If you’re planning Christmas at Walt Disney World, there are a few things you should know about the most wonderful time of year at the most magical place on Earth. Never mind about the Disney crowds, the high expectations, and the Florida cold. What about all the other stuff that you can only do at Disney this time of year? If you’re like us and needed to experience Disney during the holidays at least once, we get it. So what can you expect if you’re visiting Walt Disney World during Christmas?
- 1 Christmas at Walt Disney World Vacation Planning
- 2 Disney Christmas Vacation Budget
- 3 Handling Christmas Crowds at Walt Disney World
- 4 Christmas Activities at Walt Disney World
- 5 Christmas at Magic Kingdom
- 6 Christmas at Hollywood Studios
- 7 Christmas at EPCOT
- 8 Christmas at Animal Kingdom
- 9 Christmas at Disney Springs
- 10 Christmas at Disney Resorts for the Holidays
Christmas at Walt Disney World Vacation Planning
We’ll dive in here with some First-Step Disney Christmas Holiday Vacation Planning. If you’ve chosen to visit Walt Disney World during the most wonderful time of year, know that it’s also the BUSIEST time of year. So, what does this mean, and how does it affect your Disney Christmas Vacation?
When is the Best Time to Visit Walt Disney World during the Holidays?
- November 1- 21: Weekdays. Minus Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving Week
- December 1- 17: Weekdays. Minus Christmas Week and New Years Eve
What are the Best Disney Resorts for Christmas?
Every Disney Resort gets dressed up for the holidays, so in our opinion, any Disney Resort could be a good choice for you and your family. But, here are a few things to consider if you’re looking for the Best Disney Resorts for Christmas.
- Sell out faster and are more crowded than any other resorts on the property this time of year.
- Have the most buses allotted to them during this time of year and lower bus wait times.
- Pop Century Resort and Art of Animation are the preferred choices in this category due to access to the Skyliner Gondolas.
- Read our Disney Value Resort Reviews
- Near easy transportation options
- Caribbean Beach Resort is our preferred choice in this category due to access to the Skyliner Gondolas both at the Caribbean Beach station and the Disney Riviera Resort station.
- Read our Disney Moderate Resort Reviews
- Have the best decorations, like life-size Gingerbread displays.
- It Will be more expensive but less crowded
- Have the best Transportation options.
- Boardwalk Resorts- Boardwalk Inn, The Beach and Yacht Club, Boardwalk Inn, and the Swan and Dolphin Resorts are all within walking distance to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios and have access to the Skyliner Gondola at International Gateway and Hollywood Studios. As well as the Monorail at the front of Epcot Park.
- Monorail Resorts- The Contemporary, Polynesian Village Resort, and Grand Floridian Resort all offer monorail access to Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
- Fort Wilderness Resort and Campgrounds has boat access to Magic Kingdom and therefore both the monorail to Epcot and to the Monorail Resorts.
- Read our Disney Deluxe Resort Reviews
Holiday Transportation Options
For one thing, it will come as no surprise that the holiday season is the most expensive and most stressful time to travel. That said, here are some strategies that will help with your holiday vacation plans.
Flying to Walt Disney World During the Holidays
If you’re booking a flight, we recommend booking as soon as you know you are traveling. In the olden days, there was a pretty strict belief that the best time and cheapest time to snag flights was 45 days before your vacation. That doesn’t hold true during the holidays like it may other times of the year. Holiday travel sells out quickly, and the prices only go up the closer you get to the season. That said we recommend a few things if you’re flying during the holidays.
- Sign up for Airline Loyalty Programs so you can get first look at deals, offers, and alerts.
- Upgrade your Credit Card to one with Travel Points
- Check out Google Flights or the Hopper app for a comprehensive view of all flights available during your travel dates
- Airline-wise, we are tried and true Southwest fans. The fact that they don’t charge for luggage is a godsend when we know we’ll be shopping for Christmas gifts you can only get at Walt Disney World parks and will have to transport that home.
- Buy the Travel Insurance. With the weather, overbooked flights, and a higher chance you’ll lose your luggage, travel insurance is a good purchase during the busy Christmas travel season and you’ll get some peace of mind knowing that you have a safety net.
