The 2016 Holiday Season at Disney World: What’s New, What’s Returning, What’s Gone

The second November 1st hit, I, like Disney, was in Christmas mode. It truly is incredible how fast Disney turns over from one holiday to another. Like Jack Skellington stepping inside the portal to Christmas Town, Magic Kingdom and the rest of Disney World is instantly transformed from a happy-haunted Halloween town into a Christmas village.

It’s the Christmas season at Walt Disney World, and while the more intricate decor and displays won’t be up until mid November, the holiday craze is very much alive throughout the parks. Having celebrated Christmas the past 6 out of 7 years, I’ve pretty much seen it all. Here’s a list of what’s new, what’s returning, what’s gone and what you absolutely need to do this holiday season!

Magic Kingdom

New: 

“Once Upon a Time” Debuted November 4th 

The new projection show replaces “Celebrate the Magic” beginning November 4th. While not a holiday-themed show, it’s worth mentioning as it does begin during the holiday season at Disney.

Returning:

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Returns November 7th through December 22nd

Mickey and friends are hosting a festive holiday celebration—and you’re invited. The separately ticketed event will take place select nights beginning November 7th through December 22nd.

Jingle Cruise, Returns November 1st

The beloved Jungle Cruise gets a holiday makeover with tons of kitschy decorations and pun-filled holiday jokes. Since 2013, Jungle Cruise has been re-themed for the holidays, getting a new storyline, new decor and even a few new jokes. The homesick skippers have decorated the boathouse with whatever they can find to get them through the holidays. The boats have been re-named and a special holiday broadcast can be heard over the radio.

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Frozen Holiday Wish, Returns November 2nd

“The Frozen Holiday Wish” castle lighting debuted a few years ago during the Frozen frenzy. Anna, Elsa and Olaf are on hand to light, or “freeze” the castle each night during the holiday season. The show will take place at 7pm, with a second showing during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. During Christmas week, the show is slated for 6:30pm, although this can always change.

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, Returns November 7th

The parade, which headlines Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, will replace the Festival of Fantasy Parade during afternoons throughout the Christmas week. The show will take place most afternoons at 12:30 and/or 3:30pm, starting December 23rd.

Parade

Santa Meet-and Greet, Returns November 14

Santa will be meeting guests and taking photos at the Tour Guide Gardens next to City Hall through December 24th.

Gone:

Celebrate the Magic, Ended November 3rd

The “Celebrate the Magic” show was not technically a holiday show, but it will see its final showing during the holiday season. The state-of-the-art castle projection show will be replaced by “Once Upon a Time” which will be a bedtime story told by Mrs. Potts.

Main Street Electrical Parade, Ended October 9th

Again, not a holiday show, but it was certainly a staple for Disney fans. With two showings during Christmas week, the parade not only offered nighttime entertainment, but when everyone lined up for the parade, it provided a solid opportunity to experience your favorite attractions at a reduced wait time. The parade is gone now and the only nighttime entertainment that remains is “Holiday Wishes” and the “Frozen Holiday Wish.”

Hollywood Studios

New: 

“Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam,” Debuts November 14th 

Christmas Day is almost here and Santa’s gone missing! The larger-than-life nighttime spectacular combines realistic projection technology with breathtaking fireworks to transform the park and surround you with unforgettable Disney moments. The show will take place each night starting November 7th through December 31st.

“Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam” Dessert Party, Debuts November 14th

The “Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam” dessert party will offer guests premier viewing areas for the show, along with 3D glasses and an assortment of treats and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The separately ticketed event costs $69 for adults and $39 for kids. During Christmas week, the price increases to $79 for adults and $45 for kids (December 18 through December 31.) Reservations are available through MyDisneyExperience or by calling (407) WDW-DINE.

Santa Meet-and Greet, Debuts November 14th

Santa will be meeting guests and taking photos in the Once Upon a Time Shop on Sunset Boulevard through December 24th. Santa Goofy will take his place from Christmas on.

Returning: 

Minnie’s Holiday Dine, Returns November 7th

Hollywood & Vine receives a holiday makeover. Minnie Mouse will be hosting a holiday dinner with Mickey, Donald, Daisy and Goofy. Hollywood & Vine will be decked with holiday decor, food, music and activities. The cost is $46.99 for adults and $27.99 for children. Meal can also be one Table Service credit on the Disney Dining Plan. The meal can be part of the Fantasmic! dining package for $52.99 for adults and $31.99 for children. Reservations are available at (407) WDW-DINE.

Gone:

The Osborne Lights, Ended January 6th, 2016

*Sniffle* Hollywood Studios will be a little dimmer this holiday season as the beloved Osborne Lights have been discontinued. Of course, it’s for the betterment of the park, as in a few short years, the former home of the light spectacular will be a state-of-the-art Star Wars themed land. Disney has smoothed out the loss with the addition of a brand new show called “Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam.”

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Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special, Ended January 3rd, 2016

Although Disney has not yet announced its plans, it appears that the comedy show will not be returning this year. I was upset by the news, as the comedy show was surprisingly funny. It was one of those shows that both kids and adults could enjoy—a nice twist of silly childish ploys and subtle adult humor. The improv comedy show most likely was discontinued due to the construction at Hollywood Studios.

EPCOT

New: 

Seasonal Tastes at Holidays Around the World, Debuts November 25th

Holidays Around the World returns this year with a few new seasonal offerings. The cultural holiday event held throughout EPCOT’s World Showcase usually includes a few seasonal snacks and tastings traditional to each country’s pavilion. This year, it appears as though Disney has expanded its offerings to create a mini Food & Wine Festival. I’m most excited for the Feast of the Three Kings near World Showcase Plaza, which will pay homage to Three Kings Day, widely celebrated in Spain, Latin America and the Caribbean. Look for a shredded beef tamale with avocado crema; roasted pork with mashed yucca and pickled green bananas, and Three Kings Bread. Drinks will include a Coquito (coconut milk) and Coquito with rum floater.

