For Disney fans, the idea of visiting the parks at Christmastime sounds like a dream. You get to see amazing decorations, try seasonal foods, and experience festive events and entertainment that only happen during the holiday season. All of this is true! In December, Walt Disney World is an even more magical place than usual. Whether you want to spend Christmas day there for a unique family holiday or just get into the festive spirit earlier in the season, a Christmas Disney trip can help you make lifelong memories.
However, there are two sides to every coin. So many people want this extra magical experience that there are also lots of downsides to a holiday WDW vacation. The crowds are crazy huge, meaning longer lines, less hotel availability, and nearly impossible dining reservations. Because of the high demand, resort room and ticket prices are also higher than they are at less busy times of the year. Pepper in lots of kids, no sleep, and unpredictable weather and you have a less than ideal trip. Keep reading to see if you really want to make the trek to Disney this December or if you should postpone your visit to another time!
20 Awesome: Magical Decorations
When Walt Disney World decorates for Christmas, they go all-out. Trees, lights, wreaths: you name it, they have tons of them installed in the parks to bring a festive feeling. Even Cinderella's castle gets the holiday treatment when it is frosted with lights each night to look like an ice palace. If you love looking at Christmas lights during the holidays, Disney's decorations will make your jaw drop. I love how each park has decorations to match its theme, too! Magic Kingdom's are whimsical, Hollywood Studios' are vintage, Epcot's are multi-cultural, and Animal Kingdom's are based around nature.
19 Downside: Enormous Crowds
One thing that Disney haters like to complain about is the crowds. It's true: WDW is pretty crowded all through the year. During the holiday season, though, these crowds get out of control. Lines are crazy long, you can barely walk through the parks, and it's hard to see shows and parades unless you snag your spot at the front hours in advance. If you get claustrophobic or anxious in large groups of people, visiting Disney at Christmas is not for you. It will end up being more exhausting and stressful than magical and fun. Don't risk your mental health for some holiday details!
18 Awesome: Fun Parades
One of the best seasonal events that Disney put on is Mickey's Once Upon A Christmastime Parade. This special parade only runs during the holiday season but many people look forward to it all year long. You'll get to see Disney characters in their most festive Christmas outfits on amazingly detailed floats. They march through the park to a medley of original and classic holiday songs. Toy soldiers, reindeer, and Santa also make an appearance. If you watch it at night, you will even get to experience some "snow" falling right there in Florida! The parade is so magical for people of every age.
17 Downside: Longer Waits
With larger crowds come longer waits. It just makes sense. When you travel to Disney during the holidays, expect to wait for EVERYTHING. From rides to shops to restaurants to transportation to the bathroom, there will be sizable lines for every single thing you do in the day. Eating and leaving the parks at odd times can help a little. A WDW vacation always involves waiting in lines but Christmastime is next level. On New Year's Eve, I saw one ride at Epcot with a 5-hour long lineup! Go another time of year if you want to ride more than 2 things in your day.
16 Awesome: Unique Food
I think most of us can agree that the best part of the holidays is the food! Cookies, eggnog, and hearty dinners all put me into a festive mood. Disney has really been upping its food game these days and introducing seasonal snacks during the Christmas season is a big part of it. Every park has a selection of holiday-themed snacks and drinks that you can't get any other time of the year. At Epcot, you can indulge extra hard at their Festival of the Holidays. This event features small booths around the park where you can sample holiday food and drinks from around the world.
15 Downside: Higher Prices
It used to be that Disney ticket prices were the same all year round. Hotel prices fluctuated depending on crowds, but you paid the same to go to the parks regardless of demand. This year they introduced a new system, though, where each day has a different ticket price. This is a way to try to even out crowds across the whole year and, honestly, for Disney to make more money off of people during already busy seasons. Visiting during the Christmas season will now cost you much more than if you went at a "value" time like the beginning of May or February.
14 Awesome: Meeting Holiday Characters
Another way that Disney creates holiday magic at the parks is by having special characters to meet. If you have ever wanted to hug Mickey Mouse while he was decked out in a Santa outfit or a Christmas sweater, you need to visit WDW during the holidays! You can meet most of the characters other times of the year, but they only wear their festive costumes for the Christmas season. No matter what your age, taking a photo with your favorite Disney princess or animated pal is tons of fun and seeing them in their cold-weather outfits makes it even more memorable.
13 Downside: Bad Weather
It seems like there are few times of year that Walt Disney World actually has enjoyable weather. In the summer and fall, it's crazy hot and humid. Not to mention the risk of a hurricane blowing through! In winter, it's often rainy and the temperatures are unpredictable. When I visited the week between Christmas and New Year's, it was in the 80s one day and the 50s the next. Bring all different kinds of clothes and an umbrella or rain jacket just to be safe. You don't want to be forced to buy a $50 sweatshirt so you don't freeze to death!
12 Awesome: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
Also known in the Disney community as MVMCP, this party is one of the biggest draws to Walt Disney World during the holiday season. It is a hard ticketed event, meaning it costs extra money on top of your park ticket, but many fans say it's more than worth it. You get to be in the Magic Kingdom after hours enjoying exclusive entertainment, merchandise, and food. Plus there are stops all around the park where you can get free cookies and hot drinks of all kinds! Getting to see the park in all its Christmas wonder with slightly smaller crowds? Count me in!