- Buy the Early Bird Check-in for at least one person in your travel party
Driving to Walt Disney World for the Holidays
If you’re driving to Walt Disney World during the holiday season be aware of weather conditions that may show up during your journey to Orlando Florida. It’s also important to remember that just as we see higher crowds at the airport, you will also see higher congestion and traffic on Orlando roads. Be aware of your drive route ahead of entering the city and plan ample time to get to your resort, and settled. It’s also important to note that if you’re taking a car to Walt Disney World you will be charged Disney Resort Parking Fees as part of your stay. Here are a few recommendations if you’re bringing a car to Walt Disney World for the holidays.
- Rent a Car, especially if you’re driving any distance. Unless your car is very new and you don’t mind putting the miles on it. Traveling in Rental Car is a good option to make sure you don’t break down during your vacation, in a car not used to long distances.
- Sign up for the loyalty programs. Hertz, Enterprise, carrentals.com, and more all have loyalty programs that can help you get discounts, be notified of deals and extra perks.
- Put your rental car charges on a separate credit card from your other expenses. Rental Car fees can add up and requires a significant monetary hold on your credit card until the car is returned. Keeping this charge on a separate card can help you keep track of what you’re actually charged at the end of your trip. And can free up other credit cards for other charges.
- Check your Car Insurance to make sure Rental Cars are covered on your policy.
- Bring Snacks, Music, Blankets, and Activities for the Ride
Getting to Walt Disney World from Orlando International Airport
With Disney’s Magical Express retiring at the end of 2021, vacationers will be on their own traveling to and from the airport to the Walt Disney World until the Brightline Railway System is in place in 2026. That said, keep in mind that Uber, Lyft, and the new Mears Connect service are all options for you to get the parks if you are not renting a car or driving to Walt Disney World.
Getting Around Walt Disney World During the Holidays
Walt Disney World has many complimentary transportation options across the property. Buses, Boats, Monorails, Skyliner Gondolas, as well as the typical Uber and Lyft services available. As a result, it’s fairly easy to get to and from anywhere across Walt Disney World property without a car.
But, keep in mind that as complimentary services go, they are not set to YOUR schedule. And during the holidays they are the busiest. You may wait longer than 1 hour at bus stops, be unable to get a spot to the Monorail, and it’s not uncommon for the Gondolas to break down under the constant train of operations through the busiest time of year. Here are a few things to remember about transportation at Disney World during the Holidays.
- Be prepared to pay for Uber, Lyft or a taxi if you need to be somewhere for a reservation.
- Consider Walking! Choosing to Stay at a Disney Resort in Walking Distance of the Disney Parks is ideal, but if you can’t swing it, there are shortcuts all over the Walt Disney World that can help you avoid transportation issues.
- Monorail Resorts ( Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Village Resort and Grand Floridian Resort) connect to MagicKingdom via a walking path.
- Boardwalk Resorts ( Boardwalk Inn, Beach and Yacht Club Resorts, Swan and Dolphin) connect to Epcot and Hollywood Studios via a walking path
- Ferry Resorts ( Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter, Saratoga Springs, and Old Key West Resort) connect to Disney Springs via a walking path.
Rides at Walt Disney World During Christmas
Every park has an extremely popular ride that will always require a longer wait or Lightning Lane pass. So if any of these rides are on your Disney Christmas List get ready to either pay, wake up early, or stay up late. Here are some of the best Strategies for Rides at Walt Disney World during the most crowded times of the year, and the rides for which you may need them.
Animal Kingdom’s Busiest Rides
Flight of Passage. Typical 2-3 hour wait during the holidays. On a rope drop morning, this goes down to about 45 minutes, unless you’re really fast, of course.
Epcot’s Busiest Rides
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure located in Epcot France is available via Disney Boarding Pass Virtual Queue. we recommend entering Epcot at the International Gateway at the back of the park, which puts you right next to the Epcot France pavilion. Even though World Showcase doesn’t typically open until 11 am, the ride will naturally have a line form as soon as the park opens 2 hours prior. You can get to the International Gateway from the Boardwalk Resorts or any Skyliner Resorts. Frozen Ever After in Epcot Norway is also still a very popular ride, so if that’s on the ride list for you and your family, that will be another one to rope drop. Waits are typically over an hour for Frozen Ever After during the holidays.
