Disney World Special Events, Festivals and Parties

LAST UPDATE: 2/4/16 This page covers Walt Disney World special events and annual festivals in the theme parks, Disney resorts and Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney).

This is an UNOFFICIAL listing, and while we make our best efforts to keep it updated, complete and accurate, Disney changes things constantly. Be sure to call ahead before making any major plans based on the information below!

For recurring Disney World special events (e.g., Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party) we update new information as it becomes available, but we do not remove the previous year’s information until the new year’s information becomes available. We do this so that you can get a general idea of what has been offered in the past, and the range of dates when it was offered.

Walt Disney World Special Events, Festivals & Parties

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January-March Events

April-June Events

July-September Events

October-December Events

New Year’s Day

Christmas decorations remain up throughout Walt Disney World through New Year, and generally several days past the first of the year.

There are special meals available at certain restaurants on New Year’s Day. You can reserve holiday meals up to 180 days in advance by calling (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463).

Note that “holiday pricing” (i.e. higher prices) will be in effect for some restaurants (particularly the buffets and character meals) from mid-December through the first few days of January (holiday season). Other restaurants may charge a premium on New Year’s Day, so be sure to ask when booking reservations.

Walt Disney World Marathon and Half Marathon

The Walt Disney World Marathon and Half Marathon highlight an entire running weekend at Walt Disney World Resort. Other highlights include Goofy’s Race-and-a-Half Challenge, Family Fun Run 5K and Kids’ Races.

In 2016, the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend was January 6-10.

Registration for the 2016 Marathon Weekend opened April 28, 2015.

Walt Disney World Annual & Season Passholders, Disneyland Annual Passport holders and DVC members are able to register ahead of the general public for some runDisney events. Check the Annual Passholder or DVC member website for details closer to the public registration date.

Chinese New Year

Each year the China Pavilion in Epcot has a Chinese New Year celebration. Usually there are Chinese acrobats and special activities for kids.

Club Villain

New for 2016, Club Villain is a special ticketed event in Sunset Showcase in Disney’s Hollywood Studios beginning January 16, 2016. The mysterious Dr. Facilier is your host for the evening, welcoming guests and his friends from the “other side” to his parlor of mystical mishaps, with musical numbers and a wicked mix from his house DJ. Also stopping by to socialize are those divas of evil, Maleficent, Queen of Hearts, Cruella De Vil and the Evil Queen.

Enjoy fiendish concoctions from the Potions Bar, savor culinary delights from New Orleans and beyond, meet with the villains and dance the night away.

Club Villain takes place select evenings for $99 per person, tax and gratuity included. A separate ticket for admission to Disney’s Hollywood Studios is required.

Mardi Gras

A little-known event on Mardi Gras (which in 2016 will be February 9) is the mini-parade through Disney’s Port Orleans Resort. Several departments of the resort build floats on golf carts. The floats are judged and then parade through the grounds. During the parade they throw New Orleans-style trinkets (beads, candy, doubloons) to the guests who line up to watch. If you will be at Port Orleans on Mardi Gras, be sure to ask at the front desk when this event will take place.

Disney’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend

This annual event includes Disney’s Princess Half Marathon, a Family Fun Run 5K, and Kids’ Races.

In 2016, the Disney’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend will be February 18-21.

Registration for the 2016 Disney’s Princess Half Marathon opened July 14, 2015.

Walt Disney World Annual & Season Passholders, Disneyland Annual Passport holders and DVC members are able to register ahead of the general public for some runDisney events. Check the Annual Passholder or DVC member website for details closer to the public registration date.

Atlanta Braves Spring Training at Disney’s Wide World of Sports

The Atlanta Braves hold their Spring Training season at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex starting in February. After a period of workouts, the Braves play a series of games against major rivals at The Ballpark at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex.

Game dates can be found here and ticket information is here. More information on the Braves spring training season is available online at espnwwos.com.

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is an annual event. Thirty million blooms, half a million plants, nearly 100 topiaries, 240 floating mini-gardens and 1,000 butterflies add up to a wonderful world of theme park color at the Festival. The popular Outdoor Kitchens feature foods & beverages from the garden and grill. Every Friday through Sunday, HGTV design celebrities will host Festival Center seminars. Garden Rocks concerts (formerly known as Flower Power concerts) featuring popular bands rock the open-air America Gardens Theatre every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 5:30, 6:45 and 8:00 pm.

The 2016 Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival will be March 2 – May 30.

More information about the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is available at disneyworld.com/flower. The festival, including all gardening programs and exhibits, is included in regular Epcot admission.

New!2016 Garden Rocks Concert Series (formerly known as Flower Power Concerts)

St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is March 17 each year. Raglan Road Irish Restaurant & Pub usually offers a program of Irish music, song and dance during St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

For 2015, the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) was March 13-17. The Raglan Road Dancers  and a variety of Irish bands perform during this event. A selection of beers, food by Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon of Raglan Road and complimentary face painting are part of the festivities.

Easter

Easter Sunday in 2016 will be March 27.

