The holiday celebrations at Florida theme parks look different in 2020. There may be fewer crowds and more restrictions, but the festivities are still on. From Santa making his way through Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, snow falling at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, to eating breakfast with Sesame Street friends at SeaWorld and a Christmas train ride at Busch Gardens, there’s still some magic to be found in 2020.
At Magic Kingdom guests will be greeted with Christmas cheer right when they walk up to the MagicBand touchpoints. Christmas music is playing and the Main Street Train Station is decorated with lights, garlands, and a colorful Mickey Mouse garden display. Once you walk inside the park to Town Square and Main Street U.S.A. you’ll spot the massive Christmas tree with colorful lights, strands of popcorn garland, and toys underneath. This is a great spot to take a family photo at the beginning of the day.
The majority of Magic Kingdom’s decorations are on Main Street USA. On Main Street USA, you’ll also spot some of the holiday merchandise Disney has created this year, including the super-popular gingerbread headbands, gingerbread Mickey and Minnie plush (that smell just like freshly baked gingerbread cookies), and ornaments to bring back home and put on your Christmas tree.
Across the park, you’ll find holiday treats and eats like gingerbread flavored churros, holiday-themed Krispie treats and caramel apples, and a fan-favorite cookie taco filled with salted caramel mousse and spiced chocolate mousse.
Along the parade route at the park, you’ll be able to watch holiday-themed character cavalcades. These mini parades run from Frontierland through Liberty Square and down Main Street USA. A few you might spot include Mickey, Minnie and their Fantasyland friends, all of the Disney princesses, and Santa and his reindeer.
While many of the attractions at Walt Disney World remain the same through the holiday season, one does get a Christmas overlay. The Jungle Cruise in Adventureland gets transformed into The Jingle Cruise with holiday puns, decorations throughout the queue and ride, and Christmas music playing throughout the attraction. This is a must-do at Magic Kingdom, but the line does get long quickly. The best time to experience The Jingle Cruise is first thing in the morning when the park first opens or late in the evening just before the park closes for the day.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is arguably the most popular park at Walt Disney World right now since they have two of the newest and most popular attractions with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. Because of this Disney Park Pass reservations are hard to come by, and even more so during the holidays.
At the park, you can experience a few holiday things including character cavalcades with Mickey and Minnie in their holiday best, Pixar pals wearing festive outfits, and Santa riding in a candy red convertible with a few of his elves leading the way.
All of Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ decorations are located at the front of the park on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, and Echo Lake. The decorations here harken back to the golden era of Hollywood with silver tinsel garlands, and kitschy molds of reindeer, poodles, and carolers. At the end of the night, all of the decorations light up and sparkle making everything look picture perfect
At the end of Sunset Boulevard, you’ll find The Hollywood Tower Hotel, which houses The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction. Starting at sundown the exterior of the attraction gets holiday scenes projected onto it. There are quite a few projections that change every few minutes. The best way to catch all of them is to find a bench and take a seat for about 45 minutes to see the entire cycle.
When your family gets hungry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Hollywood and Vine is the spot to be for Minnie’s Holiday Dine. This character dining experience is slightly modified due to the pandemic. Characters will not come to your table, but rather walk through the restaurant and stop for socially distant selfies. Then at the end of your meal, you’ll get a pre-signed card with everyone’s signature on it. Minnie’s Holiday Dine goes through January 4.
Epcot is the last park to begin holiday celebrations at Walt Disney World because of the extended season for The Taste of Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Starting November 27 through December 30 Epcot will begin their holiday traditions with the Taste of Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. At this year’s festival, there are 16 outdoor kitchens serving up holiday dishes from around the world.
The Holiday Cookie Stroll is always a hit with families going to Epcot for the day. To start you’ll need to pick up a Festival Passport and walk around World Showcase to find five of the official Holiday Cookie Stroll stops. Each one will have a cookie to buy. When you buy the cookie you’ll need to remember to get your Festival Passport stamped. When you get five stamps you’ll take your Passport to the Sweets and Treats Holiday Kitchen to get a complimentary Peppermint Minnie Cookie. The cookie stroll can be completed any time during the Taste of Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, even over multiple days. If you don’t want to eat cookies all day, the cookies make great treats to bring home or munch on later in your hotel room.
Around World Showcase you’ll likely spot three different character cavalcades taking place, one with Santa on his horse-drawn sleigh, one with Mickey Mouse and his friends in their holiday finest, and one with Queen Anna and Elsa waving to guests. If your kids can’t get enough of Frozen then they might enjoy the new Olaf’s Holiday Tradition Expedition Scavenger Hunt. The hunt will take you around World Showcase to track down a list of things from Olaf, and when you’re done you’ll get a prize.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park is the park with the least to do in terms of holiday entertainment. You’ll find some holiday decorations around Discovery Island and near Pongu Pongu inside Pandora – The World of Avatar. You’ll also spot some holiday flotillas along the Discovery River throughout the day. There are five flotillas including Santa, Donald Duck and friends, Chip ’n’ Dale, Mickey and friends, and the Discovery Island Drummers.
