Ultimate Ho-Ho-Holiday Guide to Walt Disney World at Christmas Time
I’m dreamin’ of a Walt Disney World Christmas just like the ones I used to know. Sing with me now! If you’re anything like us, you’re probably longing to sip on cozy cups of hot cocoa as you get festive at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or munch on something seasonal as you eat your way through Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays.
Well, fellow Disney fans, we must be on the nice list this year because there’s a lot to look forward to at Walt Disney World this holiday season. So, grab your ugly Christmas sweater and your favorite candy cane to snack on as we go over the list (we’ve checked it twice) of all the things you can do during a Disney World Christmas trip in 2022. (Updated November 20, 2022)
Things to Know for Christmas at Disney World
Ready to book your Disney World holiday vacation faster than you can say “gingerbread”? Here are some things you should know first.
When Can You Start Celebrating the Holidays at Walt Disney World?
Starting November 11, 2022, the Walt Disney World Resort will come alive with the spirit of the season (Epcot will join the festivities fashionably late on November 25), with the holiday celebrations continuing across the Central Florida resort through the end of December. That’s a whole lot more than 12 days of Christmas.
With holiday festivities planned for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Disney Springs, and even the Disney World hotels, 2022 is shaping up to be a magical time to celebrate the winter holidays at Disney World. And best of all, if you decide to go to Walt Disney World at Christmastime this year, you’ll also be treated to a bonus celebration. The World’s Most Magical Celebration, in fact: Walt Disney World’s 50th-anniversary party. So, you’ll have even more special events and activities to enjoy.
When Does Disney World Decorate for Christmas?
At Christmas time, Disney World cast members deck the halls with jolly trappings like trees, garland and twinkle lights. If you’re planning on visiting The Most Magical Place on Earth over the holidays this year, keep in mind that Walt Disney World Christmas decorations tend to go up sometime around the beginning of November.
Even once Christmas ends, things stay pretty festive around the parks and resorts through the first week of January. (Do you love to look at the holiday trimmings as much as we do? Then, make a plan to see them all with the help of our Disney World Christmas decorations guide.)
Eating at Disney World During the Holidays
Like any self-respecting get-together during Christmastime, food is a major part of the Disney experience over the celebratory season, with special holiday treats and drinks on offer at all four theme parks, Disney Springs, Disney’s BoardWalk and many Disney World hotels. Needless to say, if you make it a point to sample all the Christmas goodies at your family gatherings, you’ll be able to carry on the tradition here too.
Along with a stockingful of limited-time, holiday-themed treats, guests can also tuck into a full Christmas feast at the theme parks, hotels and Disney Springs. While several restaurants serve up a special Christmas dinner, you’ll also find a selection of year-round dishes worthy of your holiday meal.
So, you don’t need to actually visit on Christmas Day to enjoy a proper holiday dinner. To make sure you get to try some seasonal selections, consider setting some money aside specifically for festive food-related purposes.
Celebrating Christmas Disney World Style in 2022
While some typical Disney Christmas offerings didn’t make it down the chimney in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re happy to report that things are pretty much back to normal this holiday season. Here are the exciting Disney World Christmas events that are coming to town in 2022.
Christmas at Magic Kingdom
As arguably the merriest of the Disney World theme parks, Magic Kingdom is a joy to visit during the holiday season. Limited-time treats with a Christmas twist are a foodie favorite from year to year, as are the Magic Kingdom Christmas decorations.
Magic Kingdom Christmas Decorations
Ornament-bedecked garlands traditionally deck the halls all up and down Main Street, U.S.A., with even Cinderella Castle getting in on the holiday spirit. Typically, the castle is draped in special Disney World Christmas lights called Dream Lights, a wintry transformation that makes Cinderella’s grand abode glisten like Elsa’s ice palace.
But, unfortunately, this popular Disney World Christmas castle display was left out of the Christmas preparations last two years and won’t be making its return in 2022 either. However, that isn’t because of COVID-19. Instead, it’s due to Cinderella Castle’s 50th-anniversary makeover and an evening offering known as Beacons of Light.
