6 More Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Christmas—And You Happen to Be There in November or December

All this week I’ve been highlighting Christmasy things to do in Walt Disney World. On Sunday, I talked about finding references to Christmas all year round. On Tuesday, I covered six activities that are only available during the winter holiday season. That list continues today with some less well-known activities you may not have tried before.

So, here are six more things to do in Walt Disney World if you love Christmas—and you happen to be there in November or December.

1. Holiday decorations resort-hop

Whichever resort you’re staying at, there are going to be holiday decorations to see, but you may not have thought of going to see the decorations at the other resorts. The most impressive display is the giant gingerbread house in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. It’s large enough to house two cast members selling holiday treats!

Gingerbread house at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Walt Disney World in 2008

Gingerbread house decorating demonstration at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Walt Disney World

They also have frequent decorating demonstrations.

When my family is in the World in November or December, we like to take a day to see the holiday decorations in all the resorts on the monorail line. Disney’s Yacht Club and Beach Club Resorts also have impressive displays, including more gingerbread creations and a model train.

Holiday model train display at Disney's Yacht Club Resort in Walt Disney World

You might also consider stopping by Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, which calls itself “Santa’s favorite resort.” They offer Christmas-related activities, like watching Christmas movies and meeting Santa and Mrs. Claus, most days in the first three weeks of December. You can check the calendar of events on their website.

2. Voices of Liberty

The Voices of Liberty is an a capella vocal group that performs daily or almost daily (check the Times Guide) in the American Adventure pavilion. Usually they sing traditional American songs, but during the holiday season, they switch to carols. Their voices are spectacular, and I love their winter caroling costumes.

Voices of Liberty singing Christmas carols in American Adventure Pavilion in Epcot

3. Watch the taping of the Christmas parade

Disney’s Christmas Day parade is not broadcast live; in fact, it’s filmed over two days in early December. You can usually find the dates posted somewhere online. If you discover you’re going to be in Magic Kingdom on the days they’re taping the parade, expect it to be a madhouse around Main Street, U.S.A. Touringplans.com says that wait times aren’t particularly affected, although I think if you just want a nice day in the parks, you should probably choose a different park those days. But since you’re someone who loves Christmas, seeing the parade taping would be a cool experience. Just remember that it is a television production, so there will be a lot of waiting and reshoots. Also, you may not be able to get into the best viewing areas, because Disney often gives away special tickets to cast members and other groups.

4. Holiday D-Lights Tour

On this tour, you start at Epcot and see the holiday decorations and experience the Candlelight Processional. Then, you travel to Magic Kingdom to see the decorations on Main Street, U.S.A. and see the castle’s holiday lights. Those are all things you can do without being part of a tour, so the real benefit is meeting the Event & Decorating Support teams and the holiday buffet. Those things must not be that popular of a draw, because this evening tour (starting at 4 p.m.) was only offered on nine nights between November 28 and December 14 in 2011. The 2011 price was $199 (no theme park admission required). That’s pretty pricey, and it seems like this next tour is a better value…

5. Yuletide Fantasy Tour

This tour is $84 (again no park admission required) and is offered more frequently than the Holiday D-Lights Tour. The 2011 dates were Monday through Saturday from November 28 to December 30, at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. This tour seems to go more behind-the-scenes. The description on the Disney website says that you get to visit Holiday Services, “a veritable winter wonderland, and meet the Cast Members who create thousands of decorations used to dress up Disney Theme Parks and Resorts.” That sounds pretty cool to me. You also see the holiday decorations in Epcot, Main Street, U.S.A., and a Disney hotel. Both this tour and the Holiday D-Lights Tour can be booked by calling (407) WDW-TOUR.

6. Holiday Sleigh Rides

Ever actually ridden in a one-horse open sleigh? You can at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Although you won’t be dashing through the snow, I’m sure it’s a very authentic experience otherwise. It’s offered nightly during the month of December. The ride takes about 25 minutes and is $60 per group (according to DIS).

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Not all of these activities can be done in one day, so you may want to pick one or two that you’ve never done before but would like to try. Personally, I would love to visit Holiday Services on the Yuletide Fantasy Tour! Which of these activities sounds most fun to you?

