The most wonderful time of the year at Disney World is, without a doubt, the Christmas season!
All of the resorts and theme parks are decked out with Christmas trees and holiday decorations.
There are tons of treats featuring your favorite holiday flavors like gingerbread, peppermint, caramel, cranberry, and horchata.
And given that it’s Disney World, the entertainment is top notch with holiday storytellers, Christmas-themed stage shows, fireworks, and more.
It’s almost overwhelming trying to decide what to do at Disney World for Christmas. But that’s where I come in!
In this blog post, I’ll go over everything there is to look forward to during Christmas at Disney World so you can decide what to add to your itinerary.
Ok, no more delays – let’s get right into it!
At this two-day event guests where their finest outfits, often in vintage styles, to the parks. It’s hosted by a third party, so you won’t see it advertised on Disney’s website, but it’s definitely a growing tradition.
Every year, there are two Dapper Day events at Disney World, one during the holiday season and another in the Spring.
This year, Dapper Day takes place on December 2-3, 2023. On December 2nd, you’ll see guests in their best at Hollywood Studios, while on December 3rd, you’ll see them at Animal Kingdom.
You’re probably wondering…when does Disney World decorate for the holidays?
Well, there’s not date set in stone, but in general, decorations start to go up 1-2 days after the last date for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.
But, it takes time for the decor to go up, a few weeks in fact!
The decor at Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom will be up by the time the first date for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party occurs.
Epcot will have a little bit by then, but they don’t finish until around Thanksgiving, give or take, as their holiday festival doesn’t start until the day after Thanksgiving.
The resorts start to decorate on a rolling basis, as well. For example, I visited the week before Thanksgiving and stayed at Port Orleans Riverside, which did not have any holiday decor up.
Some of the deluxe resorts were fully decorated, such as the Beach Club and Grand Floridian, but others weren’t, such as Animal Kingdom Lodge and BoardWalk Inn.
All in all, you can expect the decor to be finished right around Thanksgiving week. So if you want the full experience, I recommend that week being the earliest you go.
All of the resorts at Disney World go all-out with their Christmas decor. However, several of the deluxe resorts take the cake with their massive gingerbread displays.
The Grand Floridian gingerbread house is perhaps the best known, but there are also displays at the Contemporary Resort, BoardWalk Inn, Yacht Club Resort, Beach Club Resort, and Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House.
Be sure to pop over to these resorts to oogle at the decor, try some treats, and get your photos taken!
Starting around mid-November, there’s a variety of Christmas-themed entertainment at all of the parks that comes along with regular park admission.
At Animal Kingdom, keep an eye out for the Merry Menagerie, a roaming puppet performance featuring arctic animal puppets like penguins, foxes, reindeer, and arctic birds.
The artistry that goes into both constructing and performing with the puppets is super impressive!
Next, over at Hollywood Studios is Sunset Seasons Greetings, a nighttime projection show on the Hollywood Tower Hotel featuring holiday tunes and snoap, aka fake snow.
New this year at Magic Kingdom is the Frozen Holiday Surprise stage show in front of Cinderella’s Castle.
As much as I miss the “dream lights” on the castle, I really enjoy this new show, hosted by Olaf. It has a lot of really funny and heartwarming moments featuring Olaf, Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff.
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
Right after Thanksgiving Day is the start of the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. This fun Christmas festival includes festive food and drink, holiday storytellers, and a fun cookie challenge.
For more tips on visiting Epcot during Christmas, check out my holiday festival guide.
Rides at Disney World with holiday overlays
Another fun way Disney World celebrates Christmas are the holiday decorations that adorn a handful of rides throughout the parks.
At Epcot, Living with the Land is transformed with holiday lights throughout the ride during the nighttime.
Next, over at Magic Kingdom, there are holiday lights and decorations set up throughout Tomorrowland Speedway.
Space Mountain adds red and green lights and holiday music as it transforms into Space Mountain: Holiday Run.
Finally, Jungle Cruise transforms into Jingle Cruise, with holiday decor throughout the ride, queue, and boats.
Fort Wilderness Campground Christmas decor
Speaking of holiday decor at Disney resorts, I highly recommend staying at the Fort Wilderness Campground at least once during the holiday season.
During this time of year, guests break out their own holiday decorations at their campsites, and it’s a bit of a tradition to rent a golf cart and drive around the resort to check it out.
It’s like when you were a kid and your parents would bundle you up in your PJs and drive around all the neighborhoods with the best Christmas lights!
You can also do a horse-drawn holiday sleigh ride around the resort grounds, as well.
Jock Lindsey’s Holiday Bar
Over at Disney Springs, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar transforms into a winter wonderland from top to bottom and even renames itself to Jock Lindsey’s Holiday Bar.
This family-friendly spot has tons of homey holiday appetizers on the menu, as well as festive drinks, and even a boozy hot chocolate flight and a cookie flight.
