Celebrating the Holidays at the Walt Disney World Resort

While any time of year is wonderful to visit the Walt Disney World Resort, visiting during the holiday season - from November to just past New Year's Day - is just a bit more magical thanks to all of the holiday decor, holiday-themed food, and special events.

Are you celebrating the holidays at Disney World this year?Are you celebrating the holidays at Disney World this year?

Last Thanksgiving I had the chance to spend a week at Disney World with my family and I've decided that Thanksgiving week is now my absolute favorite time to visit! Not only can you enjoy the holiday decorations, but celebrating Thanksgiving with my family in my favorite place is something I recommend.

Since the parks are already decorating for the holidays, and since Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away (!!) it seems like a good time to talk about visiting Disney World during the holiday season.

The Magic Kingdom at the holidaysThe Magic Kingdom at the holidays

Let's talk about the food first. If you're making plans to visit for Thanksgiving and you haven't made any Advance Dining Reservations yet, there's still hope. Some restaurants book up at that 180 day mark but others might still have seating times available.

When I tried to make my 180-day ADRs, Whispering Canyon Cafe at Disney's Wilderness Lodge was already booked for the entire week of Thanksgiving 2015. We ended up dining at Chef Mickey's on Turkey Day and while it wasn't awful, it wasn't my favorite meal either. Next time we visit during Thanksgiving we're doing a "non-traditional" Turkey Day meal.

Thanksgiving dinner at Chef Mickey'sThanksgiving dinner at Chef Mickey's

Many of the Disney World table service restaurants plan traditional holiday meals for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, and a couple even have a New Year's Day meal. If you're looking for information on holiday dining at Disney World, our friends at the Disney Food Blog just published the DFB Guide to the Walt Disney World Holidays 2016 e-book and it's a great resource for planning your holiday visit.

As much as I love food at the holidays, my favorite thing about visiting during the holidays last year was the decorations. I knew the parks would be decked out for Christmas, but I didn't realize how incredible the decorations would be.

Christmas tree inside the American Adventure rotundaChristmas tree inside the American Adventure rotunda

Sure there were Christmas trees at each theme park and those were gorgeous (even more stunning at night), but the other details were magical too. For me, it is a toss-up between Epcot and the Magic Kingdom for best holiday decorations. I loved seeing World Showcase during the holidays but Cinderella Castle at night was breathtaking.

If you're planning to visit during the holidays this year I would strongly recommend visiting the Magic Kingdom for the Castle lighting show. Yes, it still stars Queen Elsa from Frozen but we have to let it go. ;) Watching Cinderella Castle be transformed in a glittering icy palace is, in a word, amazing.

Queen Elsa lights up Cinderella CastleQueen Elsa lights up Cinderella Castle

Speaking of holiday decorations, I would also recommend visiting the different resort hotels to check out their holiday decor. We stayed at Wilderness Lodge and when we arrived on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and the Christmas tree was not up. However, when we awoke the next morning the huge tree was up in the lobby and it was stunning.

Two of my favorite holiday displays are the gingerbread display at Disney's Contemporary Resort (which will once again feature the Frozen theme this year) and the life-size gingerbread house at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.

Gingerbread house at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & SpaGingerbread house at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

If you're visiting one of those resorts for a meal or just to see the holiday displays, simply hop on the Monorail for a quick trip to the other resort. It is definitely worth an hour or so of your time to check out these displays.

And don't forget about the displays at Disney's Beach Club, Yacht Club, and BoardWalk Inn. Another gorgeous resort Christmas tree can be found at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Each resort also has at least one Christmas tree in the lobby area, themed to the resort.

Christmas tree in the Wilderness Lodge lobbyChristmas tree in the Wilderness Lodge lobby

Last year, the highlight of our trip was the evening we spent at Disney's Hollywood Studios seeing the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. I'm still sad that this holiday display is gone. However, there are still some great holiday events at the theme parks including the new Jingle Bell! Jingle BAM! at the Studios, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, Holidays Around the World at Epcot, the Candlelight Processional, and more.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing LightsThe Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Let's talk about the theme parks during the holidays for a minute. We've all seen and heard stories about the crowds on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve and honestly I would avoid the Magic Kingdom on both of those days. However, Thanksgiving 2015 was a bit different.

On Thanksgiving Day last year we had an early morning ADR for breakfast at Be Our Guest and I was expecting a huge crowd at the gates. It was the exact opposite. The park was rather uncrowded that morning and after breakfast we managed to walk on to it's a small world, Haunted Mansion, and several other attractions before traveling to the Animal Kingdom (where we had FastPasses for the morning)

Be Our Guest decorates for the holidays too!Be Our Guest decorates for the holidays too!

Animal Kingdom also had a normal non-holiday crowd level. Again we expected to see huge crowds but we were able to ride the attractions we wanted (with and without FastPass+), and we were able to leave the park a short time after noon for a planned pool afternoon at the resort.

After dinner at Chef Mickey's and a visit to the Grand Floridian's gingerbread house, I decided I wanted to "brave" the Magic Kingdom. On Thanksgiving night. Crazy, right?

I'm happy to report that the crowds were the lowest I experienced all week at any park. I'm not sure if everyone was in a turkey-induced slumber back at their hotel or if the crowd level was a holiday miracle, but we were able to ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train with almost no wait and we also walked right on Pirates of the Caribbean and several other popular attractions.

Magic Kingdom Christmas treeMagic Kingdom Christmas tree

This is not to say that the parks won't be crowded during Thanksgiving week (or any other week during the holidays). The parks were crowded but it was never an unbearable New Year's Eve capacity kind of crowd. The key is to plan ahead, make those FastPass+ selections, make your ADRs at that 180 day mark, and have a backup plan if you can't get the reservations you want.

The holiday season is the perfect time to try a table service restaurant that is often overlooked like Boma or Sanaa at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, or Spice Road Table or Restaurant Marrakesh at Epcot.

Visiting the Walt Disney World Resort during the holiday season from early November until early January is a great way to celebrate with friends and family. Whether you go for the decorations, the food, the merchandise (so much fun holiday merchandise), or the special events, you really can't beat Disney World at the holidays.

Are you making plans to visit Walt Disney World during the holiday season? What are you looking forward to experiencing? Let us know in the comments.

Jon Stallings wrote on Mon, 11/07/2016 - 17:46:

Jon Stallings's picture

We just made our reservations for the week after Thanksgiving next year. We might be staying at Pop Century but the wife saw some photos of the renovated rooms and they look a bit sterile. - Either way this will be our first time at the Word during the Christmas season. Looking forward to all the lights and decorations.

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