Home » The 4 Best Things About Celebrating Holidays at Disney Parks

The 4 Best Things About Celebrating Holidays at Disney Parks

Koda meet-and-greet at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel

From Halloween to Christmas Eve, there’s nothing Disney does better than holidays at the parks. Special fireworks light up the sky behind Sleeping Beauty Castle, ghosts and ghoulies dance along Main Street, U.S.A., and there are more specialty food items than any one person can reasonably consume in a week’s worth of food stand visits and fine dinners.

Still, the Disney Parks aren’t unique in their holiday specialties—plenty of theme parks near and far also have access to faux snow, holiday characters, trick-or-treat opportunities, and themed parades—they just happen to be the best at making the holidays come alive. How do they manage to set themselves apart from the competition year after year? Let’s take a closer look.

1. Rare character meet-and-greet opportunities

Koda meet-and-greet at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel

Image: Loren Javier, Flickr (license)

Santa Claus is a busy man during the month of December. One minute, he’s lounging in his sleigh at Universal CityWalk, then he’s hosting friends at his Christmas Cabin in Knotts Berry Farm’s Wilderness Dance Hall, swinging’ round for a pit stop with Mrs. Claus at his outpost in Six Flags, with just enough time left to drop in at his chalet in Disney Springs. Unlike many other parks, however, Disney doesn’t just play host to the Christmas VIPs during the holiday season; they invite a whole host of seldom-seen Disney characters to cavort around the parks as guests celebrate big-ticket events like Halloween and Christmas.

Granted, these rare meet-and-greets are usually reserved for the hard-ticketed Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Very Merry Christmas Party, which significantly raises the price of admission during select nights throughout the holiday season(s). Here, guests are invited to visit with fur and face characters ranging from Jack Skellington, Sally, and the Seven Dwarfs to Tarzan, Jane, Jafar, as well as a whole host of traditional characters decked out in holiday garb.

One exception to this trend is the Easter season, when parkgoers may stop in to see Thumper, Miss Bunny, Rabbit, and Mr. and Mrs. Easter Bunny regularly (and without an additional upcharge!) in the weeks leading up to the holiday itself. While spotting hard-to-find characters may not be on everyone’s Disney Parks bucket list, it’s a great opportunity for meet-and-greet enthusiasts and families with young children, and one that makes the holidays feel even more special.

2. Holiday parties

Christmas parade at Magic Kingdom

Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

Until you’ve swung by one of their famous holiday parties, you haven’t truly celebrated the holidays at the Disney Parks. Yes, it’s an expensive add-on—an adult ticket will run you upwards of $95/person per party—but if you make it a half-day at the parks instead of paying double the admission price, you’ll more than get your money’s worth during the six-hour event.

In the fall, Mickey and his costumed pals help transform Magic Kingdom into a trick-or-treater’s dream (er, nightmare?) come true with villain-centric meet-and-greets, complimentary candy, the Boo-To-You parade, and Halloween-themed HalloWishes Fireworks. After Thanksgiving rolls around, the festivities are tweaked slightly for the winter holidays, as Main Street, U.S.A. is doused with snow, Elsa lights up the castle during A Frozen Holiday Wish ceremony, and partygoers snack on Christmas cookies and hot cocoa at treat stations around the park before the sky lights up with Holiday Wishes Fireworks. Perhaps best of all, each of these parties allows guests to enjoy relatively low crowds throughout the night, making each show, parade, and popular attraction infinitely more enjoyable.

Not only are these family-friendly parties the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit, but they’re pretty unique to Disney. Aside from horror-themed Halloween festivities at Universal Studios, Six Flags, and Knott’s Berry Farm (rebranded as Knott’s Scary Farm during October), Disney’s hard-ticketed Halloween and Christmas parties haven’t become anything close to a widespread phenomenon among U.S.-based theme parks yet, making them a can’t-miss attraction from year to year.

3. Transformative ride overlays

Haunted Mansion Holiday

Image: Sam Howzit, Flickr (license)

We’re not talking about a few scare actors staking out the top of the Timber Mountain Log Ride: Halloween Hootenanny or a holiday light show wrapped around the spires of Hogwarts Castle, but rather full-scale overlays that completely transform some of Disney’s most iconic attractions. In the fall, the Nightmare Before Christmas overtakes New Orleans Square’s Haunted Mansion from the inside out, making Jack Skellington, Sally, and Oogie Boogie the new focus of the ghost-infected house as the Halloween-loving characters try to ready themselves for Christmas. In Tomorrowland, meanwhile, Space Mountain also gets a seasonal refresh as a variety of projections introduce a new host of ghosts into riders’ outer-space missions.

Across the Esplanade in Disney California Adventure, Halloween also makes its way over to Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark, where Rocket Raccoon needs some assistance fending off escaped creatures and riders take the plunge on the Collector’s faulty elevator over and over again.

The winter holidays see their share of ride overlays as well, albeit in not-so-spooky ways. Until recently, Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise became the “Jingle Cruise” during the winter months—an overlay, it should be said, that can still be enjoyed exclusively at the Magic Kingdom—while “it’s a small world” celebrates holiday traditions from around the world.

This, more than anything else, really helps the parks transform come holiday time. While many crowd favorites remain the same year-round, the “new” attractions that get rolled out for Halloween and Christmas are a special bonus and their limited shelf life makes it difficult for any avid Disney fan to justify skipping out on the parks during its busiest season.

4. Themed resort décor

Gingerbread house at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort

Image: HarshLight, Flickr (license)

As if the castle shows, parades, seasonal performers, firework spectaculars, parties, ride overlays, and holiday character meet-and-greets weren’t enough to satiate even the most enthusiastic Halloween and Christmas participant, Disney’s incredible attention to detail trickles all the way down to their resorts and shopping districts, making each hotel and venue a holiday destination in and of itself.

This is most readily seen at the Walt Disney Resort around Christmastime, where Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort attracts mini crowds around the construction of its annual giant gingerbread house (and the fresh gingerbread that’s packaged and sold from that house, too!) and enormous themed Christmas trees, wreaths, and decorations are draped throughout the lobbies of just about every one of its 28+ on-property resorts.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that resort decorations for other holidays—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.—aren’t rolled out with quite so much enthusiasm or on so large a scale, perhaps in part because no holiday comes close to drawing the kind of attention that Christmas does at the parks each year. For those staying on-property, the resorts’ seasonal décor serves to extend and amplify the holiday feeling for guests… from the moment they step on a Disney bus to the moment they arrive at the gates of the Magic Kingdom.


What is your favorite holiday tradition to celebrate at the Disney Parks each year?