Disney during the Holidays is just different… not a bad different, but an incredible adventure that really *feels* like the Holidays. There’s special characters, special events, and festive decorations.
Plus everyone is in the Holiday Spirit, especially because the weather is pretty agreeable (typically in the 70s from October through December with a few hotter or colder days. We go Swimming on Christmas pretty often!)
And if you want to feel like a kid again, or just enjoy your kids as they marvel in the Holiday Fun… Disney World is the place to be!
When Does Disney World decorate for Halloween?
Small decorations will go up before the first Halloween party at Magic Kingdom. In general, expect to see the entire resort with halloween & fall decorations by September 1, with many decorations going up in August.
When Does Disney World decorate for Christmas?
Disney decorates for Christmas almost overnight (they even have a special about this on Disney+). After Thanksgiving, the park will be transformed from fall to winter decorations!
Let’s make sure your prepared for a Disney World Holiday vacation with some can’t miss tips below (and a few TMI’s because we like to keep it realistic here!)
Here’s what to Expect at Christmas Time in Disney World
- Expect long lines
- Expect it to still be Hot weather wise- but evenings and a cold front could bring low temps
- Expect to see more characters out and about at the Disney Resorts, including festive outfits the week of Christmas
- But Special Characters are only found at hard ticket events like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
- Expect to be overwhelmed by Holiday Merchandise.
- Expect lots of Holiday themed treats and special items (and for some of those items to be sold out)
- Expect reservations for table service to be hard to come by
- Expect parks to “sell out” of reservations under the new park pass reservation system
- Expect to have a really good time!
Tip 1- Stay on Property or close by
First up, if you’re staying on site, you’re going to want to book your resort early. Disney World operates at peak season during the holidays, which means resorts fill up quickly.
Staying on Disney property is a smart move because you will save tons of travel time by using their free shuttles to and from the parks. The shuttles have multiple pick up and drop off spots in each resort and they travel to all four parks, Disney Springs, and both waterparks (usually close by mid December).
Not everyone can stay on resort (and around 75% of people visiting don’t stay on Disney Property). So consider staying close by!
Options for staying close by but not at a Disney Resort include: Staying in Disney Springs at a Good Neighbor Hotel, Getting a rental very close to the main gates, or Staying at Universal Studios and enjoying both of the Holiday Offerings!
Tip 2- Think ahead for gifts
I know for many that the “present” for the year is going to Disney- I totally get that!
First up, consider that the greatest gift is the gift of your time. Setting aside intentional family moments where you aren’t overly distracted is the gift the keeps giving!
You may also want to consider presents to give AT Disney– even if they are smaller items. So my recommendation here is to order them ahead of time and bring them in- or save them up on Amazon and ship them to the resort.
Another idea is to do gift cards so everyone in the Family can pick out the gifts that they want at the parks– this is especially useful because Disney has an option where you can get you items delivered to the resort or sent home straight from the parks!
3. Decide on the Holiday Parties ahead of time (not last minute)
Should you get regular tickets and Holiday Special Event Tickets on the same day?
No. A Special event ticket lets you in at 4 pm for a 7pm start time. Sleep in that day, or relax, so you can get the most out of your Holiday Party!
Holiday parties (one option for Halloween and one option for Christmas) are VERY popular. The dates for your vacation could sell out months in advance. Go ahead and decide ahead of time if you’d like to go to a party and then budget that option in to your vacation.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) is a hard ticket event, so you will need to buy them in addition to your other tickets.
This typically means that there are lower crowds because only those with a MVMCP ticket are able to stay in the park after party time begins but there are still a lot of people!
So yes, you will still have some lines, they will just be more manageable.
During the party, guests have access to special holiday merchandise like Mickey ears, mugs and ornaments. Snow falls on Main Street U.S.A. and guests can snack on unlimited cookies and hot chocolate at kiosks around the park. It is absolutely HOLIDAY MAGIC!
And most importantly, you’ll be able to see your favorite characters dressed in their holiday best, as well as characters that only make an appearance once a year, just for the party!
Jack Skellington dressed as Sandy Claws, Nick and Judy from Zootopia, Princess Elena and the Seven Dwarfs. Plus, you’ll see the traditional gang dressed in their holiday best for meet and greets and the parades. It’s amazing.
PRO TIP: Can’t go to the Holiday Party? *SOME* Characters out and about will have on festive outfits! This picture below was taken at DinoLand in Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Tip 4- Or, Skip the Holiday Party and do this themed Character Meal Instead
Over in Hollywood Studios is one of the best kept secrets! Several Times during the year, Hollywood and Vine Character Meal gets a seasonal overlay.
