Folks who know and love Disney know there’s nothing as festive as a Disney Christmas. It’s the most Magical Place on Earth, after all.
We count Orlando among the great warm cities to visit around Christmas. It’s an average of 73 degrees during December days, making it the perfect holiday destination, no matter who you’re traveling with or for what purpose. But if you want a big, glittery Disney Christmas, the likes of which you’ll be reminiscing on for years to come, you need to know about more than the weather. You need to know the best things to do at Disney World around Christmas time.
These Disney experts have you covered.
1. “Head To Epcot For The Holiday Cookie Stroll”
This recommendation comes from Victoria Yore of Disney Trippers, who told us it’s the thing to do if you (or anyone in your party) love sweets. “There are five kiosks and you receive a cookie passport to try out delicious desserts from all around the world. This Christmas activity appeals to all ages, just as long as you have a sweet tooth.”
Disney recently revealed some Cookie Stroll details, including the cookie lineup, that will have you feeling festive in no time. The Cookie Stroll, also recommended by vacation planner Katelyn Stephens, is part of the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays (more on that to come). In 2019, you and your family can nab your treats from the Bavaria Holiday Kitchen, American Holiday Table, Yukon Holiday Kitchen, Feast of the Three Kings, and L’Chaim Holiday Kitchen.
Swap stories about grandma’s best recipes as you head from stop to stop -- and rejoice in the fact that there’s no flour explosion to clean up in your kitchen back home!
2. Get Done Up For A Christmas Party Or Show
Siera Duiser, an authorized Disney vacation planner with Destinations in Florida, told us, “Magic Kingdom hosts Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, a special ticketed event on select nights from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. Hollywood Studios has Flurry of Fun, holiday projections on Tower of Terror, in addition to Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!, a holiday show inspired by Prep and Landing.”
Attending any one of these events will make for a memorable evening out. Foodies can invest in special dining options, at an additional cost, if they opt for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, while Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! attendees can expect a lights, music, and fireworks spectacular.
Guy Novik, CEO at Orlando Villa Holidays, told us “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party's famous Christmas parade....features a range of Disney characters from all generations, as well as nutcrackers, reindeer, and Santa himself, all under the magical backdrop of Cinderella's Castle, which is lit up in spectacular fashion.”
He said, “The evening fireworks displays, known as Minnie's Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show, are equally as spectacular and also take place with the backdrop of the castle." It's new for 2019 and he says, “it's worth going to see what surprises they have in store.”
3. Experience Animal Kingdom’s New Holiday Features
Duiser told us that Animal Kingdom Theme Park will celebrate the holiday season for the first time ever in 2019. Just what’s in store? Well, Lisa DiNoto, who left big law several years ago and relocated to Walt Disney World (yes, she and her family live “1.2 miles as the crow flies from Cinderella Castle”) said, “Disney has told us that Animal Kingdom will be decorated to the nines this year.”
The holiday celebrations inside Animal Kingdom will include decor inspired by Diwali -- the Hindu festival of lights -- as well as African celebrations. The Lion King-inspired Tree of Life will serve as the kingdom's holiday centerpiece, so don’t forget to add it to your plans.
4. Hop On The Christmas Tree Trail (And Enjoy The Well-Decorated Resort Lobbies)
Over 20 elaborately decorated Christmas trees will be arranged in Disney Springs according to Duiser, and the experience will offer everyone the opportunity to “meet and take photos with Santa.” Let everyone in your group advocate for their favorite tree, then, if you’re in the mood for even more tinsel and ornaments, go resort lobby hopping.
“The resorts celebrate the holidays, as well,” Duiser told us, “with spectacular Christmas trees in the lobby, a life sized gingerbread house in the lobby of the Grand Floridian, a gingerbread carousel in the lobby of the Beach Club, and a gingerbread castle in the lobby of the Contemporary.”