Magic Kingdom

Epcot

Hotel Events

Some of the Disney hotels offer egg hunts, egg decorating, characters in Easter costumes, etc. to their guests on Easter morning. If you are staying at a Disney hotel, inquire at the front desk when you arrive.

Grand Floridian Resort pastry chefs usually display elaborate edible Easter Eggs in the lobby. In 2015, the Easter Eggs were on display beginning March 20.

Special Meals & Meal Pricing

There are special meals available at certain restaurants on Easter Sunday. An Easter Brunch is usually held each year at the Epcot World ShowPlace located between Canada and the United Kingdom pavilions. Regular Epcot admission is required. You can reserve holiday meals up to 180 days in advance by calling (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463).

Note that “holiday pricing” (i.e. higher prices) will be in effect for some restaurants (particularly the buffets and character meals) for the two weeks on either side of Easter. Other restaurants may charge a premium on Easter Sunday, so be sure to ask when booking reservations.

Religious Services

Services are held on Easter Sunday only in the Fantasia Ballroom at the Contemporary Resort. Catholic Mass is held at 8:00 am and 10:15 am. A Protestant service is held at 9:00 am.

You may not park at the Contemporary for these services, so to get there, you must do one of the following:

Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side

New for 2016, this event will include a 5K, 10K, kids races and half marathon plus a special challenge for completing the 10K and half marathon called the Star Wars Dark Side Challenge. Runners who participate in both Star Wars Half Marathon events (the Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side at Walt Disney World and the Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland) will earn the inaugural Kessel Run Challenge medal.

In 2016, the Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side will be April 14-17.

Registration for the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side opened September 22, 2015.

Walt Disney World Annual & Season Passholders, Disneyland Annual Passport holders and DVC members are able to register ahead of the general public for some runDisney events. Check the Annual Passholder or DVC member website for details closer to the public registration date.

Expedition Everest Challenge

This 5K race is offered at Animal Kingdom and is followed by an exclusive Post-Race Party in the theme park. Attractions open for this party include Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur, Dinoland U.S.A. and Expedition Everest.

The Expedition Everest Challenge is not currently on the 2016 runDisney schedule. In 2015, the Expedition Everest Challenge was May 1-2.

Registration for the 2015 Expedition Everest Challenge opened on December 16, 2014.

Walt Disney World Annual & Season Passholders, Disneyland Annual Passport holders and DVC members are able to register ahead of the general public for some runDisney events. Check the Annual Passholder or DVC member website for details closer to the public registration date.

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) is a celebration of Mexican heritage and commemorates a Mexican victory in the 1862 Battle of Puebla. There is a relatively low-key Cinco de Mayo celebration centered on the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot, tied in with the International Flower & Garden Festival. It usually features some sort of special activity for families.

Star Wars Weekends

Each year for several weekends in early summer, Star Wars actors and characters in costume appear in special motorcades and autograph sessions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Other fun events such as Star Wars trivia contests and special Star Wars parades are also held.

There are no Star Wars Weekends scheduled for 2016 due to the construction of the Star Wars-themed land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The 2015 Star Wars Weekends were held on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May 15 – June 14.

In 2015, from May 4 – June 14 you could dine with your favorite Disney characters dressed as their favorite Star Wars character at Jedi Mickey’s Star Wars Dine at Hollywood & Vine. Or, dine with Star Wars characters, such as Darth Vader and Boba Fett, at the Star Wars Dine-In Galactic Breakfast at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. Advance reservations are highly recommended. Admission to Disney’s Hollywood Studios is required.

Star Wars Weekends Premium Packages

The Feel the Force Premium Package includes reserved viewing for the Legends of the Force: Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade from 11 am – noon on event weekends, with a selection of soft drinks, water and a snack, reserved seating for one of the celebrity talk shows in Theater of the Stars, reserved viewing for the nightly Symphony in the Stars fireworks show and a Star Wars-themed dessert party with specialty alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The cost is $69 per adult or $39 for children ages 3 to 9 (tax and gratuity included). Park admission is required.

The Feel the Force Deluxe Premium Package includes the benefits listed above and allows guests to follow behind the Legends of the Force: Star Wars Celebrity Motorcade down Hollywood Boulevard, provides reserved seating for all of the celebrity talk shows that day in the Theater of the Stars and offers priority access to Darth’s Mall throughout the day of the package. It also comes with a commemorative lanyard and credential. The cost is $99 per adult or $64 for children ages 3 to 9 (tax and gratuity included). Park admission is required. This package must be booked by phone.

  • 2015 Star Wars Weekend Premium Package reservations opened on April 7, 2015. Go online or call (407) 939-3463 for more details or to book.

Teen Beach 2: Beach Party at Typhoon Lagoon

New for 2015, from May 22 through July 5, guests could join in the Teen Beach 2: Beach Party at various times throughout day at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park. The fun includes “bikers” and “surfers” who dance and play beach-themed games with guests as a DJ spins remixes of retro tunes. Taking over part of Typhoon Lagoon’s main beach area, guests can participate in relays on the sand, hula hoop spinning, water balloon and beach ball tossing, and the grooviest dance moves this side of Mt. Mayday. This new summertime dance party was inspired by Disney Channel’s Teen Beach 2, a sequel to Teen Beach Movie.