Hollywood Studios Busiest Rides
Rise of the Resistance is now available for stand-by waiting or lightning lane! Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. We recommend running to this ride once the gates open, as it gets pretty filled up throughout the day.
Magic Kingdom’s Busiest Rides
Snow White’s Mine Train Ride. By far the most popular ride in Magic Kingdom, this ride often has waits over two hours through the season. Peter Pan’s Flight is a must-do Disney ride for many people, along with Pirates of the Caribbean, Jingle Cruise, and Haunted Mansion. All have devoted followings and higher waits.
Disney Ride Tips for Busy Times
- Know which rides you’re hoping to ride BEFORE you enter the park.
- Plan your ride order based on which rides are close to each other, so you’re not running across the park.
- You’ll find the lowest waits for rides during meal times (12-2 pm and 5-7 pm) and fireworks, parade or showtimes.
- Try for rides later in the evening. The park typically empties right after fireworks, and all lines get lower.
- Grabbing an early breakfast reservation inside any park will get you closer to the action for easy line access.
Disney Christmas Vacation Budget
Planning a Disney Vacation Budget can be a little overwhelming. Never mind that you’re traveling during the Most Expensive Time of Year. The Christmas season is generally tougher on your wallet than any other time of year. That said, it’s important to go in with a plan. Here’s what you’ll need to portion out in your budget.
Disney Dining Plans are currently paused, so your Disney Dining Budget is your own. We typically recommend planning between 70-100 dollars per person, per day on food. This typically includes a breakfast ($15 dollars), a Quick Service meal ( $15-25), a Disney Snack ( $5-10), and a table service meal ($35-80). As you can see the table service meal here is completely dependent on the restaurant you’ve chosen and what mealtime you are planning for. And while we’ve included the typical soda or coffee in with these ranges, alcohol will blow your budget faster than anything else. So you may want to portion out alcohol purchases separately. As a reminder, contactless payments are preferred, so prepare to have a credit card attached to your My Disney Experience account so you can use your MagicBand to pay, or Mobile Order. Disney Gift Cards also work well here to help you stay o budget.
You may only need to pay for transportation at alt Disney World during certain times throughout your vacation. For instance, to and from the airport an Uber ride typically costs $30-50 dollars each way. But to and from your resort to a park for an important dining reservation when you’re running late is closer to $10 dollars. Plan, plan, plan to get the best handle on how much you should budget here.
Tips and Gratuities
Generally, 18% gratuity is added to your dining bill at any table-service restaurant for parties of 6 or more people. If you have less than that, a gratuity is still expected but at your discretion. You can check your receipt for the suggested tip amount- usually at least 15%.
If you’re staying at a Disney Resort you’ll have to pay parking fees unless you stay at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campgrounds, where parking is free. Plan for a Per-Night Fee to be added to your resort stay. $15 ( Value Resorts) $20 ( Moderate Resorts) and $25 ( Deluxe Resorts). And be sure to read up on 6 ways you can avoid the Disney Resort parking fees altogether.
Disney Christmas Snacks
Don’t underestimate the power of Disney snacks during the holidays. From adorable cupcakes covered in Mickey Santas to all things pumpkin, gingerbread, and peppermint, you’ll be enamored by the selection of Disney Christmas Snacks throughout the holidays. Snacks range from $5-10 dollars.
Special Holiday Event Tickets
If you’re traveling to Walt Disney World this Christmas you have the option to add Disney’s Very Merriest After Hours Christmas Party to your vacation. This is an after-hours event held select nights at Magic Kingdom. Tickets range from 129- 199 dollars per person.
International Festival of Holidays at Epcot
Disney’s International Festival of Holidays happens every holiday season at Epcot, and while it is included in your Epcot park ticket, any of the festival foods will cost extra. To budget for this event, we recommend looking at the Festival of Holidays Menus ahead of time. This will help you nail down favorite foods to try. Plan on between 5-8 dollars for a small plate, and between 9-15 dollars for alcoholic beverages. We recommend adding whatever amount you choose for this event to a Disney Gift Card. They do offer festival-specific gift cards that are wristlets. Which makes adding money and paying for your food at each outdoor kitchen a breeze. This helps you from going over your amount or at least realizing that at some point your gift card will have no more money on it.
