Which Disney Park Celebrates Christmas Best?

by Jeff Kober, contributing writer

A few weeks ago, I spent half the week at the Disneyland Resort, and the latter half of the week back home at the Walt Disney World Resort. The pairing of those two experiences made me ask: "Which park is the best during the Christmas holidays?" No question that the total Walt Disney World Resort has so much more to offer if you were going to spend several days. Just the theming in the hotels alone is amazing. But if you could only spend one day to get into the spirit of the holidays, which would it be? I've created my ranking. Let's go from the least to the best.

No. 6: Disney's Animal Kingdom Park

Kudos to the novel tree at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Not every Disney park has to be all things to all people. There are touches that help you to know from the moment you enter the park that it's Christmas. But the attention to the holidays is fairly sparse.

No. 5: Disney California Adventure Park

Perhaps the last year you will see the Golden Gate Bridge decorated for Christmas. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

This is actually much better than one might imagine. There's not a whole lot, but the decorations are well done, such as the oversized decorations at A Bug's Land. And while there is a lot of construction underway, it sure has potential moving toward the future. I can imagine sea-shell wreaths wrapped around The Little Mermaid – Ariel's Undersea Adventure; a combination of early art deco or craftsman-style decorations at the park's entrance; or even a Carsland holiday theme. And if they added a Christmas show to World of Color, it might just jump up several notches toward the top. Be on the lookout for the possibility that this might be one of the coolest places to enjoy the holidays in a few years.

No 4: Epcot

I frankly struggled to make this No. 5 under DCA. The one thing this has going for itself is the Candlelight Processional, which is truly the best holiday show of any park anywhere. The Candlelight Processional is simply joyous. But with the removal of the Lights of Winter, you sure have to walk a long way to really get in the mood.

The Lights of Winter were a key focal point for the holidays at Epcot. But no more. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Don't misunderstand me, there is a lot of decorating. But it's fairly ho hum, and, in the case of Future World, somewhat mall like. It's OK if the Lights of Winter can never return. But they need to seriously step up to the plate and do something very significant moving forward. As it stands, it will be far less than Disney California Adventure Park within a year or so.

No. 3: Disney's Hollywood Studios

This may be one of the most fun places to get in the mood. It's a glitzy look at Christmas, but what do you expect from Tinseltown?

Tinseltown knows how to do...tinsel! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The biggest celebration here is the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Grab your hot chocolate and just take it all in. Don't rush it, just simply embrace it. It's truly a fun place to be.

If you like lights this is the place! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The choice between No. 2 and No. 1 was tough. But my coast-to-coast journey helped me to decide:

No. 2: Magic Kingdom

This really ought to be No. 1. Just look at all there is to enjoy:

Toy soldiers and candy canes are the centerpiece to Town Square at the Magic Kingdom. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Candy Cane Lane is a perfect spot to have a one-on-one moment with Santa Claus. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Emporium windows now tell the story of Mickey's Christmas Carol. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Garland stretches throughout Main Street, U.S.A. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

I love how the garland on Main Street, U.S.A. has citrus fruit weaved through it. It's a little touch of Florida! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The Dapper Dans add to the entertainment at the Magic Kingdom Park during the holidays. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Mickey leads the parade. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Great parade...if you get to see it! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

And did I mention, they really know how to light up a castle.

Cinderella Castle, draped in winter lights. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The Magic Kingdom could be the Holiday Kingdom if it wasn't that management keeps working from the business perspective that the only money worth investing is toward getting people to go to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. Don't get me wrong, it's a great party. But unless you're signed up for it, or unless you're going to go during the two heaviest weeks of the year, you really get a fairly lean experience. That doesn't mean it couldn't be more. What about bringing back the Country Bear Christmas Special? Or, perhaps adding more garland than the sparse touch in Liberty Square? What would a Tomorrowland Christmas (beyond the stage show) look like? What would a Fantasyland Christmas look like?

