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Cinderella Castle with Lights

There’s no question that Walt Disney World takes on a special look around the holidays. The decorations, treats, and special events draw in plenty of excited guests, but a visit over the holidays isn’t always as magical as you may imagine. If you’re considering a Disney vacation around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years, here are a few bests and worsts to think about so you can plan accordingly.

The best things...

1. Special events

Castle Dream Lights

Image: Disney

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Very Merry Christmas Party are outstanding holiday events that are an annual tradition for many visitors. These separately ticketed events get you into the Magic Kingdom after it’s closed to day guests. The park transforms with holiday festivities that include exclusive characters, special parades, and holiday fireworks. If you’re a fan of Christmas or Halloween, these parties are something you’ll want to try at least once.

Visit as early as you can for the best experience. At a Halloween party in mid-September we were able to walk on every ride in the park, while events later in the season were packed.

2. Festive food

Disney Gingerbread House

Image: Disney

Walt Disney World rolls out special food for the holidays both at the parties previously mentioned at the Magic Kingdom and at other parks and resorts throughout the season. If you’re visiting on the actual holiday, you may even have the chance to enjoy a very rare feast. Some restaurants offer Christmas or Thanksgiving meals with special menus just for that day. Plan to book early, however, as these reservations go fast.

If you can’t get into a holiday meal, all is not lost, as you’ll find festive cookies, cupcakes, and other treats around every corner as the holidays get closer.

3. Seasonal merchandise

Mickey's Very Merry MagicBand

Image: Disney

Halloween and Christmas both come with a slew of seasonal merchandise. Don’t expect to find much for Thanksgiving, though. Sandwiched between the two, this holiday is easily forgotten on Disney’s marketing calendar. If you go all out decorating for these holidays, you’ll love the special finds available this time of year. While Halloween items are fairly exclusive to this season, keep in mind that there are Christmas stores open year-round at Downtown Disney, Magic Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you miss the Christmas season, you can still find special ornaments even in the middle of summer.

4. Holiday characters

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

Image: Disney

Many characters take on a special look around the holidays. Mickey and Minnie don holiday sweaters as Christmas gets closer in many of their meet and greet locations. Though you’ll find more holiday characters at the Magic Kingdom parties than anywhere else, you can find the big five in special attire throughout the season. Many of them, like Santa Goofy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, even appear with special backdrops for the occasion.

5. Breathtaking Decorations

Frozen Holiday Wish

Image: Disney

Walt Disney World’s holiday decorations are over the top for every occasion, but none more so than Christmas. You’ll find towering trees in every park and many resorts. Garlands, lights, and more have the entire property decked out for the holiday. Cinderella’s Castle is particularly breathtaking around Christmas, as it’s iced just for the season. Last year the Fairy Godmother iced the castle, but for 2014 Elsa has taken over the task. The castle gets iced in a special ceremony each night.

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Comments

I do want to add something to this post, at least to the cons. My family and I have been coming down to Florida for the Very Merry Christmas Parade since 2006--originally every other year, but it has since turned into an annual trip for us--and I've learned a few things. Now, I've never been here for the Halloween party, but if anyone plans to come down for the Christmas party, be prepared to pack some pants, sweatshirts, and even winter jackets in some cases. My family and I are currently on our annual vacation to WDW right now, and this past week has been 60's as the high. Not bad, right? However, two or three days ago it didn't even reach 50 degrees, and for people who plan to be outside all day at a park--be it WDW or Universal (it was Universal for us that day)--it'll come as a real shock when one goes to Florida to escape the cold weather. Also, at the mention of Thanksgiving, I would suggest those going for the Christmas parade to go down to WDW right after that holiday. This year is different of course, but my family normally goes down right after Thanksgiving, leaving the crowds at a bare minimum, and the wait times for the rides and character meet-and-greets to be very small. Right before it, however, it's longer than we are used to (though compared to Christmas? Piece of cake.) and we missed out on many things we usually do because of them. Last year we went with my high school marching band on December 26, and it was a definition of hell. If you can avoid going within a week of the holiday you want to be there for, please do. You won't regret it. If you can't...either wait until the crowds dim, or don't plan on getting many things at all.

Those are what I've observed over the years, and I hope that these few points will help people planning a WDW trip in the future, but I just wanted to make a special note of these.

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