Available at each of the theme parks in some form, this shining display lights up the park’s icon throughout the night with the glow of pixie dust and over five decades of family fun and theme park magic. In addition to Beacons of Light, guests will also get to enjoy a colorful kaleidoscope of holiday castle projections throughout the evening.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
Making its glorious return to the Magic Kingdom for the first time since its pandemic hiatus, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is back for 2022. One of our favorite ways to celebrate Christmas at Disney World, this specially ticketed event offers a sleighful of festive activities, entertainment and holiday treats.
“Snow” (AKA soap) falls on Main Street, U.S.A., making for a wildly enchanting entrance to the park and a great spot to snap a holiday-themed pic with a Disney PhotoPass Photographer. Add in the Magic Kingdom Christmas decorations, festive lighting and a lively soundtrack of yuletide tunes, and you’ve got a seasonal soiree even Santa would love.
For 2022, Walt Disney World Christmas party dates are set for select nights from November 8 to December 22 between 7:00 PM and 12:00 AM, though those with event tickets will be able to enter the park starting at 4:00 PM. Unlike going to Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, a Disney Park Pass theme park reservation or general admission ticket for the day isn’t required, as tickets to the event are dated and separate.
Festive (and Occasionally Free) Eats and Treats
Along with all the seasonal snacks on offer during regular park hours, some special holiday goodies exclusive to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are also available to purchase. Plus, others like Christmas cookies, popcorn, ice cream and holiday drinks are included in your event admission ticket. Hot cocoa, anyone?
One of the highlights of any after-hours event at the Disney Parks is enjoying access to some of the most popular rides at Walt Disney World without the usual long wait. Several Magic Kingdom attractions, such as Mad Tea Party and Space Mountain, also go through a yuletide transformation especially for the party, receiving holly jolly upgrades like festive lighting and music.
Of course, no Disney holiday party would be complete without a character meet-and-greet. So, expect to see some beloved Disney characters mingling with guests in their Christmas best. Characters appear throughout the night, making it easy to squeeze in an encounter between rides, shows and bites to eat. Even Santa Claus comes to town, greeting guests near Liberty Square.
We love the pageantry of a Disney parade or fireworks display, especially during the holiday season. Fortunately, thanks to Orlando’s relatively balmy weather in the winter compared to other parts of the country, you don’t need to shiver your way through either at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade jingles all the way from Frontierland to Main Street, U.S.A., featuring appearances by everyone from Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse to dancing reindeer and Santa. Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show also lights up the night, with glittering pyrotechnics bursting over Cinderella Castle and a catchy soundtrack of holiday tunes.
The Jungle Cruise Becomes the Jingle Cruise
Another ride undergoing a merry metamorphosis for the holiday season is the Jungle Cruise. Available to both regular park guests and Magic Kingdom Christmas partygoers, the Jingle Cruise features festive decorations both in the attraction queue and on the ride itself, as well as a slew of spirited dad jokes and puns.
Festive Entertainment During Regular Park Hours
While you need to book a ticket for the Magic Kingdom Christmas party to experience most of the seasonal-inspired entertainment, some offerings, specifically the parade and fireworks, are typically made available to regular park guests in the week or so leading up to the holiday.
Although the schedule has yet to be confirmed for Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, expect Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show to dazzle guests during normal park hours starting December 23 and continuing nightly until the day before New Year’s Eve.
Christmas at Epcot
The holidays are all about family, cultural traditions and food, and no Walt Disney World theme park does them quite like Epcot. Disney World’s foodie theme park, Epcot knows how to have a good time. Whether drinking and eating around the world or going to one of the Epcot festivals, this edu-taining park makes learning about the world around us fun – and the same can be said during the holiday season.
Epcot Christmas Decorations
Each year, Epcot holiday decorations are a jolly addition to the park, from the towering trees to the yuletide trimmings and trappings bedecking the World Showcase pavilions. Even the Living with the Land ride receives a merry makeover thanks to the addition of holiday lights.
