By Guest Blogger Liliane Opsomer, co-author of "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids"
At Disney’s Hollywood studios, the park is dressed for the season, but the big attraction here is the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Millions -- yes, millions -- of lights decorate the buildings on the Streets of America, and snow machines provide the perfect holiday atmosphere. There is no additional fee to see the display, but be prepared for huge crowds.
A little background: Jennings Osborne of Little Rock, Arkansas, began putting up Christmas lights on his house about 15 years ago and expanded his display by buying the two houses next to his home. As his collection grew, so did the displeasure of his neighbors. Eventually the matter was brought to court, and in 1994 the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that his houses, with their 3 million lights, were a public nuisance. The Walt Disney Company brought Osborne’s Christmas Lights to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 1995 and has a special agreement with him to keep the display.
Every year, Disney seems to add something new to the display and this year is no exception. Santa Goofy greets guest in “Goofy’s Winter Wonderland” area on the Streets of America. In addition, a new song has been added to the dancing light musical sequence. The show runs through January 6, 2013.
At the Animal Kingdom, don’t miss Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade. The park has festive holiday decorations and a gigantic Christmas tree with carolers performing throughout the day. At Camp Minnie-Mickey, kids can meet Santa Goofy and other favorite Disney characters all dressed in their holiday finest. If you don’t mind the lines, this is the perfect place for taking holiday photographs. The Jingle Jungle Parade runs through January 2, 2013.
Downtown Disney features holiday decor the atmosphere is festive, with special window dressings at shops and restaurants. If you are looking for a perfect Christmas card, Downtown Disney is the place to go. Santa appears in his chalet at Downtown Disney Marketplace, and you can take pictures with your own camera or use PhotoPass. For a less classical picture, Santa Goofy appears in the chalet Dec. 25–Jan. 3. Stop by Guest Relations to get the daily schedule.
The holiday decorations at the Walt Disney resorts are attractions in their own right. Generally speaking, each resort incorporates its theme into its holiday finery. At Port Orleans Resort, for example, expect Mardi Gras colors in the trees, while the Yacht Club has trees adorned with miniature sailboats. At the Beach Club, poinsettias and a gingerbread carousel are the big draw.
For the mother of all Christmas trees, make sure to visit the Grand Floridian Resort, where a five-story tree dominates the lobby, flanked by a gingerbread house. Don’t miss the free daily gingerbread house-decorating classes. A Grand Floridian pastry chef is at hand to give tips and tell you all about the making of the gingerbread house. The presentation concludes with guests receiving a free recipe brochure and a taste of freshly made gingerbread. For a more natural approach, visit the Wilderness Lodge and the Animal Kingdom Lodge. An absolute must is a visit to Fort Wilderness Campground. Guests go all out and decorate their campsite for the holidays, make sure to stop at loop 700 and admire “The Castle Guy’s” creation and show. This year Dave and his wife, Dee, are at the campground through Dec. 26. The show runs continuously every night from 6 p.m. till 10 p.m. Seeing is believing!
During December, Disney offers 25-minute “sleigh” rides through the woods from the Fort Wilderness Campground. (The horse-drawn vehicle is wheeled but made to look like a red sleigh, complete with sleigh bells!) The rides are offered every 30 minutes 5:30–9:30 p.m., departing from Crockett’s Tavern at Fort Wilderness Campground. The cost is $60 per sleigh. (Each sleigh can accommodate up to four adults or two adults plus up to three children age 9 and under.) You can book up to 180 days in advance by calling (407) WDW-play.
If you’re staying at a Walt Disney resort over Christmas, check with the concierge to see what holiday event your particular resort might be offering. Happenings can range from carolers, brass bands and country singers to Christmas cookie decorating, visits with Santa and readings of The Night Before Christmas. Many hotels also offer free cookies and punch in their lobbies.
Related: Planning for Disney World & the Orlando Theme Parks in December
Related: Where to Meet Santa at Disney World, SeaWorld & Universal Orlando
Liliane Opsomer is the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. Find her on Facebook.