If you love Christmas, December at Walt Disney World and the Orlando theme parks can be an absolute delight. There are daily holiday events and activities happening at each of the major theme parks, and the resorts at both Disney World and Universal Orlando are decked out in their best holiday finery. Mommy Frog loves the word finery, especially when it’s on display in all of its Victorian splendor during Christmas at the Grand Floridian. On top of the amazing decorations, each of Disney’s deluxe resorts feature a themed gingerbread house!
As far as crowds go, the first half of December is generally a good time to visit the parks. Until Dec. 15, the parks see medium-sized crowds, with three days of very low crowds Dec. 3-5. The beauty of visiting in early December is that you can take in all of the spectacular holiday displays and events, and even let the kids visit Santa without having to worry about humongous lines. By the way, here’s where to meet the man in red. Tad likes to bring his own hand-written wish list for Santa so he doesn’t forget anything; Lily’s is just scribbles.
This December is especially noteworthy because of the opening of new Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom and the reopening of Test Track at Epcot, which are both celebrating their grand openings Dec. 6. Upscale bowling alley Splitsville is also expected to open at Downtown Disney. If you check out the crowd calendar, you’ll see the daily individual park recommendations as well as notable events, which I’ll elaborate on below.
The second half of December sees peak crowds because of the holidays and the kids being out of school. The days around Christmas and New Year’s are the very busiest of the entire year. If you are planning to visit during this time, be sure to check out our top 10 sanity-saving tips. We’d love to hear your own survival strategies (share them in comments)!
A word about Magic Kingdom
Although all of the parks will be crowded, Magic Kingdom receives the lion’s share of the visitors during the holidays. Disney has extended its operating hours Dec. 22-29 until midnight and 1 a.m., not including extra magic hours. Speaking of extra magic hours, we generally advise guests to avoid the park with them because they increase that park’s crowd level the entire day. It will be hard to avoid them during this time because Magic Kingdom has them in the mornings every day of the week Dec. 23 and also in the evenings Dec. 28 and 30 until 3 a.m. So if you’re visiting the week of Dec. 23, you will not be able to avoid the effects of extra magic hours unless you skip Magic Kingdom altogether. Our advice is to be at the gate by 7 a.m. if you’re staying at one of the Disney resorts or 8 a.m. if you’re staying offsite to enjoy the shortest wait times on rides.
While taking advantage of extra magic hours until 3 a.m. might sound like a good idea while you’re sitting at home, after a long day in the park, it’s tough to pull off — especially if you have young children. And we don’t recommend park hopping into Magic Kingdom, because the park will close to new guests when it reaches capacity.
Rain chances are low during December, and the average high is 73 degrees. There should be plenty of warm, sunny days, so don’t forget to pack the swimsuits since the pools are heated. You’ll want a jacket too for chilly mornings and evenings or the occasional cold snap. Here is the packing list for this time of year.
- Be sure to visit the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, which is on display the whole month at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This crazy-big light display originally started at the Osborne Family’s home back in Arkansas, and every year it grew and grew and GREW! In 1995, the Osbornes decided to share it with the world at Disney.
- Through Dec. 30, Epcot guests can celebrate yuletide traditions around the globe at Holidays Around the World and then share the magic of the season at the Candlelight Processional, a retelling of the story of Christmas narrated by a number of celebrities, including Alfre Woodard and Gary Sinise (full list here).
- Mickey hosts a number of Very Merry Christmas Parties, featuring special guest Santa. Guests can sip hot cocoa and enjoy cookies during Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas Time Parade. Special character greetings abound along with a magical snowfall along Main Street U.S.A. during this separately ticketed event.
- Catch the Festival of the Seasons at Downtown Disney through December 27. It features live entertainment, holiday carolers, street performers and a holiday dance party. Santa Claus visits on November 16-December 24 and Santa Goofy on December 25-27.
- Universal Studios plays host to the Macy’s Holiday Parade the whole month. It features floats and balloons direct from Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. There are also live concerts by award-winning Christmas artist Mannheim Steamroller on weekend nights during Holidays at Universal Studios.
- Next door at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, you can celebrate Grinchmas the whole month. Seuss Landing is transformed into the wonderful world of Grinchmas with the heartwarming live version of the How the Grinch Stole Christmas and even visits by The Grinch himself.
- SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration features specially themed shows like the Winter Wonderland on Ice, THE POLAR EXPRESS Experience and Shamu Christmas – Miracles. Let the kids dine with Santa, and stroll among the beautifully lit, dancing Sea of Trees.
- Busch Gardens Tampa presents its first-ever Christmas Town, a wintery wonderland with special events and activities, including real snow for the kids to play in, performances from world-class ice skaters and visits from Santa. This separately ticketed event, held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings through Dec. 23, ends each evening with a performance by Grammy-winning Christian act Jars of Clay.
- LEGOLAND Florida celebrates its Christmas Bricktacular on weekends through Dec. 23. Kids can take part in a Lego Santa Scavenger Hunt and meet-and-greets with Lego Santa and Lego Toy Soldier.
- Between Dec. 26-31, LEGOLAND Florida celebrates Kids New Year’s Eve, featuring fireworks and music. On Dec. 31, a giant LEGO brick drops at an age-appropriate 6 p.m.
- Ring in the new year during the New Year’s Eve Party at DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney. This separately ticketed event includes all-access to games and attractions, plus meet-and-greets, 2 DJ dance parties and food.