Holidays around the (Walt Disney) World: Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Years

Nothing gets us in the holiday spirit quite like our annual Thanksgiving trip to the Walt Disney World Resort. Let’s face it – no one does the Holiday Season quite like Disney!

The holiday season is our favorite time of the year, but let’s face it – a lot of work (and cleanup) goes into decorating your home and prepping all of those delicious meals! Why not leave the decorating to Disney and spend your Holiday Season in the Most Magical Place on Earth where all you have to do for your Holiday Dinner is make a reservation from your pick of 140 restaurants, and leave the cooking to the professionals!

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Holiday decorations can be found throughout the Walt Disney World Resort from November 1st through January 2nd.  From the moment you arrive, you will soon notice that Christmas really is all around! The decorations, entertainment, food, and merchandise are enough to get even Mr. Grinch into the holiday spirit! In our opinion, Cinderella’s Castle is never more beautiful than it is at Christmas time. Everything from the Parks to the Resorts is so beautifully themed, and Cast Members will be sure to wish you the very merriest of season’s greetings throughout your visit.

There are so many ways to celebrate the holiday season at the Walt Disney World Resort throughout Thanksgiving Week and beyond. Every single Park, Resort, Restaurant, and the entirety of Disney Springs is open throughout the holiday, and there are some amazing holiday decorations that can be found throughout The World.

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Celebrate the Holidays at Disney Springs with Holiday Hidden Mickeys
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Enjoy Holidays around the World throughout Epcot’s World Showcase Pavilions
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Snap the perfect Christmas card photo with the help of fabulous Disney Photopass Photographers

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Meet Santa Goofy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (That one time Janine got to wear boots & a scarf!)

When To Go: Although it is a very busy time to visit the four theme Parks at the Walt Disney World Resort (like really really REALLY BUSY!), and we certainly don’t recommend this time of year for first time visitors to The World, the Holiday Season is a really special time of the year at Walt Disney World. We are firm believers that everyone should experience the holiday season at the Walt Disney World Resort at least once in their lifetime.

Travel Note: This is a busy time of year at The World.  The Parks will be crowded (especially on New Years Eve, Thanksgiving & Christmas Day), & that should be noted in your planning.

The World is busier than ever during this typically warm week in November.  If you plan to visit the Walt Disney World Resort during the Thanksgiving holiday and beyond, you should know that there is a likely chance that the Parks will reach capacity during this time of year, especially on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Eve.  With that being said, the Parks can be congested at times, especially at main entry points or areas where character meets and parades occur. However, if you plan accordingly, your trip to the Walt Disney World Resort could be relatively unaffected by this influx in attendance.

Throughout this post you will find photos from some of our many trips to The World between the Thanksgiving and New Years Eve holidays.  Hopefully you will take some time to notice just how crowded the most popular areas of the four Walt Disney World theme parks can be between the Thanksgiving and New Years holidays.  Obviously, our photos will not do the reality of the situation justice but we hope to provide you with an idea of what to expect.

While you’re at it, you can also get an idea of the Florida weather during this time of year. You can see our bucation attire ranges from classic summer staples like shorts and flip flops to jeans and long sleeve tops (Janine: and this one time – I got to wear boots and scarves!). Hopefully you can see that the weather during this time of year can vary.  On average, we have been able to enjoy the sunshine and warmer weather of typical Florida temps in November and December. However, we have also had a few visits to The World where temperatures were in the record lows (30 degrees) with freezing rain and pool days just were not possible. We hope this will assist you in your planning, and if you have any specific questions about weather, crowds, etc. – please feel free to drop us a line or leave a comment below!

The Resorts are also very crowded during this time of year.  In 2015, our Resort was filled to capacity which meant packed pools, overcrowded hot tubs, and long lines for Resort transportation and food options.  Fortunately we had our own transportation, so we were not affected by the long lines for buses and boats.  If you have the ability and depending on what your itinerary includes, you may want to consider a rental or car hire for this trip.  We tend to do a lot of bouncing around on our trips to the Walt Disney World Resort, and unfortunately resort transportation isn’t always the best means of getting around.  For example, while guests of one resort we decided to have our Thanksgiving dinner at a table service restaurant in another Disney Resort.

