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Disney’s Top 5 Holiday Experiences, Plus Tips for Surviving the Crowds

By Kim Wright Wiley and Leigh Wiley Jenkins

No one does the holidays quite like Disney. Amid the towering Christmas trees and colorful decorations, there’s lots of fun to be had, including specialty tours, a spectacular light show, and a big bash with music and sweets for an extra dose of good cheer.


See Millions of Lights Twinkle at the Osborne Family Spectacle

Since 1995, Disney’s Hollywood Studios has awed guests with this show, where every ten minutes the lights “dance” in time with a festive holiday tune. Most of the lights originally came from property in Arkansas owned by the Osborne family. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the Osbornes put up elaborate decorations at their home, which eventually grew to more than 3 million lights. It became so popular that the town couldn’t accommodate the crowds, and Disney acquired the display. Today the spectacle has grown even larger, with more than 10 miles of rope lighting in use, covering nearly every inch of the buildings on display.

Details: Located at the backlot of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the light show runs most nights through January 7, 2012.

Good to Know: The backlot can become crowded, and it’s easy to lose children who may become so wrapped up in the show that they wander from the group.

Catch Celebrity Guests at the Candlelight Processional

Looking for something more traditional? Consider Epcot’s stirring Candlelight Processional, which combines a 50-piece orchestra and choir with a variety of celebrity narrators presenting the nativity story. This year’s narrators include country singer Trace Adkins and soap star Susan Lucci. Visit Disney World to find out who will be reading during your visit.

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Details: Visit Epcot’s America Gardens Theatre, through December 30.

Good to Know: This is a very popular event, so plan to arrive extra early.

Join Mickey for a Christmas Party

On select nights, the Magic Kingdom presents Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Guests can celebrate with Mickey and his pals and watch the lighting of the castle, sing holiday tunes, and indulge in cookies and hot chocolate.

Details: Visit Cinderella Castle and Main Street, U.S.A., through December 18.

Good to Know: This event requires a separate admission ticket, which should be purchased in advance by calling 407/939-1284, or visiting Disney World. The bonus? The party is the perfect way to see the Christmas parade and fireworks without having to fight the crowds.

Take the Yuletide Fantasy Tour

It’s hard enough putting up your own tree—so you may wonder how Disney "magically" decorates dozens of them seemingly overnight. The three-and-a-half hour Yuletide Fantasy Tour takes guests backstage to Holiday Services, the massive storage building where cast members work year-round to prepare for the holiday season. Guests continue on to Epcot to see how holidays around the world are celebrated, and then finally head to the Magic Kingdom to take in Main Street’s decorations.

Details: Visit Epcot theme park and Magic Kingdom Park, through December 30, excluding Christmas Day.

Good to Know: The cost is $84 per person and can be booked by calling 407/WDW-TOUR (939-8687), or at Disney World.

Visit Festive Trees with Global Themes

Make sure to reserve time to visit Disney’s on-property hotels, each decorated with unique resort-themed trees. There’s the Native American tree at Wilderness Lodge, a nautical one at the Yacht Club Resort, and a tropical tree at the Polynesian Resort.

Details: Visit Disney Resort hotels, through January 2.

Good to Know: Don’t miss the Grand Floridian, a favorite for its huge gingerbread house candy store!

Tips for Crowded Times

1) Repeat after us: Do NOT visit the Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day. It can get so crowded that it’s often closed to additional visitors as early as 10 a.m. The other parks are swamped too, and may close as well, but the Magic Kingdom is always the busiest.

2) The parks are often open from 8 a.m. to midnight during the holidays, so build in plenty of breaks during the day. If you’re staying at a Disney hotel with easy transportation, consider returning to your room for a nap.

3) Book dining reservations well in advance to avoid getting closed out of full-service restaurants. Plan to eat at your hotel on Christmas Day—but still make reservations!

4) Find attractions that don’t require a line—such as the many shows and parades offered throughout the parks. It’s a great chance to get off your feet and still be entertained.

Photo Credit: courtesy Matt Stroshane/Disney

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