Christmas brings a flurry of activities celebrating the happiest time of the year. Every park gets a holiday makeover, with Yuletide festivities galore. My favorite events take place at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. Join me on a tour!
If you are looking to introduce your kids to Epcot, the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays is a great time to do so. Take them on a stroll around World Showcase, where many pavilions have storytellers recounting the traditions of their respective countries. Take part in a fun scavenger hunt and taste some of the many delights offered at the Holiday Kitchens. I guarantee that your kids will want to come back for more.
When you arrive at the park, make sure to get the Times Guide, which lists the times of all entertainment in the park. Also pick up a free festival passport, and if you want to do the Chip & Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree scavenger hunt, I suggest you get the game right away before you start touring.
New This Year — Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights
Make sure to ride Living with the Land at nightfall, as twinkling lights and holiday displays bring Christmas cheer to the greenhouses. The attraction is always a welcome ride to rest your tired feet, but this year you can sit back, relax, and enjoy a lovely Christmas overlay. I hope that this is the beginning of a new annual tradition.
Chip & Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree Scavenger Hunt
This Chip & Dale-inspired adventure lets kids join the two mischievous chipmunks as they look for ornaments for their Christmas tree. Armed with stickers and a map (available from select merchants for $6.99 plus tax), you tour World Showcase on the lookout for hidden ornaments. As you spot them, apply the corresponding stickers on your map. Once you’re done, claim your prize at Disney Traders or World Traveler. When I visited, I had a choice between several Christmas ornaments. I went for the one with Figment.
New, and a big improvement over past years, is that the map is now made out of plastic in the form of a giant ornament and the stickers are attached to the back of the map. It makes for a much prettier keepsake, as the map does not wrinkle and the stickers can’t get lost until one is done with the scavenger hunt.
Storytellers are the Heart of the Festival
All the storytellers are worth your time, but it is not always possible to fit all of them into your schedule. At the United Kingdom Pavilion, Father Christmas rings in the season and tells of his country’s holiday customs. Did you know that the first Christmas card was mailed in the United Kingdom in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole?
The France pavilion is the home of Père Noël, which literally means Father Christmas. Gather around him and listen to the story of a letter that a child wrote to him.
Between the France and Morocco Pavilions, the storyteller Zachary shares legends and music highlighting Hanukkah celebrations throughout the world.
In Morocco, a band re-creates the fun of street festivals and the holiday seasons across Morocco, such as Eid al-Fitr, Ramadan, and Ashura. In Japan, the Daruma Seller talks about the New Year is celebrated in Japan. Daruma dolls are symbols of the Japanese New Year and are said to bring good fortune. The Italy Pavilion is host to the kind-hearted Befana. She is a the good witch who brings gifts to children on Epiphany. Her performance is simply heartwarming and one of our favorites.
Chilli Da Mur is a new act at the German Pavilion. The vocal group celebrates the season with folk music, pop, and original songs. It is a big improvement over last year’s show. However, I still miss Helga and her stories about the Advent calendar and the origin of the nutcracker.
The Lunar New Year is celebrated at the China Pavilion with the colorful performance of Chinese Lion Dancers.
At the Norway Pavilion, the Julenissen, a mischievous gnome, plays tricks on Sigrid, who talks about the magic of Christmas in the Land of the Midnight Sun. He is hilarious; you do not want to miss him. And yes, be ready to be enlisted in his pranks. Did you know that Julenissen represents simplicity and peace and he is believed to live in barns and is therefore considered to be the guardian of farm animals?
While at the Norway Pavilion I went for a visit with Anna and Elsa. Have you seen their new gowns?
Another highlight is the Las Posadas Celebration held at the Mexico Pavilion. Join dancers and the Mariachi Cobre band as they celebrate a very Feliz Navidad.
In addition to the storytellers, there are wonderful musical presentations such as JOYFUL! A Celebration of the Season, where R&B and holiday songs evoke Christmas and Kwanzaa.
At the Canada Pavilion, the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs take guests on a musical tour exploring the seasonal customs of our neighbor to the north.
Santa and Mrs. Claus hold court at The American Adventure, which is also the home of the Voices of Liberty, who turn into Dickens Carolers for the season. Dressed in costumes reminiscent of a Victorian Christmas, the Voices of Liberty are another must-see when visiting the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays.
Throughout the Festival of the Holidays, be on the lookout for Epcot SCROLLS that tell the story of each country’s holiday traditions. It is a great way to get new ideas for your own Yuletide festivities.
Holiday Kitchens Highlights
At the Feast of the Three Kings, try Pastelón, Sofrito-marinated Beef with Sweet Plantains and Olives. I went for the Queso Fresco-stuffed Arepa topped with shrimp, avocado ají, and tomato sauce. It was delicious. Finish your meal here with a Coquito, a Tropical Eggnog with a Bacardi Gold Dark Rum Floater.
