Orlando, Florida, is home to a few of the most magical places in the world, at any time of year. So we could only imagine what these wonderful places would be like during the festive period! Late November, early December is a great time to visit Orlando, because the weather is still mostly sunny and warm, the festive period is really kicking off, but the parks are nice and quiet. We visited the week of Thanksgiving and the following week. I can tell you now, we wouldn’t recommend visiting during the few days surrounding Thanksgiving, as it gets super busy, especially on the weekend! The week after Thanksgiving however, the parks are really quiet, the Christmas decs are up and it really is a magical experience.
Let’s face it, the main reason many people visit Orlando is to experience the largest Disney park in the world. With 6 parks covering over 27,000 acres, there is so much to see and do, and we’d definitely recommend at least 4 days to see the main parks. Many hotels offer free shuttle buses to the parks, so do check this out and make use of it if you can, as parking can be a bit hectic.
Throughout all of the parks, keep your eyes peeled for cast members, as you’ll spot them here and there posing for photos. There are also parades and little shows and acts dotted around the parks that just seem to pop up here and there, especially in the Magic Kingdom, so enjoy those too!
I loved the way that the whole of the parks were covered in poinsettia flowers for the Christmas season, bathing the scenery in a warm, festive red carpet.
The best bit about visiting late in the year? It gets dark earlier, so you can see the magical Cinderella’s Castle all lit up and sparkly even if you haven’t got the energy to stick around late into the night. I wonder how long it took to string up those lights..?
Epcot is a particularly special treat at Christmas, as the World Showcase sections are decorated in the festive traditions of the countries they represent.
I especially loved this teapot and teacup in the United Kingdom section – very appropriate! I did wonder whether the Christmas tree and holly leaves are decals, or whether this is the specific ‘Christmas tea set’ – does anyone know?
The nutcracker doll originated in Germany in the late 17th Century – so they’ve been around for a while! They were thought to help ward away bad spirits. After the Second World War, mass production began outside of Germany, with many countries falling in love with the little characters, and of course the ‘Nutcracker’ ballet helped to escalate the trend.
Aren’t these little Norwegian cookies the cutest? I wish my baking looked this good!
The French section of World Showcase is beautiful, of course, and features lovely winding streets and these gorgeous half-sectioned baubles as festive display cases.
Don’t forget to try some tasty treats throughout the World Showcase – these warm, sweet churros with salted caramel hit just the right spot on a cold winter’s day.
Of course, Hollywood Studios is decorated with all the glitz and glamour you would be expect from Hollywood at this time of year. We whizzed straight into the park at opening time to get some shots whilst it was still reasonably quiet, before testing our stomachs on the Tower of Terror ride (!) I didn’t realise how intense it would be, and was glad that we’d had some time to digest our breakfast!
At the moment, Animal Kingdom is all about Pandora, the new Avatar section that has opening up in 2017. I have to admit, that this place is absolutely stunning, and despite not being a huge fan of the movie, I completely fell in love with the beauty and detail in this area. Whilst it may not have been decorated for Christmas, it was still spectacular.
I really liked the festive decorations around Animal Kingdom – they all had a fun, quirky, colourful style which was so refreshing. These little ‘Tree of Life’ inspired baubles are just gorgeous.
Now, we hadn’t realised before physically visiting the Disney parks that there is a Disney shopping centre too! Disney Springs boasts a whole bunch of lovely shops, including Free People, Kate Spade, Vans, and my new favourite shop, Sugarboo. There is also a World of Disney store, which is a huge Disney shop with loads of merchandise which you can also find across the parks.
If you’re looking for a bite to eat, there are plenty of lovely restaurants here too, and at one, you can even rent a ride in a classic car that transforms into a boat!
For Christmas, the palm trees have all been glitzified and covered in fairy lights, and you’ll find more of those festive poinsettia flowers laid out in the centre sections.
