While we are no doubt huge fans of the glitzy tinsel of holiday tradition to be found at Magic Kingdom, there’s a special place in our frog hearts for enjoying the holidays at Epcot. At this park, there is inspirational entertainment true to the meaning of Christmas accompanied by global holiday treats to expand your horizons. The Epcot International Festival of the Holidays 2017, formerly Holidays Around the World, is sure to immerse you in sights, sounds, flavors and stories of celebrations from around the world. We find a November or December day at Epcot to be a reminder of the reason for the season to enjoy with our tadpoles.
Don’t let the name change fool you — the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays offers all of the same great experiences, entertainment and dining as Holidays Around the World. All of your favorites, such as the Candlelight Processional and Holiday Storytellers, return for another year of festivities. The only changes, as far as we saw, were a more ample selection of holiday food and the addition of a kids’ scavenger hunt. The Epcot festival runs from Nov. 19 to Dec. 30. Best of all, it's included with regular park admission!
We hopped on over for the first few days of the very first Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. Despite the Florida heat, Epcot had us dreaming of snowflakes and pine trees with its splendid decorations and seasonal celebrations. We’re here to report back on our favorite tips and treats!
Entertainment at Epcot International Festival of the Holidays 2017
Festive entertainment is abundant at Epcot International Festival of the Holidays 2017. Truly touching performances fill Epcot with its usual multicultural magic, with an extra touch of holiday spirit.
Holiday Storytellers & World Holiday Traditions
Performers bring local holiday traditions to life in their respective countries around World Showcase during Epcot International Festival of the Holidays 2017. These storytellers share the history of their unique, time-honored celebrations from various countries through fun performances. Leap and I jump on any chance to educate our tadpoles while at Walt Disney World, and these performances are an enjoyable way to teach them about other cultures. Your little ones are sure to be intrigued by Julenissen, the mischievous gnome of Norway. Visit Germany to hear the story of the Nutcracker, Mexico to hear the Mariachi band’s take on local Christmas tunes and more. The Storytellers are usually something we enjoy in passing, rather than planning ahead to view them. With the intermittent timing, it is nearly impossible to see them all without hopping all over the place — and your tadpoles might get antsy from listening for that long. However, it can be fun to seek out a certain country from your heritage to learn more about its traditions. Be sure to stop by America to hear the stories of Kwanzaa and Hannukah. (Stroll past the pavilion or pick up a park guide for the times).
Canada: Holiday Voyageurs sing seasonal tunes.
United Kingdom: Father Christmas discusses local holiday traditions.
France: Pere Noel tells a story about the French tradition of children leaving their shoes out for Christmas.
Morocco: A cultural representative tells tales of Moroccan festivals and other traditions.
Japan: The story here is focused on the Japanese New Year, O-Shogatsu.
America: The stories of Kwanzaa and Hannukah are presented by performers. You can also meet the traditional Santa and Mrs. Claus here!
Italy: La Benafa the witch is Italy’s version of Santa Claus, and tells the story of the Epiphany.
Germany: Helga tells us the origin story of the Nutcracker.
China: Dragon dancers excite the crowd to celebrate the New Year.
Norway: Sigrid tells the tale of the gnome Julenissen, who makes an appearance later in the show.
Mexico: Mariachi Cobre delight with festive songs.
The most popular, special entertainment at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays 2017, and Holidays Around the World in years past, is the Candlelight Processional. Each night from Nov.24 to Dec. 30 at 5 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. at American Gardens Theater, a celebrity narrator tells the biblical tale of Christmas. This is the perfect way to remind your tadpoles the reason for the season as you enjoy gorgeous choral pieces from an orchestra and choir performing inspirational songs of hope and joy. This year’s narrators are as follows:
Laurie Hernandez, Nov. 24-26
Matt Bomer, Nov. 27-28
Ana Gasteyer, Nov. 29-30
Whoopi Goldberg, Dec. 1-3
Pat Sajak, Dec. 4-5
Jodi Benson, Dec. 6-8
Kurt Russell, Dec. 9-11
Warwick Davis, Dec. 12-14
Trace Adkins, Dec. 15-17
Neil Patrick Harris, Dec. 18-21
CCH Pounder, Dec. 22-24
Jaci Valasquez, Dec. 25-27
Chandra Wilson, Dec. 28-30
Seating is first come, first served and can fill up fast. To secure a spot at the Candlelight Processional of your choice, try booking a dining package in advance. When you reserve a Candlelight Dining Package, you can enjoy a full meal with your Frog Squad at almost any table service restaurant in Epcot and guaranteed priority seating at one of the evening Processional showings. Note that most discounts, including Annual Passholder and Tables in Wonderland, do not apply to these packages.
JOYFUL! A Celebration of the Season
JOYFUL! A Celebration of the Season takes place daily at the Future World Fountain Stage. Check the daily park guide for times, and stop by to enjoy a seasonal blend of inspiring gospel, jazz, R&B and more. This wonderful performance is sure to get your family in the holiday spirit in no time! There is plenty of room around the stage and the music can be heard all around the fountains, so don’t worry about posting up early for a spot. This is the perfect entertainment to enjoy with your family.