Gay Days

Gay Days is usually held the first week of June. In 2016 the dates will be May 31 – June 6. While this is not a Disney-sponsored event, it is a very well-attended one.

Gay Days originally began in 1991. At the time it was “Gay Day in the Magic Kingdom,” a single day when the gay and gay supportive community was encouraged to “Wear Red and Be Seen” while visiting the world’s most popular theme park. Over the years it has grown to a week-long event. Visit GayDays.com for more info.

Sounds Like Summer

All summer long you can dance to classic rock n’ roll hits under the skies of the open-air America Gardens Theater at Epcot. This summer concert series features a lineup of cover bands performing timeless tunes. Get the family together and groove to the songs you all know and love!

There are three shows nightly at 5:30 pm, 6:45 pm and 8:00 pm, which are included in park admission.

The 2015 “Sounds Like Summer” concerts were offered June 7 through July 25.

2015 Sounds Like Summer Concert Series

Car Masters Weekend

Downtown Disney Car Masters Weekend, held each June, celebrates everything car-related. In 2014, this event was offered June 14-15.

This event is not currently on the 2015 Disney schedule, we assume because of the construction going on at Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney).

Featuring all things Cars, the event showcases more than 150 classic, muscle and exotic cars; a chance for guests to meet Cars 2 stars Lightning McQueen, Mater and Finn McMissile; and special appearances by automotive designer Chip Foose and Disney-Pixar Cars filmmaker Jay Ward.

Completing the car-nucopia of events, fans may purchase tickets for a Cars & Cars 2 movie marathon at AMC Movies at Disney Springs 24, “test drive” Ridemakerz “Cars” models, and enjoy caricatures, themed food and beverage, live entertainment and more. Entertainment subject to change.

Frozen Summer Fun Live!

Frozen Summer Fun Live! in Disney’s Hollywood Studios brings to life the world of royal sisters Anna and Elsa and their fairy tale kingdom of Arendelle. Most activities are included in theme park admission.

For 2015, Frozen Summer Fun Live! was held June 17 – September 7.

Here are some highlights (*schedule subject to change without notice):

 Frozen Summer Fun Premium Package

In 2015, you can reserve viewing for Anna and Elsa’s Royal Welcome, For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration and Frozen Fireworks Spectacular with the Frozen Summer Fun Premium Package. This package includes an exclusive dessert party during the fireworks.

The Frozen Summer Fun Premium Package costs $69 for adults and $36 for children ages 3-9 (including tax and gratuity). Park admission is required. The number of packages available each day is limited. The Anna and Elsa’s Royal Welcome procession and the dessert party offer a reserved viewing area, no seating is available. Wheelchairs and ECVs will be accommodated.

  • 2015 Frozen Summer Fun Premium Packages went on sale April 15, 2015. Go online or call (407) 939-3463 to book.

Disney Soccer Academy

Kids ages 5-18 can play and learn side by side with superstars of the game during this 4-day instructional camp at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Past camp sessions have featured appearances from professional English Premier League players including Craig Bellamy of Liverpool, Paul Robinson of Blackburn Rovers, and Aaron Hughes of Fulham.

The 2015 academy sessions were June 22-25 and June 29 – July 2. For more details, click here.

Independence Day (July 4)

Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios all offer special fireworks shows for Independence Day (July 4). These festivities are included in regular park admission.

In 2015, there were special fireworks shows on July 3 & 4 in the Magic Kingdom. On July 4th there was a special fireworks show at Hollywood Studios and a special Independence Day version of Illuminations at Epcot.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom does not offer fireworks since they would disturb the animals.

If you plan to visit one of the theme parks on July 4 (particularly if it falls on a weekend), be aware that it is one of the most popular days of the year. The parks may reach full capacity at some point during the day, and you may not be admitted (or re-admitted) to the parks until the crowds die down again, usually around dinner time. (This can happen even if you have a ticket, even if you’re staying at a Disney resort and even if you have dining reservations in the park. If the park is full, it’s full — Disney has to follow fire codes!) For that reason it’s best to arrive first thing in the morning and stay in the same park all day, or if you plan to leave, don’t plan anything (like dinner reservations) that would require you to re-enter in the afternoon. Bring any items you may need later and stow them in a locker when you arrive (the lockers will also sell out). Get FastPasses right away if you think you will want to ride anything, because the lines will be very long by noon.

Bastille Day

On July 14 the France Pavilion in Epcot celebrates Bastille Day, which commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution. This is a low-key event, but there are special activities for kids and adults.

Night of Joy

Contemporary Christian music acts perform at Disney World on two nights each September. This is an after-hours event that requires a separate ticket.

