Disney World’s Holiday Festivities for 2016

Parade at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

I’m sure you’ve seen the time-lapse video by now. If you haven’t, watch this clip to learn the obvious. Halloween has said Boo to You for the last time. Disney theme parks are now all-in on the holiday season. In the course of one busy night, cast members converted the decorations from (not so) scary to Yule. Whether you believe Christmas decorations should never go up before Thanksgiving or not, you’ve already lost the argument with Disney. They’re ready for vacationers to spend the end of November through New Year’s Day at theme parks. If you’re thinking about heading there this year, here’s what you need to know about Disney’s holiday festivities.
Disney's Very Merry Christmas Party

Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Holiday Party

The biggest news this year is that The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is gone forever, at least as far as anybody knows. While rumors were rampant that Disney would relocate the world’s most famous Christmas lights display, that hasn’t happened, at least not this year. In fact, the explanation used most to explain its absence, the lack of available space Disney’s Hollywood Studios, isn’t accurate. Even though the park is in flux as it converts to a new focus on Star Wars and Pixar, park planners still found a way to display a new exhibition.

Disney's Osbourne Light Show

Hosted at (and around) the Chinese Theater, Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! is much more keeping in the spirit of Walt Disney than the Osborne Family’s reinvention as Hollywood Studios. The key difference is that Jingle BAM! uses true Disney theming, celebrating the recent ABC television triumph that is Prep & Landing. They’ve aired two holiday specials with the characters, and both are instant classics. Much to my frustration, Disney hasn’t released a new one since 2011, but the holiday show signals that they still have grand ambitions for the brand. Wayne and Larry even get to host the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! ceremonies.

The new lights show at Hollywood Studios promises to integrate holiday sequences from beloved Disney films like Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Disney promises “state-of-the-art projections, special effects, fireworks and a rousing seasonal musical score,” which is reason enough to prioritize a viewing while you’re at the park. Whether it lives up to the reputation of its predecessor, The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, remains to be seen. What’s for sure is that Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! will be the shiniest thing at Hollywood Studios this year.

By the way, if you want a complementary event while you’re at Hollywood Studios that evening, consider Minnie’s Christmas Celebration character meal at Hollywood & Vine. You’ll love the holiday costumes of the characters that come to your table. Plus, you’re only a few hundred steps away from the Chinese Theater stage.

Christmas Trees Everywhere

If you’re like me and love staring at impeccably decorated Christmas trees, you’ll love the holiday season at Disney. At Magic Kingdom, they’ll perform the tree lighting ceremony every night, generally sometime between 5 and 5:30 EST. And while you’re at the most popular theme park in the world, remember that Jungle Cruise turns to Jingle Cruise at this time of year. You can never have enough Christmas puns, right?

At Disney Springs, they’ve introduced a new Christmas Tree Trail for 2016. Here, you’ll enjoy 15 themed trees that celebrate the animated films you’ve loved since childhood. 101 Dalmatians, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Mary Poppins join more recent fare such as Tangled, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana. Plus, Disney even decorated an entire tree with Disney villains! Don’t worry, though. Disney isn’t replacing the standard lighting ceremony at the giant Christmas tree at Disney Springs. It’s still a nightly staple.

Every Disney Vacation Club resort that you visit will include Christmas trees as well. Picking the best of these is like picking your favorite child. I’ll refrain from listing mine, instead noting that the following resorts are renowned for their holiday decorations.

Disney’s Beach Club Resort annually offers this ridiculous looking gingerbread carousel that isn’t just beautiful. It’s also edible. This creation is so decadent that the horses are MADE OF CHOCOLATE. They’ve got to be like three million calories each.

Gingerbread house at Disney's Grand Floridian

Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa has a more conventional gingerbread construct. It’s a 16-foot tall gingerbread house that has more square footage than many of the tiny houses you’ll see people buy on HGTV these days. Bakers in full regalia stand outside the home and offer samples of their wares. The house doubles as a store for holiday treats. I highly recommend the peppermint bark and gingerbread cookies (obviously).

The fourth floor concourse at Disney’s Contemporary Resort is more than just the most jaw-dropping monorail stop at Walt Disney World. It’s also home to the world-renowned Mary Blair Mural. The 90-foot high mural was crafted by the same hands that designed the puppets for It’s a Small World, and the artistry shines through. Just in front of the mural, Disney has added a Frozen holiday display. The Gingerbread Holiday Ice Castle shows childish caricatures of Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven standing in the snow. Since Disney wanted it to top what they’d already done, this castle stands 17 feet in the air. So, if you prefer Bay Lake Tower to Grand Floridian, you can brag that your Christmas display is a foot bigger.

Statelier Celebrations at Epcot

The same concert stage that hosts Eat to the Beat during September and October evolves into a much classier theater during November and December. Beginning on November 25th, the World Showcase’s American Gardens Theater hosts an evening Candlelight Processional. Disney breaks out the 50-piece orchestra for this gala affair, and they have a celebrity guest host the proceedings.

