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Disney Vacations > Christmas at Walt Disney World > Disney Christmas Overview

Disney Christmas Overview

Christmas tree and Cinderella Castle on Main Street USAThe 'Christmas Season' begins right after Thanksgiving in late November and last until the week after New Year's when the Christmas decorations are finally taken down. The dates may vary depending on how the calendar falls.

In 2012, the Christmas decorations began to 'magically' disappear on January 8th. The last day for the 'The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights or 'Osborne Lights' was Saturday, January 7th. Check the official Walt Disney World events calendar for the exact dates.

Depending on which week you decide to go, some of the events may have already been completed for the season. EPCOT's 'Holidays Around The World - Candlelight Processional' for example only runs through December 30th so if you go the week following New Year's you'll miss it- even though you'll still get to see lots of other Christmas events & decorations.

No matter when you go during the holiday season, your experience will be a little different than at other times of the year. Here's an overview of what you can expect to be different during Christmas at Walt Disney World.

Christmas tree at Main Street USA

Disney Water Parks at Christmas

Blizzard Beach water parkDepending on your priorities, you may want to skip the water parks altogether on this visit. One of the parks is usually closed for maintenance, and the park that stays open has reduced hours. With the weather being 'iffy' this time of year, you may end up wasting your money if you buy the 'Water Parks, fun and more' option on your pre-purchased Disney tickets. Sure, you can still use a visit playing golf, or visiting Disney Quest, but if the weather is not great for the wave pools and waterslides of Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon, you may feel that you didn't get your money's worth. To learn more about the water parks option on your Disney Ticket, check out the Water parks & more tickets topic in our Disney Vacation planning section.

Christmas Crowds at Disney

If you've done any research, you know that the week between Christmas and New Year's is probably the busiest of the year- well this year was no exception. New Year's Eve was the busiest ever and the parks (especially Magic Kingdom) can get so crowded that sometimes they have to close the park to new guests! If you plan to visit the parks between Christmas and New Year's, be prepared…and be patient. You won't get to ride all the rides you want and you won't be able to do all the things you want to do. If you can accept that, you're sure to still have a good time.

Not so crowded times during the busy season

So what do you do if you want to visit Magic Kingdom and the rest of the parks at Christmastime so you can enjoy the 'holiday atmosphere' and all the Christmas decorations and special events, but you do NOT want to deal with the crazy crowds? The good news is there ARE times you can go where the crowds won't be terrible AND you can still enjoy the Christmas decorations and MOST of the special Christmas events at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.

If you want to enjoy the Christmas festivities at Walt Disney World without the craziest crowds, consider traveling to Orlando during the first couple of weeks of December. You'll find the crowds considerably smaller during this time, plus you're more likely to have warmer weather too. Plus, you'll be back home with plenty of time left to finish your Christmas shopping!

Osborne lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios
Osborne Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Can the kids miss school for a Disney trip?

If you're debating whether to take the kids out of school for the trip, you'll need to decide whether it is worth it for you. Personally, I think if the kids are younger it's definitely worth it! If the kids miss a week of school, they'll definitely have to play 'catch up' for all they've missed, but I think the magical memories you'll have from your trip will definitely make it worthwhile!

If you have a high-schooler, you're decision becomes a bit more complicated. For most schools, mid-December is getting near the end of a report card marking period or semester. You certainly don't want to hurt your child's chance of getting into a certain college because their grades dropped because the missed a week of school just before finals. That's an individual decision that you should discuss as a family.

I don't want to miss school, or face the crowds, but I want to spend the holidays at Walt Disney World. What should I do?

If you don't want to pull your kids out of school to visit Walt Disney World over the holidays, and traveling during Christmas week just won't work for you, you may still have an option. Depending on how the calendar falls, you may be able to travel the week of New Year's and avoid some of the biggest crowds, while still not missing school. (Or maybe just a couple of days.)

Tower of Terror on Sunset Boulevard at Disney's Hollywood Studios

This worked out great for us in 2012. With New Year's Day on a Sunday, most businesses took Monday off as the holiday. Our kids didn't go back to school until the 9th of January. We were able to do our Disney trip by flying out early on New Year's Day and returning home on Sunday, the 8th. This worked out GREAT! We went straight from the airport to Magic Kingdom! Although it was fairly crowded on New Year's Day, several cast members (Disney employees) told us the day before was WAY more crowded. We were able to enjoy a Magical Day at Magic Kingdom without the crush of people the day before. Needless to say we were exhausted when we checked intor our hotel around midnight, but it was well worth it!

To make it even better, the crowds diminished as the week went on. All of the parks were much less crowded than they've been during our visits in the summer months. Even though we had a couple of cold days (the HIGH on Tuesday was 48!) we had a great time! Plus we still got to enjoy most of the holiday festivities- they didn't start taking the decorations down until the day we left.

Next: Magic Kingdom Christmas

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