New for 2016, Disney’s Night of Joy will take place in indoor and outdoor venues at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, allowing more people to attend the event. Night of Joy guests will receive admission to Magic Kingdom Park and there will dedicated transportation will be provided so that guests can easily move from Magic Kingdom Park to the Sports Complex.

In 2015, Night of Joy was held at Magic Kingdom on September 11 and 12.

2015 Night of Joy tickets went on sale on April 8, 2015.

Halloween

Halloween decorations start going up in the Magic Kingdom in late August (generally before Labor Day weekend) and are complete in time for the first Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.

If you are staying at one of Disney’s resorts over Halloween, ask the front desk concierge whether any special events are planned. Frequently the resorts do offer some kind of festivities.

Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) offers live entertainment such as music, storytelling, a dance party, stilt walkers and/or magicians on Halloween. Trick-or-treating was eliminated as of 2011.

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is held on selected nights in September and October each year. It is offered from 7:00 pm to midnight, after the regular closing of Magic Kingdom, and requires separate admission. (You don’t have to have paid admission on the same day to the Magic Kingdom in order to attend the special after-hours event.) Guests with Not So Scary Halloween Party tickets are admitted to the park as early as 4:00 pm. You will need to get a wristband that allows you to stay in the park after the party begins.

Admission to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party includes trick-or-treating for adults and kids, costume parades for little ones, character meet-and-greets, fortune tellers, Halloween riverboat ride, two performances of a unique holiday parade, and a special fireworks display. Attendees can wear costumes (subject to a few rules based on safety and appropriateness). Plus, most of the major attractions are open.

Other activities include:

Is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party worth the money? Depends on how much you are “into” Halloween. Some of the experiences available during the party are not offered at any other time, so it allows you to enjoy Magic Kingdom in a unique way.

Although the number of people admitted each night is limited, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party can feel quite crowded, particularly on weekend nights and the last couple of nights it’s offered. The rides will be less busy than they would be at that time on a regular park night, but the headliners can still build up some decent wait times, and the special character meetings will often have quite long lines. To give you some idea, on October 25th, 2013, one of the busiest Friday nights, before the party started the wait time for Peter Pan’s Flight was hovering between 30-40 minutes. After the party started, the wait went down to 20-30 minutes. On the other hand, the Haunted Mansion didn’t change; it was 10-15 minutes before the party started and 10-15 minutes after the party started. Don’t necessarily expect to walk onto every ride. The party is more about the parades and Halloween “atmosphere.”

It’s fun to have dinner at Tony’s Town Square or Liberty Tree Tavern just before the party. This allows you to be in the park right when the festivities begin. The two restaurants book up quickly, so make reservations as early as possible (180 days in advance).

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party 2015 was offered from 7:00 pm to midnight on September 15, 18, 20, 22, 25, 27 and October 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31 and November 1.

Friday nights in October and the final week leading up to Halloween usually sell out in advance, and are not discounted.

2015 Prices and Discounts

  • 2015 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party tickets went on sale April 8, 2015. Go online or call (407) W-DISNEY (934-7639) to order.

Happy HalloWishes Dessert Premium Package

In 2015, Disney added a new event to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. The Happy HalloWishes Dessert Party was offered on select evenings from September 15 through November 1.

This separately ticketed premium event includes preferred viewing for Mickey’s “Boo-To-You” Halloween Parade and a private dessert party with a view of the Happy HalloWishes Nighttime Spectacular. Each guest receives a skull mug filled with candy for their trick-or-treat takeaway.

The Happy HalloWishes Dessert Premium Package costs $69 for adults or $39 for children (ages 3 to 9) which includes tax. Admission to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is required and is not included in the price. Seating is not available for the parade viewing, but wheelchairs and ECV’s can be accommodated. Seating will be available at the dessert party, where it will be pre-assigned. Please note that Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is a separate ticketed event and is not included in Magic Kingdom Park admission.

Reservations are highly recommended for the 2015 Happy HalloWishes Dessert Party was offered September 15, 18, 20, 22, 25, 27; October 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31 and November 1.

  • Reservations for the 2015 Happy HalloWishes Dessert Party opened on August 17. Go online or call (407) 939-3463 to book. Please note: admission to Mickey’s-Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is required and is not included in the price.

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Each fall, Epcot hosts the International Food and Wine Festival, a several-weeks-long celebration that includes both “free” (i.e. included in Epcot admission) and separately ticketed events such as food and wine pairings, specialty dinners, Party for the Senses, culinary demonstrations and wine/beverage seminars.

The 2015 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival was September 25 – November 16.

During the seven-week, entertainment-packed event, park guests can taste fine cuisine and wines from the top “foodie” cities of the world. Festival guests can enjoy the flavors of more than 25 international marketplaces dotting the World Showcase promenade. Tapas-sized portions of regional specialties run $3 to $8 each, and recommended wines and beers make perfect pairings at each kiosk.

For 2015, Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak invites kids of all ages to join a World Showcase scavenger hunt for little Remy statuettes hidden around the park’s World Showcase. Maps, stickers and prizes are involved.