In France, I paired the Rillette de Saumon, Salmon Spread with House-made Bread, from Le Marché de Noël with Sparkling Rose Veuve Dubarry Cuvée Prestige.
From the L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen I recommend the traditional Chanukkah dishes, Potato Latkes with Sour Cream, and Sufganiyot, which are jelly-filled doughnuts. Personally I would prefer a side of applesauce with my latkes and my Sufganiyot to be covered in powdered sugar instead of a glaze. For the big hunger, the Pastrami on Rye with House-made Pickles and Deli Mustard is divine.
Spice it all up at Morocco’s Sapphire Holiday Kitchen with Grilled Lamb Kefta Kebab and Grapes with Euro Cucumber, Red Pepper, Pickled Pearl Onions, and Harissa-Cilantro Dressing.
The Shi Was Holiday Kitchen had a great soup with buckwheat soba noodles accompanied by a vegetable tempura. The Chirashi Sushi Tree was yummy and a real eye-catcher.
At the American Holiday Table (American Pavilion), try the Slow-Roasted Turkey with Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans, and Cranberry Sauce. I enjoyed the Hand-carved Smoked Ham with Green Beans and Sweet Potato Casserole.
For dessert, a gingerbread cookie, or two, is a must. When it comes to beverages, go for the Shipyard Eggnog White Porter, and skip the Cinnamon Cranberry Orange Wheat Ale.
I am not a fan of Italian cuisine, but I was curious about the Panettone Mignon: Miniature Traditional Italian Christmas Fruitcake offered at the Tuscany Holiday Kitchen. It was pretty good. It comes packed in a box however, and is not made at Epcot.
The Bavarian Holiday Kitchen (Germany Pavilion) serves a Potato Dumpling with Mushroom Sauce. If you can’t decide between Black Forest Roulade with Cherry Whipped Cream and the Linzer Cookie, go for both. When I visited it was quite chilly and I warmed up with a nice Glühwein, (Mulled wine).
At Las Posadas Holiday Kitchen (Mexico Pavilion), the Braised Pork served on a Giant Tostada with Chipotle Black Bean Spread, Guajillo Sauce, Queso Fresco, Crema Mexicana, Pickled Onion, and topped with Chicharron Dust is a dish that one best shares.
Wait, There’s More!
Cookie Stroll: If you are into cookies, consider the Cookie Stroll, where you purchase five cookies at select locations (Bavaria Holiday Kitchen for the Linzer, Cookie American Holiday Table for a Gingerbread Cookie, Yukon Holiday Kitchen for the Peppermint Pinwheel Cookie, Feast of the Three Kings for a Chocolate Crinkle Cookie, and the L’Chaim Holiday Kitchen for a Black-and-White Cookie). Every time you buy a cookie at these locations, get your festival passport stamped. Once you have collected all five stamps, head over to the Sweets & Treats Holiday Kitchen to receive a complimentary Santa Mickey Sugar Cookie. If you do not want to eat your cookies right away, you can purchase a Cookie Stroll Cookie Jar at the Holiday Markets to safeguard your treats.
Festival Merchandise: Every year, there is special merchandise and 2019 is no different. The Chip & Dale jersey declaring “I’m Nuts about the Holidays!” is a big hit. There is a cookie jar and ornament featuring the two chipmunks and, my favorite, the lightbulb mug.
Candlelight Processional: Featuring a celebrity narrator accompanied by a live choir and a full orchestra, the Candlelight Processional is an absolute must when visiting the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. The concert is free of charge and takes place three times a day (5 p.m., 6:45 p.m., and 8:15 p.m.) at the America Gardens Theater. When I visited, Neil Patrick Harris was the night’s narrator. The concerts are very popular and guests line up for seats 1 hour and more in advance of the show. Dining packages with reserved seating are available. Find out more here.
Epcot Forever: End the night with a viewing of this new fireworks, water, and laser show. The nighttime spectacular takes place over World Showcase Lagoon and includes illuminated kites pulled by Jet Skis around the lagoon. The best viewing spots are in the FastPass viewing area (where Future World meets World Showcase), between Canada and France, including the bridge from the U.K. to France, Italy, Germany, China, and Mexico.
If all the cookies of the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays won’t do, then consider the Epcot Forever Dessert Party. Guests check into a special viewing area located at World Showcase Plaza East, next to Disney Traders, 75 minutes before the show. Here they enjoy a large spread of sweet treats, a Duke of Weselton’s Cheese Fondue, fresh fruits, specialty cocktails, wine, beer, and nonalcoholic beverages. After the show, cast members escort guests to the Norway Pavilion for a front-of-the-line trip on the Frozen Ever After Ride. The dessert party is priced at $99 for adults (ages 10 and up) and $59 for kids (ages 3 to 9).
To plan your visit to the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2020. This article was first published by The Mouse for Less.