Returning:

Holidays Around the World, Returns November 25th

One of my favorite events at Disney is Holidays Around the World. Each pavilion throughout the World Showcase features a storyteller who tells of the country’s traditions during the holidays. The pavilions are filled with festive sights and sounds as well as seasonal offerings sold at booths and kiosks.SpaceshipEartNight

Candlelight Processional, Returns November 25th

One of the most popular events at Disney, the Candlelight Processional is not to be missed. A mass choir, joined by a 50-piece live orchestra and a celebrity narrator, tell the story of Christmas in words and music. This year’s narrators include Neil Patrick Harris, Whoopi Goldberg and Cal Ripken Jr. The Candlelight Processional is free with park admission, however, the best way to secure a seat is through the dining package at one of EPCOT’s restaurants. To book a Candlelight Processional meal, call (407) WDW-DINE.

Holiday Illuminations, Returns November 25th

The holiday version of the ever-popular Illuminations show will pick up on November 25th. Included in the park admission, there are plenty of spaces to view Illuminations throughout the World Showcase. I especially love the bridge between the UK Pavilion and France. EPCOT also offers a dessert party, featuring delicious treats and reserved viewing for the show.

JOYFUL! A Gospel Celebration of the Season, Returns November 25th

Daily shows performed at the Fountain Stage.

American Music Machine, Returns November 25th

A five-member acapella group sings a mix of modern and classic holiday songs daily at the Fountain Stage.

Disney Springs

New: 

Christmas Tree Trail, Debuts November 11th

Long rumored to be the new home of a scaled-down Osborne Lights, Disney quickly put the rumors to bed upon announcing a new Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs. The trail will include 15 different trees, each decorated based on your favorite Disney characters and movies. Some of the themes include Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Frozen, a Villains-themed tree and The Muppets. The area will feature a gentle (faux) snowfall and will last through January 8th, 2017.

Christmas Drone Show, Debuts TBA 

A new drone show at Disney Springs will be the first of its kind. Disney will use drone technology, a patent they filed for earlier this year, to create a flurry of shapes and sounds.

Elaborate Storefront Window Displays, Debuts TBA 

Disney will look to redefine “window shopping” at Disney Springs. As a new shopping location, Disney will be all-in this holiday season in an attempt to not only draw in holiday shoppers, but to show off its new and shiny Disney Springs to resort guests.

Returning:

Santa’s Chalet, Returns November 11th

Santa returns to Disney Springs this holiday season. Santa will be on hand to meet and take photos with families from November 11th through December 24th. Santa Goofy will replace Santa, who will get a much-deserved vacation until next Christmas, from December 25th through December 30th. Santa and Santa Goofy will be on hand from noon to 10pm. As of last year, guests may choose to digitally reserve their spot on line and will receive a text message when their window to return and meet Santa is open.

Live Entertainment, Returns November 11th

A popular event the past few years in the now defunct Pleasure Island area, live entertainment includes toy soldiers, stilt walkers, carolers, acapella groups and more.

Special Performances Celebrating Kwanza, Returns December 26th

On December 26th and 27th, a special performance celebrating Kwanza will take place on the Waterside Stage in the marketplace.

Special Performances Celebrating Hanukkah, Returns December 24th

From December 24th through January 1st, evening performances of songs and stories in honor of Hanukkah will be performed at Waterview Park in The Landing.

Animal Kingdom

Returning: 

Characters in Holiday-Themed Attire, Returns November 10th

 The characters will be on-hand throughout Animal Kingdom, garbed in holiday attire. The meet-and-greet makes for a unique photo and keepsake from the holiday season.

Resorts

Returning:

Resort Decorations and Trees, Mid-November

Most decorations will be up throughout the Walt Disney World Resorts by the second week of November. Each resort is decorated on-theme, with the the Value and Moderate resorts featuring small trees and decorations throughout the lobbies. The Deluxe Resorts feature far more grandiose trees and decorations, making them a must-stop during your Christmas trip.

Gingerbread Display at The Contemporary Resort

A “Frozen” themed gingerbread display can be found on the 4th-floor concourse. Inspired by the art of Mary Blair, who designed the mural on the Contemporary concourse, the Ice Castle is decorated with “Frozen” characters Anna, Elsa, Olaf, Kristoff and Sven.

Life-Size Gingerbread House at Grand Floridian

A 16-foot Victorian gingerbread house is made from 1,050 pounds of honey, 600 pounds of powdered sugar, 800 pounds of flour, 700 lbs of Chocolate, 140 pints of egg whites and 35 pounds of spices. It even has smoke coming from the chimney! Plus, the gingerbread house actually serves as an operating store from which to purchase holiday goodies from 10am-10pm daily.

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Edible Carousel at Disney’s Beach Club

A life-size edible carousel is located at Disney’s Beach Club Resort. The display features ponies made of fondant and modeling chocolate, giant candy cane poles, handcrafted snowflakes and 16 hidden Mickeys.

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Edible Train Display at Disney’s Yacht Club

The edible train display features a rock candy mountain and village.

Ginger’s Bread and Cookie Shoppe at BoardWalk Inn

A boardwalk kiosk themed pop-up shop sells Candy Cane Gelato, Brownie Pops, Gingerbread Cupcakes and more.

Holiday Sleigh Rides at Fort Wilderness

From late November through Christmas week, Fort Wilderness offers horse-drawn carriage and sleigh rides throughout the backwoods of Fort Wilderness. Many campers decorate their campsite with intricate and over-the-top decorations, making it a fun experience filled with tons of “oohs” and “aahhs.”

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