It's the most wonderful time of the year, aka the holidays at Walt Disney World! From dazzling Cinderella Castle projections to characters dressed in their holiday best during festive cavalcades, there's nothing quite like Christmas at Disney World. The 2020 holiday season looked a little different than years' past, thanks to health and safety measures put in place at the time. (You can see the current modified safety measures in our Disney World reopening guide.) But for 2021, some of the holiday festivities that didn't hoppen in 2020 are returning, such as fireworks and Disney Resort hotel gingerbread displays!
The holiday season at Walt Disney World Resort will officially begin Nov. 12, as it coincides with Disney World's 50th Anniversary Celebration, and usually ends after the first week in January. For extra early fun, the new "Disney Very Merriest After Hours" event debuts Nov. 8! Special holiday projections return to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom beginning Nov. 12, too, as well as the popular EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays, which begins Nov. 26. If you're planning on experiencing Disney World Christmas events in 2021, you'll want to take note of all the special holiday hoppenings inside the parks. Lucky for you, we've rounded them all up in one post! Make sure to share this post with friends and family — the more, the merrier.
Best Time to Visit | Holiday Decorations | Magic Kingdom Christmas Events | EPCOT Christmas Events | Disney's Hollywood Studios Christmas Events | Disney's Animal Kingdom Christmas Events | Disney Springs Christmas Events
Best Time to Visit Walt Disney World Resort During the Holidays
Before we dive into the merriment, let's start with perhaps the most important topic: The best time to visit during Christmas at Disney World. Many people plan their visits to Disney World at Christmas years in advance. The 2020 season was, ahem, special, to put it mildly, and while many people who had already planned trips had decided "not this year," many are now thinking "let's go to Disney World!" With official dates now announced, we highly recommend you start thinking about purchasing tickets and reserve your park now! While capacity is increasing, park pass reservations are here to stay, so you will need to pick which park you'll visit each day of your trip ahead of time.
In general, we think any time you can visit Disney World is a good time to visit Disney World. We're always excited when we've got our bags packed and are headed to the Most Magical Place on Earth. Although, there are better times to visit than others during the holiday season. The busiest days of the year happen around Disney World holidays. In terms of crowds, here are the busiest days of the season:
- The week of Thanksgiving, including Thanksgiving Day and the Friday after Thanksgiving
- The week of Christmas, including Christmas Day
- The week of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day
If you can experience Disney World Christmas events on dates other than these, you'll be in better shape. If you can't, fear not! You'll definitely still have fun, as long as you do a little pre-planning to maximize your trip.
Here is a short list of more required reading if you're headed to the parks during these times:
- Your Guide to Disney World at Thanksgiving
- Tips for Managing Disney World Holiday Crowds
- Guide to New Year's Eve at Disney World
Disney World Christmas Decorations in 2021
When does Disney World decorate for Christmas?
Decorating is a big-time affair all over the resort. The Disney World Christmas decorations start going up as early as late October, and each of the parks has its own iconic tree. It may take the elves several weeks to get all of the decorations in place, so keep that in mind if you're visiting very early in November. In 2020, the Holidays at Walt Disney World Resort began Nov. 6, and all of the theme parks, resort hotels and Disney Springs all magically transformed quickly from Halloween to Christmas.
To get an idea of when Disney World Christmas decorations may pop up in 2021 and beyond, Magic Kingdom's decorations went up by Nov. 2, 2020. Over at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom, Christmas decor started showing up in late October and the parks were fully decorated by Nov. 6, 2020.
The resorts, especially the deluxe resorts, get really decorated for Christmas. Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Boardwalk Inn Hotel, Disney's Wilderness Lodge and Disney's Beach and Yacht Clubs all typically have spectacular, oversized gingerbread displays. While these incredible gingerbread displays weren't available in 2020, select displays will return for 2021! The resorts also feature magnificent (and often gigantic) Christmas trees, each decorated in-theme with the resorts. While there isn't a gingerbread display at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, its tree is massive and absolutely spectacular. Select resort restaurants will also be offering holiday menus and specialty food and drink.
No matter where you're staying, expect some gorgeous holiday decor to fit your resort. But word to the wise: Be sure to book a Disney Resort hotel for the holidays as early as possible!
When does Disney take down Christmas decorations?
The decorations in all of the parks and at the resorts typically start coming down during the first week in January (though you may still hear Christmas songs and see some decorations after that). Disney Christmas decorations started coming down by Jan. 5, 2020, and were completely gone after the Disney Marathon Weekend, which took place through Jan. 12. This season, the Marathon will take place Jan. 5 to Jan. 9, 2022.
