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 has been canceled). EPCOT celebrates the season with International Festival of the Holidays, which begins Nov. 27, 2020. Disney's Hollywood Studios offers a character dining experience with Minnie Mouse, Santa Goofy and friends, which kicked off Nov. 6, 2020. Comparatively speaking, Disney's Animal Kingdom has historically lagged a tad behind the other parks in terms of holiday celebrations, though the park introduced brand-new holiday decor and entertainment throughout all of its lands last year.
This year, we were hoppy to see that most of the decorations returned. We did feel the absence of the winter animal puppet interactions and performances from Bollywood Beats and the Harambe Village Acrobats, but we hope those will return in future years! Even though we missed those holiday hoppenings, we LOVED the new Festive Flotillas, including one for Jolly Old Saint Nick himself. If you're hopping to Disney's Animal Kingdom this holiday season, here is 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 received a holiday overlay and best of all, Santa Claus has his own boat! While passing by, he asked Tad and Lily directly what animals they had seen on their safari ride.
Mickey has exchanged 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.
Goofy and Chip 'n' Dale have added 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.
The festive flotillas circle around the entirety of Discovery River, so you can see them pretty much anywhere along the river. While they do appear randomly, you can check the My Disney Experience app to see the time frame for when each one is available. For example, Santa's flotilla can be seen anytime between 10:15 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., while Chip 'n' Dale's flotilla runs from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. You may also see the other flotillas featuring Pocahontas and Meeko or Timon and Rafiki, but those do not have holiday overlays.
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. (However, this area is closed off if the Flight of Passage line extends out onto the bridge.) Our other favorite spot is the former Rivers of Light stadium seating areas. They're open for you to sit and wait for as many flotillas as you'd like. If you want to multitask, Flame Tree Barbecue also has some seating right by the water where the flotillas pass by.
Christmas Decor at Disney's Animal Kingdom
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! The luminaries returned this year, along with garland and wreaths.
Last year, Discovery Island came to life with life-sized, artisan-sculpted puppets of winter animals that included reindeer, foxes, polar bears, penguins and more. These "Merry Menagerie" puppets were accompanied by serenading musicians, and they interacted 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. Unfortunately, they did not make an appearance, but we've kept them in this guide as something to look forward to again in the future.
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. Just like Santa preparing for his annual ride across the world, the Disney Parks Live Entertainment team worked hard for months last year to create these holiday-themed awakenings. In between the awakenings, the Tree of Life glistens and glimmers with the magic of nature and spirit of the holidays.
Keep in mind that the projections only hoppen once it gets dark enough (nowadays, it's usually 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 taking place from afar right now, the Dino-Bash fun is part of the festive flotillas.
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. Last year's special Bollywood Beats performance captured the spirit of Diwali. The dancers did not return this year, but you can still marvel at the lanterns!
In the village of Harambe, the inspiration of western traditions blends with the colors and textiles of African celebrations. Last year, the entertainment groups who usually perform in the area, such as the Harambe Village Acrobats, introduced holiday-inspired enhancements, including new costumes and music. Meanwhile, over at the Tusker House, Mickey Mouse and friends spread holiday cheer during their character meal. With social distancing in mind, neither are taking place this year.
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 Christmas decor in that mix!
Are you excited about the new festive flotillas at Animal Kingdom? What Christmas decorations are you looking most forward to?