Disney Days of Christmasby Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer
I love the holidays and particularly love spending at least a part of the season at Walt Disney World. My advice? Go in early December—all the decorations are up and shows are in full swing, but the big crowds haven't arrived yet.
One of the best parts of holidays in the World, of course, is all the great goodies that are available for you to take home. From ornaments to snow globes, and tree skirts to gingerbread house kits, Disney has you covered to make gift giving and your holidays a little brighter.
Walt Disney World, as a general rule, does not make its goods scarce. You can find stuff everyone you go, from all four theme parks to the resort hotels. Of course, the Emporiums and Mousegears of the World are brimming with holiday merchandise. That said, today let's focus on a few special places that will likely have what you're looking for and have holiday theming to boot.
Disney Days of Christmas
Let's start with my favorite holiday shopping pitstop, Disney Days of Christmas. Located at the Disney Springs Marketplace, right across from Art of Disney and near Goofy's Candy Company, this is the epicenter for all things Disney holiday. Open 365 days a year, you feel the holiday magic the minute you walk in. From the faux fireplace covered in dalmatians to the many Christmas trees, to the cheerful cast members in red and white period garb, the place just screams the holidays.
Offerings here range from the expected to some fun surprises. It's all about ornaments, ornaments, and more ornaments—and you won't find a larger selection anywhere. The most popular seem to be those that come in a familiar three-circle shape. You can find these in any number of colors and with any kind of embellishments, such as glitter or various designs.
I cannot overstate the fact that this shop has hundreds of different ornaments available and lining the walls. These include the large glass-blown Christopher Radko-style that generally runs for $29.95, to small resin depictions of classic Disney characters or princesses that can be yours for as little as $5.95. I'm a big fan of the "ear hat" ornament series, where stylized versions of different characters and Disney attractions are represented in small resin Mickey ear-shaped form (these range from $22.95 to $26.95). Ornaments also go beyond the expected these days. There are racks of decorations dedicated to other Disney properties such as Star Wars (yes, Darth Vader is available to hang on your tree if that's your thing) and the Marvel Universe.
A great tip is that you can have many of these ornaments or other items personalized right at the store. Just go to the customer service counter. They'll give you a selection sheet, and you can have a name and choice of designs added to the ornament (to be picked up the next day or shipped to your home or resort hotel). The charge is quite reasonable (a name and design on a Mickey shaped ornament could be less than $10 depending on what you pick).
While ornaments dominate the periphery of the shop, there's plenty more to see. Popular in recent years is the collection of holiday merchandise with a retro-Victorian flair. There are tree skirts (for around $49.95), stockings and figurines with Mickey and Minnie's image in Victorian Garb. Lenox did ornaments and figurines with these images in recent years that may still be available.
A few other favorites are Santa hats (both Mickey and Goofy ear versions are available), Mickey nutcrackers that range from action-figure size to quite large (a six-inch-tall version goes for $54.95, and Mickey can be dressed as Santa, a Dapper Dan, a soldier and several other incarnations), and small plastic (fake) Christmas trees with Mickey bases and various kinds of decorations.
There's also a section that focuses on kitchen items, such as aprons, towels and pot holders. There are also some terrific dish sets, tea pots, table runners, and silverware sets, both with Disney characters and a general Christmas theme to add a little Disney magic to your holiday table.
One relatively recent addition to the store that I have mixed feelings about is Frozen. The back portion of the store that, at one time, was home to gifts that could be embroidered on premises, is now home to Anna, Elsa, and Olaf. For fans of the hit film, there's much to be had here, from costumes to plush to mugs. Personally, I think you can find these things elsewhere on property, and this section breaks up the otherwise impeccable theming—but you can't argue with success and the continuing popularity of these characters.
On the topic of embroidery, if you want it done on a stocking or table runner, you will now need to make another stop. Head to Toe on Hollywood Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios is the only place I could find that still does embroidery (the folks of Disney Disney of Christmas sent me there last year when I asked). I had a stocking embroidered there with a name last year. Service was quick (and was shipped to my hotel the next morning) and reasonable ($12 for a name to be added).
Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe
Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe is located in the heart of Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square. Brimming with colonial theming, there are a series of rooms chock full of great merchandise.