Annual highlights include:

Authentic Taste seminars, Authors Without Borders programs with special book signings at the Festival Center, Eat to the Beat! concerts, and all attractions and park entertainment are included with regular Epcot admission. Click here for additional information about the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

Wondering what it’s really like?

Click here to read a review of the 2010 Food & Wine Festival “international marketplaces” (aka food booths).

A Few Tips

Separate admission events for the Food and Wine Festival fall into two categories: Premium Events and Seminars.

Premium Events & Experiences such as the Party for the Senses, Food and Wine Pairings at select Epcot restaurants, Signature Dining, Epcot Wine Schools and other special wine and culinary programs require reservations and payment of an additional fee over and above park admission. On July 16, 2015, a complete list of these events became available on the official site at DisneyWorld.com/foodandwine. These events are very popular and it is advisable to book as early as possible. Tickets are non-refundable and non-transferrable.

  • 2015 Food and Wine Festival Premium Events tickets went on sale July 30 at 7:00 am EST. To reserve, call (407) WDW-FEST (939-3378) and have your credit card ready.

Wine & Beverage Seminars, Culinary Seminars and Mixology Seminars are offered in the Festival Welcome Center and require reservations and payment of an additional fee over and above park admission.

  • In 2015, Chase Disney Visa Cardholders were able to book seminars, demonstrations, and select special events early, on July 28 at 7 :00 am EST. Call (407) WDW-FEST (939-3378) and have your credit card ready.

Eat to the Beat Concerts

Enjoy musical evenings during the Food & Wine Festival with the “Eat to the Beat!” concerts scheduled daily at 5:30, 6:45 and 8:00 pm on the America Gardens Theatre stage. Please note: lineup is subject to change.

You can make FastPass+ reservations for the Eat to the Beat concert series. Normal FastPass+ booking guidelines apply.

2015 Eat to the Beat! Concert Lineup

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler

This Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Milers runs through Disney property and then guests have the opportunity to ride thrilling Disney’s Hollywood Studios attractions until 4:00 am! In addition to the 10-mile run, there is also a Family Fun Run 5k and Kids’ Races.

This event is not currently on the 2016 runDisney schedule, we assume because of the construction going on at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It was not held in 2015.

In 2014, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler was October 3-4.

Walt Disney World Annual & Season Passholders, Disneyland Annual Passport holders and DVC members are able to register ahead of the general public for some runDisney events. Check the Annual Passholder or DVC member website for details closer to the public registration date.

Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend

Catch the magic of a spectacular 3-park nighttime Half Marathon with a delicious Food & Wine Festival After Party plus the Mickey’s Jingle Jungle 5K, Kids’ Races and more!

In 2016, the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend will be November 4-5.

Registration for the 2016 Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend will open on March 15, 2016.

Walt Disney World Annual & Season Passholders, Disneyland Annual Passport holders and DVC members are able to register ahead of the general public for some runDisney events. Check the Annual Passholder or DVC member website for details closer to the public registration date.

Festival of the Masters

Award-winning visual artists transform Downtown Disney into a vast outdoor gallery during the Festival of the Masters each November.

Due to the construction in Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) the Festival of the Masters was not held in 2014 or 2015. The 2014 Festival of the Masters was originally scheduled for November 7-9.

To qualify for Festival of the Masters, artists must have earned a primary award in a juried art festival within the last three years. Prospective exhibitors submit award verification and slides of their works to a jury of art experts, who then have the formidable task of reviewing the slides and selecting the participants. This process ensures that visitors to the Festival will be treated to one of the finest displays of art in the nation. Hence, Festival of the Masters has become one of the most sought-after shows among artists.

Over 200 honorees from art festivals around the country showcase painting, photography, glass works, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, jewelry and digital art. Live entertainment and children’s activities are also part of the weekend-long event. Festival guests can experience culinary offerings and dance to live music.

This is a daytime event. Admission and parking are FREE. For more information, call (407) 824-4321 or visit disneyworld.com.

Advocare Invitational (formerly known as the Orlando Classic)

Each year ESPN cooks up a Thanksgiving weekend basketball feast so big that even if a match-up or two turns out to be a proverbial “turkey,” the event still will provide roundball junkies with a memorable holiday treat.

The 2015 Advocare Invitational will be November 26, 27 & 29 at the HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Thanksgiving

Disney does not offer a Thanksgiving parade or decorations in the parks. (However, the Christmas decorations are normally in place by Thanksgiving weekend.)

There are special meals available at most Disney World restaurants on Thanksgiving. Reservations for holiday meals can be booked up to 180 days in advance by calling (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463).

Note that “holiday pricing” (i.e. higher prices) will be in effect for some restaurants (particularly the buffets and character meals) from the weekend prior to Thanksgiving through the weekend after Thanksgiving. Other restaurants may charge a premium on Thanksgiving Day, so be sure to ask when booking reservations.