6 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Christmas—And You Happen to Be There in November or December

In my last post, I talked about Christmas-related things you can do in Walt Disney World year-round. For today and Thursday’s post, I’m going to try to cover all the Christmasy things you can do there during the Christmas season. It’s a long list, so that’s why it’s going to be two posts. Also, there’s no way you can do this all in one day. So, pick and choose your favorites. I’m going to start with the more common experiences today, and then highlight some more unusual ones on Thursday.

So, here are six things to do in Walt Disney World if you love Christmas—and you happen to be there in November or December.

1. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

The obvious place to start is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP). This is a separate ticketed event that takes place on select nights in November and December in Magic Kingdom. It is pricey ($60+ for adults), but you do get unique entertainment and the opportunity to be in the park with lighter crowds. I’ve never actually gotten a chance to go, so I can’t speak from experience, but here’s what you get for the price of admission (per Disney’s website), with my comments:

“The enchanted Castle Dream Lights on Cinderella Castle”

As I describe below, you can actually see these any evening this time of year.

“Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade, complete with a special appearance by Santa Claus himself”

I’ve actually seen this parade without being at MVMCP; they run it during regular park hours for about a week before and after Christmas. It is a great parade.

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade

Mickey and Minnie in Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade

Eeyore in Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade

“An exclusive holiday fireworks extravaganza — Holiday Wishes: Celebrate the Spirit of the Season”

Like the parade, it’s not exactly exclusive. I’ve seen these fireworks when I was there a few days before Christmas. It was a pretty spectacular show. Here’s a brief video I took. It’s not great quality, but you get the idea of the holiday flavor. My favorite part is at the end; you can hear my four-year-old niece shrieking, “Erica, take a picture!” (She was very into cameras at the time, and I had told her she could tell me whenever she wanted me to take a picture of something. She was also in a stage of forgetting the “Auntie” before my name.)

“Live entertainment featuring Disney Characters”

I also saw one of these shows (“Mickey’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”) during regular park hours the week before Christmas in 2008. It was a cute show, but it didn’t hold all of the toddlers’ interest. That show has since been replaced.

“Meet and greet opportunities throughout Magic Kingdom theme park with some of your favorite Disney Characters”

This is a good feature of the party, being able to meet characters when crowds are lighter.

“Complimentary cookies and hot cocoa”

Yum!

“A magical snow fall on Main Street, U.S.A.”

This would be lovely to see.

“Many of the most popular Magic Kingdom attractions”

Another benefit: going on attractions when queues are shorter.

2. Cinderella Castle holiday shows

During the holiday season, Cinderella Castle is covered in icicle-type lights, and there’s a lighting show each evening called “Cinderella’s Holiday Wish.” New this year, there’s also a holiday version of “The Magic, The Memories, and You!” that makes the castle look like it’s made of gingerbread. I’ve seen photos of the effect, and it’s surprisingly realistic. That show can be seen any night that MVMCP is not scheduled.

3. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

As I mentioned in my post on snow, this light show runs from early November to early January. In the evenings, every 15 minutes or so, you can enjoy Christmas music with synchronized lights, and a sprinkling of snow at the end.

4. World Showcase Holiday Storytellers

If you’ve been to Epcot during the holiday season, you’ve probably seen the holiday displays in each of the pavilions. There’s usually a scroll nearby describing the winter holidays celebrated in that country. Several times a day, storytellers, such as Pere Noel in France and Los Tres Reyes in Mexico, comes out and talks about their holiday traditions. You can see photos and videos over at AllEars.Net.

5. Candlelight Processional

This show is definitely on my to-do list. If your ideal Christmas focuses more on Jesus in the manger than on Santa Claus, then you’ll appreciate the more religious nature of this show. Celebrity guests read the story of the nativity, and an orchestra and choir perform traditional carols.

6. Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade

During the holiday season, the usual parade at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade) is replaced with Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade. You’ll see Mickey and friends in a combination of jungle and holiday gear. Disney’s website promises, “You’ll go wild as your spirit is lifted with a merry mix of traditional holiday wonderment, colorful creatures and festive music in this joyous celebration.” (Have I mentioned how I get a kick out of how Disney’s website describes things?)

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Usually this is where I tell you how to do everything on the list all in one day, but the timing of these experiences makes that pretty difficult, if not impossible. If you have multiple days, pick one park per day and do all the holiday activities there. If you’ve only got a day or two, you’ll have to choose the experiences that sound most festive to you.

Have you done any of these holiday activities? What was your favorite?

