It goes without saying; Christmastime is a coveted time to visit the happiest place on earth. After all, what could possibly be better than combining the world’s most joyful season with the most joyful vacation destination? As a child, I’ve spent many Christmases glued to the television set watching the parade. I also had holiday-themed sing-a-along tapes that featured the parks in their splendor. I imagine many other fans had similar traditions.
Finally, after years of anticipation, my fiancé and I planned our first late November/early December trip. Our itinerary included all of the holiday offerings: Resort hopping to see decorations, EPCOT’s Holidays Around the World, EPCOT’s Candlelight Processional (you must book the dinner package), Hollywood Studio’s Jingle Bell Jingle Bam, and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP). All in all, this was a successful and magical trip. Disney truly succeeds in immersing their guests in the season. Despite a great trip though, I still found myself musing over things that surprised me during this yuletide visit.
Let’s start on a positive note. Christmastime is absolutely the most beautiful time of the year to stroll the parks. Most of the property (with the exception of Animal Kingdom) is completely decked out in glittering trees, lights, greenery etc. Cinderella Castle is breathtaking when dripped in icicle lights. In fact, the entire resort feels so festive, you could theoretically not attend any hard ticket events, and still feel as if you got a holiday fix. Speaking of hard ticket events, both the Candlelight Processional and MVMCP are worth doing. At least once. The Candlelight Processional concert was spectacular and we were lucky enough to have Neil Patrick Harris as the celebrity narrator. Attending MVMCP fulfilled dreams I had as a child to finally see the “snow” on Main Street U.S.A. And finally, not only was the Christmas merchandise plentiful during the trip, but I also got to inhale many seasonal treats. I would repeat this visit in a heartbeat…. But with somewhat altered expectations.
First of all, I can’t say whether or not this is a result of tiered ticket pricing, but late November/early December is no longer the golden week to visit. In fact, this may have been the busiest trip yet (and we’ve gone during spring break). Now the crowds weren’t unmanageable. Actually, Magic Kingdom was the only park where we had to reshuffle our itinerary. While do-able, this was still a bit jarring when we were expecting tumbleweeds. Speaking of crowds, I was reminded of just how cantankerous guests could be at Christmas events. At home, there are many holiday displays Nate and I see either very early in the season or even during the week, just to avoid said horrendous crowds. I can only speak for myself, but being shoved and scolded (all while waiting in 40 minute-lines for hot chocolate) always dampened my holiday spirit. Please note that Christmastime is exceedingly popular at Disney and hard ticket events are crowded. For hours, people have been saving their spots for parades/shows, and patience is not in great supply. During MVMCP, I stopped on Main Street to answer a text, and nearly started a mini riot. (A castle show had just started- whoops!) Really, Magic Kingdom seems to take the biggest hit during the holiday rush. If I’m being honest, our cast member experiences were pretty exceptional everywhere except that park. These folks were already burnt out.
Surprisingly though, what really caught me off guard was the park soundtracks. Remember when I mentioned that most of the property was decorated? Well, 99% of the resort is also playing Christmas music in the background … constantly. Now I appreciate that music is the ultimate mood setter. Most visitors are there for a Christmas trip and the locals welcome the change. Honestly though, neither Nate nor I expected to hear Christmas music outside of the resorts or hard ticket events. This somewhat took away from those special events, as we were already immersed in a holiday setting. By now, I’m sure most of you are aware of my obsession with music. I have favorite park loops that I listen to on repeat. It wasn’t until I heard the classic “When You Wish Upon a Star” during one of the “Kiss Goodnight” shows, that I felt a pang for familiar Disney tunes. For us, the Christmas music sometimes felt misplaced – especially in our beloved MK.
Comparing this to our experiences with Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP), MVMCP wasn’t quite as immersive. The soundtrack, special lighting, and mood for MNSSHP transforms the park into a different world. There is no mistaking this fall event for a typical evening in the park. (Plus, the thrill of actually getting to wear a costume doesn’t hurt either.) Now I wouldn’t expect WDW to only put up Christmas decorations for their special events, but I did expect them to put a hold on the holiday playlist.
Our feelings aside, here are the general tips/tricks I would present to anybody visiting around the holiday season.
- If you want to see the Candlelight Processional in Epcot, book a dinner package, so you have a guaranteed seat. You have to eat dinner anyway, and the extra cost is worth it to not deal with the stand-by line. We saw people lining up 5+ hours in advance. Don’t let that be you.
- Go to MVMCP, but for the love of all things good in this world, don’t save a spot on Main Street for the Once Upon a Christmastime parade. Many say you have to watch the parade here for the fake snow, but I wasn’t won over. Nate saved spots for over an hour and we spent most of the show trying not to be annoyed with all of the last-minute people who tried to squeeze in. For the second parade, we got front row spots further away in the hub, and it was an exponentially better experience. Plus, we saw plenty of people walking down Main Street for the snow and pictures before the parade even started. Also, see the new castle show, Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration, at least a couple of times. It’s that good. And don’t forget to get your hands on as much free hot chocolate, eggnog, apple cider, and fresh cookies as you can carry 😉
- Make sure you take a day to resort hop around the deluxe hotels. They go all out from the life-sized gingerbread house in the Grand Floridian to the huge tree in Wilderness Lodge. Don’t forget to take time to soak in the ambience too! This can be the most refreshing activity of the entire trip.
- Lastly, get the park hopper and never go to MK on a non-party day. These days are packed because everyone and their mother wants to be there for a “full” day. Resist this urge. You’ll spend most of your day trying to find rides with the least-awful wait times. Instead, go to MK on party days and stay until you are politely kicked out at 7:00 p.m. Then, park hop to the MK on a different night if you want to see Wishes. It will still be crowded, but you won’t be dealing with the crowds from sun up until the “Kiss Goodnight”.
Keeping all of this in mind, would I go again? Yes. Was Disney very adept at handling the large crowds? Yes. Did I tear up when I saw the iconic toy soldiers march down Main Street, and when Cinderella’s Castle glistened with icicles, and when my favorite characters sang songs from “A Muppet Christmas Carol”? – YES. However, it’s important to note that a trip around the holidays may be more of a “Christmas fix” than a “Disney fix”. And this comes with the possible irritants of Christmas craziness. With appropriate expectations in mind, I still think a holiday trip is a must-do for all Disney fans.