We have made a tradition of going to Walt Disney World for Thanksgiving.   It honestly started in 2013 when no one felt up to cooking or hosting Thanksgiving dinner.  So at the last minute we looked online and found a room at Port Orleans Riverside.  Within 24 hours we went from thinking about going to Disney to un the car and on our way.

That spontaneous decision has changed how our family celebrates Thanksgiving.  It is different being at the parks on a holiday but there is just so much to enjoy.

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Changing Leaves

Going to Disney the week of Thanksgiving gives you one final glimpse of fall (just ignore that it is 80 degree weather in Florida).

The parks are quickly transitioning from fall to Christmas in preparation for parties, elaborate shows and holiday treats.  But they do try to keep some tinges of orange through Thanksgiving to keep you in the spirit.

So if you go the week of Thanksgiving soak in the fall themeing as early as possible.  The best decorations are in the Magic Kingdom.

The first places you will see the change is at the resorts.  It takes a long time to make a gingerbread house so you may just luck our and get to see some elves (cast members) hard at work.

Thanksgiving Dinner

So where would you eat Thanksgiving dinner while at Walt Disney World? This is a serious question and one that took us 16 hours in a card to decide.  First decision is traditional or non-traditional?

Traditional Options

Disney will offer special meals on Thanksgiving day at select restaurants.  Some locations include: Liberty Tree Tavern (of course they top the list since they serve the classic turkey meal every day), Minnie’s Holiday Dine at Hollywood and Vine, Mickey’s Backyard Barbeque, California Grill.

In addition, if you are a DVC (Disney Vacation Club) member they have a special members only Thanksgiving meal at the Contemporary.

Remember that since these meals are ‘special offerings’ on a holiday you are going to pay extra for them. The DVC meal is up to $70 per person!!!!

In our discussion of where to eat we through about the quality of Thanksgiving dinner.  Let’s all be honest, if it does not taste like Mom’s cooking you are not going to be completely satisfied.

Non-Traditional Options

The last comment led us to make the decision that if we were not going to have a traditional meal we were going to have the complete opposite.  And Epcot makes that easy for us (also easy to get a last minute reservation).  The first year it was Nine Dragons (much better food than I expected).  Since then we have also been to Via Napoli (twice) and Marrakesh.

After Dinner

Of course you could go ride rides or walk around Epcot – but what you really need to do is head back to the resort for some football.  If the game is not on in the room check the resort bar or it all else fails head to the ESPN zone at the Boardwalk.

Candlelight Processional

Now that you are full of Thanksgiving dinner and football it is time to transition to Christmas.  There is only one way to do this – Epcot Candlelight Processional.  The first showing of this is always the day right after Thanksgiving and it is a must do.

What is the Candlelight processional? On select nights celebrities read the story of Christmas while a orchestra and full choir sings hymnals.  This one show will get you into the right frame of mind for the Holidays.  It reminds you what it is all about.

We have seen Gary Sinise twice now!!  He is wonderful and you can tell how much it means to up to do this each year. He also takes the time to thank the troops and any Veterans in the audience. He actually will come to tears during the program and especially when he asks all the veterans to stand so they can be recognized.  It is a very emotional show and one I would never miss.

Now if you are considering doing this then you need to get a Candlelight Processional Dinner Package to secure seats.  Do not think you can stand in line to see this opening weekend.  It is not going to happen.  In our opinion the best dining option is Biergarten for lunch.  Other than Marrekesh it is the lowest cost and with a lunch you get the first seating for the show.

Holidays Around the World

Now that you have done the ‘must-do’s’ you can slow down and just enjoy the rest of the Holiday weekend.  Focus on enjoying the seasonal experiences.  Two things come to mind – Holidays around the World at Epcot and Resort Hopping.

Let’s start with Holidays Around the World.  This is a celebration of all the different winter traditions from around the globe.  Each country will have a display that highlights how and what they celebrate.  At times throughout the day and evening Storytellers will come out on stage to share with everyone details around their traditions.  You will come away with a sense that no mater what culture or religion you are, the winter is a time of celebrations.

Here are some examples from previous years:

  • Mexico –  Three Kings share the story of how Christmas is celebrated in Mexico
  • Norway – Storyteller Sigrid shares Norwegian Christmas traditions and lore about Julenissen, the gnome, who appears and mischievously interrupts the storytelling. THIS IS A MUST DO – it is a fabulously funny storytelling.  Also, recommend seeing it at night under the stars making Julenissen even more mischievous.
  • China – Lion Dancers ring in the Chinese New Year with a dragon dance.
  • America – Hannukah and Kwanzaa are the focus here.
  • United Kingdom – Father Christmas shares historical traditions of Christmas in the United Kingdom.

The wonderful thing about touring these is that it not something you have to schedule into your plans.  They do have a map with performance times at park entrance but there is no need to let it dictate your day.  This is something that is enjoyed more by just wandering upon it.

Resort Hopping

Another favorite past time at Walt Disney World during the Holidays is to just resort hop.  Every single resort has dressed up in their own way for the Holidays.  You will find decorations that fit the theme of that resort, gingerbread displays, live entertainments, etc.

I recommend resort hopping at any time of day but most of the live entertainment is at night.   I think I am going to let photos take over now.

Final Thoughts

I hope this post has make you think about heading to Disney for Thanksgiving.  It really is a different kind of trip.  It is one about enjoying the holidays and spending time with family and friends.

You will notice I didn’t mention crowds or rides.  That is because it is not the focus of the trip.  But if you do want to know crowds are higher than normal but with a smart Fastpass usage and using those early morning hours at the parks you will get in any rides you want.

And one last thing.  Take this time to also work on those family photos for the Christmas card.  A little know fact is that Santa not only visits the Magic Kingdom but also the Swan and Dolphin.  Just so you know Santa is just ending his vacation before the Christmas season so he may not be in what I would call a normal outfit.

Hope to see you at Disney this Thanksgiving.