6 Things to Do in Walt Disney World Year-Round If You Love Christmas

Christmas is only one week away, so you can probably guess the topics of my posts this week. There are so many Christmasy things to do in Walt Disney World that it’s going to take all week to cover them (and I’m sure I’ll still miss a few!). In keeping with the idea of being able to have a day in Walt Disney World themed around your favorite things whatever time of year your trip is, today I’m going to talk about six Christmas-related experiences that are available year-round.

1. Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course

As I mentioned in my post on snow, this mini golf course near Blizzard Beach is themed after Santa Claus. You can choose the snowy winter course or the sandy summer course. If you prefer a white Christmas, choose the winter course, but if you enjoy the idea of Santa on vacation, you can see him buried in the sand on the summer course. Whichever course you choose, you get a special greeting from Santa (via a computer) after the last hole. The current price for an 18-hole round is $12 for adults and $10 for kids.

2. Carousel of Progress

Step back in time to experience Christmas in the 1990s that never was (were?).

Christmas scene in Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress, Walt Disney World

As I’ve mentioned multiple times (in my posts on vintage Magic Kingdom, musical theater, and rain), Carousel of Progress is my favorite attraction, but even I can’t get over how dated that final scene is (“You’re not going to tell us about the old days when you didn’t even have a car phone.”). I wish they would restore that scene to the original version. It would be cool to see it, and any other option that tries to make the last scene futuristic would have a constant struggle with being out of date. What was my point again? Oh yes, it’s a Christmas scene, and it’s there all year long. With tree lights 30 percent brighter.
Christmas tree in Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress, Walt Disney World

3. Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square

I love Disney Christmas ornaments; there’s more than a few of them on my tree right now, in fact.

Christmas ornaments in Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square, Walt Disney World

I also think ornaments make great souvenirs, because you don’t have to find a place to put them, and there’s a designated time once a year when you pull them out and all the memories of your wonderful vacation come flooding back. That’s why I’m very glad you can buy Christmas decorations year-round in the Parks. Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe is the place to go in Magic Kingdom. The other in-park holiday shop is…

4. It’s a Wonderful Shop

It’s a Wonderful Shop is the holiday shop in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I’ve only been in there once, which was during the Christmas season, and I’ve read conflicting information regarding whether or not it’s always open year-round. It’s worth stopping by to check, if for no other reason than to take a photo of yourself with the snowman outside.

5. Disney’s Days of Christmas in Downtown Disney

This Christmas shop is larger than the other two and has a wider selection. If you’re looking for something unique or want to have an item personalized, this is the place to go. Going inside never fails to put me in the holiday mood, even in the middle of summer.

6. Disneyland Scene in Soarin’

In the last scene of Soarin’, you fly over Disneyland and see the fireworks, but did you ever notice that it’s during the holiday season? If you look down at Main Street, U.S.A., you’ll see a Christmas tree and holiday decorations. Here’s a brief clip to refresh your memory:

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Your Christmas-any-time-of-year experience in Disney involves three parks, Downtown Disney, and mini golfing. Although I usually like starting in Magic Kingdom, I think Epcot would be the best first stop, since the queue at Soarin’ will be shortest first thing in the morning. After Epcot, take the monorail over to Magic Kingdom to see Carousel of Progress and stop by Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe. Then, I’d suggest heading over to Downtown Disney. Take all the time you need to wander around Disney’s Days of Christmas. Next, take a bus over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to check out It’s a Wonderful Shop. Wrap up your festive day with a round of mini golf at Winter Summerland. It’s open until 11 p.m. every day, so you should have no trouble getting there before closing.

Check back on Tuesday for Christmasy things to do in Disney World if you happen to be there in November or December.

3 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year, but I like giving Thanksgiving its due before leaping into the Christmas season. Everybody loves something different about Thanksgiving. Some enjoy the food, others the football. There’s a taste of American history, and perhaps time spent at the kids table. Whatever you enjoy most, you can experience your favorite parts of Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World any time of year.

So, here are three things to do in Walt Disney World if you love Thanksgiving.

1. Enjoy a delicious meal

If you’re in Walt Disney World on Thanksgiving itself, you can get a traditional turkey dinner pretty much anywhere, so the restaurant’s availability and atmosphere are the key factors to consider. If you want a place that feels like home, with people who will tell you to eat your vegetables and keep your elbows off the table, eat at 50’s Prime Time Café at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you’re fascinated by colonial America, try Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom. If you’re just in it for the football, head to ESPN Club at Disney’s BoardWalk.

