Every day at Walt Disney World is a special one. The sights. The sounds. The merriment. The Dole Whip Floats. No matter what makes your family vacation one to remember and cherish, there are always special events that can make it that much more special. Depending on the time of year you visit and what your family’s preferences and budget are, these five Walt Disney World special events are not-to-miss no-brainers and will put an extra sprinkling of pixie dust on your already-magical vacation.
There’s a phrase at Walt Disney World that, no matter how many times I hear it, gives me goose bumps. When a Disney cast member tells me to “Have a Magical Day!” I know they’re not exaggerating. They know that each day is special day when enjoying a Disney vacation. The combination of theme park attractions, on-property themed resorts, and dining experiences (yep, I’m calling them experiences, especially the ones that include character meet and greets) is magical perfection, and my family hits the road twice a year to WDW for the experience. We visit at the same times every year so we can enjoy special events in addition to the already magical theme park days. Maybe Disney should change the title to Extra-Special Events because they do add to an already magical experience.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party
From my family’s first MNSSHP, I realized that it was the perfect Disney Halloween experience for us. Okay, we are Halloween enthusiasts (Enthusiasts is putting it lightly. We’re pretty much obsessed with the holiday!) and love all things kooky and spooky, so this one is right up our alley.
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On select nights from September through early November, Magic Kingdom closes early at 7 p.m. for general admission guests and the park turns into a giant Halloween celebration. There are shows in front of Cinderella Castle (last year Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular featuring The Sanderson Sisters premiered), one of the best Disney parades ever, Boo to You!, and elusive Disney villains and characters that you don’t see every day on the regular park schedule are available for meet and greet opportunities. There’s also plenty of trick-or-treating and a not-so-scary ambiance that makes the party great for younger children.
There’s also another benefit to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party: It’s the one time of year when adults are allowed to dress up and hit the parks. There are, of course, costume restrictions to keep everyone safe, but many folks go all out and begin planning their costumes a year ahead of time. Guilty.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is a hard ticket event. Translation: you’ll need to purchase a party ticket in addition to regular theme park admission. Popular dates sell out super quickly (think Halloween night and weekends), so if you don’t have date flexibility, purchase tickets the day they go on sale.
Benefits: Magic Kingdom is capped at a decent capacity for the party, so there’s little to no wait time on rides, and elusive WDW characters come out for meet and greets.
Tips: The shows and parade are VERY popular, so if you want to score a good viewing spot in front of Cinderella Castle, you’re going to have to park yourself and your family in a spot well ahead of time. Same thing holds true for popular character meet and greets: be prepared for a lengthy wait.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is another hard ticket event in Magic Kingdom running from early November through Christmas. Disney characters wear special costumes to celebrate the season, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade gives guests a taste of snow in Florida, and popular characters that aren’t usually in the park offer meet and greet opportunities. There are also fun shows like A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas, and Cinderella Castle gets beautified with what looks like a million twinkling lights (technically it’s 200,000).
Benefits: Magic Kingdom is capped at a lower capacity for the party, so there’s little to no wait time on rides.
Tips: The shows and parade are VERY popular so, if you want to score a good viewing spot in front of Cinderella Castle, you’re going to have to park yourself and your family around the park’s center hub well in advance. The park is less crowded in Frontierland during the parade, so that’s an option as well. Same thing holds true for popular character meet and greets: with their popularity you’ll find yourself waiting in line, sometimes for hours depending on crowd level. Always one to make lemonade out of lemons, I’ll point out that the rides and attractions have very short wait times while people are lined up for parades or waiting on characters, so head over to your favorites and get on board quickly.
runDisney at Walt Disney World
Personally, I have never trained or participated in a runDisney event, but there are plenty of TravelingMoms who have. WDW often turns its races into weekend events (think Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend) and the Disney Princess Half Marathon gives runners a fun excuse to channel their inner princesses or favorite Disney character. Runners follow picturesque paths (imagine running through the arch signs that guests normally drive their vehicles under) and characters and other guests cheer them on along the way. This year’s latest is the Stars Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side that’s super popular with fans of the movies and takes place mid-April. Runners receive a gorgeous medal for completing the course (perfect for showing off!) and Darth Vader reigns over the competition.
Tips: runDisney has become super popular and sells out quickly, so purchase your event right when its registration opens. Member of Disney Vacation Club? You get a week early registration for runDisney events.
Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
This festival is one of the reasons we love visiting WDW in spring! Taking place March-May all around Epcot, the park is filled with character topiaries, food kiosks are set up at each country in World Showcase highlighting the country’s cuisine, and on weekends, the Garden Rocks Concert Series is a chance to watch popular acts and artists from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. And all is included with theme park admission. Pristine gardens flank the walkways, special events can be booked, and Fun Fresh Weekends at the Festival Center were created for families. The weekend events include horticulture exhibits, Festival stage presentations, and even a chance to talk with a Disney Master Gardener.
Tips: Many of the food kiosks in World Showcase offer snack-size portions at snack-size prices. If you’re on a Disney Dining Plan, save up your credits and eat around the world. Also, weekend nights tend to get super busy with locals so, if you’re not into crowds, stick to weekdays and weekends before dinner.
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
Running from mid-September through mid-November, Food and Wine celebrates just that: delicious food and wine from all over the world. In recent years, Ocean Spray has put a temporary cranberry bog in the Gateway area and it’s been super popular. The Eat to the Beat Concert Series has free daily shows in The American Adventure Pavilion’s American Gardens Theater and favorite artists from the 70s, 80s, and 90s perform nightly. Have a Disney Chase Visa card? You can score priority seating in the Disney Chase Lounge.
Tips: Many of the food kiosks in World Showcase offer snack-size portions at snack-size prices. If you’re on a Disney Dining Plan, save up your credits and eat around the world. Also, weekend nights tend to get super busy with locals and folks that love liquor so, if you’re not into crowds or the frivolity of folks getting drunk,, stick to weekdays and weekends before dinner.
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Do you have a favorite special event at Walt Disney World? Let us know in the comment section below!