Adhering to school calendars for teens meant our family trip to Walt Disney World would need to take place during a school break. We decided to give the first week of the winter holiday break a try, excited to visit EPCOT’s “Festival of the Holidays” for the first time and to see the parks and resorts at their peak. Despite some rain and cool temps at the start, we had a really magical experience!
For this adventure we opted for five days with hopper park tickets, allowing us to visit multiple parks per day. We stayed for the first time at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, a moderate level resort located on the Skyliner transportation system. Our room was in the Trinidad section and we enjoyed the new “Under the Sea” theme refurbishment that is unique to Trinidad. In addition to a queen bed, the “5th sleeper” room included a queen-sized murphy bed that folds down from the wall, collapsing the sofa, and also a pull-down single bed. This was a great set-up for us with two teens who need separate sleeping spaces. Also, the resort is *adorable* and has a solid vacation vibe.
We had dinner one evening at their table service restaurant, Sebastian’s Bistro, which I highly recommend to all my clients. Even if you aren’t staying at CBR, if you can spare the time in your itinerary you should jump on the Skyliner from the Boardwalk area or Hollywood Studios and have a meal at this family style restaurant: great prices (Disney math) and delicious food.
From our base we set out to rope drop several of our park days, often grabbing breakfast in the parks, or via mobile order from Spyglass Grill, the quick service restaurant next to our building at the resort. Luckily we had a good plan and were able to dodge the holiday crowds most of the time! One tip that worked very well was to plan our Magic Kingdom days for when a Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party was scheduled in the evening. Since day guests must leave the park by 6pm when a party will be held, fewer guests visit the park on those days.
New attractions for us: Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind in EPCOT — truly next level. Whether you are familiar with the Guardians or not, it’s worth it to experience the remarkable queue. Those with motion sickness, however, should consider exiting before the ride. TRON: Lightcyle Run in Magic Kingdom — it’s all about speed, and the seating position (like you’re on a motorbike) can be mildly uncomfortable but adds a lot to the immersive feeling of the experience. Both of these attractions are currently using a virtual queue system with a paid option for an Individual Lightning Lane if you would rather choose your ride time. We used the included virtual queue without difficulty.
In each of the four parks we enjoyed the special winter holiday touches. Magic Kingdom has decorations, classic holiday tunes, an enormous Christmas tree and Jingle Cruise, a festive overlay of the traditional Jungle Cruise. And the aforementioned Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party which is a must do if your time and travel budget permit!
EPCOT has the fabulous “Festival of the Holidays” with storytellers and other entertainers in several of the countries around World Showcase, the nightly Candelight Processional with celebrity narrators (three performances), and yummy food booths. Spaceship Earth, the large geodesic sphere, has holiday-themed light displays set to music after sunset.
Hollywood Studios has mid-century modern holiday decorations and music, and new this year was the adult-focused Jollywood Nights evening party with several types of live music and stage shows. I also enjoyed seeing the unique decorations in Toy Story Land, like the giant Christmas cookies.
Animal Kingdom has beautiful African and Asian inspired holiday decorations along with the Merry Menagerie, one of my very favorite additions, a troupe of puppeteers and musicians who interact with guests using animal marionettes that are all in white and pale blue. Beginning at dusk, the Tree of Life’s “Awakenings” projection show has a holiday theme and repeats every 15 minutes.
We spent our breaks from the parks visiting Disney Springs to follow the Christmas Tree Trail, a cute scavenger hunt across the complex, and also visiting the deluxe resorts to see their impressive gingerbread displays created by Disney pastry chefs and their elaborately themed Christmas trees. Most of the deluxe resorts have an impromptu cookie and candy shop with holiday treats available should you get hungry along the way!
Though of course I could go on a long time sharing all the amazing things we experienced this trip, I’ll just share one last experience for now. As fans of the show, “Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom,” we were thrilled to snag four spots on the notoriously hard to reserve “Up Close with Rhinos” tour at the park. The tour is held only once a day for a small number of guests (roughly 14). It was a wonderful behind-the-scenes hour at the rhino barn where we learned all about the rhinos and even got to pet the mama of the family, Kendi, who we’ve seen on the show! One of the best parts of the experience was knowing that 100% of the fee we paid for the tour goes directly to rhino conservation efforts. If you didn’t already know, Disney has an impressive history in animal conservation: learn more here.
There are several “hidden gem” experiences you can add on to a Disney vacation — let me know what your interests are and I will recommend the best ones for you!
We are back to our usual routine and looking forward to more adventures in the year ahead. Unfortunately, planning a Disney destination vacation is not getting any easier, but that’s where I come in :-).