Disney World Christmas Events at the Parks
Finding Santa at Disney World for Christmas 2021
Be on the lookout for Santa during Disney World holiday events! He or his stand-in, Santa Goofy, are typically in the parks starting at the end of November through the end of December. While 2020 was toadally different for all of us, Santa Claus still came to town! He made pop-up appearances at all four theme parks, plus Disney Springs (so be good for goodness sake!).
While scheduled parades and traditional character meet and greets did not take place in 2020, all-new character experiences continued at each of the theme parks, including holiday promenades at EPCOT, merry motorcades at Disney's Hollywood Studios, festive flotillas at Disney's Animal Kingdom and character cavalcades at Magic Kingdom. We don't know for sure yet if the holiday cavalcades will return throughout the day at Magic Kingdom because of the new After Hours event, but you can bet Santa will be around the Most Magical Place on Earth! It is confirmed that Santa and other characters will appear in motorcades at Hollywood Studios and festive flotillas at Animal Kingdom.
Magic Kingdom Christmas Events in 2021
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (New for 2021: Disney Very Merriest After Hours)
New for 2021, Disney is debuting Disney Very Merriest After Hours! The event will include four hours of holiday festivities, including themed characters throughout the park, special treats, ride overlays, castle projections, holiday music and decor (including Snowfall on Main Street, U.S.A.) and, most importantly, the return of holiday fireworks with Minnie's Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks! The After Hours event will have a limited number of tickets to allow for lower wait times for attractions. This special ticketed event will take place from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on select nights, starting Nov. 8 through Dec. 21, and will replace Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party in 2021. Event guests can enter the park as early as 7 p.m. and the event tickets do not require an additional day theme park ticket or Disney Park Pass reservation. Tickets will go on sale in August, with a priority booking window for Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests.
Remember those special, unscheduled character cavalcades we mentioned earlier? At Magic Kingdom in 2020, those included Disney favorites dressed for the occasion, plus holiday friends such as gingerbread men, elves and reindeer. The three new, holiday-themed cavalcades included the following characters:
- Mickey's Holiday Cavalcade: Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, Wendy, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Geppetto, Mad Hatter, Alice, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Mary Poppins and Bert
- Santa's Christmas Cavalcade: Santa, his elves and a herd of reindeer
- Goofy's Scrumptious Cavalcade: Goofy, Max Goof, Clarabelle Cow, gingerbread men and elves
- Holiday Trolley: The Dapper Dans, alternating with Eeyore, Piglet and Rabbit
In addition to the special Christmas cavalcades, the Toy Soldiers joined the Main Street Philharmonic, marching along to Yuletide musical favorites. The Disney Princess Cavalcade also featured a holiday overlay with silver garland and festive dresses. These cavalcades happened randomly through the day during the 2020 season, though they have not yet been confirmed for 2021.
In 2020, Disney debuted new rotating seasonal projection effects on Cinderella Castle, including a Christmas sweater and traditional red, green and gold ornaments. Once it gets dark, four different designs transition about every 15 minutes throughout the night. The projections take the place of the Castle Dream Lights. We recommend catching the projections in passing rather than waiting in front of the castle through a complete cycle to see all of them, as it is not a projection show. The projections are confirmed to return to Magic Kingdom on most nights, alternating with the new Beacon of Magic transformation celebrating the 50th anniversary.
For more details about treats, merchandise and more, check out our guide to the holiday festivities at Magic Kingdom.
For the past few years, the homesick skippers of the Jungle Cruise have decorated for Disney World holiday events! You'll find plenty of yuletide cheer and punny jokes as you board your boat. As a holiday tradition, you can cruise through the jungle aboard the Jingle Cruise!
EPCOT Christmas Events in 2021
EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays
Those of you wanting to learn more about the different ways that countries around the world celebrate the holiday season should visit EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays. This special event will run Nov. 26 through Dec. 30, 2021. The holiday traditions of the world's many countries come alive through music and story. Holiday Kitchens will return with festive food and drinks, as well as the fan-favorite Cookie Stroll and performances by the Voices of Liberty. We've got a full guide to EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays for your planning pleasure. Some experiences were modified in 2020 to maintain proper health and safety measures, and we look forward to learning more about this year's festival.
Holiday Kitchens at EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays
Food is one of the best things about Disney World holiday events! Snack and sample holiday cuisine from around the world at global marketplaces. Enjoy roasted turkey and tender pork loin at American Holiday Table, tostadas and horchata margaritas in Mexico and so much more.
EPCOT Candlelight Processional (Not Confirmed Yet for 2021)
One of the most joyful Disney World holiday events is the EPCOT Candlelight Processional. This annual event is part of EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays and pairs celebrity narrators with a full choir and a 50-piece orchestra in a stirring retelling of the story of Christmas. The show takes place three times each evening, and it does fill up. If you want guaranteed seating, purchase a Candlelight Processional Dining Package. This includes lunch and/or dinner and a three-course meal or full buffet, depending on the dining location. The Candlelight Processional was canceled in 2020, and there's no word yet on if it will return for 2021.
