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Epcot's Candlelight Processional (Credit: Disney)

What We’re Going to Miss the Most This Winter at Walt Disney World

COVID-19 has ruined a lot of our plans. Many of us had vacations or events that have been either canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. Walt Disney World decided to close for part of 2020 to make sure that everyone could be safe, and to put a plan together to reopen safely. Although the parks and many of the resorts have reopened things do look quite a bit different than they have in the past. Here are things that we’re going to miss this winter at Walt Disney World.

1. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

For many families it is a tradition to go to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, sometimes more than once. Walt Disney World decided it was best to cancel the party for 2020. Although it is disappointing for many, we can still be thankful to be back at the most magical place on earth.

2. Water Parks

Although the four theme parks and Disney Springs have reopened, Walt Disney World’s water parks remain closed. One will reopen on March 7, but we don’t yet know which one. Disney is still putting together a plan to make sure the water parks can open safely and not add to the spread of COVID-19. In the past, if there was a cold snap in Orlando the water park that was not closed for refurbishment would not open. It can and does get cold in Central Florida, but there are plenty of warm days, and those will make us miss the water parks even more.

3. Regular Park Hopping

Many guests are used to being able to jump around from park to park. Since Disney has limited capacity you are required to have a reservation to get into each park. Park Hopping is going to return on January 1, but it is going to be different. You will have to wait until after 2:00, and then see what might be available. You won’t be able to have breakfast at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and then an early lunch at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It will be interesting to see how things work once Park Hopping is available again.

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4. Character Photos

One of the fun things about the holiday season at Walt Disney World is seeing all of your favorite Disney characters in their holiday attire. You can still see characters in fun costumes, but you are not be able to get close up photos like you may be used to. You can still get incredible pictures, though. There are extra MagicShot locations in all four theme parks that help to make up for the lack of character photos.

5. Candlelight Processional at Epcot

The Candlelight Processional is a holiday tradition that started at Disneyland and is older than Walt Disney World. Hearing the Christmas story being read by celebrity narrators and listening to classic Christmas songs by talented choirs is a magical way to be put into the Christmas spirit. It is not safe to have guests crowded into such a small space, and it wouldn’t be safe for the performers either. There are many videos online, so if you’re missing it you can take a little bit of a ride down memory lane by watching Candlelight Processionals from past years.

6. Merry Menagerie at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

In 2019, Disney’s Animal Kingdom introduced the Merry Menagerie. Talented puppeteers would wander through Discovery Island, and adorable winter “animals” would interact with guests. It was something different, and really fun for everyone. This year it would be difficult to maintain social distancing, so it isn’t taking place. There are extra animals in the decorations, but it’s not the same.

7. Full Parades

Since they are trying to maintain social distancing, Walt Disney World has put a hold on parades. Many would look forward to all the different Christmas floats that they would have at the Magic Kingdom, especially during Christmas Week. Instead of the full parade, we now have Character Cavalcades. These are mini-parades, with just a few characters. They take place at random times. We can still see some of our favorite Disney characters in their holiday attire. The Cavalcades take place in all four theme parks, not just the Magic Kingdom.

8. Fireworks

Another thing that has changed at Walt Disney World is that they have temporarily put a hold on all firework shows. This Christmas season will look a little different, the sky will be a little less bright, but we know that Disney has great plans for the future. Fireworks have been tested recently, and they will be back once Disney thinks that it is safe to hold the shows once again.

9. The Gingerbread House at Grand Floridian

The Walt Disney World Resorts are toning the decorations down this year. That includes the gingerbread house at Disney’s Grand Floridian. There were always crowds visiting the resort to see the house, so Disney decided not to do any of the gingerbread creations this year. There are still decorations at the different resorts all around Walt Disney World property, but we will have to wait until (hopefully) next Christmas Season to see the gingerbread houses at the Deluxe Resorts.

10. Castle Dream Lights

Most years at the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella Castle is lit up with Christmas lights. It’s called Castle Dream Lights. This year they toned it down a little bit, but they decided to still make it quite magical. Instead of lights, there are projections that light up the castle like you’ve never seen before. There are four different scenes, and they are all beautiful. Although it may not be the Christmas castle you’re used to, it is still pretty awesome.

11. Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail

If you visited Walt Disney World around the holiday season before you’ve probably seen the Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs. This year it’s a little bit different. Instead of having the Christmas Tree Trail, they have the different themed Christmas trees all around Disney Springs. You can participate in the Christmas Tree Stroll. It’s a scavenger hunt to find them all, and when you’re done you can receive a button as your prize. It’s free, and you’ll know that you didn’t miss any trees!

Christmas Tree Trail (Pre-COVID)

Although things look different right now, we can be grateful to be back at the parks and take a break from the madness of the world. We can enjoy the beautiful Florida winters and have time together as family and friends after being separated for so long. Make sure to be extra kind to Cast Members, they are doing everything they can to make this time special for you.

About Tricia Kennedy

Tricia Kennedy lives in Orlando and loves having Walt Disney World pretty much in her backyard. She can be found at Disney several times a week. She will often stop by a park for an hour or two, but she also enjoys spending a whole day there with her friends. A lifelong Star Wars fan, Tricia especially enjoys Star Wars Weekends and has ridden Star Tours over 200 times. Tricia's other favorite thing is Disney's BoardWalk, where she can often be found taking a walk or watching the nightly street performers.