I’ve been to Walt Disney World 6 times overall, but never during the holidays and let me tell you, I was not disappointed. For those of you who may not know me, I live in San Diego and have spent years going to Disneyland during the holidays, which is an astoundingly special time of year in the parks. I’m going to give you a quick rundown of what it was like going to Walt Disney World for the holidays, and why I will absolutely do it again (in a couple years).
It is no secret that Disney nails the décor and mood in the parks during holidays and really nails the magic of the season, but I was honestly BLOWN AWAY when I entered Magic Kingdom for the first time. Main Street in Magic Kingdom is much larger than Disneyland’s anyway, and the addition of the holiday décor is so visually stunning I believe I actually gasped. They have the massive tree, but it was everything else that really blew my mind. There are massive wreaths hanging from gorgeous arched metal work, and on every light post is a Mickey shaped floral piece. There are toy soldiers standing guard, and all the shop windows are done up.
AND THEN it is night time. Just after sunset there is a show where Elsa lights up the castle for the evening and let me tell you that is so perfect because it literally looks like a Frozen icy masterpiece. There is honestly nothing like the thousands of white lights covering the spires of Cinderella castle. If my view of the show wasn’t partially blocked by three children held in the sky on their parents shoulders (a grievance for another day) I would have cried. It is a must see!
Beyond the classic spirit of Magic Kingdom EVERY park and resort gets its own magic. I particularly loved Animal Kingdom’s décor which was perfectly themed, and every detail was thought through. The wreaths, trees, and garlands sprinkled throughout Africa were my favorites, and made the park feel special without requiring any of the red mickey heads from Magic Kingdom.
Another extremely special park when considering decorations was Hollywood Studios! I am admittedly not so much of a DHS fan, but this park was absolutely amazing with honestly more fully decked out decorations than anywhere else. I mean, who doesn’t love Gertie pictured here with a santa hat and an ornament?! The floating ornaments were so playful, and beyond these more major installations were smaller details on every surface! The green umbrellas throughout the park are decorated like trees, there are vintage Hollywood style statuettes throughout the grasses, and even Toy Story Land was visited with some holiday magic! I even got to try the holiday breakfast tart at Woody’s Lunchbox (which I gave an A for effort because I love special holiday things… but I wouldn’t order again.)
Lastly, the resorts! (The Disney verbiage for hotels.) High on our list was the Grand Floridian and the giant gingerbread house. As soon as you walk into the lobby it smells like they are straight up baking gingerbread right there, and they do sell “shingles” the same size and gingerbread as the roof. (My Mother-in-Law bought one, and boy was it gingery! Would recommend.) Another highlight was the Animal Kingdom lodge and their epic tree in their already monumental lobby, which evidently I didn’t take a photo of?
Epcot specifically had the Festival of Holidays happening for most of the time we were there! This was similar to other Disney style festivals with little booths throughout the park selling specialty drinks and eats, and while we really didn’t get to try *that* much, what we did try did not disappoint! My favorite was probably the Soba Noodles from Japan, but also receiving high marks was the salmon from the Yukon booth in Canada and the Buche de Noel from France.
Additionally, Animal Kingdom had a really fun little “Tasting Sampler” throughout the parks with unique menu items that weren’t traditionally ‘holiday’ but were fun to try! My stand out FAVE was this Tuna Bao. ALL THE HEART EYES I would eat this every time I want it to be year round.
As I already mentioned, a stand out event for me was the lighting of Cinderella Castle by Elsa, which happened nightly in Magic Kingdom and even though there weren’t any fireworks or anything involved, it surely brought out the crowds! Everyone seemed to love it as much as I did.
Another favorite though was the projections on the Hollywood Tower Hotel in Hollywood Studios. These were accompanied by little ‘Prep and Landing’ shorts, laser light shows, and SNOAP! (Disney’s magical soap that looks just like a snow flurry.) I cannot express how magical these shorts were! There were 4 different shows, each just a few minutes long, that continued rotating starting at sunset. They were the perfect way for us to see a little holiday magic that night without having to keep my niece and nephew up until 9:30 to see the fireworks. Hands down a favorite!