When night falls at the park the Tree of Life will come alive with the Tree of Life Awakenings – Holiday Edition projection show.
Disney Springs And Hotels
Disney Springs is a fun spot to hang out during the holidays since there’s so much to do. Besides the great dining and holiday shopping, you can also experience the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll. This modified Christmas Tree Trail allows you to explore Disney Springs by searching out fantastically themed Christmas trees including Star Wars, The Lion King, The Haunted Mansion, and more.
As you stroll around Disney Springs you might spot Santa and Mrs. Claus along Lake Buena Vista waving to guests during Santa’s Winter Watercade. You might also see toy soldier stilt walkers and snowflake skaters around Disney Springs. When evening falls snow flurries start in the Town Center and West Side neighborhoods of Disney Springs.
When you’re in need of a festive bite to eat Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar is the spot to be. This lounge gets a fun holiday takeover with festive decorations and special themed menu items. Some items worth trying include Grandma’s Favorite Sliders and Jock’s Holiday Nog (a drink made with Rum Chata, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Frangelico, and a hint of Vanilla).
Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Orlando Resort gets into the holiday spirit with Harry Potter, The Grinch, and classic Christmas traditions. The holidays at Universal Orlando Resort take place from November 13 through January 3. Guests entering either of the theme parks do not need a theme park reservation, but capacity is limited.
The Grinch at Seuss Landing
Over at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, you’ll find Suess Landing has gotten a holiday overlay with garlands, a giant tree, and The Grinch. As you walk through the land you never know when the mean green one, or any other Who’s from Whoville will show up, so have your camera ready for a socially distant selfie.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Universal Orlando Resort gets in the festive spirit at both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme parks. Here you can experience Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade have been decorated for the season. Seasonal treats abound inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but none are more popular than hot Butterbeer which can be found throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. When night falls a magical snowfall rests on Hogwarts Castle making for a picturesque view.
Universal’s Holiday Experience Featuring Macy’s Balloons
One new offering this year at Universal Studios Florida is Universal’s Holiday Experience Featuring Macy’s Balloons. Here you will have the chance to get up close and personal with the balloons and floats that typically glide by during Universal’s Holiday Parade. Some of the floats and balloons you can check out include the Nutcracker, Minions from Despicable Me and penguins from Madagascar. When you get near the end of the path you’ll get the chance to have a photo with Santa.
SeaWorld Orlando is offering guests the opportunity to try tempting treats, enjoy festive decorations and entertainment, and millions of glittering lights. SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration takes place on select days through December 31. You will need to make a reservation to enter the park.
For those looking to try something new, ice skating is available at Bayside Stadium for an additional cost. This experience is open from about 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Crew length socks and gloves must be worn and can be purchased on-site. The cost of the experience does include your skate rental.
The area with the most to do at SeaWorld is Bayside Pathway where you’ll find The Christmas Market. Here you’ll find Rudolph and his friends, be able to munch on tasty treats, watch a miniature train set, play carnival games, and sit by a campfire and listen to carolers sing Christmas tunes.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is known for its vibrant Christmas Town festivities. This year the holiday celebrations start November 21, 2020, and go through January 3, 2021. You do need a reservation to enter the park, and they can be made online.
There are four live shows to enjoy at Busch Gardens Christmas Town. The first is Christmas on Ice, which is an ice skating show set to holiday music. The Three Kings’ Journey tells of the trek the kings took to Bethlehem through song. Elmo’s Christmas Wish is a great show for kids to spot favorite Sesame Street friends as they learn about the meaning of Christmas. When night falls you can enjoy Spark The Night, a new fireworks show that’s synced to holiday music that goes off on select nights
Before the end of the day at Busch Gardens you’re going to want to hop on board the Holly Jolly Express. This sing-along on the train offers festive fun as you ride by Busch Gardens 65-acre veldt. While onboard you can spot giraffes, rhinos, zebras, and more.
Walt Disney World
The four Walt Disney World theme parks, Disney Springs, and the Disney hotels are all getting in on the festive fun this year. Even though there’s no Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic this year, there’s still a lot of things to do around the sprawling Orlando resort. To get into any Walt Disney World theme park right now you will need to make a Disney Park Pass reservation through the Walt Disney World website. The holidays at Walt Disney World are celebrated from November 6 through December 30, 2020.
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