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Disney World Christmas Ultimate Guide + Tips

Here’s everything you need to know to plan an incredible Disney World Christmas trip!

mickey mouse christmas parade float

The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, especially at Walt Disney World! 

In this post, I’ll show you how to take an affordable Disney World Christmas trip that captures all of the holiday magic.

I’ll answer your questions about Christmas in Disney World, such as:

  • When does Disney decorate for Christmas?
  • Is Disney World open on Christmas day?
  • Is Disney World crowded at Christmas?

Then I’ll share my tips and tricks for celebrating Christmas in Disney World on a budget.  

When Does Disney Decorate for Christmas?

Cinderella's castle with holiday lights - disney world christmas decorations

The first question people usually ask about visiting Walt Disney World around the holidays is “When do Christmas decorations go up at Disney World??”

Here’s a quick summary:

• Magic Kingdom Christmas decorations are up by the first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The first Christmas party is on November 9th in 2023!

• Hollywood Studios will be fully decorated for the first Disney Jollywood Nights party on November 11th. 

• All Epcot decorations are usually up the day after Thanksgiving, which is November 24th in 2023. Animal Kingdom is the last to be decorated, usually after Thanksgiving. 

• The resort hotel decorations don’t start going up until after Thanksgiving. I have stayed at the Beach Club Resort on November 30th and the gingerbread carousel had just been put up!

• The Disney World Christmas decorations will stay up until the first week of January – I was there on January 7th this year and they were mostly still up.

Is Disney World Open on Christmas Day?

giant nutcracker in magic kingdom

Yes! The Disney World theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios) are open every day of the year including Christmas Day. 

Is Disney World crowded at Christmas?

Yes and no. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the busiest week of the year at Disney World. Magic Kingdom often closes to capacity on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. 

But the weeks leading up to Christmas see some more moderate crowds. Weekends will definitely be more crowded as locals visit for the Christmas decorations. 

You can use this free crowd calendar from Undercover Tourist to pick the least crowded park to visit each day which will help a great deal with avoiding the crowds. 

To learn what to expect from the weather in December check out this post. 

What special events go on during the holidays at Disney World?

mickey and minnie mouse in front of Epcot geosphere

There are actually a lot of special events that take place during the season of Christmas at Disney World. 

Here is a quick overview:

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom begins on select nights starting in November. Get discount tickets from Undercover Tourist here!

• Holiday projections on Cinderella Castle happen every night at dusk. You can usually catch these even if the park is closing early for a Christmas party!

This festive season, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will host a brand new nighttime party, Disney Jollywood Nights, on select evenings Nov. 11-Dec. 20, 2023, inviting guests to experience a glamorous evening full of merry mashups, delicious tastes and sips, iconic throwback characters, and a holiday vibe full of glitz and sparkle. (DISNEY)

• There is a new hard-ticked party at Hollywood Studios this year – Disney Jollywood Nights! Parties are select nights from November 11th through December 20th. Get discount tickets from Undercover Tourist here. 

• Epcot International Festival of the Holidays runs from after Thanksgiving through the end of December (this includes the Candlelight Processional shows which are back!)

• The Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs will be modified this year with trees spread around Disney Springs. They should be up by mid-November. 

• Special holiday decorations at every Disney World resort hotel

Is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party worth it?

meeting the seven dwarves at mickey's very merry christmas party

Seven Dwarves Meet and Greet at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

Whether or not Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is worth it or not depends on several factors. 

First, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a special “hard ticketed” event at the park that takes place on select nights in November and December.

That means that you can NOT get into the party with just a regular admission to Magic Kingdom. You must have a separate ticket for the party. 

Most attractions are open, plus you’ll get party bonuses such as a special parade, complimentary treats, stage shows, dance parties, and more. 

With party tickets, you’ll be able to enter the park at 4 pm and stay until midnight. You’ll get up to eight hours to enjoy the park with reduced crowds (though it is ridiculously crowded on Main Street during the parade).

It depends on the age of your children, but if you feel like you could hang in there late enough, you could save money and have an amazing experience at MVMCP. 

Read on for my Christmas at Disney World tips!

Tour The Monorail Resorts and Disney Springs For Free

gingerbread house display

One activity that is a must-do is to check out the Disney World Christmas decorations at the monorail resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian).

Don’t miss the gigantic Christmas tree and life-sized gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian!

christmas at disney world tips - gingerbread house gift shop

While you are at the Grand Floridian you can purchase a gingerbread treat from the shop inside the house. This is a popular activity so be prepared to wait in line. We got a large gingerbread man cookie for $6 this year. 

For some holiday fun check out my Disney World Christmas decorations quiz here. 

I used to recommend parking at one of the monorail resorts to ride the monorail around, but we were turned away from the Contemporary this year during the second week of December due to “peak season” parking restrictions.

I would suggest one of these tactics for touring the monorail resorts:

  • Make a reservation at Steakhouse 71 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort or the Grand Floridian Cafe for brunch or an afternoon snack. You don’t have to eat a full meal (just get an appetizer and drinks, for example) and you WILL be allowed to park at the resort for three hours since you have a reservation.
  • Park for free at Disney Springs and take a bus to one of the monorail resorts and back to Disney Springs afterward.
  • If you are really crunched for time, pay $25 for Magic Kingdom parking and pick up the resort monorail at the TTC. If you are staying at a Disney resort you can park there for free. 

disney springs christmas tree trail

There are also lots of fun (and free!) holiday happenings at Disney Springs. My favorite is the Christmas Tree Trail found at the far end of Disney Springs close to Rainforest Cafe. 