Christmas Decorations

Christmas decorations at the Walt Disney World Resort usually begin going up around the first of November. The decorations are gradually added at night and are substantially complete at Magic Kingdom by the time of the first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (in 2015, that will be November 8), with the resorts and other parks completed by the day after Thanksgiving. The decorations usually start coming down about January 3.

The Disney resorts are all decorated for the holidays, as are the theme parks. Each theme park will have an enormous decorated Christmas tree and so will the Deluxe resort lobbies.

Deluxe Resort Edible Holiday Displays

Among the especially amazing decorations are the edible holiday displays whipped up by pastry chefs throughout Walt Disney World Resort. Gingerbread goodies are sold nearby. Most of the displays open on Thanksgiving weekend.

The Deluxe resorts at Walt Disney World offer fantastic edible displays. Beach Club Resort usually has a fully detailed, life-sized gingerbread carousel in the lobby. The lobby of Yacht Club Resort has had displays such as a miniature New England-style train racing through a sugary rock mountain surrounded by a candy-coated model village. The lobby of BoardWalk Resort always has an amazing gingerbread display, and the Contemporary Resort has had a 17-foot gingerbread Christmas tree!

The biggest edible production is a gingerbread house at Grand Floridian Resort that is large enough that it doubles as a real bake shop. Featuring gingerbread using a classic Austrian recipe, the bake shop offers freshly baked items such as cookies, ornaments and miniature gingerbread houses. Other homemade items for sale may include Stollen Bread, chocolate peppermint bark, lollipops and special Grand Floridian logo boxes filled with truffles. Demonstrations of how to decorate a gingerbread house take place in front of the bake shop six days a week. The gingerbread house usually opens in mid-November.

The Gingerbread Bake Shop in Epcot enchants guests of all ages. Guests peer inside the life-sized gingerbread house at goodies galore. The giant structure, made entirely of gingerbread, cookies and icing, features a bake shop that usually opens in late November as part of Epcot’s Holidays Around the World.

Cinderella Castle Dream Lights

Disney decorates Cinderella Castle for the holiday season with a “Dream Lights” effect that makes the Castle seem to be covered in ice. Over 200,000 lights are draped over the turrets and roofs of the Castle to create this beautiful effect. A short show called “A Frozen Holiday Wish” and a castle lighting ceremony (featuring Queen Elsa from Frozen) will be held each evening, usually around 6:15 pm, and the lights remain on, slowly changing colors, for the rest of the evening.

For 2015, the Dream Lights were turned on each evening beginning November 8. In the past the Dream Lights have run through mid-January.

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

The 2015 holiday season was the final year of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

This elaborate holiday decoration display incorporating millions of Christmas lights, fake snow and various holiday vignettes was originally created by Jennings Osborne at his home in Little Rock, Arkansas. After he was forced to remove the display due to complaints by his neighbors, Disney agreed to use parts of it at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where it has become an annual event.

The spectacle has been enhanced to include choreographed “dancing” lights that swirl and soar to an exhilarating medley of holiday music every 15 minutes, thanks to electronic wizardry featuring more than 400 dimmers. Every building façade, all the trees, wreaths, bells and holiday figures dance to classic tunes among “Florida snow” flurries.

For the 2015 holiday season, this display was offered November 6 – January 6. The Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights is included in regular admission to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Merry & Bright Dessert Party and Merry & Bright Dinner Reception

New for 2015, The Merry & Bright Dessert Party and the Merry & Bright Dinner Reception include reserved viewing of Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights during its final year. During both events, guests can enjoy the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights in Disney’s Hollywood Studios from a reserved location at the end of the Streets of America near the entrance to Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. Check-in begins one hour prior to the event.

The Merry & Bright Dessert Party includes holiday-themed desserts, specialty alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, sodas, water, tea and coffee. Each guest will receive a keepsake roll-up stadium blanket. The Dessert Party will take place November 6 – December 24, 2015 from 7 pm – 8:30 pm and December 25 – 30, 2015 from 8:30 pm – 10 pm. (The Merry & Bright Dessert Party will not be offered November 17, December 9 and 18. The price is $69 per adult and $39 per child (ages 3-9). Tax and gratuity are included.

The Merry & Bright Dinner Reception includes a holiday buffet, as well as specialty alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, beer and wine. Each guest will receive a custom keepsake shadow box featuring their own Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights bulb. The Dinner Reception will take place January 1, 2016 from 8:30 pm – 10 pm and on January 2 – 3, 2016 from 7 pm – 8:30 pm. The price is $99 per adult and $54 per child (ages 3-9). Tax and gratuity are included.

Advance reservations are recommended as availability is limited.

  • Reservations for the 2015 Merry & Bright Dessert Party and the Merry & Bright Dinner Reception opened on September 16, 2015. Go online or call (407) 939-3463 to book.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

Scrooge McDuck

Scrooge McDuck by Sam Howzit (CC)

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is held after the regular closing of Magic Kingdom and requires separate admission. (You don’t have to have paid admission on the same day to the Magic Kingdom in order to attend the special after-hours event.) The event is held from 7:00 pm to midnight on selected nights, usually running from about the second week of November through approximately a week prior to Christmas. Guests with Very Merry Christmas Party tickets are admitted to the park as early as 4:00 pm. You will need to get a wristband that allows you to stay in the park after the party begins.