ALRIGHT people lets talk crowds, the bane of every Disney park during the holidays. Our first day in the parks was Christmas Day and our last day was a half day on New Years Day.
Christmas Day in Animal Kingdom was actually pretty amazing! While the major attractions did have long lines, the park itself was open enough to comfortably walk around, find tables to eat at, and not wait 30 minutes for food, all things that happen often in the parks around the holidays. I heard that Magic Kingdom was pretty miserable Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so my advice to you is to choose the ‘less popular’ parks on really heavy volume days! (we did Magic Kingdom on the 26th, and I’ve honestly never enjoyed Magic Kingdom so much!) While it was certainly busy, the park was absolutely doable.
Between the 26-31st things got a little hairy, with every day seemingly busier than the one before. (Hollywood Studios on the 28th was brutal – we waited 2 hours for Toy Story Mania and rode… almost nothing else.)
Overall the crowds were worse than we’ve ever seen them, and we generally travel mid-summer. Based on how little we were able to ride most days compared to the summer, I think we will keep our summer trips the most common time we go. Especially considering how much more expensive it was to travel there and home.
New Years Eve
Ok, NYE in Epcot deserves its own heading here because, honestly, it was my highlight of the entire trip. We arrived to the park around 11am not really knowing when the crowds would pack in, and were pleasantly surprised to have several hours where the park felt really reasonable! We ate breakfast, did a lap around world showcase, and really didn’t notice the crowds until around 3pm. BUT at 3pm boy did they show up. People started claiming spots for the evening shows (of which there were two) and the lines for attractions got pretty intense. For what its worth, we essentially *just* walked around the park all the way until the first showing of Illuminations, at 6:30pm. After Illuminations first showing, however, Epcot really revved up the NYE feeling, and there were things to do and see EVERYWHERE.
There was a silent DJ set up right near Spaceship Earth which was honestly so much fun! We spent almost 2 hours here, dancing to an epic set of DJ’s who were mixing Disney and non-Disney music through our switchable headsets. There was also a MASSIVE dance floor happening in the middle of the park, which sucked up literally hundreds of people.
The UK pavilion had their normal cover band going, the Italy pavilion had what could only be described as a straight up club going in the middle of the pavilion, and China had a dance floor with flames and a black light dragon. You guys, it was absolutely wild! It was that late night dance floor feeling you always *think* you want on NYE, but better because Disney manages their crowds well, kicks out people who are too drunk, and has lots of other space to walk around and escape the dance floors once you were finished and needed to breathe.
The fireworks show started at 11:40pm with another showing of Illuminations, their standard night time show. But THEN at 11:55 when that was finished, the fireworks started, and it was an amazing celebration of the new year being celebrated around the world, with fireworks coming from each pavilion in the order of which countries welcomed the New Year earlier in the day. For example, it started with an announcement that “At 10am our time today, our friends in Japan and China welcomed the New Year! Let’s celebrate with them!” and then fireworks came from those two pavilions. Onward through all the countries in the order of the date line, until it was our turn. AND BOY did they not hold back on the fireworks! We were fully surrounded by fireworks coming from the center of the park AND each and every pavilion – it was gorgeous! (Because I stand firmly that 90% of amateur fireworks photos are crap, I took just a few quick photos which I’ll share below, sorry but when the show is THAT good, you gotta just take it in and not attempt to fight the conditions to take a good photo!)
All in all? I would do holidays at Disney World again… but definitely not every year. We definitely ate and drank more than usually simply because we weren’t going on as many attractions since the crowds were so intense. BUT if you’re toying with the idea and can find a deal on a flight, I absolutely think its worth it to see at least once! Just set your expectations for a slower paced trip than you might experience the rest of the year.
Any questions? Were you there during the holidays this year? What was your experience? I’d love to hear in the comments. ❤