Travel Note: If you are dependent on Resort Transportation, you will certainly need to budget extra travel time into your day in order to make it to your destination on time.  

The crowds begin to build the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and park attendance continues to increase the closer you get to Thanksgiving Day/Weekend. In result, Saturday through the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day tend to be the least busiest days of Thanksgiving Week while Thanksgiving Day through the following Sunday tend to be the most crowded, and then a slight drop off occurs the first few weeks of December.

If this is your first trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, we would absolutely not recommend choosing the weeks of Thanksgiving or Christmas for your trip.  We want you to get the most out of your first trip to The World as the crowds during this time of year may leave a bad taste in your mouth.  However, if you are a repeat visitor to The World, and “doing it all” is not at the top of your list, then this is a great time of year for you to visit The World.  Since we take a more laid back approach to the Parks, we fill our mornings at the Resort gym, spa, pool, and it isn’t until on or around lunch time that we finally head into a Park.

Post Thanksgiving, the first few weeks of December are the best time to visit if you are looking to escape the crowds.  You can still take advantage of the warmer temperatures, and if you want to experience the holiday season with reasonably lower (than Thanksgiving week) crowds – this is the time for you to plan your trip.  For us, the first two weeks in December are a great time to visit as the Parks have always been relatively empty, but the holiday festivities are in full swing. During your planning, keep your eye out for special offerings.  Take advantage of the many resort or package discounts offered to guests during this week.

However, from the Sunday before Christmas Day through the New Years holiday the crowds are at their peak and park attendance is at an all-time high.  The Parks during the weeks of Christmas and New Years are some of the busiest we’ve ever experienced, and for some this can be overwhelming and downright exhausting.  If you want to avoid the long lines and busiest days on your trip to The World, these two weeks should be avoided (within reason) when planning your park days.

For the best plan of attack, we recommend you hit the four Walt Disney World theme Parks early if that is your end game. In the days leading up to the holidays themselves, we were able to visit the parks early, and we hit a few of our favorite attractions like Toy Story Midway Mania and Big Thunder.  However, attendance at the four Walt Disney World theme parks will continue to increase as the day goes on. Arrange your Fast Pass + reservations to ride any of your favorite attractions or meet any of your favorite characters Saturday through Wednesday, and afterwards, take the rest of the week off from the Theme Parks and fill your time with non-park funtivities.  Even on the coldest of Florida days we still love to rip around Bay Lake in a Water Mice or two!

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Cruise Bay Lake via Water Mice (That’s Jared way in the distance!)
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Have a Resort Day and enjoy the Florida Sunshine
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Resort Hop & enjoy lunch with a view!
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Don’t forget to have some Fun in the Sun

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The Holiday Festivities don’t end at the Parks because the holidays surround you at The Walt Disney World Resort.  Just because you’re far from home doesn’t mean you will miss out on all the good food that the holiday season brings!  If you’re looking to add a unique twist to your traditional thanksgiving dinner, we highly recommend making reservations at one of Walt Disney World’s terrific table service restaurants.  A number of (not all) Walt Disney World table service restaurants features a special Thanksgiving menu whether it’s their entire menu (Liberty Tree Tavern in Disney’s Magic Kingdom which doesn’t differ much from their regular menu to be honest) or just a few feature items added to an already fantastic menu, you will still be able to celebrate Turkey Day in the most magical place on earth.  The best part is, you’re on vacation – someone else has to do all the work!

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Travel Myth: You don’t have to be a Walt Disney World Resort guest to dine at Disney Resort restaurants!