Decorations fashioned around a pole in Liberty Square. Outside of Main Street, U.S.A., is this really the best the Magic Kingdom can do? Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

No. 1: Disneyland

I think, at times, Disneyland looks like Christmas even before they put up the lights. Certainly every day is a holiday. Add to it the attraction overlays of Nightmare Before Christmas to Haunted Mansion Holiday and "it's a small world" Holiday, and you have something really special. Here's just a taste:

A grand tree captures the heart of Town Square at Disneyland. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

At times you wonder if they didn't design Main Street, U.S.A. so that the look and colors would match the holiday season. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

There is a Christmas feel here on Main Street, U.S.A. like no other. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

New Orleans Square drips with holiday decor. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

You don't have to have a New Orleans to decorate during Christmas...but it sure helps! Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay at the Haunted Mansion is truly one of the most creative concepts ever. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Halloween or Christmas or somewhere in between, this is a fun attraction. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Welcome to "it's a small world" Holiday. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Few attractions are more joyous than this beautiful "it's a small world" makeover. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

The quality of decorations throughout Disneyland is really amazing. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Even Critter Country is filled with holiday decoration. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

There is probably more garland on this barn at Disneyland than in all of Frontierland in Magic Kingdom. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

Sleeping Beauty Castle with snow, lights, and more than 55 years of Christmas memories.

It's not Cinderella Castle, but it isn't bad, either. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Of course, making a move to start doing Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party will certainly be a downer for many guests who normally got to see the parades and fireworks as part of the entire holiday package. But even if that occurred, I have to say, that Disneyland will still be a terrific value on days and nights when there is no party.

What do you think? What is your favorite park during the holidays? If you could only spend one day in one Disney park this season, which park would it be?



  1. By Drince88

    Jeff, I was disappointed that you didn't mention one of my favorite parts of Christmas at Epcot - the Storytellers.

    For me, it really moves that park farther up the list.

    It's been a while since I was in California during holiday season (so far back, that they didn't start the holiday parade until Thanksgiving - what a concept!), even then it was a lot of fun, and aside from Main Street, I do agree that the MK decor is greatly lacking.

  2. By DwarfPlanet

    I have to agree with DL being number one. We love going there (DW and I) for Christmas. I know you can only put so much in here for pictures but DL ToonTown is another land that is just overflowing with decorations plus my wife loves seeing Goofy as Santa there.

  3. By DisneyGator

    I, too, am disappointed that Epcot was not in the top spot. I know the Lights of Winter are down (which I loved to walk through), but they still have the giant Christmas tree with the international ornaments, every land has a Christmas story teller, the Liberty Voices do a Christmas set each time, the Candlelight Processional, and the Christmas version of Illuminations. All of that plus the Christmas topiaries at the entrance make Epcot the best for me.

    As far as Disneyland goes, it's good, but I honestly do NOT like the Haunted Mansion overlay. But that stems from my disgust for the "Nightmare" film - that movie is like pure rotten for me (like most of Burton's films).

  4. By Jeff Kober

    I have to admit that I find the Storytellers a tad lame, though they do have tenure. What I really failed to mention was the fantastic holiday ending to Illuminations. I am remiss not to mention it.

    I also didn't get a chance to take Christmas photos of Toon Town at Disneyland. I agree that they make the DL option all the more #1.

  5. By Drince88

    With the storytellers, it's SOOO dependent on their acting/storytelling abilities. The first year I saw any, I had heard grand reviews about the Monkey King story in China, so I made sure to hit that one. The storyteller was a dud. The next time, I did give them another chance, and it was MUCH more enjoyable.

    Fortunately the countries where I've heard 'not so good storytellers' were in countries where the physical type wasn't as crucial, and so it was likely easier for Disney to make a change (or maybe the person I saw was the 'backup'). Canada, France, England, and Norway, for example, REALLY need a specific physical type that may/may not be hard to find in a great storyteller. But those guys and gal have all been spot on, for me.

    But I also don't get to go in December every year. I'd probably get tired of them after a while.

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