of the party dates have yet sold out.
Here is the pricing for the event:
- November dates: tickets start at $169 – $229, plus tax
- December dates: tickets start at $209 – $249, plus tax
- December 19 and 21: tickets are $249, plus tax
- Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members can take advantage of a $10 discount for event nights in November.
A limited number of tickets are available. Visit here to purchase tickets.
A day park ticket and park reservation are not required for the special event; Guests with a Very Merriest ticket will be granted admission to Magic Kingdom as early at 7:00pm and take advantage of the additional 2 hours.
My Thoughts on Disney Very Merriest After Hours:
Let’s talk about the pros and cons of this years After Hours event.
Starting with the pros, unlike previous holiday parties, the crowd level will be extremely low. This means that watching the fireworks and the parade will be a huge perk to those attending. You will also experience extremely short lines for the attractions, almost guaranteeing riding everything before the night ends. If this is important to you, the party will be worth it.
If you enter the park early (at 7:00pm), you will also have the advantage of seeing two fireworks shows. Since the 50th celebration overlaps with the holiday festivities, the park will show the new Disney Enchantment fireworks show to all Guests, and then later show the holiday show “Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks” just for party Guests.
I think the biggest con of the party is the price tag. It can’t be denied, it’s pretty steep. And it appears that you are getting less for your money because the party timeframe is shorter than the original party. For a single Guest like me, I can justify the prices, but for a family of four, that could be a different story. It may not be worth the high cost. The party also starts pretty late, so this may be difficult for families with younger children.
We also have not heard yet if any of the party entertainment will continue during Christmas week. In years past, the party generally ended a few days earlier than Christmas, and during Christmas week, the exclusive party parade and fireworks would happen during normal park hours for all Guests to enjoy. We haven’t heard yet if this will happen this year. We’ll update this post once we know more!
I personally have plans to attend the Very Merriest After Hours on November 12th. I will report back and update this article with any critical or additional information and strategies for the event.