Disney's Hollywood Studios Christmas Events in 2021
Minnie's Seasonal Dining at Hollywood & Vine
Minnie Mouse will once again host a yuletide gathering for all her friends at Hollywood & Vine. Santa Goofy will return, along with Minnie and more in their holiday best. The holiday version in 2020 began Nov. 6 – we expect a similar start date for 2021.
Sunset Seasons Greetings
Sunset Seasons Greetings lit up Tinseltown returns with its colorful projections and laser effects! As snow falls, Sunset Boulevard twinkles and favorite faces come to life. Look above as the billboards begin to move into motion and tell a tale — brought to you by iconic characters sharing their love for the season. Look down to see the Hollywood Tower Hotel come to "light" as it tells the stories of these characters. Catch the show, which runs intermittently throughout the night and will alternate with the new Beacon of Magic projections for the 50th anniversary.
Catch Santa cruising down Hollywood Boulevard in a festive motorcade! And be sure to check out For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration for a special festive finale featuring Olaf.
"Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!"
Elves Wayne and Lanny from ABC's animated special "Prep & Landing," are looking for a missing Santa! This larger-than-life nighttime spectacular features scenes from Disney films on the buildings and rooftops of the Chinese Theater. Some of the Disney films included are "Mickey's Christmas Carol," "Beauty and the Beast," "Pluto's Christmas Tree," "Bambi," "Cinderella," Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and more. Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! did not return in 2020 and has not been confirmed for 2021 yet.
Toy Story Land Holiday Fun
As if we weren't already in love with Toy Story Land, the park added more Christmas-y fun there too! Galactic holiday tunes on Alien Swirling Saucers, Christmas decor and special character garb deck the halls of Toy Story Land during the season. Be sure to keep an ear out for some fun holiday audio on Slinky Dog Dash ... it's almost as if Slinky Dog is wearing sleigh bells! Who needs Rudolph?
Echo Lake Holiday Decor
Be on the lookout for the extra-large ornaments, colorful garland and a giant Christmas tree centered on the water at Echo Lake. Even Dinosaur Gertie is dressed for the occasion with a dino-sized Santa hat. So cute.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Christmas Events in 2021
The holiday highlights at Disney's Animal Kingdom are the festive flotillas, which are returning for 2021! Catch Mickey and Minnie, along with all of their friends, cruising down the Discovery River in their holiday best. Santa Claus himself is making a special appearance by boat before he switches it out with his sleigh for his trip around the world on Christmas Eve. Find out more on what you can expect at Animal Kingdom during the holidays.
In 2019, more Christmas festivities came to Disney's Animal Kingdom than ever before. Each land featured special decorations or entertainment. Most of the decorations returned in 2020, but the entertainment, such as the winter animal puppet interactions and special performances by Bollywood Beats and the Harambe Village Acrobats, did not take place due to social distancing. These have not been confirmed for 2021 yet, but we're crossing our froggy fingers.
On Discovery Island, we admired the sparkling white decor against vibrant animal-inspired luminaries and wireframe lanterns. At night, the Tree of Life awakens for special holiday-themed stories, which will alternate with the new Beacons of Magic projections. (Note: The awakenings may not be available if the park closes before it can get dark enough for the projections.) Meanwhile, in Asia, the theatre district is decorated in celebration of Diwali, the holiday festival of lights in India. Even in Pandora, Christmas found its way to the alien land with colorful lights hanging from Pongu Pongu!
Disney Springs Holiday Events in 2021
Don't froget about Disney Springs as you plan your holiday hopping tour! The entertainment, shopping and dining area is filled with festive decor, fun photo-ops and the chance to say hello to Santa (who traveled with Mrs. Claus by pontoon boat in 2020!). Make sure to take a stroll down the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail, which returns for 2021. The trail showcases decadently decorated, Disney-themed trees, and if you participate in the Christmas Tree Stroll scavenger hunt, you'll receive a surprise! In previous years, you could also find holiday carolers, Toy Soldier stilt walkers and other performers.
Guests visiting areas within Town Center will encounter magical snowfall in the evening. Jock Lindsey will once again turn his hangar bar into Jock Lindsey’s Holiday Bar, complete with delightful holiday décor and a delicious limited-time menu filled with festive favorites.
Are you excited about spending the holidays at Disney World? There are so many Disney World Christmas events that you may find it's hard to pack them all in! Still, it's so wonderful to try. Let us know what you are most looking forward to and any questions you have in the comments below!