Home » 5 Holiday Activities at Walt Disney World Outside the Theme Parks

    5 Holiday Activities at Walt Disney World Outside the Theme Parks

    Beach Club Gingerbread Carousel

    While there is always something to celebrate at Walt Disney World, the resort takes on a special magic during the winter holidays. Events such as Epcot’s Candlelight Processional and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom are well-known as some of the best holiday spectacles anywhere around the globe. Outside the parks, however, are some entirely free or very inexpensive holiday celebrations. These lesser-known events are not as famous as their in-park cousins, but are definitely worth your time.

    1. Visit the resort gingerbread houses

    Beach Club Gingerbread Carousel

    Every year, several of the official Walt Disney World hotels construct elaborate gingerbread structures in their lobbies or other public areas. At the Contemporary Resort, the 17-foot tall gingerbread tree features more than 2,000 individual gingerbread pieces. The Beach Club’s design is a moving gingerbread carousel with five fully decorated chocolate ponies. At the Grand Floridian, a 16-foot tall, fully-realized gingerbread house is the star of the show. Crafted from 10,000 gingerbread shingles, the house takes more than 400 hours to construct each year. It is so big that Disney cast members actually sell gingerbread shingles and other holiday treats across a counter—from inside the house!

    Each gingerbread creation features numerous Hidden Mickeys, so plan to spend some time finding them all. A plaque beside each gingerbread house lists how many Mickeys are hidden, and cast members are happy to help if you get stuck. Another plaque lists the ingredients that went into making that gingerbread house, and the quantities are mind-blowing. 

    2. Listen to choral concerts

    Musical Performance

    Throughout the season, various high school and college choirs, bands, and choruses perform around the Walt Disney World resort at hotels and Downtown Disney. For the latest information, call Guest Relations shortly before your visit to find out what is happening during your stay. These concerts are generally free to attend, last around 30 minutes, and are set up in areas where it is easy to come and go. Whether you have time to stay for the entire show or just to catch a song or two, be sure to pause for a few minutes. The groups are invariably highly talented and full of heart.

    3. Check out Downtown Disney events

    Downtown Disney Snow

    Beyond the fun of shopping for decorations at the 12 Days of Christmas or for presents at the World of Disney, the Downtown Disney district (soon to become Disney Springs) always features a variety of special holiday events. Look for visits by Santa Claus and Santa Goofy, and plenty of photo ops, including a special Frozen ice skating photo area debuting this year. Note that Downtown Disney’s holiday season is usually short when compared to the rest of Walt Disney World, generally lasting from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. However, holiday decorations are already in place in the Marketplace area if you’re feeling in the Christmas spirit already.

    Also note that in 2014, Downtown Disney is undergoing a major renovation and construction project. Parking has been tight all year, and is likely to get worse as the crowds swell for the holidays, so plan for plenty of extra time.

    4. Take part in Fort Wilderness fun

    Fort Wilderness is Walt Disney World’s official campground. Known for its activities, including horseback riding, archery, and campfires with Chip and Dale, Fort Wilderness is particularly fun during the winter holiday season. Many campers decorate their RVs and tents to the hilt, and the Christmas Eve Golf Cart Parade is definitely a sight to behold! In addition, Fort Wilderness is likely one of the only places you will find a sleigh ride in the middle of Central Florida. For a fee, the 25-minute ride in a highly decorated fire-engine red sleigh (equipped with tires) will take you through the campground and allow you to see some of the best decorations. Four adults or a group of five that includes children can typically fit in a sleigh. Call (407) WDW-PLAY to reserve your ride.

    5. Marvel at the resort decorations

    Grand Floridian Tree

    Even the hotels that do not feature gingerbread houses are decorated to the hilt with giant Christmas trees and other spectacular pieces. In past years, some have even handed out small free treats in their lobbies. If you have the extra time in your schedule, it is well worth taking a stroll through as many on-property hotels as possible.

    Note that you do not have to be a Walt Disney World resort guest to visit any of the hotels during the holidays or any other time of year. Three-hour parking is generally available upon showing your driver’s license at the hotel’s security booth, although on very busy days you might be asked to park at the Ticket and Transportation Center and take free Disney transportation. Only the swimming pools are off-limits to those not staying at the hotel.

    It has been said that nobody does Christmas like Walt Disney World. While the in-park festivities are definitely the highlight, the entire resort is awash in holiday magic. Wherever you go on Walt Disney World property, expect to be amazed by the lavish Christmas spirit.