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Sue Holland

Christmas in the Parks

Friday, November 21, 2001
by Sue Holland, MousePlanet staff writer

Reindeer in Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party Parade
Reindeer in Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party Parade

Christmas is a special time of year for many families, and not many places decorate and celebrate the holiday as extensively as Walt Disney World. Each of the four main theme parks have special events and decorations to help get visitors in a festive mood. Except for a few separately ticketed events, the majority of what events mentioned here is available at no additional cost.

In the Magic Kingdom, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is a separately ticketed event held November 29, 30 and December 2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16 and 18 from 7 p.m. until midnight. Advanced tickets are $33 per adult and $23 per child in advance, and $38 per adult and $28 per child at the door if they do not sell out on the day of the event. Like the recently held Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, the park closes early, and guests with tickets to the party are then admitted about an hour later. The park will run most of its attractions and some special holiday shows, as well as provide complimentary cookies and hot cocoa, and opportunities to have family photos taken.

Toy Soldiers in Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party Parade
Toy Soldiers in Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party Parade

The highlight of the evening is the chance to see Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade, which until December 19 can be seen only if you buy a ticket and attend the party. The parade run twice nightly during the party. The first parade of the night draws incredibly large crowds and a long wait, but a much more pleasant experience can be had if you can wait and see the second parade. The best strategy is to get the rides and attractions out of the way while most of the others are waiting for the first parade. It will "snow" on Main Street (using a soap-bubble type of snowflake technology) during the parade, and the atmosphere alone may be worth the price of admission! The other main draw is the extra-large fireworks display that surrounds the park.

The Magic Kingdom's Christmas Tree
The Magic Kingdom's Christmas Tree

Anyone lacking the time or money for the party need not despair. The Magic Kingdom Christmas tree and decorations along Main Street are visible all day and night beginning Thanksgiving weekend. Check your guidemap for the time of the nightly tree lighting at each of the four parks. Traditionally held around 6 every evening, expect some holiday music and possibly some Disney characters. It is always impressive to see the huge trees transform from darkness to a beautifully colorful sight! People visiting from December 19 through 31 can see Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade for free each afternoon at 2 or 3, depending on the date.

Animal Kingdom also hosts some special holiday activities at Camp Minnie-Mickey. From November 22 to January 2nd, Santa Goofy will be joined by other Disney characters to pose for pictures and lead sing-alongs. This park also has its own gorgeous Christmas tree, decorated with animal-themed ornaments. Check your guidemap for times of specific activities during your visit.

Epcot is home to one of the most popular events - the Candlelight Processional. The show is free to everyone in the park, but people who purchase a special dinner package are given preferred seating. It is possible during a busy period that seats will not be available to those who did not buy the package. The Processional features a celebrity narrator telling the story of Christmas, accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra and a large choir. Many of the choir members are Walt Disney World cast members, although guest choirs also participate.

Shows are scheduled for 5:00, 6:45 and 8:15 p.m., but on some nights only two of the three shows will be held due to budget cuts. The show runs from November 23 to December 30. The dinner package starts at $25.95 plus tax per adult and $10.95 per child, and increases depending on the restaurant you select. Capacity is limited, and the most popular restaurants are already sold out for the most popular dates such as Christmas Eve. In addition to dinner, participants in the package receive 15% off on merchandise at select stores in Epcot that day.

Epcot's Christmas Tree
Epcot's Christmas Tree

The Epcot Christmas tree sits at the entrance to World Showcase between Canada and Mexico. In past years, the park did a nightly "Holidays Around the World" celebration as part of its tree-lighting ceremony, where each country's version of Santa Claus shared some of the traditions of that country. I have not seen any mention of this for 2001, but check your guidemap.

The Lights of Winter
The Lights of Winter

One of my favorite holiday decorations is the Lights of Winter, which is simply a canopy of lights covering the end of the walkway from Future World to World Showcase. The lights change from all clear to multi-colored, and are synchronized with holiday music. Illuminations used to be replaced by Holiday Illuminations, but it appears that will not happen in 2001. Which version is better is obviously a personal opinion, but my vote goes to the non-holiday version!

A portion of the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Lights
A portion of the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Lights

Disney-MGM Studios host perhaps the largest holiday display - the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Lights. The preview for annual Passholders was held on November 16 and 17, and the lights will come on for other visitors from November 21 through January 6. Millions of lights have been strung on the houses on Residential Street and along part of New York Street. Carolers will sing, snow (more of the soapy flake) will fall, and guests will get complimentary holographic glasses that when worn make the lights appear to be angels. The lights generally get turned on at 6:15 and stay on for an hour after the park closes - enabling the Fantasmic audience to see the lights after the show.

More from the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Lights
More from the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Lights

It gets very crowded right around 6pm, so allow time for the initial crowd to get through if possible. The street is so wide that when it is crowded it is hard to see the lights on both side of the street, and you can easily become separated from members of your party. Last year we saw a couple of character meets set up in front of some houses, so keep an eye open if you are interested.

The Studio's Christmas Tree
The Studio's Christmas Tree

In addition to the lights, the park also has a Christmas tree, which traditionally has been set up in front of the Great Movie Ride. Now that the giant hat and pin stand is in that location, I am not sure where the tree will be erected. However, it is hard to hide a tree that is approximately 65 feet tall, so it should be easy to find!

In addition to the four theme parks, Christmas activities can be found at Downtown Disney from November 23 through December 24. Each year they use the window displays in the shops at the Marketplace to show Disney's version of "A Christmas Carol." There will be a nightly Christmas Tree lighting, and of course visits by Santa Claus.

Whether your visit occurs on Christmas or in the weeks prior, the parks are sure be a source of special holiday memories for you and your family - and perhaps the start of an annual tradition. The fact that the weather generally is a lot nicer than it is "back home" certainly does not hurt, either!

Contact Sue at sue.holland@mouseplanet.com.


Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.

After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.

She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.

Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.

You can contact Sue here.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”


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