It’s no secret that we are Disney-Foodies, and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to indulge in all things Disney Food! Each year we choose a new location, and we love exploring each of the Disney Dining options (some old and some new) for our annual Thanksgiving meal. From a South African Safari-inspired Thanksgiving at Jiko in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (a favorite of ours), a wilderness-themed Thanksgiving in the wilderness of the Northwest at Artists Point in Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, a Grand dinner tucked away over Seven Seas Lagoon at Narcoosee’s in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort,  or a fantastic Thanksgiving meal prepared by your Resort’s room service, guests dining at a Walt Disney World Restaurant have over 140 options.

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  • Pack for both warm and cooler temperatures.
  • Arrange your Fast Pass + reservations ahead of time
    • Remember, Disney Resort guests can make their reservations 60 days in advance (30 days for non-Disney Resort guests).
  • Have a plan, and arrive early to the Parks.
    • If you are staying on-site at a Disney Resort Hotel, take advantage of Extra Magic Hours.
  • Expect longer wait times in the Parks for attractions and larger crowds everywhere you go throughout The World.
  • The Walt Disney World Resort is so much more than four fabulous theme parks! Make a list of non-park funtivities for days where the crowds are just too much:
    • Pamper yourself while you escape the crowds – Have a Spa Day
    • Plan a pool day to enjoy your Resort’s feature pool and poolside activities – weather pending.
    • Take advantage of your Resort’s (or another Resort’s) recreational activities such as bike and boat rentals.
    • Dine at non-park dining locations – Some of our favorites:
  • Most importantly, remember to be patient with yourself, with your family, and with other guests.

Don’t forget this is also your vacation! Sure you’re planning to park hop and eat your way into a character-filled turkey coma, but with Florida’s incredibly mild November temperatures and holiday vibes all around you should be sure to schedule in some pool time with the family.

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Resorts: One of our favorite ways to celebrate the season at The Walt Disney World Resort is to take in all of the amazing decorations throughout The World.  One way we love to do this is by “resort hopping” from one Disney Resort to another. You can either use Walt Disney World Transportation (the Magic Kingdom monorail loop is perfect for this!) or your own.  The Disney resort team does an incredible job of tastefully decorating each resort so that the holiday overlay correctly corresponds to the resort’s existing story line.  From the Resort’s lobby to the landscaping and of course it’s feature Christmas tree, we love admiring all of the unique and individual touches that each resort has on display.

One way to make your holiday stay more magical is with an in-room celebration package courtesy of Disney Floral & Gifts.  Growing up a fully decorated four foot tall Christmas Tree was a staple in our Walt Disney World Resort guest room where presents were kept to open on Christmas morning.  Back then this was a little something extra that could easily be arranged via the Walt Disney Travel Company.  Today guests can leave all of the holiday decorating to Disney Floral & Gifts where their team of “Dream Makers” personalize Christmas Trees (from $200.00 each) and ornaments (from $9.99 each) to many other fantastically festive gifts for both the Christmas and New Year’s holiday.  However, if you have your own transportation you can always visit a local superstore in the area and get into the spirit by decorating your room yourself or as a family! If this is more your style, let us know and we’ll be happy to recommend our favorite locations for the best (and most affordable) holiday decor nearby.

The Jingle Cruise: Each year from November through December Adventureland’s most popular boat tour through the jungle transforms from “The Jungle Cruise” into the ridiculously fun “Jingle Cruise.”  The ride receives a complete holiday overhaul with special holiday touches beginning with the ride queue and all the way through the ride, the popular “Trader Santa,” and a long list of holiday jokes that keep us laughing all night long.  This ride is located in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park, and we recommend you take advantage of Extra Magic Hours (morning or night) to ride this holiday classic.

Magic Kingdom Tree Lighting: Take part in the nightly Tree Lighting at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park.  This short nightly event is included in your Park admission, and it takes place each evening at dusk (between 5:00-5:30 p.m.).  There are no special reservations needed to attend this event.