Epcot Candlelight Processional

Eleven different hosts are scheduled for 2016. The most famous of them this year are Disney superfan Neil Patrick Harris, Academy Award nominee Edward James Olmos, and Disney Princess Ming-Na Wen. Disney performs the Candlelight Processional two to three times per day, and attendance is included in the price of Epcot admission. If you want a seat, you should show up at least 40 minutes prior to show time, though. Also note that guests who schedule an Advance Dinner Reservation at a participating restaurant such as Rose & Crown Pub receive guaranteed seating to the event.

Also available at the World Showcase are storyteller events. In most instances, these involve international variations of the Santa Claus mythos and other various holiday traditions. My personal favorites are Norway (Julenissen the Christmas elf), Germany (the first Christmas tree), and Italy (La Befana, who celebrates on Epiphany Eve).

This year also offers something new at World Showcase, although it’s achingly familiar to DVC members. After Disney’s successful attempt to duplicate the Food & Wine Festival in the spring with the International Flower & Garden Festival, they’re now adding another six weeks of pop-up food stands during the holiday season. The new variation of Holiday Around the World at Epcot doubles (triples, and quadruples) down on the sugar. Various stores across the World Showcase will dessert delicacies that will make your mouth weep tears of joy (although that could just be saliva).

Thus far, Disney has only announced the participants and the foods they’re offering for this event. The one that will get your attention is the Mickey Santa Hat cupcake, but several others are worst a try. These include Canada’s pecan maple bark, Morocco’s honey chocolate baklava, and China’s kai kou xiao (which Disney is translating as Happy Face Fried Cake). While most of the dishes have been available in the past, Disney will sell them at holiday-themed booths this year. Check your Instagram feed for pictures starting on November 15th, the day after Disney’s Food & Wine Festival “closes” for the year.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

Disney goes from zero to Santa Claus in a single magical evening. Only a week after Halloween, the Merry Christmas Party is already hosting its first guests. This ticketed event is available for purchase at least three times per week during the month of November and the first three weeks of December. The only week with fewer than three events is, perhaps ironically, the week of Christmas. That’s because the parks are so full that Disney would face a riot if they shut down Magic Kingdom early every two days.

Fireworks at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

Guests planning to attend the Merry Christmas Party this year should expect to spend between $86 and $99 per adult. Children receive a $5 discount. My suggestion is that the instant you’ve locked in your dates for your holiday stay, you should purchase event tickets. They do sell out on many evenings, and the awareness of this fact is causing an earlier push. It’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that tickets for the December portion of the Merry Christmas Party will book quickly. The frustrating aspect is that tickets are non-refundable. Should inclement weather cancel your event, you’ll have to beg some Disney cast member to make an exception. Keep this in the back of your mind when you’re debating your purchase.

What’s in store for you at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party? Joy itself. And no, I don’t mean the character from Pixar’s Inside Out. This yuletide celebration encapsulates everything wonderful about the holiday season. You’ll get to enjoy the majestic lights at Magic Kingdom while walking around a relatively empty park, at least compared to the December nights that are open to everyone.

With your ticket to the event, you’ll get to watch A Frozen Holiday Wish, a nine-minute staged show at Cinderella Castle that features its own spectacular lights sequence. This ceremony occurs twice a night, as does the marvelous Mickey’s Once Upon a Time Christmas Parade. If you love characters like Stitch and Buzz Lightyear, make sure to check out the hidden gem of the party, A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show. It takes place in Tomorrowland three times each evening and is the dancing-est part of the entire event.

Finally, Disney has introduced a festivity entitled Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration. New for 2016, this Christmas party hosted by Mickey and his pals occurs four times an evening. So, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sing along to your favorite holiday classics as you watch your favorite Disney characters. Plus, cast members hand out hot cocoa, apple slices, and cookies on Main Street!

Mickey's Very Merry

Guests who can’t attend the ticketed event can still watch several of the events listed above if they visit between December 20th and December 31st. Magic Kingdom hosts afternoon versions of the parade at noon and 3:30 daily during the 12 Days of Christmas. It’s obviously better at night, though. The same is true of the Tomorrowland party, A Frozen Holiday Wish, and (presumably) Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration.

PS: For guests who love Animal Kingdom above all others, your best holiday bets are character meet and greets. Several of them include characters with holiday-exclusive outfits. My favorite is Santa Goofy, but Mickey and Minnie wear festive sweaters that could zhuzh up your pictures. As far as interesting park activities, Conservation Station adds holiday elements to its daily events. Also, the front of the park offers animal-based ornaments and decorations that are truly outstanding. Finally, Tusker House is decorated with the Gingerbread African Marketplace again this year.


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