Yes, it’s Christmas time and chances are gifts are piled under a tree ( or hidden in a closet) at home but chances are you will still want some souvenirs. Decide what souvenirs you may be hoping for ahead of time. This is a fun conversation that can happen on a road trip to Florida or on the airplane. Typical souvenirs include Stuffed Animals ( $25 dollars), Mugs ( $20) Disney Jersey’s ($50-70 dollars), Mickey Ears ( $25-30 dollars), and Disney Popcorn Buckets ($10-25 dollars). Check out our favorite FREE Disney Souvenirs if you’re hoping to save some money.
Christmas Shopping Disney Springs
Whether you’re buying a hoodie at Uniqlo because it suddenly becomes cold in Florida or stocking up on last-minute Christmas gifts so you don’t have to trudge through the snow at home, be sure to set aside Disney Springs money. From the 7 dollar Starbucks coffee to the gift for grandma, there will undoubtedly be things at Disney Springs you can’t find at home and will need to buy. Again, having a plan here is best. Making a half-day or a day at Disney Springs will include meals, snacks, and potentially gifts, so put aside some funds for this day.
Handling Christmas Crowds at Walt Disney World
If you’re thinking Christmas at Walt Disney World is going to be all magic and miracles over the holidays at Walt Disney World, let’s set a few things straight. It will, but there are crowds and they can totally kill your happy holiday vibe if you’re not ready for it! Read about our strategies for dealing with Disney Holiday crowds, because you’ll need them for that 60-minute wait for the bus. Being prepared can help you stay realistic with your expectations. We’ll be honest, we were caught off guard with just how much “crowd” would be showing up during the holidays. If you’re looking for all the Disney Christmas tips you’ll need to get through the holidays, check out our Christmas at Walt Disney World Tips post. Things like sketchy wi-fi, stroller parking, family drama, and how to manage transportation while your credit card is skyrocketing are all in the post and it’s a Must-Read if you are traveling during the season.
Christmas Activities at Walt Disney World
To get started we like lists. Do you need to know what rides, restaurants, and shows are best during the holidays? Check out our Disney Holiday Checklist for a surefire list that is already made up for you! And if you’re ready to tackle everything to do, see and eat at Walt Disney World for Christmas, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what’s you’ll find across all the Parks, Resorts, and Disney Springs this Holiday Season.
Holiday Decorations At Walt Disney World
Holiday decorations at Walt Disney World usually go up the 2nd or 3rd week of November and sometimes stay up all the way through the first week in January. With Mickey Wreaths, Christmas windows on Main Street, and even natural ornaments on display in Animal Kingdom there is so much to see in each park! One of our favorite parks last year for Christmas decorations was Hollywood Studios. In classic Hollywood fashion, the park is dressed to the nines in a very kitschy 1950’s style. We absolutely loved it! Check out our whole post on Hollywood Studios at Christmas. And take time to visit the Disney Resorts throughout the holidays as well! While all the resorts sport Christmas Trees, you can also find special snacks, and life-size Gingerbread displays at several of the Disney Deluxe Resorts.
Disney Christmas Snacks, Treats, and Drinks
Holiday Snacks at Walt Disney World parks start to show up as soon as Halloween is over. From cultural treats at Epcot’s Festival of Holidays to classic treats like Peppermint ice cream in Magic Kingdom, you can be sure to find your favorite holiday flavors across the parks, and resorts. Check out our New Holiday Snacks at Walt Disney World post for a full list of all the new gingerbread, peppermint, caramel, chocolate, and more seasonal flavors you can find this year. If you’re visiting Walt Disney World for Christmas be sure to grab some of these special treats.
One of the most fun parts of a Disney Christmas Vacation is getting to see all the new holiday merchandise. As expected you can usually count on a whole new Christmas merchandise collection featuring t-shirts, Christmas jerseys, Mickey ears, a new Magic Band, new mugs and kitchen wear and a new Disney Dooney and Bourke Christmas Bag design. We also love the annual tradition of a new Holiday Popcorn bucket too! You can usually find these first at Hollywood Studios, though we’ll be sure to post all the new Disney holiday popcorn buckets and where you can find them in our New Snacks at Walt Disney World post.