The trail is free and you’ll get to experience “snow” throughout as you view trees decorated for Disney movies and Disney World attractions. 

villains christmas tree

We loved the villain tree and the Haunted Mansion tree best of all. 

christmas at disney world tips - Visit santa claus

You can meet Santa at Disney Springs for free as well. Check-in at the podium (located towards the end of the Christmas Tree Trail) and you’ll be assigned a time to return.

You can shop and eat while you wait then return for your visit. 

If you have a Memory Maker package pictures with Santa are included since it is a Photo Pass photographer. 

mom and daughter disney christmas photo

If you have Memory Maker or a Annual Pass, you can also get free holiday pics at the Photo Pass Studio at Disney Springs.

It is located in the Marketplace area behind Ghiradelli Chocolates. 

Disney Springs Holiday Gift Hunt

And last, you can complete Stitch’s Holiday Gift Hunt activity to earn a free pin while you are at Disney Springs.

You can pick up a booklet at these locations:

  • Once Upon a Toy
  • Super Hero Headquarters
  • Welcome Center
  • World of Disney Information Desk

Then you’ll have to visit the 12 locations in the booklet to find a hidden Stitch. Match the stickers to the location then turn the completed booklet in at one of the above locations for your prize (a pin). 

As you can see, there is so much free fun to be had outside of the parks at Disney World. Twice in recent years, we have made a holiday trip to Disney World and not set foot in the parks. You’ll save hundreds of dollars and still have a great visit!

Choose the Best Dates & Accommodations For Your Disney World Christmas Trip

Christmas Tree at Disney's Wilderness Lodge

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

On a Disney World Christmas trip, you are going to spend most of your time on the go since there is so much to see and do. For these reasons, I suggest choosing a budget-friendly hotel option instead of splurging on an expensive resort.

Value Resorts

My top recommendation is a Disney World Value Resort. You’ll get all of the perks of staying at a Disney World resort (like free ground transportation, Extra Magic Hours, etc.) at a very affordable price.

Check out my post on what to expect at Disney’s Value Resorts for more details.

My suggested dates to stay at the Value resorts are weeknights November 28th through December 16th.

Rent DVC Points

Another suggestion is to rent points for a stay in a Disney Vacation Club villa.

December 1st through 14th is “Adventure Season” for DVC, which means it is the cheapest time of year to stay with rented DVC points!

That means could stay at a Deluxe Resort for as low as $150/night during the first two weeks in December.

Off-Property

If you can’t travel on these dates or Disney resorts are all booked up, then I suggest staying at my recommended off-property value accommodations – Hawthorn Suites Lake Buena Vista.

We stayed there for our 2017 holiday trip and only paid $75/night (plus tax) for a spacious two-room suite! You can check out my full review here.

Eat Mostly Quick Service (With One Important Exception)

Buche de Noel in Epcot

Buche de Noel in Epcot

I’ve come to love eating at Quick Service locations on my many trips to Disney World. A family of four can easily eat dinner for under $30 at many Quick Service locations in Disney World. 

Here are my posts on the best Quick Service dining in each of the theme parks:

For a budget-friendly trip for Christmas at Disney World, I suggest sticking with Quick Service dining for the most part – with one important exception!

Candlelight Processional in Epcot

Candlelight Processional, Epcot

If you are able to fit in a visit to Epcot, you can’t miss the evening Candlelight Processional show.

A celebrity narrator tells the Christmas story (I saw Kurt Russell’s performance!) and a huge choir and live orchestra perform Christmas classic songs. My description does nothing to capture the magnificence of this show – it really has to be seen to be believed!

Because of its popularity, each show is ultra crowded and you may have a hard time getting seats – unless you get a special Candlelight Processional Dining Package.

The dining package includes a meal at one of Epcot’s table service restaurants and guaranteed seating for the show. Because of the incredible quality of the show, I suggest that your one table service meal be a Candlelight Processional Dining Package. 

Visit Magic Kingdom and Epcot (Only)

bush with Mickey Mouse ears and santa hat

There are four theme parks at Disney World, and the folks at Disney want you to think you need to visit all four on every trip.

But since park tickets are the single biggest expense of a trip, if you can limit your park days you’ll save substantial amounts of money!

While all of the parks are wonderfully decorated for the holidays, two are WAY over the top and shouldn’t be missed.

If you are trying to visit on a budget, I’d suggest limiting your park visits to just Magic Kingdom and Epcot.

They both have tons of special happenings during the holidays (most of which are included in admission) and fantastic decorations.

Illuminations holiday ending at Epcot

Illuminations holiday ending, Epcot

Check out my overview of Epcot’s Festival of the Holidays here. The holiday food, Candlelight Processional, and special ending to the fireworks are fantastic.

So to save hundreds, I suggest skipping Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom on your Disney World Christmas trip.

Bonus Tip: Get a Bargain Disney Christmas Picture

family in front of disney christmas tree

And last, here’s a trick for getting a professional family picture for your Christmas cards at a bargain price!

Disney PhotoPass photographers can be found all over the theme parks. I suggest getting a few family shots – in front of Cinderella’s Castle, at Spaceship Earth, or in front of a huge Christmas tree, for example.

You can ask the photographer to take a picture with your own device. 

You’ll get a professional photo perfect for a holiday card at no additional cost!

Christmas at Disney World Tips Summary

I hope this post gave you lots of tips for a Disney World Christmas trip! 

There’s no reason a quick trip to Disney to soak up the holiday mood has to cost a fortune.

Here are a few more posts with ideas for saving money on your trip:

Any questions about planning a Disney World Christmas visit? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion in The Budget Mouse free private Facebook group!


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