So at Christmas Time you can meet with Minnie and her crew in their Holiday Best! You get pictures, autographs, hugs and a meal to boot!
This meal is only available for Lunch and Dinner (breakfast is Disney jr. Characters) and you will need a Reservation (plus a park reservations).
Tip 5- Consider the Sit Down Meals over Quick Serve
Every line from to transportation, to shops, to rides is going to be longer!
Save yourself the hassle and make sure to book some Advanced Dining Reservations where you will have a guaranteed sit down meal because there will rarely be seating for walk up requests.
Another option is to utilize the Mobile Ordering Option for Quick Service. This doesn’t mean you won’t wait in line- but it does mean that your line will be shorter and give you opportunities to check out other things while you wait for your food to be made!
REAL TALK: It’s nice to know you have a guaranteed place to eat rather than winging it and crossing your fingers for a table at a quick service place. AND, people tend to get pretty upset after going hard in the parks day after day. Table Service options give you a chance to sit and unwind- which makes the vacation more enjoyable.
Tip 6- Remember that Florida Weather is a little crazy
Orlando typically has pretty pleasant weather during the holidays. We’re talking like mid 70’s on average.
Just because it’s typical doesnt mean it’s guaranteed!
Florida can be 80 degrees for Thanksgiving or it can be 40, it really is a gamble.
The best suggestion is to dress in layers. Temps are usually high during the day and get chilly as the sun sets. T-shirts and jeans with a hoodie are good choices, if you don’t want to carry around a backpack with extra clothes that is.
You might want to take along a rain poncho for those unexpected rain showers! Need to know more about the rain? I’ve got a rain guide for Disney that will help you with planning!
And don’t let the weather get you down! One year I went to Mickeys Christmas Party and it RAINED. Yep, no fun fake snow for us! But we made the best of it and still enjoyed our night. Sometimes you just have to roll with the weather.
Tip 7- Take advantage of the Disney Resorts
Whether you are staying on or off property, carve out some time to visit the Walt Disney World Resorts.
This is a fun and free way to add some holiday cheer to your vacation. Take in all the magic of giant Christmas trees, carolers, holiday decor and life- size gingerbread houses on a self guided tour of these fabulous resorts. Trees are themed accordingly and the atmosphere is so festive.
You can normally find some great holiday displays at these resorts- I’ll update for 2019 when I know exactly which ones have fun displays and activities.
- Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Contemporary Resort
- Beach Club
- Yacht Club
- Wilderness Lodge
- Boardwalk Inn
- Grand Floridian
- Polynesian Village Resort
Tip 8- Park Hours and Max Capacity
Please take note that parks can operate at atypical hours during the holiday season. Magic Kingdom and in the past, Animal Kingdom as well, will close early on party nights.
This means that guests without MVMCP event tickets will not get a full park day, as it will close at 6pm. Those nights will not have a “Happily Ever After” fireworks show either.
Check WDW’s website for the party schedule and plan you park days accordingly.
The other thing is the parks reaching Max Capacity. If you stay on property you are guaranteed a park visit each day of your stay- but they dont specify which one. On the major holidays it’s totally expected for the parks to be filled by lunch time.
NOTE: Don’t forget to make your park reservations ahead of time! These are separate from tickets, seperate from hotel, separate from dining. These are a NEW option that some people are unaware of.
Tip 9- Indulge in the Holiday Treats
What’s the holidays without a little indulgence? Disney foodie pros love to hit the parks in search of new and classic seasonal treats.
It’s easy to go for a typical Mickey shaped pretzel or bucket of popcorn, but why not try some festive food to enjoy in the beautifully decorated parks? Here’s a small list of favorites from last year.
- Peppermint Soft-Serve- Storybook Treats, Magic Kingdom
- Cookie Butter Milkshake- Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies, Magic Kingdom
- Sugar Frosted Fruit Bites- Pretzel Palooza, Hollywood Studios
- Prep and Landing Gingerbread Cupcake- Multiple places in Hollywood Studios including ABC Commissary
- Feliz Navidad Nachos-Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe, Magic Kingdom
- Glace au Pain d’Epices (Gingerbread ice cream with gingerbread crumbles)- L’Artisans des Glaces, Epcot
With these tips you’re bound to have a holly, jolly holiday time at the most magical place on Earth!
Are you going to Disney World at the end of the year? Let me know what you’re excited to experience in the comments below.