If you want a Thanksgiving-style meal at another time of year, Liberty Tree Tavern is your best bet. They serve Pilgrim’s Feast—”traditional roast turkey and herb bread dressing, mashed potatoes and a garden vegetable”—year round.

2. Watch a parade

A lot of people watch this one particular parade every Thanksgiving. I can’t say the name of its sponsor, because I’m loyal to Chicago and Marshall Field’s, but I think you know the one I mean. Although they don’t have any giant balloons, Walt Disney World’s parades are pretty fantastic. You can choose from A Dream Come True Parade (afternoon) or Main Street Electrical Parade (evening) at Magic Kingdom, Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun! (afternoon) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Jammin’ Jungle Parade (afternoon) at Animal Kingdom.

3. Eat turkey

You can’t spend much time in Frontierland without spotting people eating turkey—more specifically, gigantic smoked turkey legs. (You can also find them in the other Parks, such as at Toluca Legs Turkey Company in Hollywood Studios.) I find the idea of walking around eating a huge chunk of meat in the Florida heat pretty unappealing, but to each his own. If what you love best about Thanksgiving is the turkey, have at it.

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This is where I usually suggest an itinerary for doing a day at Disney themed around what you love, but this one is pretty much a choose-your-own-adventure. Pick your restaurant and parade of choice, and enjoy a leisurely day with the family (or friends who feel like family). And eat lots of meat, if you so desire.

Happy Thanksgiving!

7 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Halloween

Happy Halloween! Today’s post is, not surprisingly, about things to do in Walt Disney World if this is your favorite holiday. Now, if you’re lucky enough to be in Disney World in September or October, there is an event specifically designed for you: Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. But what if your trip is at another time of year? If that’s the case, I wanted to give you some Halloween-inspired activities that you can do whenever you visit.

So, here are seven spooky things to do in Walt Disney World if you love Halloween:

1. Make Friends with Ghosts in The Haunted Mansion

There’s no Disney attraction more associated with Halloween than The Haunted Mansion. If you haven’t visited in a while, be sure to take your time seeing the new crypts and tombstones in the now interactive queue. I appreciate all the puns and wordplay on the epitaphs.

2. Count the Skeletons in Pirates of the Caribbean

Before this attraction shows the rollicking fun that comes with pillaging, it gives a preview of the likely end of these merry escapades: sudden death, and a bird building a nest in your hat.

3. Escape a Witch in Snow White’s Scary Adventures

This attraction will be going away as part of the Fantasyland expansion, so experience it while you can. In the original version, Snow White did not appear in the attraction; you, the guest, were Snow White. People didn’t get it, so they added her in. But the witch is still after you too…

4. Explore Ominous, Bat-Infested Caves on Tom Sawyer Island

OK, maybe they’re not bat-infested, but there are bat sound effects, and it is dark in there. Take some time to explore this under-appreciated area.

5. Be Threatened by Trolls on Maelstrom

Maybe trolls aren’t a classic Halloween creature, but they’re fairy tale villains, so I think it’s close enough. One random question about this attraction: does the “disappear, disappear” line make anyone else think of Animal from The Muppets?

6. Become an Honorary Creepy-Crawly in It’s Tough to be a Bug!

This attraction is not for small children. Seriously. Even the toughest of my nephews was practically in tears by the end of this one. Unless your child is particularly into bugs, OK with the dark, and can handle scary surprises, I’d stay away until late elementary school. That said, an attraction filled with bugs—some friendly and some not so friendly—definitely fits today’s theme.

7. Experience a Dark and Stormy Night in The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

No matter the time of day, it’s always evening in the Tower of Terror. (Although it is particularly fun to ride when it actually is dark outside.) This is one of my favorite attractions. I’m almost always the only one in the photo with my arms in the air. Want proof?

Erica on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disneyland

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To do all of today’s activities in one spooktacular day, you’ll have to hit all four parks. I’d start in Magic Kingdom, since four of the activities are there. Then take the monorail over to Epcot to ride Maelstrom. Next, I’d head over to Animal Kingdom for It’s Tough to Be a Bug! because Animal Kingdom is usually the first park to close, and as I said, Tower of Terror is most fun when it’s dark. So, after you turn in your bug eyes, take the bus over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and cross over to… The Twilight Zone. [Sound of thunder crashing]

Which one of these is your favorite terror-ific activity at Walt Disney World?