Walt Disney World During the Holidays: Beyond the Parks

Lisa Fritscher January 26, 2012 No Comments

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Walt Disney World Imagineers Snow

The Disney Imagineers ensure a steady supply of snow, no matter what the weather

Located just outside Orlando, Florida, Walt Disney World is arguably the best-known family vacation destination in the world. Beyond the four theme parks, Walt Disney World offers dazzling highly-themed resort hotels, world-famous golf courses, miniature golf, and the Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment district. No matter when you visit, you will find that you could spend an entire month at the resort without ever setting foot in a theme park.

But no time is more magical at Walt Disney World than the holiday season, when the entire property is decorated to the hilt and special events abound. For more info about the theme parks during Christmas time read my article Walt Disney World During the Holidays, Inside the Parks. While the theme parks charge a fairly steep admission fee, the holiday events outside the parks are entirely free of charge. In addition, plan to spend some time simply gawking at the decorations. Everywhere you go, expect gigantic Christmas trees, shiny Jewish menorahs, and tributes to Kwanzaa.

When to Go

Although some of the park events begin as soon as a week after Halloween, the season really ramps up on the day after Thanksgiving. Many Disney veterans claim that the two weeks after Thanksgiving are the best time of year to visit, as the holiday events are in full swing but the crowds are extraordinarily light. By contrast, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is typically one of the busiest weeks of the year.

Downtown Disney

Downtown Disney Strolling Musicians

Keep an eye out for strolling musicians at Downtown Disney

Downtown Disney is a highly themed shopping, dining and entertainment district owned by Disney and located on Disney property. Throughout the season, special musical performances, visits by Santa Claus and Santa Goofy, and a wide range of decorations are offered. The Downtown Disney season is comparatively short, generally lasting from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, so plan your time carefully.

You could see the highlights at Downtown Disney in just two hours or so, but most families choose to make an afternoon or evening of it. The 50,000 square foot, 12-room World of Disney is a wonderful place to lose track of time, while the 12 Days of Christmas shop is a true must-see during the season. Of course, you might want to do some of your Christmas shopping at the fascinating specialty boutiques. Dining opportunities run the gamut from the Earl of Sandwich, featuring gourmet sandwiches at fast food prices, to such celebrity chef outposts as Wolfgang Puck’s. Leave room for dessert at Ghirardelli!

Gingerbread Houses

Contemporary Resort Gingerbread Tree

The Contemporary Resort's impressive gingerbread tree

The Walt Disney World resort hotels are renowned for the culinary talents of their chefs, and one of the biggest demonstrations of the year occurs during the holidays. Several Disney resorts present gingerbread house displays–but these are unlike any gingerbread houses you are likely to have seen before!

At Disney’s Contemporary Resort, you can gawk at the 17-foot holiday tree constructed entirely of gingerbread. The tree features more than 2,000 gingerbread shingles, and the recipe is simply mind-boggling. More than 200 pounds of flour, 150 pounds of chocolate, 130 pounds of honey and 100 eggs are used in creating the elaborate display. Pick up a gingerbread shingle or other holiday treat at the small shop in front of the tree.

Disney Boardwalk Inn Gingerbread House

A homey scene made entirely of gingerbread

At Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, Stitch joins classic Disney characters in a warm, homey scene–perhaps a little too warm for Donald Duck! Dressed as Santa, he is halfway down the chimney when he realizes that the fire is lit. The scene is created from highly decorated gingerbread in proportions similar to those used at the Contemporary.

The Disney Beach Club Resort offers a long-standing favorite–a gingerbread carousel with five

Disney Beach Club Gingerbread Carousel

A rotating gingerbread carousel

individually decorated chocolate ponies. The rotating carousel utilizes 50 pounds of dark chocolate, 100 pounds of confectioner’s sugar and 100 pounds of icing, in addition to the gingerbread ingredients.

Save the display at the Disney Grand Floridian for last. The stunning Victorian resort is spectacular at any time, and the graceful, elegant yet unpretentious Christmas overlay literally takes my breath away. Musicians perform throughout the afternoon and early evening, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse are decked out in their Victorian holiday best. But a sizable portion of the ground floor is dedicated to the jaw-dropping 16-foot tall gingerbread house.

Disney Grand Floridian Gingerbread House

This impressively detailed gingerbread house stands 16 feet tall!

The elaborately decorated house contains more than 10,000 shingles made from a secret Austrian recipe. It takes a team of chefs, designers, bakers and builders more than 400 hours to create and install. The house is so big that Disney cast members actually sell a wide variety of baked goods across a counter–from inside the house! The display draws quite a crowd, so the baked goods line may be long.

Hidden Mickeys have become a Walt Disney World tradition. In rides, shows, restaurants and shops, Disney designers hide the image of Mickey Mouse or other characters within plain sight. In fine Disney tradition, each of the annual gingerbread displays contains numerous Hidden Mickeys. The gingerbread Mickeys are always the classic “three circles” shape and are typically silver or gold. Ask the nearest Cast Member how many there are, as the numbers change each year.

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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