A Very Disney Christmas: A Guide to Walt Disney World’s 2023 Holiday Celebrations

Planning a trip to Disney World during the holidays doesn't have to get your tinsel in a tangle.
Frozen Holiday Surprise debuts at Magic Kingdom this Christmas season (Photo: Mariah Wild)
Frozen Holiday Surprise debuts at Magic Kingdom this Christmas season (Photo: Mariah Wild)
  • Every Walt Disney World theme park and resort has something special going on for the festive season, including a new-for-2023 after hours party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios called Disney Jollywood Nights.
  • I love going to Disney World for a few days during the holidays to see all of the decorations, attend a party, and try all of the seasonal treats.
  • Here’s a rundown of all of the events you can expect, plus my tried-and-true tips for enjoying Disney during the holidays.

Walt Disney World goes all out for the holiday season. Every resort hotel and all four Orlando theme parks are decorated, there are multiple after-hours Christmas parties to enjoy, and Disney Springs even has a trail of Christmas Trees. Because of all of that festive fun, it’s one of my favorite times of year to visit.

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If you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World this holiday season, I’ve got you covered with a full breakdown of what’s happening at each park, what resorts are the best to visit for holiday decorations, and tips from a seasoned Disney World pro on how to get the most out of your holiday trip to The Most Magical Place on Earth.

When Do the Holidays Kick Off at Disney World in 2023?

This year, Disney holiday celebrations start November 9 and run through December 31. While Magic Kingdom is known for its over-the-top decorations and ride overlays, you really should try to visit the other three theme parks as well to get the full holiday experience.

Later in November, the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays will take over World Showcase at EPCOT. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, be sure to check out the pop-up interactive entertainment known as Magical Menagerie. And over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can take part in a fun holiday-themed character dining experience, or step out in style at an all-new after-hours Christmas party! Even all of this is just the tip of the iceberg for what you can enjoy during the holiday season at Walt Disney World, though.

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Holiday Celebrations at Magic Kingdom

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (Photo: Matt Stroshane)
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (Photo: Matt Stroshane)

If you’re like me, then Magic Kingdom instantly comes to mind when you think about the holidays at Walt Disney World. This year, as always, there’s plenty for families to enjoy at the park during the Christmas season.

Every Day Celebrations and the ‘Jingle Cruise’

The number one thing people always want to know about Magic Kingdom is whether the Jungle Cruise ride will be magically transformed into its holiday version (a.k.a. “Jingle Cruise”). For 2023, the news is good! The popular ride overlay has returned. The Jungle Cruise is always very popular at Magic Kingdom, but even more so during the holidays when Christmas jokes and Santa hats are around every corner.

If you’re planning on riding the Christmas version of this attraction, try to get in line as early in the day as possible, or wait until the end of the day to hop on one of the last boats pulling away from the dock. If you’ve purchased Disney Genie+ for the day, The Jungle Cruise is available to book as a Lightning Lane as well.

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Around the park, there are traditional decorations lining Main Street, U.S.A., plus themed decorations for each land. I love taking a family photo next to the towering Christmas tree near the Train Station on Main Street.

New for 2023 is the Frozen Holiday Surprise show, which takes place on the stage in front of Cinderella Castle. This show brings together beloved characters from the Frozen movies to help adorn the iconic castle in light and snow. You can see this during regular park hours or during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, so be sure to check the My Disney Experience app for the showtime on the day you’ll be visiting Magic Kingdom.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

If you’re looking for even more holiday fun at Magic Kingdom, you can purchase tickets for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This after-hours party takes place on select nights from November 9 through December 22, 2023. Throughout the party, you can ride select Magic Kingdom attractions, and some, including Space Mountain, The Mad Tea Party, and Tomorrowland Speedway get a party-only overlay.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is also known for its charming entertainment, including a Christmas parade with all of your favorite Disney characters, holiday fireworks, and a show with dancing and singing in front of Cinderella Castle. Additionally, around the park, you can pick up complimentary cookies and hot chocolate. This is one of my favorite parts about the party because there’s really nothing like sipping a cozy drink while waiting for the parade to start on Main Street, U.S.A.

Pro-tip: You can get into Magic Kingdom with your party ticket starting at 4:00 p.m., so use the morning of the party to enjoy Disney Springs or the Disney resorts, then head to Magic Kingdom for a few extra hours of fun before the party actually starts.

Holiday Celebrations at EPCOT

EPCOT embraces the Christmas season with holiday lights and decor (Photo: Disney)
EPCOT embraces the Christmas season with holiday lights and decor (Photo: Disney)

Even though EPCOT is often thought of as Disney’s more “adult” park, there’s still plenty to do as a family this holiday season. One of the biggest draws to the park are its many festivals. During the holiday season, you can stroll around World Showcase and enjoy drinks and eats during the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays event (November 24 through December 30). Kids will enjoy being able to try new dishes and learn more about holiday traditions from each of the countries represented at EPCOT. Storytellers also share beloved ways that they celebrate everything from Hanukkah and Kwanza to Christmas and Lunar New Year.

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One of my favorite things to do at EPCOT during the holidays is head inside to the American Adventure rotunda to watch the Voices of Liberty singing classic Christmas and holiday songs dressed to the nines in historic holiday outfits.

Another highlight of the EPCOT holiday celebrations is the Candlelight Processional. This holiday tradition is one that many families plan Disney trips around. Each night a celebrity narrator, a choir, and an orchestra work together to tell the story of the first Christmas.

For more holiday fun, be sure to go see Santa himself inside the Odyssey Pavilion near Test Track from November 24 through December 24, 2023. Then head over to the Land Pavilion in World Nature to ride Living With The Land, which gets a fun holiday twist as the boats glide through the greenhouses.

