When I was invited to check out the Festival of Holidays at Disney (i.e., the mostly Christmas-y takeover of the parks at Disney World (Florida) and Disneyland (California) that runs until early January), I imagined, you know, a pretty tree, some jingles and Mickey in a sleigh. Done and done! But once again, I learned that when Disney goes, they go BIG. They seriously double down on capital M Magic for the holidays. Here’s some of the stuff that takes The Happiest Place on Earth to level one million and seven on the enchanted scale for the most wonderful time of the year.
It starts right in your hotel. Of course there are towering Christmas trees and decorations in the lobbies of both the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at WDW and the Grand Californian Resort & Spa at WDL, but they also both smell suspiciously tasty. That’s because there’s a life-size gingerbread house just waiting for photo ops and 3 a.m. nibbles. (I recommend the roof.)
Everything is decorated for Christmas. I mean, like, everything. It’s like you’re a character walking through a holiday window at Saks. At Disney Springs’ Christmas Tree Trail at WDW you can check out fifteen custom decorated holiday trees, each dedicated to a popular Disney theme.
There’s a crazy Christmas parade every day (in addition to like, you know, the regular non-Christmas crazy parades they also have every day).
The merch. Oh, the merch. There’s miles and miles of holiday merch everywhere you look. Do you want to decorate your whole tree in Disney princess ornaments? Now you can. Do you feel the pressing need for a retro Disney Christmas train set? They’ve got your back. Do you want to wear a red and green sparkly mouse ear headband? OF COURSE YOU DO. Have you always longed for a Mickey and Minnie Mouse butter dish? Pine no more!
Because there’s not a lot for kids to do at Disney, there are also themed activity stations sprinkled throughout the parks to keep them busy during the long, boring days. My little dude got to make a Hanukkah card for his Grandma and a decorate a gingerbread man cookie (for himself) while listening to a cheery Muzak version of the Hebrew Hanukkah song piped through the speakers across the park. Who says Jingle Bells is the only holiday jam?
Many of the rides are given a total holiday makeover. I seriously do not know what mad geniuses spend their lives turning iconic attractions like It’s a Small World, Jungle Cruise (“Jingle Cruise” for the holidays, natch) and The Haunted Mansion into complete Christmas scenes—and we’re not talking a sprinkling of tinsel, but a complete redo— but I think I need them to come over and give me some renovation advice.
The light and fireworks shows are in a festive mood, too. At WDL, the nighttime spectacular World of Color – Season of Light combines classic holiday music, lights, lasers and powerful water fountains with huge projected memorable moments from Disney and Pixar films. (No, you’re crying.)
At Hollywood Studios at WDW, you can check out Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!—an after-dark lights and lasers show that follows Disney characters on a yuletide adventure to get Santa back to the North Pole in time for Christmas Eve. (Tip: Book the pre-show holiday party to gobble up holiday snacks and desserts).
There’s a klezmer band! And Bollywood dancers, R&B spins on holiday songs and marching toy soldier drummers. Entertainers scattered throughout the parks celebrate Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas/Navidad and Three Kings Day.
Princess Elena has arrived! Disney’s newest princesa, the Latina Elena of Avalor, made her Disneyland Resort debut during Festival of Holidays last year, and now lucky little amigos can meet her and catch her in shows. You can also check out marketplaces themed on how the holidays are celebrated around the world, including ¡Viva Navidad!, chock full of Latin American holiday foods, crafts and bands. The Three Caballeros host a fun street party featuring folklórico and samba dancers, live musicians and Mickey and Minnie in their fiesta finery.
Oh yeah, your kids can visit Santa. Tell them to ask for another trip to Disney!