The holidays are always an extra magical time at Walt Disney World Resort! Magic Kingdom hosts its Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas parties (this year, the event is being replaced by a Disney Very Merriest After Hours event). EPCOT celebrates the season with the International Festival of the Holidays, which begins Nov. 26, 2021. Disney's Hollywood Studios offers Sunset Seasons Greetings and a festive holiday meal with Minnie and friends at Hollywood & Vine. Comparatively speaking, Disney's Animal Kingdom has historically lagged a tad behind the other parks in terms of holiday celebrations, though the park introduced more holiday decor and entertainment throughout all of its lands in 2019, some of which is returning for 2021!
We loved interacting with the winter animal puppets again after their absence in 2020. Penguins, foxes, polar bears and more come to life as part of the Merry Menagerie, which greets guests in Discovery Island. The Festive Flotillas make their return from last year, including one for Jolly Old Saint Nick himself. Plus you can enjoy live entertainment in Africa and Asia, and end the night with seasonal Tree of Life Awakenings. If you're hopping to Disney's Animal Kingdom this holiday season, here's what you can expect!
Festive Flotillas During the Holidays at Disney's Animal Kingdom
The Animal Kingdom reopening introduced flotillas as a way to see Disney characters from a safe distance inside the park. To spread holiday cheer, most of the flotillas receive a holiday overlay, and best of all, Santa Claus has his own boat!
Mickey exchanges his khaki safari shirt with a bright red shirt, adding a tie and garland on his hat. Minnie is sporting a holiday scarf, and Pluto has a red and green bow. They travel in style on a boat decorated for the 50th-anniversary celebration.
Goofy and Chip 'n' Dale add reindeer antlers and Christmas lights to their Donald's Dino Bash! outfits. Meanwhile, Donald, Daisy and either Scrooge McDuck or Launchpad McQuack are all dressed in their holiday best. The Discovery Island Drummers beat their drums to holiday tunes and are dressed in white for the wintry occasion. You may also see the other flotillas featuring Pocahontas and Meeko or Timon and Rafiki, but those do not have holiday overlays.
The festive flotillas circle around the entirety of Discovery River, so you can see them pretty much anywhere along the river. They hoppen about once an hour. There is no set schedule, but you can check the My Disney Experience app to see the timeframe for when each one is available. For example, Santa's flotilla can be seen anytime between 9:45 a.m. and 5 p.m., while Chip 'n' Dale's flotilla only runs in the mornings from 8:15 a.m. to 12 p.m. Times and characters may vary, so it's best to check the app. They do not run during Disney KiteTails performances, so you would likely see them during the second half of the hour once the show is over.
If the Avatar Flight of Passage line is not long, our favorite spot to watch the flotillas is along the boardwalk bridge that connects Pandora and Port of Harambe, as it gets low and close to the water. Our other favorite spot is near the former Rivers of Light stadium, which is currently being used as seating for Disney KiteTails. Specifically, we prefer the bridge that connects Expedition Everest and Finding Nemo — The Musical theater. While it's high above the water, you have a good vantage point of the flotillas coming down the river, and it's close to where they come and go, so you may even see two boats cruise by each other. If you want to multitask, Flame Tree Barbecue also has some seating right by the water where the flotillas pass by. Once you see one flotilla, stick around because they closely follow each other. We saw four flotillas within 10 minutes!
Christmas Decor at Disney's Animal Kingdom
You can't miss the giant Christmas tree in front of the park entrance! It dons unique nature-inspired ornaments, including animal masks and golden leaves. And what's a Christmas tree without presents underneath? See how many Disney animal characters are represented (even Stitch!).
As the first land you see once you enter the park, the holiday decorations begin as you walk over the bridge into Discovery Island. The village is in the middle of celebrating the winter season, so you'll see lots of sparkling white holiday decorations. Animal-inspired luminaries line the rooftops ... we didn't see any frogs, but we love the colorful patterns!
Discovery Island comes to life with life-sized, artisan-sculpted puppets of winter animals that include reindeer, foxes, polar bears, penguins and more. These "Merry Menagerie" puppets are accompanied by serenading musicians, and they interact with guests to create a fun and festive atmosphere. We loved how adorable they were, and we were even able to reach out to pet them.
Tree of Life Awakenings
At the heart of Discovery Island, the Tree of Life awakens to tell a special series of holiday tales. Each story is told in a unique artistic style, complete with heartwarming holiday-inspired musical scores. The Beacon of Magic projections for the 50th anniversary alternate with the holiday Tree of Life Awakenings.
Keep in mind that the projections only hoppen once it gets dark enough (nowadays, it's usually completely dark after 6 p.m.). If the park closes earlier than sunset, you will not be able to see these shows.
In 2019, all of the Disney characters from Donald’s Dino-Bash! celebrated the holidays at Animal Kingdom. Donald Duck, Daisy, Goofy, Launchpad McQuack and Scrooge McDuck had fun holiday decor and accessories at their meet-and-greet locations. At night, Chip ‘n’ Dale hosted the Holiday Hoopla Dance Party with plenty of fun and interactive games. With character interactions still taking place from afar right now, the Dino-Bash fun is part of the festive flotillas. The land is decorated with Christmas trees and a giant snowman.
In Anandapur, the theater district is decorated for Diwali, which is the holiday festival of lights in India. Glowing flowers and lanterns light up the pathway between Anandapur Theater and the waterfront stage. Chakranadi plays the sitar at the waterfront stage on the hour from noon to 5 p.m.
In the village of Harambe, the inspiration of western traditions blends with the colors and textiles of African celebrations. The lively Tam Tam Drummers are back, and they perform on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tad and Lily had such a blast dancing along in the audience! Meanwhile, over at the Tusker House, Mickey Mouse and friends usually spread holiday cheer during their character meal.
Last but not least, the expats living and working on Pandora brought a bit of Christmas spirit to their home on the moon. Stop by Pongu Pongu to see a display of kitschy decor that’s made up of vintage pieces from Earth, along with items crafted from materials indigenous to Pandora. Pandora is already an amazing land to see at night with its bioluminescent plants … it's exciting to see some Christmas decor in that mix!
Are you excited about the Merry Menagerie and festive flotillas at Animal Kingdom? What Christmas decorations are you looking most forward to?