From Disney magic to holiday magic: November, December are the best times to visit Florida’s theme parks
In Florida, the theme parks are pretty magical, regardless of what time of year you visit.
However, with the addition of Christmas and holiday cheer, we would argue that November and December are the best times to go. Want to know why?
Well, it’s no secret that the holidays begin early at Central Florida theme parks. Heck, Disney’s Magic Kingdom celebrated its first Christmas party the week after Halloween. From Nov. 8 to Jan. 5 of the new year, you can spread holiday cheer at the happiest place on earth. The lights will be strung and the trees will be decorated across the four Disney parks.
But if you’re not sold on Disney, or you’re just not sure which park to go to, here are some of the special experiences you will find at each place this holiday season.
For more information and a list of complete holiday extras, check out each theme park’s website.
Walt Disney World
Magic Kingdom: Check out Cinderella’s castle like you’ve never seen it before, when Elsa gives the monumental structure an icy makeover. But don’t worry, the cold never bothered anyone in Central Florida, anyway. You can also attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party during select nights in November and December. Eat Christmas cookies until you feel like you’re going to burst, see a special Christmas parade roll down Main Street U.S.A. -- and did we mention there will be tons of cookies? Be warned, this is a special ticketed event. Visit Disney’s website for more info.
Insider tip: Want to catch the Christmas parade but avoid paying for a special ticket? Visit the Magic Kingdom during the week of Christmas. The Festival of Fantasy Parade is replaced with the Once Upon a Christmas Time parade. You and your entire family can see Santa’s sleigh fly high over Main Street every day, without paying for the special ticket.
For more information on the Magic Kingdom’s holiday festivities, click or tap here.
Epcot: Enjoy the seasons with every culture this year when you visit Epcot during its International Festival of the Holidays. One of the main attractions during the holidays is Epcot’s Candlelight Processional. Enjoy a nightly reading of the Christmas story read to you by celebrity narrators.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Feel the warmth of holiday magic as Hollywood Studios transforms and surrounds you with unforgettable Disney moments. Grab a spot in front of the Chinese Theater as it lights up every evening with Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!
Watch as the buildings and rooftops come to life as you are immersed into scenes from “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Pluto’s Christmas Tree,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and more.
Not enough? Take a stroll over to Sunset Boulevard where you can see Sunset Seasons Greeting. This holiday show will give you a special dose of the holiday spirit through cherry projections, special effects and snoap, everyone’s favorite sudsy snow substitute.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Show your wild side this season during Animal Kingdom’s holiday celebrations. Walk the dinosaur during the Holiday Hoopla Dance Party in Dinoland U.S.A. You’ll also find life-sized artisan-sculpted animal puppets to interact with at Discovery Island during the Merry Menagerie. As the sun sets, watch in awe as colorful rooftop luminaries and bird lanterns light up the sky. Then watch as the Tree of Life comes alive each night with wintry tales that will delight any spectator.
Disney Springs: Looking to avoid the shoulder-to-shoulder parks? Disney Springs has you covered this season. Not only can you finish your shopping, but you can take a stroll through a Christmas Tree Trail, which is sure to give you the perfect backdrop for a picture worthy of a social media post.
Resort Hotels: Many of the hotels around Disney property will have their halls decked and trees decorated. Some resorts also will have special holiday presentations, such as a walk-through gingerbread house at Disney’s Grand Floridian. You can also see a full-sized carousel made entirely out of chocolate at Disney’s Beach Club. Visit Disney’s Wilderness Lodge to see a gingerbread cabin, complete with special characters. At Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Cinderella’s Castle or Gingerbread Castle has returned for its 10th anniversary.
While all of these decorations are jaw-dropping and a true sight to see, our favorite resort to visit during the holidays is Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. Besides the trees, garland and wreaths that fill the place, none of them compare to the Holiday Miniature Train that chugs through a traditional snowy village. This features a working ski-lift, shimmering lights and Christmas shops. We won’t say anything more about the display — you’ll just have to visit it and see it for yourself.
Do you have some minions that are ready to celebrate the season? Universal Studios might just be your place to go. The park will be decked out for the holidays through Jan. 5.
For the witches and wizards looking to spend the holiday producing some charms, both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade will get holiday makeovers. The areas will have special shows and decorations, however, the best part about spending the holiday at Hogwarts is the Christmas light show that is projected onto the castle.
Insider tip: Be warned, this show is everyone’s favorite -- and the area around Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey will be packed. Even the walkway that is supposed to be used to get to the attractions will be lined with people trying to watch the show. If you’re thinking about cutting through Jurassic Park to get back to Hogsmeade, think again. Team members will be blocking the shortcut. If you want to see the show, get there early or be patient. If you want to get on the ride, hold hands tight and start the journey through the crowd. Good luck.
The park also has Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s. When you think of a Macy’s parade, we’re pretty sure larger-than-life balloons come to mind. Well, Universal’s parade will be complete with floats, characters and balloons that are shipped to the Sunshine State directly from the famous New York parade.
At Islands of Adventure, you can have a green Christmas when you celebrate at the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular. This show features a musical retelling of everyone’s favorite Dr. Seuss story, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Looking to make a splash this season? From Nov. 23 to Dec. 31, SeaWorld adds some holiday spirit to its aquatic-themed park. Visitors will be able to enjoy festive shows, holiday decorations and live music from classical musicians and carolers. The whole family will enjoy SeaWorld’s ice-skating show “Winter Wonderland on Ice” which promises holiday cheer. Did we mention it’s on ice?
Other festivities include the Sea of Trees, which is a show filled with synchronized Christmas trees shimmering and twinkling set to holiday music.
Busch Gardens Christmas Town
You know Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and all of those other reindeer? Well, the most famous reindeer of all is flying into SeaWorld’s sister park to spread the holiday cheer. Families can meet the red-nosed reindeer and his friends at Rudolph’s Winter Wonderland. Guests can also mingle with the head honcho himself, Santa and gaze at the festive decorations that are up now through Jan. 6.