DiNoto echoes that sentiment: “You'll find stunning, massive Christmas trees and often incredible gingerbread creations, too. Disney's Boardwalk often creates a smaller version of itself.”
In addition to helping you and yours get into the holiday spirit, these displays make for amazing holiday photo ops, so prepare to ask a passerby to take a quick pic. There are Disney photographers taking pictures at some of the trees, and even if you haven't purchased Memory Maker, they'll snap a photo with your camera.
5. Splurge On Deluxe Accommodations
Jolene Huitron, founder of Huitron Travel Group, encourages you to take advantage of the over-the-top magic by splurging on your Disney holiday. “I highly suggest staying at a moderate or deluxe resort as they are the most beautiful during Christmas.”
In addition to the gorgeous decorations at these resorts, there's nightly marshmallow roasting, movies under the stars, and a variety of other activities, with some resorts offering carriage rides, surrey bike rentals, boat rentals, and even fishing.
Staying on property comes with another benefit, extra time in the parks. But Huitron says, you need to plan your theme park days. “Magic Kingdom,” she told us, “closes early on certain nights for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas party, and if you aren't attending you have to leave by 6 p.m. So the best thing to do is plan out your days in advance. See which park is open the latest on which days, and take advantage of any extra magic hours.”
6. Prioritize Disney Springs And Venture Out To Fort Wilderness
“Spend some time at Disney Springs!” DiNoto told us. “The sounds and sights are so beautiful this time of year. You'll find holiday music and themed food and drink offerings.” She’s also a fan of the Christmas tree trail!
Another of her favorite places? Fort Wilderness. “It's always fun to head over to Fort Wilderness, rent a golf cart, and drive around seeing how everyone has decorated their campgrounds. It's so much fun to see how creative everyone is!”
Whitney Cox, a former Disney Vacation Club cast member told us, “My favorite activity at Christmas is to visit Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness.”
Her recommendation: “Start off in the Wilderness Lodge lobby to get in the Christmas spirit. In addition to the huge tree at the center of the lobby, there are smaller trees with white twinkle lights and rustic decorations to match the theme of the resort throughout. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and head to Fort Wilderness to explore the beautiful and creative displays designed by people staying on the campgrounds. People deck out their RVs for the holiday, and the displays are more impressive than what you would see in your average neighborhood.”
She said, “Some of these people come every year and are always making their display better. This is a great family tradition and a great start to your trip at Disney for just the cost of a parking fee, which you can avoid if you make a reservation at one of the restaurants.”
7. Make Time For Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
Duiser recommends a visit to Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays with its outdoor kitchens, and Huitron said you should “grab the Christmas sweets!” Even beyond the Cookie Stroll, she said there are “so many delicious snacks that are only available during Christmas and they are a must try!”
DiNoto likes Epcot during the holidays because, “you can experience the holiday traditions of countless cultures, starting in late November.”
Katelyn Stephens said, “You can experience unique sights, sounds, and treats from 11 different countries in the World Showcase!”
In addition to the aforementioned Cookie Stroll, the International Festival boasts the JOYFUL! Gospel-inspired vocal ensemble and costumed performers who bring traditions from around the world to life right before your eyes.
There’s also a scavenger hunt: Chip and Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree, plus shopping galore.
8. Don’t Miss The Candlelight Processional
According to Stephens, “The highlight of Epcot's International Festival of the Holidays is definitely the Candlelight Processional. This beautiful retelling of the Christmas story features a choir, 50-piece orchestra, and a special celebrity narrator. It's definitely a must-do!”
Narrators include Neil Patrick Harris, Whoopi Goldberg, Gary Sinise, Pat Sajak, and Marlee Matlin. Check out the schedule to see the others and when they appear. There are three performances nightly, and certain dining reservations give you priority seating to the performances.
Novik sums it up well. He said that the Candlelight Processional tells the Christmas story, and that if it doesn’t make you feel Christmassy, nothing will.