Holiday Celebrations at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and friends are donning new outfits exclusively for Disney Jollywood Nights, a new separately ticketed event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Photo: Steven Diaz)
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and friends are donning new outfits exclusively for Disney Jollywood Nights, a new separately ticketed event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Photo: Steven Diaz)

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is going all out this year for the holidays with events during the regular park day, plus a new after-hours party called Disney Jollywood Nights.

Everyday Entertainment

The festive entertainment continues at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While the big draw to this park right now is definitely Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the holiday fun mostly centers on the front of the park.

If your family loves the movie Frozen, be sure to get a seat at For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, where Olaf kicks off the finale of the show by singing some of his favorite holiday tunes. Then head over to the front of the Tower of Terror to see a projection show, Sunset Seasons Greetings.

For families who love character meals, you’re going to want to make a reservation to eat at Hollywood and Vine for Minnie’s Holiday Dine. During your meal, you can meet Minnie Mouse and her friends dressed in their holiday outfits.

Disney Jollywood Nights

The newest offering at Walt Disney World and the one that I’m most excited about this year is Disney Jollywood Nights. This new separately ticketed event kicks off November 11 and takes place on select nights through December 20, 2023.

The event includes exclusive entertainment around the park. One of the offerings I’m most looking forward to is “Disney Holidays in Hollywood,” where favorite Disney friends, including Mickey, princesses, and the Muppets are the stars of the show. Another show that’s going to be popular is “What’s This? Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Sing-Along,” where fans can join Jack Skellington to sing all of the best songs from the iconic movie.

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Around the park, themed entertainment is going to be abundant. One area that I’m excited about is Twilight Soirée at the Tip Top Club, which will be in the courtyard of the Tower of Terror, and feature live music, cocktails, and dancing. There’s also going to be exclusive meet-and-greets with characters, fun Disney PhotoPass opportunities, and lower wait times for popular attractions like Slinky Dog Dash.

Pro-tip: If you’re going to Disney Jollywood Nights, the Hollywood Brown Derby is transforming into a jazz club, but you’ll need to join the walk-up waitlist to get in. To ensure you’re able to enjoy the club, join the waitlist as soon as you enter the park for the party.

Holiday Celebrations at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the park with the least amount of actual Christmas activities, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find anything there. The park’s signature holiday offering is Magical Menagerie, which takes place on Discovery Island, where you can interact with adorable winter animal puppets that are extremely lifelike. And at night, watch the Tree of Life come alive with a holiday projection show.

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This is also a great park to meet Mickey and Minnie Mouse together in their holiday best at Adventurer’s Outpost just past the Tree of Life. I love using the photos from this meet and greet on Instagram and TikTok to show off my Disney holiday vacation.

Holiday Celebrations at Disney Springs

The holiday spirit is also alive and well at Disney Springs. This year there are numerous things for families to do. The first is to see Santa at Once Upon a Toy from November 10 through December 24, 2023.

After seeing Santa, your family will want to take in the Disney Christmas Tree Stroll, where themed trees are scattered around Disney Springs. For even more fun, you can pick up a Christmas Tree Stroll map from one of many designated locations and match sticker icons to where you found the trees at Disney Springs. Once you complete the map you can take it to a redemption location to get a prize.

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If your family is choosing to enjoy Disney Springs at night, you might also be able to enjoy a magical snowfall in the Town Center neighborhood. And all around Disney Springs pop-up entertainment will help to bring a festive atmosphere.

Pro-tip: Some of the restaurants at Disney Springs have tasty holiday menus. One of my favorite places to go is Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, which has an Indiana Jones theme, for holiday drinks and eats.

Holiday Happenings at Disney Resorts

There’s always a giant Christmas tree in the lobby of the Disney resort hotels in Orlando during the holiday season. Each tree is specifically designed and decorated to fit the theme of the hotel. The hotels will also be decked out with other festive flourishes, including garlands and lights. All of the Disney Resorts also have holiday treats that you can enjoy from table service or quick service dining options.

One of the most popular reasons to visit the Disney resorts is to gaze at the gingerbread displays in some of the hotel lobbies. From November 8, 2023, through January 1, 2024, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa will have a life-sized gingerbread house, complete with cute Disney details, and plenty of treats to purchase from the window of the display.

Other resorts with a gingerbread display are Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House, and Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

My Best Tips for Enjoying a Disney World Christmas Vacation

Disney World is very busy during the holidays, so it’s best to go into the parks with a plan. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to any entertainment that you want to see because theaters often fill up. Also, brush up on how to secure virtual queue access for attractions like Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and TRON Lightcycle / Run.

Book any reservations or buy party tickets well in advance. If you know you’re going to Walt Disney World in December, book your park reservations and dining reservations early because the most popular places fill up quickly. Same with tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Disney Jollywood Nights. Don’t expect to just get tickets at the front gate of the parks.

Most importantly, be flexible. The bottom line is that during the holidays you may not be able to do everything on your list. If you can’t get to all of the rides at Magic Kingdom in one day, it’s okay. Remember that Disney is about having fun and soaking in the magic, whether it’s during the holidays or not, so don’t let your overbooked park schedule get in the way of actually enjoying your vacation!

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Megan duBois
Megan duBois is the Senior Theme Park Editor for FamilyVacationist. She's also a freelance journalist who covers theme parks, cruising, family travel, and wine tourism for outlets like Conde Nast Traveler, Business Insider, Forbes, Travel + Leisure, The Points Guy, and National Geographic. You can reach her via email at megand513 [at] gmail [dot] com.