The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, especially at Walt Disney World! In this post, I’ll show you how to take an affordable Disney World Christmas trip that captures all of the holiday magic.
I’ll even tell you how much you’ll save using each of my tips and give an overall cost for the ultimate budget-friendly holiday trip.
When Does Disney World Decorate For Christmas?
The first question people usually ask about visiting Walt Disney World around the holidays is “When do they put the decorations up?”
Here’s a quick summary:
- Magic Kingdom is fully decorated by the first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Based on party dates from 2017, I predict the first party will be November 8th, 2018, so you can plan on Magic Kingdom being decorated starting the second week of November, 2018.
- Decorations at the other theme parks don’t go up until closer to Thanksgiving. All Epcot decorations are up the day after Thanksgiving for the first Candlelight Processional (more on that later).
- The resort hotel decorations don’t start going up until after Thanksgiving. I have stayed at the Beach Club Resort on November 30th and the gingerbread carousel had just been put up!
- The Christmas decorations will stay up until the first week of January.
Now on to my tips for visiting Walt Disney World at Christmas without breaking the bank!
Tip #1: Visit Magic Kingdom and Epcot (Only)
There are four theme parks at Disney World, and the folks at Disney want you to think you need to visit all four on every trip. But since park tickets are the single biggest expense of a trip, if you can limit your park days you’ll save substantial amounts of money!
While all of the parks are wonderfully decorated for the holidays, two are WAY over the top and shouldn’t be missed.
If you are trying to visit on a budget, I’d suggest limiting your park visits to just Magic Kingdom and Epcot. They both have tons of special happenings during the holidays (most of which are included in admission) and fantastic decorations.
Check out my overview of Epcot’s Festival of the Holidays here (coming soon). The holiday food, Candlelight Processional, and special ending to Illuminations are fantastic.
So to save hundreds, I suggest skipping Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom on your Disney World Christmas trip.
Amount Saved: $626 (for a family of four)
Tip #2: Choose the Best Dates and Accommodations For Your Disney World Christmas Trip
On a holiday trip to Disney World, you are going to spend most of your time on the go since there is so much to see and do. For these reasons, I suggest choosing a budget-friendly hotel option instead of splurging on an expensive resort.
My top recommendation is a Disney World Value Resort. You’ll get all of the perks of staying at a Disney World resort (like free ground transportation, MagicBands, Extra Magic Hours, etc.) at a very affordable price.
Check out my post on what to expect at Disney’s Value Resorts for more details, plus learn how to save up to 50% on Disney hotels with Orbitz discounts in this post!
My top pick is Disney’s Pop Century since all of the rooms will be remodeled by the 2018 holiday season. But be careful – the cost of a room at Pop Century varies dramatically, especially in November and December.
Here are the 2018 rack rates for a standard room (excluding tax) around the holidays:
November 27 – December 8: $124 (Mon-Wed), $139 (Sun & Thur), $151 (Fri & Sat)
December 9 – 13: $137
December 14 – 20: $160 (Sun – Thur), $196 (Fri & Sat)
December 21 – 31: $212
As you can see, the cost to stay at a Disney resort skyrockets starting December 21st. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is the busiest week of the year at Walt Disney World, so I suggest avoiding it if at all possible!
So my suggested dates to stay at Pop Century are weeknights November 27 through December 13th. Some of these dates are historically during Disney’s popular “Free Dining” promotion – learn all about that here!
Amount Saved: $352 on a four-night stay
Rent DVC Points
Another suggestion is to rent points for a stay in a Disney Vacation Club villa. December 1st through 14th is “Adventure Season” for DVC, which means it is the cheapest time of year to stay with rented DVC points!
That means could stay at a Deluxe Resort for as low as $150/night during the first two weeks in December. Check out my post on the best way to rent DVC points for all of the details.
If you can’t travel on these dates or Disney resorts are all booked up, then I suggest staying at my recommended off-property value accommodations – Hawthorn Suites Lake Buena Vista.
We stayed there for our 2017 holiday trip and only paid $75/night (plus tax) for a spacious two-room suite! You can check out my full review here.
Tip #3: Eat Mostly Quick Service (With One Important Exception)
I’ve come to love eating at Quick Service locations on my many trips to Disney World. A family of four can easily eat dinner for under $30 at many Quick Service locations in Disney World.
I think the food is as good as (and sometimes better than) pricey Table Service restaurants plus the portions are so large you can sometimes share! You can make last minute changes as needed, which very important with little ones in tow.
So for a budget-friendly holiday trip, I suggest sticking with Quick Service dining for most of the trip – with one important exception!
If you are able to fit in a visit to Epcot, you can’t miss the evening Candlelight Processional show.
A celebrity narrator tells the Christmas story (I saw Kurt Russell’s performance!) and a huge choir and live orchestra perform Christmas classic songs. My description does nothing to capture the magnificence of this show – it really has to be seen to be believed!
Last year the show was performed three times nightly from November 24th through December 30th. Because of its popularity, each show is ultra crowded and you have little chance of getting seats – unless you get a special Candlelight Processional Dining Package.