You also won’t want to miss Spaceship Earth’s nightly celebratory Beacons of Light transformation. While the display isn’t made for the winter holidays, similar to the Cinderella Castle projection show at Magic Kingdom, the iconic geodesic sphere twinkles with stardust and hope for the future.
Just like it wouldn’t be the holiday season without some festive eats, no trip to Epcot is complete without one of the park’s popular foodie festivals. This time of the year, the park checks both those boxes with Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays.
International Festival of the Holidays
Many countries worldwide celebrate the winter season with a special holiday – though they may not call it Christmas – and rich cultural traditions. And each year, the park’s International Festival of the Holidays lets you experience some of them for yourself. This Christmas season, Epcot’s much-loved holiday festival runs from November 25 through December 30, 2022.
As you walk around World Showcase Lagoon, you’ll discover Epcot’s most joyous festival, featuring festive food, lively entertainment, fascinating traditions and so much more. Much like spending the holidays with family and friends, the heart and soul of the festival is its bountiful spread of cozy winter classics with a global spin.
Holiday Kitchens and the Holiday Cookie Stroll
Food booths, or Holiday Kitchens, serve up some tastes of the season savored by cultures around the world. Whether you’re craving American comfort food favorites like roast turkey with all the fixings or Hannukah mainstays like potato latkes, there’s something for everyone.
Rather skip right to dessert? The Holiday Cookie Stroll lets you sample some of Christmas’s most iconic sweets. Just make your way to five select Holiday Kitchens from your Festival Passport and snag stamps for each of your chosen cookies. Then, once you’ve finished your Holiday Cookie Stroll, claim your sweet reward.
Festive Live Entertainment
Special entertainment is another mainstay of this yuletide tradition. And, as a wise elf once said, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” At Epcot, the best way to do that is through the festival’s beloved Candlelight Processional, which tells the story of Christmas.
Starring celebrity narrators, a full orchestra, a massed cast member choir and an inspiring set list of holiday music, the perennially popular Candlelight Processional draws huge crowds. So, for the best seats, be sure to plan your day accordingly and be prepared to wait.
In addition to the Candlelight Processional., holiday storytellers are another unique festival offering. These jolly troubadours are located at pavilions along the World Showcase Promenade, regaling guests with spirited stories and tales of holiday traditions from the represented countries.
Stop by Mexico for the Las Posadas Celebration featuring Mariachi Cobre, celebrate the season like they do in the Great White North with the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs, and more. You can even kick off New Year festivities early during a thrilling Chinese lion dance performance.
As the newest ride to open at Walt Disney World and the resort’s only Marvel attraction, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind can get incredibly busy. Fortunately, depending on how busy the park is that day, guests typically have a few different options for experiencing the Marvel roller coaster: joining a virtual queue, purchasing an Individual Lightning Lane Selection or using the standby line.
Christmas at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Hoping to have a cool yule? Don’t miss the holiday season at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Unlike at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios doesn’t host any significant holiday events. That being said, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit during this festive time of the year. I mean, Hollywood’s nickname is Tinseltown. Need we say more?
Hollywood Studios Christmas Decorations
Like many a millennial’s Instagram feed or Pinterest board, Christmas at Hollywood Studios dazzles with retro yuletide treasures inspired by Hollywood’s Golden Age. This is honestly one of our favorite places around Disney World at Christmas, as the whimsical, vintage ornaments are perfectly designed to fit the park’s atmosphere. Even Toy Story Land gets in on the festive fun, with Woody wrapped up in a cozy scarf (see that candy cane in his holster?) and ornaments that have been “handmade” by Andy.
Plus, similar to the other Disney Parks, guests can also take in two different projection shows on the Hollywood Tower Hotel. While Sunset Seasons Greetings captivates Sunset Boulevard with holiday cheer, it also glitters for guests in true technicolor fashion during the 50th anniversary’s Beacons of Magic show.