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Castle Dream Lights: Another nightly event that occurs in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park is the nightly lighting of Cinderella Castle.  The show features the insanely popular characters Ana and Elsa from Disney’s Frozen as they light the Castle with Castle Dream Lights.  The show, included in the price of admission is just over five minutes in length, and it occurs twice nightly; once at 6:15 p.m. and again at 7:30/8:00 p.m. (the second show depends on whether Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party takes place that evening).

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Holiday Wishes: Wishes is the nightly fireworks show that takes place in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park.  For the holiday season, Wishes gets a holiday makeover featuring a holiday soundtrack and a pretty spectacular appearance by the white stuff (hint: four letters, starts with “S”).  Prior to the few weeks before Christmas (mid-December) Holiday Wishes can only be seen by guests of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.  However, come mid-December Holiday Wishes takes a full time spot (and becomes included in the price of regular park admission) as the Park’s seasonal kiss goodnight to its guests.

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Holiday Wishes Dessert Party: Reserve a private table at the Tomorrowland Terrace and watch as the sky lights up for an unobstructed close-encounter viewing of a special showing of Holiday Wishes, the holiday-themed nighttime fireworks offering at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park.

This is a separately ticketed event, and a ticket to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is required in addition to a ticket for the Dessert Party.  The cost for admission in 2016 was $79.00 per adult and $49.00 per child regardless.  At the party, guests will fill up on delicious holiday themed desserts and treats like Christmas cupcakes and cookies, chocolate-covered strawberries, a variety of cakes and pastries, assorted fruits, and ice cream.  The party also offers hot cocoa, sparkling cider, lemonade, coffee, and tea.

We had the opportunity to attend a Holiday Wishes Dessert Party, and we had a wonderful evening at the party.  If you love desserts, are already planning to attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party during your stay, and the additional price of this Dessert Party is in your budget, we recommend reserving a table.  We are not a fan of desserts, so we strictly came for the experience (and the great photo ops!).  However, we still had a wonderful time, but the dessert party is not something we would do more than once (replace dessert with dinner and we’re sold!).

Christmas Day Parade:  Over the years the format of this program has changed.  From 1983 through the early 1990’s the Parade was filmed live exclusively at the Walt Disney World Resort.  (Janine: Growing up our family goal was always to make it into a taping of the parade & in the late 90’s we did just that! #DisneyBucketList)

More recently the Parade has transformed into sadly less of a parade and more of a Disney Parks feature event.  Disney Park’s Christmas Day Special is filmed at Disney Parks across the globe with a portion of the program being filmed at the Walt Disney World Resort. The pre-taped event features everything from stage shows, celebrity performances, and more. The 2016 event at Walt Disney World was filmed between November 9th through the 13th. If you do plan to catch a taping, we’d love to hear how you made out!

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: This Christmas extravaganza takes place at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park, and it is a separately ticketed event.  The party occurs on select nights from November through December.  Just like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, the party begins at 7:00 p.m., but guests can enter the park as early as 4:00 p.m.  At the party snow will fall and Christmas carols will echo throughout Main Street U.S.A., snap a photo with smiling gingerbread men and bright red toy soldiers, complimentary Christmas cookies and hot chocolate will be available, and your favorite Disney characters as well as Santa Claus will be dressed in their holiday best.

The price of admission is not included with your daily park tickets, and the park will close to the general public at 7:00 p.m. on party evenings. Prices for this separately ticketed event ranged in 2016 from: $ 86.00 – $99.00 per adult and $81.00 – $94.00 per child.  The closer your party date gets to the Christmas holiday, the higher the ticket price per person will be.

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EPCOT’s Candlelight Processional: The candlelight Processional at Disney’s Epcot Park begins the first Friday after Thanksgiving Day.  For this event, celebrities take part in telling the story of Christmas and are accompanied by a live orchestra and one very impressive choir.  Performances take place at the American Gardens Theater in the World Showcase section of Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center.  Each year new celebrity narrators are added and some old favorites return.  On average, there are two-three showings per night depending on the date: 5:00 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.  With the number of performances offered (sometimes three per night) this is a show that is not to be missed especially for first time holiday visitors to The World!