If you’re visiting during the holiday season, I highly recommend carving out some time to visit Disney Springs and having lunch or dinner here.
For more tips about visiting Disney Springs during the holiday season, check out my Disney Springs Christmas guide.
Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail
Another fun thing to do during Christmas at Disney World is the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll.
All throughout Disney Springs, you’ll find over a dozen elaborated decorated Disney-themed Christmas trees.
This activity is completely free and an excellent activity to do while waiting in the virtual queue to meet Santa Claus at Once Upon a Toy.
If you want to get a sneak peek at the trees, check out my photo tour of this year’s trail.
Holiday food and drink
Walt Disney World has become a bit of a foodie destination, so it’s probably no surprise that they have tons of festive food and drink during the holiday season.
Here are the top holiday treats to try:
- Mickey Mouse gingerbread cookies from Main Street Bakery at Magic Kingdom
- Horchata cold brew coffee from Joffrey’s Coffee locations in Epcot
- Candy cane milkshake with chocolate donut topper from Hollywood Scoops in Hollywood Studios
- Merry Menagerie cupcake from Pizzafari and Restaurantosaurus at Animal Kingdom
- Cookie Vom Krampus and Kris Kringle cookies from Gideon’s Bakehouse in Disney Springs
Minnie’s Holiday Dine at Hollywood & Vine
What’s a Walt Disney World vacation without at least one character meal? This time of year, I recommend Minnie’s Holiday Dine at Hollywood & Vine for a Christmas-themed buffet meal at Hollywood Studios.
The characters, wearing their holiday outfits, will roam around the restaurant so you can grab a photo while you eat in between each one. Plus, you can stop by to meet Santa Goofy when it’s convenient for you!
My family and I did this when we visited Disney World at Christmas a few years back and it was a hit!
Holiday themed Magic Shots
Another fun tradition at Disney World during the Christmas season are holiday themed Magic Shots.
Magic Shots are special elements, like characters, added to photos taken by Disney PhotoPass photographers.
During the holidays, there are special ones available, such as Santa Tinkerbell, snowflakes, Olaf, Stitch bursting out of a gift box, and more.
Disney Jollywood Nights
New in 2023 is a fun after hours Christmas party at Hollywood Studios called Disney Jollywood Nights.
This event is geared toward adults, but open to all ages. It features a fun holiday variety show hosted by Kermit and Miss Piggy, rare character meet-and-greets, a Nightmare Before Christmas sing-along, exclusive food and drink, a midnight showing of Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam!, and more!
To learn more, check out my guide to Jollywood Nights.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
One of my favorite events of the year is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) at Magic Kingdom theme park.
This separately ticketed after hours event is the ultimate family-friendly Christmas extravaganza with free cookies and cocoa, rare character meet-and-greets, stage shows, fireworks, and even a parade.
Plus, there’s exclusive food and drink to try, access to rides, and snoap (aka fake snow)!
To learn more about this event, check out my guide to MVMCP.
Where to meet Santa Claus at Disney World
Santa Claus is definitely working some overtime at Disney World during the weeks leading up to Christmas. You can meet the main man of the season pretty much anywhere around the resort!
At Disney Springs you can meet him at Once Upon a Toy, but be sure to arrive early as you’ll have to join a virtual queue first.
Over at Animal Kingdom, you can see Santa on a character flotilla throughout the day. Check the My Disney Experience app for times.
At Hollywood Studios, you can meet Santa Claus over by PizzeRizzo. Like Disney Springs, this meet-and-greet also operates via virtual queue that you join at the location, rather than in the app.
Next, at Magic Kingdom, Santa Claus has a meet-and-greet at the Liberty Square gazebo, behind the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe.
Lastly, at Epcot you can meet Santa Claus during the Festival of the Holidays. The official meet-and-greet takes place at the Odyssey Pavilion throughout the day.
However, you can also hear holiday stories from Père Noël in the France Pavilion and Father Christmas in the UK Pavilion.
Check the My Disney Experience app for Epcot Santa meet-and-greet or storyteller times.
Week of Christmas at Disney World
Last, but not least, the busiest week of the year is Christmas week at Disney World. And while the parks are bursting with crowds, it’s also extra magical!
Lots of the entertainment from Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is available with regular park admission that week, such as Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks and Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade.
So if you can brave the crowds, visiting Disney World at Christmas does come with lots of perks!
Will you be celebrating Christmas at Disney World this year?
As you can see, there are a ton of things to do at Disney World during the Christmas season.
From holiday show and ride overlays to festive food and meeting Santa Claus, there’s definitely no shortage of holiday cheer here.
So now that you have an idea of what to expect during your visit, what are you looking forward to the most during your Christmas vacation at Disney World? Let’s chat in the comments below!
About the author
Meg Frost is the creator of The Park Pixie, where she covers Disney World, Disney+, and Disney fandom.
She holds an M.A. in Journalism from Northeastern University and B.S. in Communication & American Studies from University of Miami in Florida.