Another staple in the Disney Christmas Holiday lineup is seasonal entertainment. Much of the entertainment we have come to know and love at Disney World returns every year, this includes the following which we’ll dive into below.
Disney Christmas Character Cavalcades at Walt Disney World
Disney character meet and greets have not yet returned, but instead, you can watch character cavalcades, flotillas, motorcades, and watersides. You can even see the big guy himself, Santa Clause as he shows up across Walt Disney World for the season. Here is the full lineup of Disney Christmas Character Cavalcades.
Minnie’s Holiday Dine at Hollywood and Vine
The Hollywood and Vine restaurant is the resident character breakfast buffet restaurant at Hollywood Studios, which may not thrill most people. BUT, it’s also the only place you get the fab five in costume for the holidays. Much like Akershus in Norway, Epcot the sub-par menu can sometimes be worth it just to get all the characters in one place! The food was pretty good here, but the character interactions were the best! You won’t get the budget-friendly meal like at Crystal Palace but it’s definitely worth the experience. Definitely worth a look if you’re looking for a family-friendly restaurant in Hollywood Studios during the holidays.
Tusker House Holiday Dining
Christmas at Magic Kingdom
Disney’s Very Merriest After Hours *NEW*
Christmas at Walt Disney World just got a whole lot merrier! A brand new Disney After Hours Event is on the way this holiday season! Disney’s Very Merriest After Hours will open with select dates starting November 8 and runs through December 21, 2021. And will require an additional ticket. Check out all the details about Disney’s Very Merriest After Hours Party.
Want to dive into even more Holiday fun at Walt Disney World? Check out What’s New at Walt Disney World for Christmas for all the latest news about snacks, merchandise, menus, and more!
Cinderella Castle Holiday Projection Show
Main Street Philharmonic and the Toy Soldier March
Holiday Trolley featuring the Dapper Dans
Jingle Cruise on the Jungle Cruise
The Christmas Shoppe
Christmas at Hollywood Studios
Sunset Season’s Greetings on Hollywood Holiday Tower Hotel
Merry Motorcade with Santa Clause
For the First time in Forever Olaf’s Holiday Finale
Toy Story Land Christmas Overlay
Flurry of Fun
Holiday Popcorn Bucket
Christmas at EPCOT
Epcot’s International Festival of Holidays
Christmas Cavalcades at Epcot
Holiday Performances at Epcot
Christmas at Animal Kingdom
Christmas at Animal Kingdom is wonderful. It’s lower key than the other parks, offering cute marionette animals, and the Holiday edition of Tree of Life. Check out everything you can do at Animal Kingdom for the holidays.
Tree of Life Awakenings Holiday Edition
The Tree of Life at Walt Disney World gets dressed up for the holidays with a new lighting show in the evenings. This holiday edition features adorable winter animals crawling all over the tree in a winter-themed digital projection show.
As part of the fun, Animal Kingdom puppeteers take to the streets throughout Animal Kingdom to share beautiful larger animal marionettes to help ring in the holiday season.
Holidays in Pandora
Christmas at Disney Springs
Disney Springs brings back the Christmas Tree eye candy this year. Trees will be scattered throughout Disney springs as part of the new Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll Scavenger Hunt Game. Grab this game and coupon book at the Welcome center and make a day of it! One of the nice things about Disney during the holidays is the shopping at Disney Springs, so it’s definitely worth the time! The whole place is decorated to the nines, has festive treats and trees that showcase some of our favorite Disney films!
Let it Snow Flurries
Jock Lindsays Hangar Bar Holiday Takeover
Disney’s Days of Christmas Shop
Santas Winter Watercade
Waterside Stage Holiday Music
Christmas at Disney Resorts for the Holidays
Decorations begin showing up at Disney Resorts during the third week of November. Nothing beats browsing the many Disney resorts with trees and decorations. You will not see anything like this anywhere else. With themed trees, larger-than-life decorations, and experiences that add to the magic, we would not go back to Disney during the holidays without building in time to visit the Disney Resorts for Christmas. Check out our favorite strategy for seeing the Disney Resort Decorations at Walt Disney World and our favorite resorts that should be on your Disney must-do list.