One of my favourite things in the Disney stores for the festive period, were the gorgeous and intricate decorative baubles – just look how beautiful they are! I was pretty nervous about trying to get one home without it breaking, so I reluctantly pulled myself away from them (although I did manage to convince Jona that we needed a miniature Lumiere for the tree!!).
There are some really lovely homeware items in the World of Disney store, and it is a great place to look for Christmas gift ideas. You can get all sorts, from teapots, to aprons, to ovengloves!
Almost every wall has been decorated for the festive season with beautiful wreaths and swags, and lovely delicate reindeer. Some of the baubles on the main tree must have been at least the size of our cats too – Disney certainly don’t do half measures!
Celebration is a town that was founded in the 1990s as a vision of Walt Disney’s dream of a perfect community for the future. As you drive around the town, you definitely get that vibe. The houses are all beautiful estates, many of which are huge, detached mansions; the lawns are all perfectly manicured, almost every front door has a wreath hung upon it, or the balconies are strewn with icicles and fairy lights for Christmas. The town square has a nostalgic, vintage feel to it, and there is a huge, beautiful lake which the town appears to gently drift into. We spotted several terrapins and we think what may have been a Florida soft shell turtle in the lake too!
Oh, and a lot of the Christmas decorations were Disney-themed! Look at those Mickey Mouse wreaths, aren’t they adorable?!
Ok, I’ll be honest, there was one main reason that I wanted to visit Universal Studios again this year, and that is to see Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade in the (fake) snow. I loved the Wizarding World of Harry Potter when we visited 2 years ago, and I knew that it would be even more spectacular at Christmas time, so we couldn’t miss it!
I have to say however, that the rest of the park was beautifully decorated for Christmas, especially the main street section of the main park. The palm trees were spiralled with fairy lights, the lamps wore cosy Santa hats, and there were baubles, wreaths and swags wherever you looked.
A quick tip for the entrance section to Diagon Alley – when you are stood by the Knight Bus, sneak round to the back of the bus and you can take a peek inside at the beds and other items, and you can get a photo on the pole!
When in the Wizarding World, you must try some butterbeer, and here, you can choose between many different versions, including normal, frozen or hot. Our favourite is the frozen butterbeer, and last time we were here, we purchased the souvenir goblets that you can refill for a slight discount (I think we managed a good 3 or 4 butterbeers throughout the day!).
Don’t you just wish that more shopfronts were painted in these beautiful, rich colours? This one almost looks made for Christmas swags and wreaths.
It’s easy to get drawn into the excitement and novelty in a place like this and forget to really take a moment to stop and look around. Even now, there are things that I look back on photographs and comment that I hadn’t noticed them at the time, like those little golden snitch decorations at the top of this building.
I had spotted these larger ones below though! Aren’t they lovely? I’m temped to have a go at making some for our tree.
Or how about some Hogwarts Houses bunting for the tree? They also had Hogwarts Express train baubles which I was very tempted by!
If you visit the Wizarding World during late November/early December, don’t forget to check out the ‘Hogwarts in the Snow’ light display on Hogwarts Castle, it really is spectacular! We managed, just about, to watch the Christmas parade in Universal Studios and then queue for the Hogwarts Express to get back to Islands of Adventure to watch the show. Just a tip however, this really was extremely tight time-wise, so I’d recommend if you have more than one day that you watch the parade one evening, and the light display another.
We think that we managed to pick a pretty good spot to watch the parade at Universal Studios. We positioned ourselves in the main street section near the front of the park, which meant that we had beautiful, lit palm trees and storefronts in the background of our shots, which just add another layer of prettiness.
The parade was, of course, absolutely breathtaking. You can really see how much work, time and effort goes into setting these parades up. The costumes were stunning, and all of the cast were perfectly in time and had amazing routines.
Of course, many of our favourite characters were there too, including all of the characters from Shrek, the Minions from Despicable Me, and the animals from Madagascar.
So that’s really about it for a super quick run down of our festive highlights from our recent trip to Orlando. Have you visited Florida during the festive season? If so, what was your favourite part? We’d love to hear!