See Santa Claus
When you aren’t basking in the seasonal atmosphere, you can also enjoy a few other holiday highlights. Jolly old St. Nick himself stops by in the most Hollywood way possible: Cruising down through Hollywood Studios in a candy-apple red convertible overflowing with gifts during the Santa Claus Merry Motorcade.
Savor the Season with a Holiday-Themed Disney Character Dinner
Want to spend some time with a few of your favorite Disney characters while indulging in a buffet of festive dishes? Head on over to Minnie’s Holiday Dine at Hollywood & Vine for Disney character dining with a yuletide twist. When you aren’t stuffing yourself silly, pose for pictures with Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse and their pals, who are all dressed up in their holiday finery.
Let Holiday Stress Go at A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
Can’t get enough Disney character action? Make some time in your day for For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration. This kid-friendly show gets extra jolly around the holidays, thanks to a festive finale headlined by that lovable snowman, Olaf, and the addition of some catchy Christmas tunes.
Christmas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Animal Kingdom may not be the first theme park that comes to mind when planning a trip to Disney World at Christmas. After all, Earth’s creatures are more apt to hibernate than celebrate when the winter months roll around. However, that doesn’t stop Disney’s Animal Kingdom from joining in on the merriment.
Animal Kingdom Christmas Decorations
As with the rest of the parks, Animal Kingdom is decked out with themed holiday decorations and a soaring Christmas tree. From rooftops festooned with glowing luminaries to homespun ornaments and vibrant Diwali lanterns that would be right at home in the villages of Africa and Asia, the park is a décor delight.
These seasonal additions even come to life in the form of the Merry Menagerie, life-sized, artisan-sculpted puppets of cold-weather creatures like polar bears and reindeer that roam about Discovery Island greeting guests. This adorable Animal Kingdom offering is a charming bit of Disney magic and makes for some memorable photos, especially with little ones. So, don’t just dash on by on your way to your next stop.
Similar to Disney’s other parks, Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life also lights up the night with its own special projection shows. Tree of Life Awakenings with a holiday twist celebrate the natural world as much as the winter season as Earth’s arctic animals flit and fly through its branches. Then, stick around for the park’s Beacon of Magic show, where firefly-like lights sparkle like nature’s version of fairy lights through the Tree of Life.
Santa Sightings and Holiday Rhythms
Disney character flotillas have been floating down the Discovery River ever since Animal Kingdom reopened following its pandemic closure. During the winter season, these Christmassy cruises spread the holiday spirit all around the park, thanks to a few extra-jolly additions.
Along with appearances by your favorite Disney characters in their merriest holiday apparel, the jolly old elf himself stops by to ho, ho, ho his way around Animal Kingdom’s waterways for the Santa Claus Festive Flotilla. Then, move to the beat of some yuletide grooves. during the Discovery Island Drummers Festive Flotilla.
Disney Springs Christmas Festivities
If you’re looking to do some holiday shopping at Disney World, there’s no better place to go than Disney Springs. You’re sure to find the perfect presents for all your favorite people, all while getting in the holiday spirit.
After all, it’s kind of hard to be a scrooge when you’re wandering past fanciful Christmas trees beneath flurries of snow. Sure, they’re fake (they’re actually made of soap). But, that doesn’t make this particular snowfall any less magical. Talk about a winter wonderland! With palm trees, of course.
This year, the yuletide takeover runs from November 11 to December 30, 2022, and features live entertainment, festive dishes and drinks, the entertainment district’s popular Christmas tree trail, meet-and-greets with Santa and, of course, lots of seasonal shopping opportunities.
Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll
In addition to garland-bedecked storefronts and a riot of twinkle lights, guests can also enjoy a forest full of festive cheer with the return of the ever-popular Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll. More of a spirited scavenger hunt than an actual Christmas tree trail, extravagantly decorated Disney Christmas trees are sprinkled throughout Disney Springs like festive pixie dust.