11 Downside: Early Closing Times
When I visited WDW during the holiday season a few years ago, the early closing times were a major turn-off for me. I paid the same amount of money for my ticket as people do during the summer, but I had way fewer hours at the park. It doesn't seem fair! Magic Kingdom closes down early on days that it hosts Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party because the party costs an extra fee. Only those with the extra ticket can stay for the evening hours. Animal Kingdom also usually closes shortly after the sun goes down in order to care for the animals.
10 Awesome: Seasonal Merch
Adorable seasonal merch is one of the major draws of going to Disney during the holidays for many people. You can find festive pins, clothing, stuffed characters, and more that aren't available any other time of the year. There are even some super exclusive items like Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party merchandise and souvenirs to celebrate the gingerbread displays (more on those later). So if you are dying to have a Christmas sweater featuring your favorite Disney characters or a plush Pluto wearing a Christmas sweater to snuggle with, you have to visit WDW during the holidays.
9 Downside: Harder To Get Reservations
Regardless of what time of year you are visiting Disney, there are still the same amount of Fastpass and dining reservations up for grabs. That means that if you go during a busy time of year, like the Christmas season, you will be fighting tons more people to try to get those coveted reservations. If you are staying in a WDW resort hotel, you can make these reservations a few months out, but that still doesn't mean you will get what you want. You may be stuck eating only fast food or having to wait hours in line for popular rides.
8 Awesome: Gingerbread Displays
You can't go anywhere on Disney property around Christmas without being met with some amazing festive details. Gingerbread displays at the WDW resorts have been delighting visitors for years. Each year, teams at some Disney hotels including The Contemporary, The Grand Floridian, the BoardWalk Inn, and more construct giant gingerbread structures that reflect the theme of the resort. You can even see a gingerbread carousel that actually spins at the Beach Club resort! They are incredibly detailed and sure to get you in the holiday spirit! The best part is that they are free to view and you don't have to stay on Disney property to tour them.
7 Downside: Tons Of Kids
I know this one sounds dumb at first but hear me out. There are always tons of kids at Disney; it is a family vacation destination, after all! But anytime that little ones are on a school vacation (summer, Christmas, spring break), the crowds grow exponentially. At least during other times of the year, there are mostly toddlers who don't go to school yet. At Christmas entire families are trying to navigate the parks, leading to longer lines for just about everything. If you're traveling to Disney as a group of adults only, consider visiting during the school year instead.
6 Awesome: Christmas Tree Trail
Disney Springs, a shopping and entertainment district on Disney property, has recently undergone a huge expansion, making it a destination in itself. There are lots of fun places to shop, eat, and chill out with your travel companions. Like the rest of WDW, they go all-out during Christmastime, with decorations and special events for the whole family. Their Christmas Tree Trail is a huge draw and totally free to check out! It consists of 27 trees decorated with different Disney themes from villains to The Little Mermaid to Star Wars. This is a festive way to get into the holiday spirit and take a breather from your busy vacation.
5 Downside: Parks Close Down
Let's be honest: Walt Disney World gets crowded. No matter the time of year, there will always be thousands upon thousands of other people visiting at the same time as you. However, during the Christmas season, there are so many visitors that parks often have to close down because they have reached capacity. That's right: you may not get into the park of your choice on a certain day because it would literally be a safety hazard to let one more person inside. This doesn't happen too often but get to the parks right when they open to ensure you get in.
4 Awesome: Festive Fireworks
Disney gets super into Christmas, adding tons of magical elements all over the parks just for the holiday season. Their amazing nighttime shows are one of the most-loved seasonal details. From Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! at Hollywood Studios to Holiday Wishes at the Magic Kingdom, you can get your fill of fireworks, lasers, and Christmas music once night falls. While Disney's nighttime entertainment is always top-notch, these spectaculars are special because they only run a few months out of the year. When holiday magic and Disney magic combine, it makes for experiences you will not soon forget!
3 Downside: Hotels Fill Up
One of the best parts of visiting Walt Disney World is staying at one of their amazing resort hotels. Each one, no matter the price point, has super detailed theming, superb customer service, and easy access to the parks. However, because they are so convenient and fun, the WDW hotels fill up fast during the holidays. If you want to visit during Christmastime, be sure to book your hotel well in advance (maybe even a year ahead of time). That way you won't be stuck at a resort you can't afford or worse, have to stay off Disney property and fight the traffic every day.
2 Awesome: Ride Overlays
Disney is full of magical details and beautiful decorations everywhere you turn during the holiday season. One of the coolest parts of Christmas at the parks, though, is when they add festive details to certain rides. At WDW, the punny Adventureland staple Jungle Cruise turns into Jingle Cruise, complete with Christmas music and decorations, holiday jokes, and holiday names for the boats. At Disneyland in California, they also overlay It's A Small World and The Haunted Mansion with seasonal theming. So if you're a huge Christmas fan, head out west for even more holiday fun on your favorite rides!
1 Downside: You Can't Sleep In
Most people wouldn't want to sleep in while at Disney anyway, but visiting at the holidays means you definitely have to be up at the crack of dawn. If you want to make it to the parks before the crowds and ensure you get in, plan on arriving about an hour before opening time. Add in overcrowded resort buses and full parking lots and you will need to start your day before the sun even comes up. This often results in cranky kids and even crankier adults. Be sure to grab a giant coffee before you start your park day!
References: disneyworld.disney.go.com, disneyfoodblog.com