Epcot Center also offers Candlelight Processional Dining Packages which give guests the opportunity to reserve a place at the Candlelight Processional as well as dine at one of Epcot’s fantastic restaurants (breakfast, lunch, or dinner!) prior to the show. The prices of the packages are based on your individual meals, and the total will be collected at the conclusion of your meal. If you are on a Disney Dining Plan, two table service credits will be redeemed per person when booking this package.

If you plan to see the show, we recommend this option. Lets face it, some of Disney dining’s best offerings can be found in Epcot’s World Showcase AND guests of this particular dining package are the first to be seated (this is a great way to cut the long lines that form hours before each show).

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New Years Eve:  Crowds are at their all-time peak at the Walt Disney World Resort on New Years Eve – trust us.  Long lines are inescapable, even for thinks like mug refills at your resort or restrooms in the parks.  If you plan to visit one of the four theme parks of The World for New Years Eve, we suggest you make a full day of it.  Arrive as early as possible, take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, and Fast Pass + reservations, and make those advanced dining reservations well in advance.

Avoid the lines – The crowds on New Years Eve, especially in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park tend to peak in the afternoon hours (after 12:00 p.m.), so our advice would be to make an advance dining reservation for a restaurant in the park you plan to spend the day in.  Hopefully you’ve arrived early to the park and gotten the main attractions out of the way (at least a few) before the chaos ensues.  After your 1:00 p.m. lunch reservation, you can regroup and take on the rest of the afternoon.  When reserving your Fast Pass + attractions, schedule them so that they become active soon after your lunch reservation.  This way you don’t have to fight the crowds at their peak.

Enjoy the New Years Eve fireworks at either Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park or Epcot Center. Both feature a sparktacular nighttime display that is one of a kind, and of course only available one night a year! If you’re looking for the less busy of the two – we’d recommend Epcot which also has a regular showing of the Park’s regular nighttime entertainment, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, prior to the night’s bonus New Years Eve fireworks show.

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Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom – Thanksgiving Eve

If you are planning to spend the holidays at The Walt Disney World Resort, there are so many things to see, do, and eat that we hope you won’t let the crowds deter you. We just want to make sure you know what to expect when planning your trip otherwise you could be setting yourself up for disappointment.

Are you planning your first or next visit to the Walt Disney World Resort over the holiday season? Have you visited Walt Disney World during the holidays? If so, we’d love to hear your tips and tricks for getting the most out of visiting during this time of year.

Whatever you decide, we hope you enjoy the Holiday Season at the Walt Disney World Resort – it’s where we choose to spend our Thanksgiving every year.  If you haven’t made a trip to The World over the holidays, we hope you plan to soon!

FASHION CREDITS:

Janine – MADEWELL EYELET ROMPER  |  JCREW RED STRIPE DRESS (similar) |  LILLY PULITZER MOUSE EARS (pick your pattern!) |  TORY BURCH MILLER SANDAL (similar) | LILLY PULITZER MURFEE SCARF (similar)  |  LOFT LOU & GREY ROMPER (similar) | MICKEY MOUSE SEQUINED CAP (purchased in Park) |  JCREW NAVY SILK BLOUSE  |  JCREW LEATHER BOOTS  |  JCREW SUNSET FLORAL BIKINI  |  LILLY PULITZER TUNIC DRESS (similar)  |  LILLY PULITZER OPHELIA SWING DRESS  |  JCREW RED SILK BLOUSE  |

Jared – MICKEY MOUSE T-SHIRT |  VACATION ALPACA T-SHIRT |  TOMMY BAHAMA LUAU CAMP SHIRT  |

For more of the items we pack in our suitcase, from clothing to accessories and everything in between, please visit our http://astore.amazon.com/bucation-20” target=”_blank”>Amazon Store!

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3 thoughts on “Holidays around the (Walt Disney) World: Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Years

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