Enjoy the themed trees as you wander between stores or set out in search of them all using a free activity map. As you track each tree down, mark its location on the map using the stickers included. Then, once you’ve finished, head to one of the designated locations to collect your complimentary button.
Santa Claus, Stilt Walkers and Merry Musical Performances
Still not in the Christmas spirit? Stop by Once Upon a Toy to see Santa Claus, snap some photos and let him know how good you’ve been this year. And while you’re out and about, keep an eye out for the other holiday entertainment offerings at Disney Springs this year. Stilt walkers dressed like towering toy soldiers are sure to put a smile on your face, as are live performances of seasonal songs by local musicians.
Jock Lindsey’s Holiday Bar
As you’re bustling about doing your Christmas shopping, be sure to take some time for a yuletide tipple and some seasonal snacks at Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar Holiday Takeover. There, the Indiana Jones-inspired lounge with a serious case of wanderlust gets a holly, jolly makeover that’s sure to thaw the heart of even the grinchiest shopper.
The entire bar is festooned with an explosion of festive décor, making for an atmosphere that’s downright infectious. While you’re gawking at all that tinsel, snack on Grandma’s Revenge Venison Sliders crowned with bacon-cranberry jam and Post-Flight “Milk” and Cookies starring creamy coquito.
Christmas at Disney Resort Hotels
As magical as the theme parks can be, every once in a while, we love escaping the crazy crowds for the relative peace and quiet of the Walt Disney World resorts. However, with each hotel trimmed with festively themed trappings, there’s no better time to experience the resorts than during the Christmas season.
Resort Hopping During the Holidays
It’s no secret that we love resort hopping. Not only is it one of our favorite things to do outside the parks, but it’s also completely free. And honestly, who doesn’t like to save some extra cash during the holidays? All those gifts can really take a toll on your wallet.
Although resort hopping is fun any time of year, nothing compares to visiting Disney World hotels at Christmas time. Each resort is adorned with Disney World Christmas decorations befitting each hotel’s theme, with many receiving elaborate Christmas trees.
At most of the resorts, the decorations appear overnight in an especially festive bit of Disney magic. It’s almost as if a squad of garland-toting, glitter-wielding elves descend on the resort for a Christmas tree trimming party by moonlight. Only in this case, it’s crafty cast members instead of elves. It really is an enchanting transformation.
Our favorite hotels for a Disney resort Christmas crawl include:
Magic Kingdom Resort Area
Disney’s Contemporary Resort
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
If You Have Time
Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
Epcot Resort Area
Disney’s Beach Club Resort
Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
Animal Kingdom Resort Area
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
If You Have Time
Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
Holiday Gingerbread Displays
Some Disney World hotel lobbies also enjoy extra helpings of yuletide cheer in the form of Christmas villages or ornate gingerbread displays. Started back in 1998 by Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa with its massive, Victorian-inspired gingerbread house, this delicious Disney World tradition is sure to leave you feeling merry (and perhaps a little bit hungry, too).
At the Grand Floridian, the cozy smell even gets piped into the air, so you don’t miss a whiff of the warm, spicy goodness. And as for the gingerbread house, the molasses mansion also functions as a sweet shop, dishing up all sorts of treats.
However, that is the only Disney World resort with a pastry palace of some sort. Hotels at Walt Disney World with a gingerbread display include:
Animal Kingdom Lodge – Gingerbread baby giraffe and baby zebra
BoardWalk Inn – Gingerbread version of the BoardWalk Deli
Contemporary Resort – Mary Blair-inspired gingerbread castle
Grand Floridian Resort – Victorian-style gingerbread house
Wilderness Lodge – Gingerbread cabin (not confirmed for 2022)
Well, festive fanatics, that wraps up our guide to all the holiday happenings that are in the works for Disney World in 2022. Are you planning to visit Walt Disney World at Christmas time? What Disney hotel holiday decorations are your favorite? Which Disney Christmas event do you wish was coming back this year? Let us know in the comments!