The International Festival of Holidays at Epcot runs this year from – , 2019 and is everything you need to kick off an amazing holiday season! If we lived in Florida, this would definitely be a holiday tradition for us. With holidays kitchens, holiday stories across the World Showcase, decorations, merchandise and the Candlelight Processional, there truly is something for everyone. If you haven’t gotten a chance to attend this holiday festival at Walt Disney World, let us give you the details. Here’s our Beginner’s Guide to the International Festival of Holidays at Disney.
Ok, so let us just share that Christmas at Walt Disney World is amazing. There truly is nothing else like it! When we visited Disney during the holidays for the first time last year we we floored by how extra-magical everything was. Add the fact that we are holiday crazy in general and you can just imagine how excited we were the whole trip.
Of course you’ll have to deal with the crowds, and probably have a list of things you need to do, but it’s so important to make sure that you make time for Epcot during the holidays. The festival truly does showcase the meaning of Christmas in all it’s glory and you will leave feeling uplifted, and hopeful and ready for the New Year.
A Guide to the International Festival of Holidays at Epcot, Walt Disney World
The International Festival of Holidays takes place in the Epcot World Showcase. Unlike the other Christmas party over at Magic Kingdom, you don’t need an extra ticket to enjoy the festival. It’s included with your Epcot admission.
The festival includes the following:
- Holiday Stories from each culture are shared in each World Showcase country.
- Holiday Kitchens, or food booths, that are added to the showcase featuring holiday foods from each country.
- The Christmas Tree Spree Disney Game, which includes a scavenger hunt map to find hidden Chip and Dales all over World Showcase.
- Illuminations: Peace on Earth Holiday show and fireworks
- The Candlelight Processional with a celebrity reader
- Special festival merchandise
This year the International Festival of Holidays at Epcot runs November 18- December 30, 2018.
Holiday Storytellers in the World Showcase Countries
The storytellers at the World Showcase are, in classic Disney fashion, perfectly themed characters that truly transport you to their time and place to share the most meaningful holiday stories. These performances happen through the day, so check the times guide when you arrive if you’re hopeful to see a certain storyteller.
We loved loved loved La Befana in Italy, and wished we would have had more time to visit every country’s storytellers. Be sure to build in the time where you can stroll through the showcase and listen to these stories, it really does make the season feel extra special.
So where are the storytellers?
While you can find the American Santa Clause and Mrs. Clause in the American Adventure pavilion, complete with luxurious red velvet thrones, there are so many other holiday icons to see!
If visiting America first to get your Santa fix, you can also hear Kwanzaa and Hannukah stories presented throughout the day.
In Japan you can see how they experience Japanese New Year, O-Shogatsu, and listen as they tell the story of this tradition complete with mochi, bell ringing and postcards.
In Italy, you can visit with La Befana and she recaps her tale of the Epiphany.
When visiting Germany, you can meet Helga who relays the tale of The Nutcracker.
And in China, there are dragon dancers preparing for the Chinese New Year.
France is also a must see storyteller with Pere Noel telling the tale of how they leave out shoes.
Each country gets a storyteller, so be sure to check them out. If you’re toting kids, this experience is so educational we think it could definitely count as “school.
Holiday Kitchens at the Festival of Holidays
Ahhhh, holiday food. They don’t call this the most wonderful time of year for nothing. And we have definitely become addicted to all of Disney’s foodie events. We wait for these outdoor kitchen menus arrive. We so impressed with some of the foods they presented last year, that we even wrote a whole post about our favorite foods at Festival of Holidays.
If you haven’t guessed, much like the storytellers, each Holiday Kitchen is themed to its respective country. In America you’ll get a Christmas dinner, in Italy you’ll get fruitcake, and there’s a whole kitchen booth just for cookies. Last year there were 15 Holiday Kitchens at the festival, so plenty of holidays foods to try! Just like with the Food and Wine festival, you’ll get a little passport book with all the menus and can find lists of food for the Festival of Holidays online beforehand.
We like having a plan of attack for any foodie festival at Epcot, so we try to grab foods as we make our way around the World Showcase. And sometimes, it takes two days to fit it all in. Sometimes you can snatch the Walt Disney World Free Dining promo for this time of year, so the festival food can also be a great way to use snack credits.
Christmas Tree Spree with Chip and Dale Game
One of our absolute favorite things to do at any Disney festival is to play the scavenger hunt game. At the Flower and Garden Festival they have Spike the Bee, at Food and Wine they have Remy’s Ratatouille game, and at Festival of Holidays they have the Christmas Tree Spree with Chip and Dale.
For this game, players can buy a map ( with stickers), usually $6.99, from the gift shop or kiosk to get started. With your map in tow you can search for Chip and Dale hiding in each country. Mostly, you can find these little guys in a wreath somewhere. They are sometimes hard to find. We’ve had to ask for clues before, so be on the lookout! Once found, you can just add the sticker to the map. When the map is filled in you can return it to the gift shop for a prize. Disney has been changing up their prizes lately, but usually you get a chip and dale inspired pin. We’ve also seen them offer key chains, patches and cups for the other games, so it could be different each year.
Know that you’ve already paid for the prize technically with the purchase of the map, so even if you don’t find all the Chip and Dales you can still collect your prize at the end. And the map is a a “free” Disney Souvenir, so treat it well!
International Festival of Holidays Entertainment
The Epcot evening show on the water, Illuminations ( which may soon be replaced with something new), has a holiday overlay called Illuminations Peace on Earth. This show includes gorgeous red and green fireworks and shares everything that makes Christmas meaningful. We love the Italy pavilion as a viewing location since it’s pretty central and not as crowded as Japan.
The Candlelight Processional
Ok, so we were absolutely blown away by the Candlelight Processional at Epcot. Blown. Away.
We had been doing a ton of research prior to our Disney Christmas vacation because as bloggers we show up with a plan. And frankly, the processional, with some celebrity reading the Nativity story, didn’t seem that special. We had heard there would be lines and it would take a chunk of time out of our already busy day. It just didn’t seem totally worth it to us, so we decided to catch it if we could but not as a priority.
During our visit the celebrity reader was Warwick Davis, of Star Wars and Willow fame. His first show of the night was packed, so we decided to move on. And you could hear the music from afar, so felt like that could be enough.
Then, later in the evening we were walking past just as they were starting the last Candlelight Processional of the day, and there were seats! So we sat down, without waiting in line. The Candlelight Processional is 40 minutes, and as late as we went we figured we’d at least miss the bus crowds if nothing else.
The Candlelight Processional is the reading of the Nativity story, by a celebrity reader, but it’s so much more! There are choirs, and an orchestra, and a light show. You really do have to be in the theater, sitting down, to experience how amazing everything feels and sounds. They even have an interpreter for the deaf community. The whole experience is so emotionally overwhelming, when you’re there you just want everyone you love in your life to be there with you. It really is worth it.
International Festival of Holidays Tips
- Crowds get crazy during the holidays at Walt Disney World! The week of Thanksgiving, and the last two weeks of December are the busiest times of year at Walt Disney World, so plan accordingly! We also say don’t depend on the free Disney transportation to get you anywhere on time this time of year, so if you have critical dining reservations, or need to be somewhere for a special event, like the Candlelight Processional Dinner, or Illuminations Dessert Party plan to uber or minnie van.
- The Candlelight Processional crowds are relative to which celebrity is reading. So while there may be lines at some shows, there may not be at others. Check the schedules for dates and celebs. The more popular the person the higher the crowds.
- Florida in the winter gets chilly at night. So bring a lap blanket or a hoodie if you plan to stay for the evening shows.