It's the most wonderful time in the happiest place

Epcot Festival of the Holidays 2018
Credit: Copyright: The Walt Disney Company

Are you one for unlimited holiday festivities? Never mind the potential for 85 degree afternoons, and all that complimentary sunshine; year after year, Disney World is one of the best places to soak up those Christmas vibes, from nightly tree lightings, because one is never enough, to Santa sightings, to some of the most ambitious gingerbread houses ever attempted. Parades, special nighttime shows, seasonal menus, all of the cookies—it’s almost too much, and you certainly won’t have time for everything, unless you happen to be spending the entire month of December hanging around Orlando. Slightly more pressed for time? Not to worry, because here’s your curated guide to the highlights of the Walt Disney World holiday experience.

Get into the spirit of the season at Hollywood Studios
For too long the park you dutifully traipsed through, once you were absolutely finished with the others, Hollywood Studios is shaping up to become quite the scene stealer, with the impressive (and decked out for the hols) Toy Story Land now open, and something modest and possibly Star Wars related, no big deal at all, coming fairly soon. The park also happens to be home to the most underrated holiday celebration at Disney World, the seasonal Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! happening, featuring lots of colorful projection art, and unique special effects, plus the usual fireworks / carefully choreographed drama. For only $45 on top of your admission, book into the park’s Holiday Dessert Party, over by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre—besides all of the seasonal sweets you like, you’ll find yourself in a prime viewing location, once the nightly celebration starts. While you’re here: Don’t miss the nightly snowfall along the park’s Sunset Boulevard—rarely, if ever, will you see actual snow in Central Florida; here’s your best shot at a kind-of white Christmas.

Get some of that good Grand Floridian gingerbread
Figures that the resort’s most over-the-top hotel would lay on one of the most lavish (and delightful) Christmas displays—the downright classy, absolutely massive tree is a must-see, as is Disney World’s most famous gingerbread house, a life-sized, not-so-tiny house, made from more than 10,000 pieces of gingerbread, using a vintage recipe brought over from Austria. Pop inside and buy a shingle to take home—it’s estimated that roughly 20,000 of them are sold each year. (They’re delicious.)

Eat Christmas dinner every day at Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays
On a typical day, the American Adventure pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase might not be your first pick, come mealtime, but during the annual festival showcasing holiday food traditions from around the world, you come here for turkey dinners with all the trimmings, served every afternoon and evening from a kiosk in the pavilion’s forecourt. Slow-roasted bird, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and fresh cranberry? It’s not the most stylish dish of the festival, and really, come hungry, because there’s a lot to try, but this is certainly one of the most delicious. (They do a nice smoked ham dinner, served with sweet potato casserole, if ham for Christmas is more your thing.)

Do a networking breakfast with Santa and Mrs. Claus
This time of year, one of the most popular character meets at Walt Disney World is none other than St. Nick—start your day right with a generous buffet breakfast at Disney Springs’ T-REX restaurant, where it’s all omelets, waffles, and gingerbread-o-saurs—plus the chance to hang out with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and to tell them what you’d like for Christmas this year.

Achieve baller status at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
The only thing more legendary than the festive celebration that takes over the Magic Kingdom many an evening, at this time of year? The crowds. And the lines for the included snacks. This year, on Very Merry nights through December 21, Tony’s Town Square Restaurant transforms into a VIP party lounge and outdoor (and very central) parade viewing area with Tony’s Most Merriest Town Square Party, and it’s only $99 to get in. Included—unlimited appetizers, hot and cold, plus plenty of desserts, adult beverages and other enticements.

Pick up some great edible gifts (or just chow down on chocolates) at The Ganachery
Did you know that Disney World has its own, very good chocolatier, supplying the entire resort? One of many recent adds responsible for turning Disney Springs into an essential part of any Disney World vacation, this sophisticated but accessible shop—their fun, made-to-order s’mores are one of the better desserts in the entire resort—has proven adept at packing their delicate chocolates for travel—an excellent gift idea. While in the neighborhood, make sure to look in on Amorette’s Patisserie, where they’re doing some seriously Parisian window-worthy cakes.

Buy someone you love a (kind of) private night out in the parks
Tired: Rolling out of bed for Early Magic Hours. Wired: Staying up late with Disney After Hours. Sure, the former’s included with your resort stay, but some days, those special openings are so popular, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the early crowd and the normal opening crowd. For After Hours, you’ll need to top up your ticket to the tune of $125 per head, but that gives you three hours to run wild (okay, not too wild) in the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, with no line, no wait at many of the most popular rides and character meet-ups, plus all the ice cream, popcorn and drinks you can handle. We know what we want for Christmas.

Do a dessert crawl at Epcot’s World Showcase
Cream-filled Matcha yule logs in Japan, Buche de Noel in France, Moroccan-style donuts—ask for an order of the svenj—in, you guessed it, Morocco, that classic rice cream dessert in Norway—while the main courses at Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays get plenty of the attention, save lots of room for dessert—there’s more than you’ll be able to try in one day, but you can certainly give it your best shot.