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Theme park holidays are back! Following last year’s attempt at keeping the holiday cheer alive amidst one of the darker portions of the pandemic, this year, theme parks are able to go hog wild with their annual festivities. Let’s just say, if it’s yuletide cheer you’re looking for, 2021’s holiday season has it locked and loaded.
From themed rides and hot Butterbeer to Disney’s bicoastal ticketed celebrations and special Hogwarts displays at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, here’s all the ways you can soak up those wintry feelings while visiting these theme parks:
When: Nov. 12 through Jan. 9
Where: Disneyland Resort, California
Perhaps no celebration has been more anxiously awaited than Disneyland’s holiday lineup. While nearly all other theme parks toasted the season in one way or another last year, Disneyland stood shut throughout the entirety of the Christmas season — meaning the anticipation for this year’s event is palpable and being treated as such.
Good news is, many favorites are set to return within the parks. Toy Soldiers will clomp their way down Main Street, USA, when A Christmas Fantasy Parade marks the grand return of a true parade to Disneyland Park later this month. At night, Believe...In Holiday Magic fireworks and snowfall on Main Street complete the festive feeling in sight of the park’s 60-foot Christmas tree, delightfully adorned with 1800 ornaments.
Disney ¡Viva Navidad! street party brings dancers, larger-than-life mojiganga puppets of Santa and Mrs. Claus, and special Three Kings’ Day festivities to Disney California Adventure, along with Disney Festival of Holidays, a multicultural celebration of music, dance, and food carried across eight food marketplaces.
Even the rides get into the holiday spirit, with Haunted Mansion Holiday continuing to showcase its The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay carried over from the Halloween season and It’s a Small World boasting an ever-popular holiday theming. At Disney California Adventure, attraction overlays bring good tidings to Cars Land, transforming its family-friendly attractions into Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl and Mater’s Jingle Jamboree. (Don’t miss the many, many festive treats either!)
On top of all that, Disneyland will be home to a special event packed with revelry across its theme park lands which, sadly, has already sold out. Disney Merriest Nights boasts entertainment, food, festivities, access to select attractions, and seasonal parties hosted by Disney characters — including appearances from rare ones, like The Muppets. (Clearly, this Christmas Carol redux is bound to be my highlight of the season!)
Walt Disney World
When: Starting Nov. 12
Where: Walt Disney World Resort, Florida
There’s a lot to be grateful for at Walt Disney World this wintertime, where holiday celebrations dovetail into 50th Anniversary festivities that kicked off last month and will continue through Spring 2023.
Main Street is decked out in festive tidings and an iconic Christmas Tree, while a special ticketed event, Disney Very Merriest After Hours, will offer even more yuletide joy on select nights. This twist on fan favorite Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which typically runs annually, will carry on the tradition of special event fireworks, meet-and-greets, and lower waits for popular attractions along with complimentary snacks and a can’t-miss Christmas parade.
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’s building gets wrapped in a holiday display that’s projected each night (in rotation with their 50th festivities), while Santa Claus makes appearances both on the park’s Hollywood Boulevard thoroughfare and at Minnie’s character dining meals at Hollywood & Vine restaurant. Disney’s Animal Kingdom does the same with The Tree of Life, displaying holiday Tree of Life Awakenings as well as a 50th anniversary-exclusive Beacon of Magic, while even theming its character flotillas sailing on Discovery River to seasonal melodies.
Much of the decor is already on its way out — as well as the specialty food, which looks delicious — but Epcot packs an extra punch with the return of its EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays running from Nov. 26 through Dec. 30. With holiday kitchens serving up global flavors and live entertainment, it’s one of the best ways to celebrate the season. Elsewhere, Disney Springs boasts a Christmas Tree Stroll and surprise snowfall while Disney World hotels knock it out of the park with oversized decor, including life-sized houses and carousels made from real gingerbread, giving every inch of Disney World a festive touch.
When: Nov. 13 through Jan. 2
Where: Universal Orlando Resort, Florida
Universal Orlando Resort takes the holidays seriously, with a lineup of experiences split between two parks, but packed with revelry regardless. At Universal Studios Florida, the awe-inspiring Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s allows revelers to see over two dozen eye-popping balloons float overhead, as Minions, Shrek, and other beloved characters greet guests from decorative parade floats. (It’s a highlight of the holidays and cannot be missed!)
Christmastime at Wizarding World of Harry Potter — held at both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley — doesn’t just boast exceptional decor that feels true to the films and books, but features live entertainment, like Christmas carols courtesy of Hogwarts’ Frog Choir and rousing renditions from Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. The highlight, though, comes by way of the Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle nighttime show, projected upon the famed wizarding school, made even more memorable when paired with a sippable, hot Butterbeer.
And, even though this holiday season is poised to be much better than the last, Grinchmas’ hilarity is back to add some mischief into the mix with the return of the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular stage show over at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Seuss Landing even channels a tinsel-topped Whoville packed with special decor, including the occasional residents traipsing about. Universal Orlando Resort will also offer a special guided tour on select dates for cramming even more holiday highlights into a single trip, as well as food worthy of a festive feast throughout CityWalk and its neighboring hotels.
Universal Studios Hollywood
When: Nov. 26 through Jan. 2
Where: Universal Studios Hollywood, California
Similar to its sister resort in Orlando, Los Angeles’ main theme park will also boast Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas-inspired experiences tailor made for California revelers.
Hogsmeade Village will bring jolly jubilee by way of special decor, Hogwarts’ Frog Choir, special seasonal meals at Three Broomsticks — my personal favorite — as well as nighttime entertainment with rousing renditions of The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle nighttime projection show.
And, if you’ve ever wanted to pretend you’re a patron of Whoville, Universal Studios Hollywood provides by way of its towering 65-foot-tall curved Christmas tree, perched within Universal Plaza for all passersby to take in while enjoying Grinchmas treats. Nightly snowfall brings wintertime cheer to Southern California as, on select nights, residents of Whoville perform live and The Grinch and his dog Max offer meet-and-greets with parkgoers, a highlight of every holiday season. The celebration continues in CityWalk with a bold Christmas tree boasting nearly a quarter-million LED lights along with specialty Voodoo Doughnuts that are only available in wintertime.
Knott’s Merry Farm
When: Nov. 19 through Jan. 2
Where: Knott’s Berry Farm, California
Christmas arrives in Southern California this year as the delightfully named theme park celebration kicks off its annual festivities. There’s loads of live entertainment, including Home for the Holidays musical revue, a retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and Merry Christmas, Snoopy!, a live on ice show that must be seen to be believed. Don’t miss themed meet-and-greets with Peanuts characters, photographs with Santa Claus, and live musical renditions from the Calico Carolers. As in years past, Knott’s Merry Farm will also offer a bevy of holiday-themed treats and a robust Christmas Crafts Village while, come nightfall, Ghost Town’s Snow and Glow display will see decorative lights dancing in unison to familiar Christmas tunes.
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