Illuminations: Reflections of Earth
The winter holidays are our favorite time of year to check out IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. This beautiful, inspirational fireworks display is only more awe-inspiring with its seasonal holiday finale. Luckily, there’s not a bad seat in the house around World Showcase to view this show, but our personal favorite area is in front of the Italy pavilion.
If your tadpoles are a fan of Ratatouille’s Hide and Squeak at Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, be sure to check out this scavenger hunt as well. The scavenger hunt is one of the main additions as Holidays Around the World evolves into Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. This activity is a great way to keep little ones entertained while you sip and savor around World Showcase. Simply purchase a map and sticker set for $6.99 from Pin Central, Disney Traders or World Traveler on International Gateway. (You can also find them around World Showcase, but these stops are on your way in so you won’t miss anything!)
Your tadpoles can help Chip and Dale collect ornaments for their Christmas tree throughout each World Showcase pavilion. When they spot each, they can add the corresponding ornament sticker to their maps. Once completed, return the map to Disney Traders in exchange for a festive surprise!
Leap and I can’t be the only frogs whose favorite part of Epcot festivals is the food, right? Epcot International Festival of the Holidays 2017 is loaded with tasty treats sure to delight your taste buds. The wide selection of Holiday Kitchens is our favorite new addition to the past Holidays Around the World. Between Nov. 19 and Dec. 30, from noon to 8 p.m., savor the splendor of Epcot’s 12 seasonal Holiday Kitchens. With over half of these being brand new to the festival, there are plenty of new snacks for you and your Frog Squad to try!
There’s something for everyone at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays 2017. New to this year’s offerings are exotic global tastes from Italy, Shanghai, the Caribbean and more. These include delectable delights such as Canada’s seared salmon with Crown Royal Whisky Glaze, Parsnip Silk, Apple Chutney and Hazelnut Croquant. Be sure to try some exotic flavors as well, such as Morocco’s grilled lamb kefta and grapes with Julienne of Euro cucumber, red pepper, pickled pearl onion, harissa and cilantro dressing.
Have no fear — there are tamer global eats around the world as well if you or your tadpoles aren’t feeling quite so daring. Try Mexico’s chipotle chicken tostadas or Italy’s carbonara pasta. The dessert selection won’t disappoint either. You’ll find everything from cinnamon mochi cake in Japan to a peppermint sundae at Promenade Refreshments.
If you have tadpoles in tow, be sure to stop by The Cookie Nook at the Festive Center in Future World. They can taste seven different delicious cookies, while you sip on special holiday wine and beer.
While there’s already so much to feast on at the Holiday Kitchens, don’t miss out on special seasonal grub at standard food and beverage locations. Each Joffrey’s kiosk has unique holiday beverages. Select locations throughout the park have Christmas-y delights complete with gingerbread, chocolate, egg nog and peppermint flavors. We fell in love with the warm caramel-stuffed salted pretzel with soft-serve ice cream and chocolate sauce at the Refreshment Cool Post. This was a hit with our entire Frog Squad!
Tips for the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays 2017
- IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks spectacular tends to be a bit more popular than usual during the holidays, particularly during the crowded weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas. While there are plenty of great spots to view around World Showcase, we recommend grabbing a place 30 minutes early, and getting some snacks to enjoy while you wait.
- Crowds for the Candlelight Processional at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays 2017 will depend greatly on the narrator. Historically, Neil Patrick Harris has been a fan favorite and draws in tons of guests. If you’re not a huge fan of the more “popular” narrators, try attending another night to avoid crowds. If you are diving in on those potentially chaotic nights, be sure to either land a package dining reservation or get in position at least an hour and a half early.
- Try to knock out attractions (Soarin’, Test Track, etc.) early in the day, and hit World Showcase in the afternoon. It will typically be less crowded around this time, so there will be shorter lines at food kiosks and you’ll only have to arrive about five minutes ahead of time to get good spots for the Holiday Storytellers.
- Keep in mind that Thanksgiving week and the last two weeks of December are the busiest times of the year at Walt Disney World, so crowds will be inevitable then. Continue to follow the above tip, but arrive about 15 minutes early if you’re leapin’ to see a certain Storyteller.
- The Cookie Nook at the Festive Center is not to be confused with the FESTIVAL Center — which is located to the left of Mission Space, and typically the hub for Epcot’s other festivals. The Festive Center is between FutureWorld and World Showcase, in the building behind Test Track and to the left of Mexico. Not only is this a delicious place for treats, but it is also a nice place to stock up on festival merch, such as Annual Passholder exclusives.
- Stop by the right side of the America pavilion for a photo with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. This is an exciting pit stop for tadpoles to tell Santa what’s on their list this year, and a great photo opportunity as well. The line is typically much shorter here than at Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, and you get to meet Mrs. Claus too!
That’s our take on the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays 2017. If you were a fan of Epcot Holidays Around the World, this event only goes above and beyond. We hope this helps you tackle your day (and meals!) during the holiday season at Epcot. Have any food or storyteller favorites? Tell us in the comments!