Admission to the event includes complimentary hot chocolate and cookies, “snow” on Main Street, holiday stage shows, carolers, two performances of the holiday parade, and a special fireworks display. Plus, most of the major attractions will be open.

Is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party worth the money? Depends on your plans. Be aware that the same parades, shows, “snow” experience and fireworks (but not the hot chocolate and cookies) are offered as part of regular admission if you visit Magic Kingdom starting the day after Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party ends, through New Year’s Eve. So if you will be visiting Magic Kingdom between the day after the party and New Year’s Eve, it might not be worth the extra money to attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party earlier in the month. The special character meet and greets, some (fairly minor) special decorations, and some commemorative merchandise are only available at the party.

Although the number of people admitted each night is limited, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party can feel quite crowded, particularly on weekend nights and the last couple of nights it’s offered. The rides will be less busy than they would be at that time on a regular park night, but the headliners can still build up some decent wait times, and the special character meetings will often have quite long lines. To give you some idea, on the final sold-out night of 2013, before the party started the wait time for Space Mountain was hovering between 40-45 minutes. After the party started, the wait went down to 15-25 minutes. On the other hand, the Haunted Mansion didn’t change; it was 10-15 minutes before the party started and 10-15 minutes after the party started. It can be a lot of fun to attend if you want to get into the Christmas spirit in late November or early December, but don’t necessarily expect to walk onto every ride. The party is more about the parades and Christmas “atmosphere.”

It’s fun to have dinner at Tony’s Town Square or Liberty Tree Tavern just before the party. This allows you to be in the park right when the festivities begin. The two restaurants book up quickly, so make reservations as early as possible (180 days in advance).

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 was offered from 7:00 pm to midnight on November 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 29 and December 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17 and 18.

In the past the last party before Christmas (December 18 in 2015) has sold out well in advance and was not discounted.

2015 Prices and Discounts

  • 2015 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party tickets went on sale April 8, 2015. Go online or call (407) W-DISNEY (934-7639) to order.

Holidays at Disney Springs (formerly Festival of the Seasons at Downtown Disney)

Holidays at Disney Springs will include plenty of familiar favorites: Toy Soldier stilt walkers, Snowflake performers, a Kwanzaa Celebration, Hanukkah medleys, enhanced holiday entertainment, specialty foods and festive décor.

For 2015, Holidays at Disney Springs were November 13 through December 30.

Santa will be in a new location across from Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. Just like last year, guests will be able to pick up a pager upon check-in to secure their place in a virtual queue line. You can take pictures with your own camera or use PhotoPass. Santa will be greeting guests daily through December 24, 12pm – 10pm. Santa Goofy takes over December 25-29 during the same hours.

New additions will be holiday backdrops at the Marketplace and West Side; made to look like pop-up greeting cards, the perfect place to pose for family photos. And three new unique-to-Disney-Springs holiday trees will make their debut this season.

Epcot Holidays Around the World

For Holidays Around the World, Epcot’s World Showcase transforms into a splendid display of international holiday traditions and storytelling. Holidays Around the World is included with regular Epcot admission.

For 2015, Epcot Holidays Around the World took place daily from November 27 through December 30.

Holiday icons who delight children around the globe — such as France’s Père Noël and Italy’s La Befana — make special appearances in their respective countries, while Santa Claus himself pays visits to the American Adventure showcase. Guests see holiday traditions and legends as they are observed around the world, with Hanukah and Kwanzaa customs on display as well.

The Epcot evening spectacular of lights, lasers and fireworks, “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth,” completes the celebration with a magical holiday finale.

Candlelight Processional

The Candlelight Processional is an annual event at the America Gardens Theatre in World Showcase at Epcot. It consists of a celebrity narrator presenting the Biblical Christmas story, plus a large choir and an orchestra performing traditional religious Christmas carols. The Processional is an explicitly Christian religious presentation with a “church service” feel to it.

In 2015 it was offered from November 27 through December 30. There are normally three performances each night, at 5:00, 6:45 and 8:15 pm. (On December 6 the performances are at 6:45 pm and 8:15 pm.) Each show runs about 40 minutes. You’ll need to line up at LEAST 45 minutes prior to the show if you want to have any hope of getting in (or buy the Dining Package for guaranteed entry).

There is no additional charge for the performance over and above your Epcot admission.

2015 Candlelight Processional Narrators

Candlelight Processional Dining Package

You can purchase a special Candlelight Processional Dining Package. With this special package you pay a flat rate for a sit-down meal at an Epcot restaurant and you receive “preferred seating” for the Candlelight Processional.

Based on our experience, getting the package may be the only way you’ll get a seat at all, particularly on weekend nights. Expect to wait in a significant line to enter the show, even if you have the package.