The dining package includes a meal at one of Epcot’s table service restaurants and guaranteed seating for the show. Because of the incredible quality of the show, I suggest that your one table service meal be a Candlelight Processional Dining Package.
I’ve shared my tips for the Candlelight Processional and my picks for the best dining packages in this post. A family of four can get a Candlelight Processional package for as low as $138.
Amount Saved: $240 (for a family of four on a four-day trip)
Tip #4: Consider Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Tickets
If you are only able to visit one park for the holidays, I think it should be Magic Kingdom. The decorations alone are worth the price of admission!
If you are just visiting Magic Kingdom, you should consider getting discounted tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party as opposed to a regular 1-day ticket to the park.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a special “hard ticket” event at the park that takes place select nights in November and December. Most attractions are open, plus you’ll get party bonuses such as a special parade, complimentary treats, stage shows, dance parties, and more.
With party tickets, you’ll be able to enter the park at 4 pm and stay until the midnight. You’ll get up to eight hours to enjoy the park with reduced crowds (though it is ridiculously crowded on Main Street during the parade).
Discounted tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) (get them here from Undercover Tourist) will cost substantially less than regular one-day tickets to Magic Kingdom, due largely to Disney’s “peak season” pricing for one-day tickets. Here’s a comparison:
- MVMCP tickets from Undercover Tourist: $93 adult, $87 child (3-9)
- One-day peak tickets to Magic Kingdom: $132 adult, $126 child (3-9)
It depends on the age of your children, but if you feel like you could hang in there late enough, you could save money and have an amazing experience at MVMCP. Tickets typically go on sale starting in May or June.
Amount saved: $156 (for a family of four)
Tip #5: Tour The Monorail Resorts and Disney Springs For Free
One activity that is a must-do on a Disney World Christmas trip is to check out the decorations at the monorail resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian). Don’t miss the gigantic Christmas tree and life-sized gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian!
I used to recommend parking at one of the monorail resorts to ride the monorail around, but we were turned away from the Contemporary this year during the second week of December due to “peak season” parking restrictions.
I would suggest one of these tactics for touring the monorail resorts:
- Make a reservation at The Wave at Disney’s Contemporary Resort or the Grand Floridian Cafe for brunch or an afternoon snack. You don’t have to eat a full meal (just get an appetizer and drinks, for example) and you WILL be allowed to park at the resort for three hours since you have a reservation.
- Park for free at Disney Springs and take a bus to one of the monorail resorts and back to Disney Springs afterwards.
- If you are really crunched for time, pay $20 for Magic Kingdom parking and pick up the resort monorail at the TTC.
There are also lots of holiday decorations up at Disney Springs and a Christmas Tree Trail with lots of great photo ops. The trail is open from noon – 10 pm weekdays and 10 am – 10 pm on weekends starting after Thanksgiving. Check out pictures of the trees over at AllEars.net.
Bonus Tip: Get a Bargain Family Portrait For Your Christmas Cards
And last, here’s a trick for getting a professional family picture for your Christmas cards at a bargain price!
Disney PhotoPass photographers can be found all over the theme parks. I suggest getting a few family shots – in front of Cinderella’s Castle, at Spaceship Earth, or in front of a huge Christmas tree, for example.
After you are back home, you can view the pictures for free at the Disney PhotoPass site. You DON’T need to buy the pricey Memory Maker package to view your pictures.
Pick out the best picture from the parks and pay $14.95 to download that one picture. You’ll get a professional-quality family portrait that you can use in your own custom Christmas cards from Shutterfly or a local photo printing location!
Amount saved: $85 compared to a professional photography session
A Budget-Friendly Disney World Christmas Trip Summary
If you use all of my tips above, here’s what you can expect to pay for a 3-night/4-day trip to Walt Disney World for a family of four (two adults and two kids ages 3-9):
- Park Tickets: $360 (MVMCP) to $822 (both MK and Epcot)
- Lodging: $293 (Pop Century through Orbitz) to $450 (renting DVC points)
- Ground Transportation: $0 if you use Disney Transportation
- Food: From $240 (eight Quick Service Meals + breakfast in room) to $348 (including Candlelight Processional Package)
- Other Entertainment: $0
When you add these up, a family of four can have an amazing Walt Disney World Christmas trip for under $900 total. If you added on a day at Epcot, the Candlelight Processional Dining Package, and rent points for a Deluxe Resort, it would still only bring the total up to $1620.
While that’s not cheap, it is FAR less than the $5,000 most folks expect to pay for a Disney World vacation!
I hope this post gave you lots of ideas for a budget-friendly Disney World Christmas trip. There’s no reason a quick trip to Disney to soak up the holiday mood has to cost a fortune.
Here are a few more posts with ideas for saving money on your trip:
- How To Fly Your Family To Disney World For (Almost) Free
- How To Get Groceries Delivered to Your Disney Resort For Free
- Disney Dining Plan Tips & Tricks (Updated for 2018)
Any questions about visiting Disney World around Christmas? Please leave a comment below or send me a message on The Frugal South’s Facebook page!