I’m dreamin’ of a pre-Covid Christmas just like the ones I used to know. If you’re anything like me, 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 the Epcot Festival of the Holidays.
Well, fellow Disney Worlds, we must be on the nice list this year because, while there are some adjustments, there is a lot to look forward to. So, grab your ugly Christmas sweater and a mug of hot cocoa as we go over the list (I’ve checked it twice) of all the things you can do during a Disney World Christmas trip in 2021.
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 12, 2021, the Walt Disney World Resort will come alive with the spirit of the season (Epcot will join the festivities fashionably late on November 26), with the holiday celebrations continuing across the Central Florida resort through the beginning of January. 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, 2021 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 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 – which, as far as I’m concerned, is a good thing, as they’ll help to make up for some of the less-than-magical changes.
When does Disney World decorate for Christmas?
At Disney, jolly trappings like Christmas trees, garland and twinkle lights are some of the stars of the season. If you’re planning on visiting Disney World over the holidays this year, keep in mind that Disney World Christmas decorations tend to be up sometime around the beginning of November.
Even once the special events end, 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 I do? Then, make a plan to see them all with the help of my Disney World Christmas decorations guide).
Eating at Disney World During the Holidays
Like any self-respecting get-together during the winter holidays, food is a major part of the Disney experience over the celebratory season, with special 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. To make sure you get to try some seasonal selections, consider setting some money aside specifically for festive food-related purposes.
What to Expect for a Walt Disney World Christmas in 2021
While Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party won’t be returning this year (at least not in its traditional form), there are a ton of exciting Disney World Christmas events that are coming to town.
Magic Kingdom Christmas Events
As arguably the merriest Disney World theme park, 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 Disney World Christmas decorations.
Magic Kingdom Christmas decorations 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 year and won’t be making its return in 2021 either.
However, that isn’t because of COVID-19. Instead, it’s due to the icon’s 50th-anniversary makeover and an evening offering known as Beacons of Light, where the park icons will light up 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 projections throughout the evening.
And while it hasn’t been officially announced yet for this year, the Jungle Cruise will likely make its merry metamorphosis into the Jingle Cruise once again for 2021.
Disney Very Merriest After Hours
For those of you wondering about the status of the Walt Disney World Christmas party, I’m sorry to report that Disney’s Very Merry Christmas Party won’t be back in 2021. On the bright side, however, guests will get to experience a more pandemic-friendly version of the seasonal soiree: Disney Very Merriest After Hours.
For this abbreviated version of the holiday celebration, guests will still be able to enjoy much of what Mickey’s Christmas Party has offered in the past. Snow will fall 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. Some special holiday goodies will be available to purchase, while others like cookies, popcorn, ice cream, and drinks will be included in your event admission ticket.
No Disney holiday party would be complete without a character encounter, so you can surely expect some beloved Disney characters to make an appearance in their Christmas best for a character cavalcade or two. Parades are even making a return to Disney World for the occasion with Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade. And with Magic Kingdom fireworks back in action, even Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show will light up the night.
For 2021, Disney World Christmas party dates are set for select nights from November 8 to December 21 between 9:00 PM and 1:00 AM, though those with event tickets will be able to enter the park starting at 7:00 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.
Magic Kingdom Christmas Entertainment
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. So, while the official schedule isn’t confirmed yet, keep an eye open for Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade and Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show to make an appearance during normal park hours.
Epcot Christmas Season Celebrations
The holidays are all about family, cultural traditions, and food, and no Disney theme park does them 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.
Each year, Epcot holiday decorations are a jolly addition to the park, from the towering Disney Christmas 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. And while the display isn’t made for the winter holidays, similar to Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle, Spaceship Earth will experience the celebratory Beacons of Light transformation and is set to twinkle with stardust and hope for the future.
Although Christmas at Epcot isn’t quite back to normal, we will see the return of another winter tradition: the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays.
Epcot 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. Each year, Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays lets you experience some of them for yourself. This holiday season, the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays will be held from November 26 through December 30, 2021.
As you walk around World Showcase Lagoon, you’ll discover Epcot’s most joyous festival, starring festive food, lively music, fascinating traditions, and so much more. Food booths, or Holiday Kitchens, serve up some tastes of the season savored by cultures around the world, while a Holiday Cookie Stroll will let you sample some of Christmas’s most iconic sweet.
Special entertainment is another mainstay of this yuletide tradition, and fortunately, much of it is returning in 2021. Unlike in 2020, holiday storytellers are making a comeback this year. 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.
As a wise elf once said, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” At Epcot, one of the best ways to soak up the season and sing along to some Christmas carols is the Candlelight Processional. While this perennial favorite was on hiatus last year, I’m thrilled to say that the celebrity narrators, full orchestra and cast member choir are making a triumphant 2021 return. Finally, don’t be surprised if you spot a Disney character or two making the rounds during a Christmas-y character cavalcade.