To be completely honest, this shop is kind of a mini-Disney Days of Christmas. It carries much of the same merchandise, though in a smaller venue. What it lacks in scale, it makes up for in great theming to the land it occupies and a dynamite location smack in the middle of the Magic Kingdom.
As you move your way through the colonial themed rooms, you see display after display of great ornaments (though a lot of the aforementioned items are here, also). There was a wonderful wall of ear hat ornaments and another wall dedicated to Star Wars. They had Darth Vader, Yoda, and a re-creation of the scene with Princess Leia and R2D2 where she bends over and uploads the Death Star Plans. If you have a Star Wars fan in your life, this is a must-do.
The shop also had a great selection of holiday plush (Santa Mickey, anyone?).
It's a Wonderful Shop
At Disney's Hollywood Studios, it's again the holidays everywhere you look, but It's a Wonderful Shop is Christmas central. Tucked in what's left of the backlot, around the corner from Mama Melrose, it has the feel of a charming small town shop. They have great tree displays, again with ornaments, placed around the shop. If you are a fan of the film, It's a Wonderful Life, you'll love the 1940s-like atmosphere of the place. It's also the place I bought one of my favorite Disney holidays goodies, a book on the making and history of the classic film.
Again, this is a small venue, and while you might hit a special find here, if you want to be wowed by volume, there are other places to visit. That said, this is a must-stop for its charming holiday atmosphere.
Other great locations and items you should check out
Animal Kingdom doesn't have a holiday shop, per se, but does have some wonderful items that fit in nicely with its theme. My favorite is Mombasa Marketplace in the Africa Section. I've talked in this space before about the animal woodcarvings available at this location. Mombasa has some great wood-carved ornaments with animal images. An example is a series of hand-carved bobble-head ornaments in the images of zebras, giraffes, and others that are available for $18.95. Safari Mickey and Minnie also appear in many decorations.
Ugly Christmas sweaters have become all the rage, and of course, Disney had to get in on the game, sort of. They may not sell the sweaters, but they do have a series of T-shirt versions that are still pretty funny. These are located across the resort and online through the Disney Parks App or the Disney Store. Actual ugly Christmas sweaters can be found in various corners of the internet. I have a bright green Olaf sweater I wore for the holiday last year that may reappear this time around.
While all the resort hotels have over-the-top decorations and great holiday merchandise (I have my Port Orleans French Quarter ornament ready to decorate my tree this year), it's the deluxe resorts that are worth a special trip. I'd highly recommend to anyone to do a monorail trip around the Seven Seas Lagoon to see knock-out decorations at the three deluxe resorts there. For example, both Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney's Contemporary Resort have huge gingerbread displays each year. Aside from some great gingerbread and treats you can take home or eat right there, there are related ornaments and jewelry as well as some great Disney gingerbread kits.
For those who collect Disney Holiday villages, Disney also has some great options. Years ago, I collected a Department 56 Disney Village that had a lot of elements from the Magic Kingdom (Tinkerbell's Treasures, Cinderella's Castle, etc.). I discovered on my visit last December, that there's an entirely new set called Mickey's Village. There's a water tower centerpiece I got as a wonderful gift last year. These were sold in 2015 at a holiday booth set up in front of America's Adventure in Epcot's World Showcase. The set includes various buildings and vehicles in a small town set up where Mickey and Minnie could live. I haven't verified these are in the same place as they were last year, but I encourage you to keep your eyes out.
While we're on the topic of Epcot, you should take a stroll around World Showcase Lagoon. Disney has a long-standing tradition of showing how holidays are celebrated around the world at each of the showcase pavilions, and it's absolutely worth taking your time and visiting each. In terms of merchandising, the shops around the lagoon are just as decked out for the holidays as everyone else, and you never know what holiday treasure you might find as you work your way through. One example would be Germany, which has a great Christmas shop filled with beautiful glass blown hand made imported ornaments as well as a stellar toy shop.
As with most things at Walt Disney World, your holiday shopping can quickly put you on overload with all that's available. The key is to focus on what you love and to enjoy looking around. I'd recommend the places above to focus your energies on for the selection, theming and fun, but again, there's plenty to been seen (and bought) everywhere, so would also love to hear about your tips and holiday shopping experiences at the World.