It's the most wonderful time of the year, aka the holidays at Walt Disney World! From brand-new Cinderella Castle projections to characters dressed in their holiday best during festive cavalcades, there's nothing quite like Christmas at Disney World. This holiday season is going to look a little different than years' past, thanks to new health and safety measures put in place since Disney World has reopened. Two of the biggest events, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and EPCOT Candlelight Processional, will not be hoppening this year, but there are some new additions. Despite all of the changes this year, there's still a whole lot of festive fun at the parks!
Holidays at Walt Disney World Resort typically hoppen from early November to the first week of January. In 2020, the Holidays at Walt Disney World Resort kicked off Nov. 6 and will continue through Dec. 30 (though note that EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays begins Nov. 27). If you're planning on experiencing Disney World Christmas events in 2020, or just want to take in the spectacular Disney Christmas decorations, 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. This year is, ahem, special, to put it mildly, and while many people who had already planned trips have decided "not this year," many more people out there are now thinking "let's go to Disney World!" After all, this is perhaps the one chance you'll have to plan last minute and find availability. That said, we highly recommend you purchase tickets and reserve your park now! Dates are filling up for Disney's Hollywood Studios, and we expect other parks will follow.
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. Better yet, this year will likely see some of the lowest holiday crowds the parks have seen in a while, due to reduced capacity and no Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parties taking place.
Here is a short list of more required reading if you're headed to the parks during these times:
- Your Disney World at Thanksgiving Survival Guide
- Tips for Managing Disney World Holiday Crowds
- Guide to New Year's Eve at Disney World
Disney World Christmas Decorations 2020
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 the month. This year, the Holidays at Walt Disney World Resort began Nov. 6, and all of the theme parks, resort hotels and Disney Springs have already magically transformed.
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 won't be available in 2020, the resorts will still be trimmed to the nines in their holiday best, including magnificent (and often gigantic) Christmas trees. Each of the trees is also 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. While we generally advise guests to resort-hop to take in all of the fun decor, keep in mind a dining reservation may be required to park at the resort. Depending on the resort's capacity, guests without reservations may be redirected to park nearby and walk, or take Walt Disney World transportation to the resort.
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 after the first week in January (though you may still hear Christmas songs and see some decorations after that). Earlier this year, 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. Since the Holidays at Walt Disney World Resort is slated to end Dec. 30, 2020, you can expect decorations to begin coming down shortly thereafter (if they don't disappear magically overnight, much like another holly-jolly fellow we know).
Disney World Christmas Events at the Parks
Finding Santa at Disney World for Christmas 2020
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 is toadally different for all of us, Santa Claus is still coming to town! This year, he has already started making pop-up appearances at all four theme parks, plus Disney Springs, now that the holiday festivities have officially begun (so be good for goodness sake!).
While scheduled parades and traditional character meet and greets won't be taking place in 2020, keep an eye out for all-new character experiences 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.
Get ready to make your list and check it twice (your shopping list, that is!). All around Walt Disney World Resort, keep an eye out for delicious seasonal food offerings and adorable merchandise all around property too.
Magic Kingdom Christmas Events in 2020
Remember those special, unscheduled character cavalcades we mentioned earlier? At Magic Kingdom, these will include Disney favorites dressed for the occasion, plus holiday friends such as gingerbread men, elves and reindeer. The three new, holiday-themed cavalcades include 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 have joined the Main Street Philharmonic, marching along to Yuletide musical favorites. The Disney Princess Cavalcade also features a holiday overlay with silver garland and festive dresses. You can catch these cavalcades on a frequent, rotating basis throughout the daytime (they do not run at night).
As night falls at Magic Kingdom, this year, guests can take in rotating seasonal projection effects on Cinderella Castle, including a Christmas sweater and traditional red, green and gold ornaments. Beginning 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.
For more details about treats, merchandise and more, check out our guide on the 2020 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!
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (Canceled in 2020)
It doesn't get any merrier than Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. These separately ticketed Christmas parties have gotten much busier over the last few years. Still, it shouldn't stop you from missing this major holiday event. You can fill your belly with as much cocoa and cookies as you can manage, and see the characters all dressed up in their Christmas finest! Make sure not to miss Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, Minnie's Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show and Mickey's Most Merriest Celebration castle stage show. This is the only time you can catch this Christmas entertainment at Magic Kingdom during Disney World Christmas events. We've got a whole separate guide just for the party. You'll find tips and the best dates to attend for future years, since sadly, 2020's event has been canceled.
After the last Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party of the year, Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade is usually shown daily at Magic Kingdom for park guests in the afternoon through the end of December. It's just that extra present for everyone celebrating their holiday at the Most Magical Place on Earth! While Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade won't be hoppening in 2020, plenty of holiday cheer can still be found!
EPCOT Christmas Events in 2020
EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays
Those of you wanting to learn more about the different ways that countries around the world celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza should visit EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays. This special event typically begins the week of Thanksgiving and runs through late December. The holiday traditions of the world's many countries come alive through music and story. You'll find different storytellers performing several times daily and can hear about Père Noël in France, La Befana in Italy, Las Posadas in Mexico and Father Christmas in the U.K. Of course, you can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus at the American Adventure Pavillion. We've got a full guide to EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays for your planning pleasure. Some experiences may be modified this year to maintain proper health and safety measures, but the festival is still taking place this year, beginning Nov. 27.
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 (Canceled in 2020)
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 has been canceled for 2020, but we're hopful it will return in 2021.
Disney's Hollywood Studios Christmas Events in 2020
Minnie's Seasonal Dining at Hollywood & Vine
Minnie Mouse will be hosting a yuletide gathering for all her friends at Hollywood & Vine at starting Nov. 6. Santa Goofy will be there, along with Minnie and more in their holiday best.
Sunset Seasons Greetings
Sunset Seasons Greetings lit up Tinseltown last year, 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. Sunset Seasons Greetings has returned in 2020, but in a modified format with only the projections on the tower.
"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! is not returning in 2020.
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.
Be sure to make your way to the back of the park for your Christmas shopping at "It's a Wonderful Shop." The shop offers Christmas and other holiday keepsakes year-round.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Christmas Events in 2020
The holiday highlights at Disney's Animal Kingdom are the brand-new festive flotillas! 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.
Last year, more Christmas festivities came to Disney's Animal Kingdom than ever before. Each land featured special decorations or entertainment. Most of the decorations have returned, but the entertainment, such as the winter animal puppet interactions and special performances by Bollywood Beats and the Harambe Village Acrobats, is not taking place due to social distancing.
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. (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 2020
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's traveling with Mrs. Claus by pontoon boat!). Make sure to take a stroll down the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail, which is spread out throughout Disney Springs this year. The trail showcases decadently decorated, Disney-themed trees, and if you participate in the Christmas Tree Stroll scavenger hunt, you'll receive a surprise! You may also find holiday carolers, Toy Soldier stilt walkers and other performers.
In 2020, guests visiting areas within Town Center, West Side and The Landing will encounter magical snowfall in the evening. And Jock Lindsey will once again be turning 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!