Holidays at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Unlike at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios isn’t hosting any significant holiday events. That being said, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a visit during this festive time. I mean, Hollywood’s nickname is Tinseltown. Need I say more?
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 my favorite places for Disney holiday decorations, as the whimsical, vintage ornaments are perfectly designed to fit the park’s atmosphere.
Plus, just like at Epcot and Magic Kingdom, guests will also be able to take in two different projection shows on the Hollywood Tower Hotel. While Sunset Seasons Greetings will captivate Sunset Boulevard with holiday cheer, it will also glitter for guests during the 50th anniversary’s Beacons of Magic show. When you aren’t basking in the seasonal atmosphere, you can also enjoy a few other holiday highlights.
Not only will Disney characters pop up for random cavalcades, but jolly old St. Nick himself will stop by in the most Hollywood way possible: Cruising down Hollywood Boulevard in a red convertible overflowing with gifts during the Santa Claus Merry Motorcade. Or, head on over to Minnie’s Holiday Dine at Hollywood & Vine for Disney character dining with a festive twist.
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.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park Holiday Happenings
Animal Kingdom may not be the first theme park that comes to mind when planning a trip to Disney World at Christmastime. 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 Theme Park from joining in on the merriment.
As at the rest of the parks, Animal Kingdom will be decked out with themed holiday decorations and a towering Christmas tree. From rooftops festooned with luminaries to homespun, primitive ornaments 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, or life-size, artisan-sculpted puppets of cold-weather creatures like polar bears and reindeer that roam about and interact with guests.
Similar to Disney’s other parks, Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life will also light up the night with its own special projection shows. Tree of Life Awakenings, Disney holidays style, will celebrate the natural world as much as the winter season when some of Earth’s cold-loving animals flit and fly through its branches. You can also stick around for the park’s Beacon of Magic show, where firefly-like lights will sparkle like nature’s version of fairy lights.
Finally, while Disney character flotillas have been floating down Discovery River ever since the parks reopened, they’ll be made extra jolly with the addition of Christmas clothes and yuletide grooves. Even Santa Claus will stop by to ho, ho, ho his way around Animal Kingdom’s waterways.
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. I mean, it’s kind of hard to be a scrooge when you’re wandering past fanciful Christmas trees beneath flurries of snow.
The popular Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll is back this year and features extravagantly decorated Disney Christmas trees sprinkled throughout Disney Springs like festive pixie dust. While at night, snowflakes dance through the air over on the West Side. Sure, they’re fake, but that doesn’t make this particular snowfall any less magical. Talk about a winter wonderland! With palm trees, of course.
While 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.
Of course, aside from all these holiday activities at Disney Springs, you can probably also expect a few other festive spins on regular offerings. Think, seasonal drinks and food items and live entertainment playing Christmas music.
Holidays at Disney Resort Hotels
It’s no secret that I love resort hopping. Not only is it one of my 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 the Disney World resort hotels at Christmas time. At most of the resorts, the decorations appear overnight. It’s almost as if a squad of garland-toting, glitter-wielding elves descend on the hotel for a Christmas tree trimming party by moonlight. Only in this case, it’s crafty cast members instead of elves. It really is a magical transformation.
Each of the hotels is festooned with Disney World Christmas decorations befitting the theme of that resort, with many receiving elaborate Christmas trees. Some Disney World hotel lobbies also enjoy extra helpings of holiday cheer in the form of Christmas villages or ornate gingerbread displays.
That cozy smell even gets piped into the air, so you don’t miss a whiff of the warm, spicy goodness. And if you’re wondering, yes, you will be able to buy some gingerbread treats, along with other specialty seasonal menu offerings at some resort restaurants.
While all Disney hotels are decorated for the season, the moderate and deluxe resorts and the Fort Wilderness Campground are decked out the most. Additionally, while resort hopping during the holidays was quite simple in past years, the pandemic will likely throw a wrench in that during 2021, as you currently require either a room or dining reservation to be allowed into a Disney resort. In other words, a once-free Disney World Christmas activity is no longer free. So, be sure to plan accordingly if you’d like to embark on this spirited adventure.
Well, festive fanatics, that wraps up our guide to all the holiday happenings that are in the works for Disney World in 2021. Even though some things have been put on the shelf (like an elf, if you will) this year and last year, there is a sleighful of regular Disney World Christmas events to experience, as well as plenty of enjoyable alternatives to the missing magic. One thing is for sure: I can’t wait.
Hoping to spend as much time celebrating the season as possible? Maximize the festivities with our 1-day plans for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Trying to make some space in your budget for tickets to Disney Very Merriest After Hours? Make it happen with our discount Disney World tickets.
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!
Amber is a proud former Walt Disney World Cast Member, an unabashed travel addict, and a hospitality and tourism specialist with over 10 years in the industry. She likes getting her wanderlust fix by sharing her favorite park tips and tricks with other Disney fans. When she isn’t working, you can usually catch her in a hot power yoga class or spending way too much money at Disney Springs.