Another highlight of the Christmas season at Disney World is the resorts. If you’ve never taken time to just visit some resorts, this is the time to do it. They really put some great effort into decorating them for the season. You’ll find anything from a large tree in the lobby of Wilderness Lodge to a larger than life gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian. It is well worth a couple of hours of your time to stop by a few resorts just to check out their decorations. The displays are particularly good at Wilderness Lodge, the Contemporary, and the Grand Floridian on the Magic Kingdom side; and the Yacht and Beach Club on the Epcot side. For something a little different, take an evening to walk around the Fort Wilderness Campgrounds, where many families really go all-out decorating their campsites.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you are a Christian who wants to take some time to reflect on the season and its meaning, there is something there for you as well. I stumbled across a Nativity Scene on the back side of the Osborne Light display in 2012. I never knew it was there until I rounded the corner and saw it. It kind of goes to show how well they handle the balancing act of making things like this available to those who seek it out, without making it front and center in the park. On Christmas day, both Catholic and Protestant church services are usually offered in the Fantasia Ballroom at the Contemporary Resort. Check with the front desk at the Contemporary to confirm times and location.
I also recommend checking out the Candlelight Processional. It takes place in the theater outside the American Pavilion in Epcot. It starts after Thanksgiving and runs through the end of December. The show includes some great Christmas music as well as a telling of the Christmas story with celebrity guest narrators, one of the most popular recurring narrators being Barney Stins – sorry, I mean Neil Patrick Harris. Just be aware that you will not be able to just walk up to the theater 30 minutes before show time and get a seat. You will most likely need to book a Candlelight Processional dinner package if you want to be able to get into the theater to see the show. I’ve tried to catch this show twice by just walking up at show time and standing in the American Pavilion and watching across the promenade, and it is ok. You can definitely hear. But you can’t really see anything. It worked well for us because we felt that our kids were too young to sit through the show, but this year we are planning to book a dinner package and actually see the show from the theater.
Now I’ve mentioned a couple of the highlights of the Christmas season at Disney World, but I’m supposed to be talking about planning that trip. There are a lot of things to take into account when planning a trip to Disney World for the Christmas season. For one thing, depending on when you go, there are a lot of things going on in December at the parks. The month starts out with very low, manageable crowds, but there are some events you should be aware of that may require either planning for or planning around.
Typically, on the first Weekend in December, the televised Christmas parade is filmed in the Magic Kingdom. On Friday, they film the music acts on the stage in front of the castle. This will create a logjam around the hub and on Main Street, but once you get past those crowds the lines can be very manageable until around mid-day. We spent Friday morning of parade taping week in the Magic Kingdom once and hit everything in Fantasyland with no waits. The only downside was listening to Scotty McCreery sing Holly Jolly Christmas approximately 78 times. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good song and he’s a fine singer. But I can only imagine how hard it is for the televised crowd (and Scotty) to keep their “enthusiasm” up for all those takes. The parade itself will be filmed on Saturday, with Sunday being the alternate date in case of bad weather. This can create an even bigger logjam getting into the park. I’ve never gone on a parade taping date, but you definitely want to be aware of this when planning a trip in early December. Most say that if you can get around Main Street and the Hub, lines are manageable in the lands until the parade taping crowd disperses into the park. We just choose to stay away from the Magic Kingdom on that day.
Another thing to be aware of is the Pop Warner youth football championship that takes place in Wide World of Sports (Dec 6 – 13, 2014). This is a moderate to low crowd week in the parks, and the Pop Warner participants usually won’t have much impact on your park touring plans. What they do impact is your resort choices. The Pop Warner participants will stay at select Value resorts and 1 or 2 Moderate resorts. Don’t let Pop Warner week deter you from planning a trip, but definitely be aware of where they’ll be staying – and I recommend choosing another resort, if possible. There are plenty of horror stories of disruptions caused at resorts by Pop Warner kids/parents, and I’ve got some of my own. It is a mistake I’ll not repeat.
Once you get closer to Christmas, and more specifically, the week between Christmas and New Years Day, things change considerably. The crowds go from light/moderate to as crowded as the park can possibly be. It’s the most crowded week of the year at Walt Disney World. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go that week, but you’ve definitely got to do your homework, have a touring plan in place, and be on the ball making your ADR’s and FP+ reservations at the earliest possible date.
One other thing that you need to consider when planning your trip is what you want to see in the evenings at the parks. It’s a little trickier than normal, and this is what we schedule the rest of our trip around. With Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party in the Magic Kingdom, there are limited possibilities to see Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes on a non-party night. My family doesn’t get to go to Walt Disney World every year, so it is always a priority for us to be able to see all of the night time shows. So we know we’ll need one night in Magic Kingdom for the Christmas Party, one night for the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes, one night in Epcot for Illuminations (with the special holiday “tag” at the end, and at least one night (or two) in Hollywood Studios to see Fantasmic! and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. It really does take some work and planning to ensure you can see everything you want, especially without Park Hopper tickets. Even early in the month when crowds are low, the Magic Kingdom can be very crowded on non-party days, because those are the days when it is opened the longest to non-party guests and everybody who wants to see the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes will be converging on the Magic Kingdom on those nights.
December is a great time to visit. We absolutely love it. The weather is typically great. Lows in the 50’s with highs in the upper 70’s most of the time. It is winter, and cold weather has been known to hit Florida, but typically December weather is rather mild – and without the heat, humidity and daily rainstorms of the summer months. With so much going on and the challenges of organizing your trip to maximize the opportunities to enjoy the special events, decorations and limited-time experiences around the resort, working with a travel agent on a December trip is a great idea. A travel agent will help make sure that you don’t miss out on ADR dates, FP+ reservation opportunities, and ensure that any discounts that might by available (particularly early in the month) to your vacation booking get applied if possible.