You must schedule your Candlelight Processional Dining Package BEFORE the performance you will attend. There is a Lunch Package for those attending the 5:00 performance and a Dinner Package for those attending the 6:45 or 8:00 performances. You must eat during the following time periods with this package:

The participating restaurants are usually priced in three tiers. Package meals generally include appetizer, entree, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage. Admission to Epcot is NOT included in the package price. 2 credits from the Dining Plan can be used to pay for your meal.

  • 2015 Candlelight Processional Dining Packages went on sale July 7. Call (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463) or go online to reserve.

Holiday Sleigh Rides

During the month of December, Disney offers 25-minute “sleigh” rides through the woods from the Ft. Wilderness Campground. (The horse-drawn vehicle is wheeled but made to look like a red sleigh, complete with sleighbells!) Each person receives a special limited-edition pin. After your ride you can stroll through the barn to check out where the horses live and learn more about them.

You can book up to 180 days in advance by calling (407) WDW-PLAY (939-7529).

The Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special

The Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special is an interactive improv extravaganza where anyone in the audience could find themselves reigned in as part of the show. Holiday-seasoned comedians field suggestions from the crowd to compose knee-slapping Christmas songs, put their own spin on classic stories and poems, and invent absurdly hilarious scenarios – all festive, all on the fly and all family-friendly.

In 2015, shows were December 19, 2015 – January 1, 2016.

The Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special occurs multiple times daily at the Premiere Theater in Streets of America in Hollywood Studios and can be reserved with FastPass+.

Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

First, be sure to read our survival guide to visiting Walt Disney World at Christmas!

You can enjoy the Candlelight Processional at Epcot, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the special parades, shows and fireworks at Magic Kingdom.

There are special meals available at certain restaurants on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. You can reserve holiday meals up to 180 days in advance by calling (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463).

Note that “holiday pricing” (i.e. higher prices) will be in effect for some restaurants (particularly the buffets and character meals) from mid-December through the first few days of January (holiday season). Other restaurants may charge a premium on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day, so be sure to ask when booking reservations.

Religious services are held on Christmas Day only in the Fantasia Ballroom at the Contemporary Resort. Catholic Mass is held at 8:00 am and 10:15 am. A Protestant service is held at 9:00 am. You may not park at the Contemporary for these services, so to get there, you must do one of the following:

New Year’s Eve

First, be sure to read our survival guide to visiting Walt Disney World at Christmas! (The advice also applies to New Year’s Eve.)

Theme Parks

Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios all stay open late on New Year’s Eve and offer extra entertainment, usually including live performances, extra parades and fireworks. These festivities are included in regular park admission.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom closes at the regular time and does not offer New Year’s Eve events since they would disturb the animals. Christmas decorations remain up throughout Walt Disney World through New Year, and generally several days past the first of the year.

Special theme park events for New Year’s Eve are usually offered, including special fireworks, dance parties, live bands, etc.

Cirque du Soleil

Each year, Cirque du Soleil presents special New Year’s Eve performances of La Nouba. Guests receive a limited-edition trading pin. Tickets for these New Year’s Eve performances are more expensive than usual. Click here for more information about La Nouba.

Atlantic Dance Hall

New Year’s Eve at the Atlantic Dance Hall at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort includes a video DJ. You must be 21 years of age or older (with ID) to enter Atlantic Dance Hall on New Year’s Eve, and the event requires a separate ticket.

Special Meals

There are special meals available at certain restaurants on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. You can reserve holiday meals up to 180 days in advance by calling (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463).

World ShowPlace in Epcot usually hosts a buffet inspired by Disney’s animated films Fantasia and Fantasia 2000. Reservations are available from 4:30 pm – 10:30 pm.

Other Disney resorts may offer special New Year’s Eve meals – inquire in advance by calling (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463).

Note that “holiday pricing” (i.e. higher prices) will be in effect for some restaurants (particularly the buffets and character meals) from mid-December through the first few days of January (holiday season). Other restaurants may charge a premium on New Year’s Eve and/or New Year’s Day, so be sure to ask when booking reservations.

Countdown to Midnight at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club

If you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel this holiday season you can ring in the New Year with the exclusive Countdown to Midnight event at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resort beginning at 8:00 pm.

For New Year’s Eve 2015, Countdown to Midnight reservations opened December 11.

The Countdown to Midnight will have three different themed party experiences. You can enjoy an interactive comedy reunion at the Adventurer’s Club, hop over to Club Live to rock out with a nine-piece dance band or take a spin at Club Vinyl where a seven-piece band will celebrate the golden age of music with a modern twist. Then, as the balloons drop for the final countdown, raise your keepsake champagne glass and toast to 2016!

This special event begins at 8 pm at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Convention Center and is available to guests of Walt Disney World Resort hotels only. The price is $300 per person (including tax and gratuity). Beer, wine, mixed drinks and a champagne toast are included, as well as the all-you-care-to enjoy menu. Advance reservations are required.

Click here for more information about the Countdown to Midnight. To make a reservation call 407-WDW-DINE (939-3463).