Go for the Parks, Stay for the Parades and Parties

The Osborne (not Osbourne) Family Spectacle dances at Disney-MGM Studios.
The Osborne (not Osbourne) Family Spectacle dances at Disney-MGM Studios. (Above And P1 Ornament Illustration © 2006 Walt Disney Co.)
Sunday, December 10, 2006

It's that time of the year, when Disney World becomes a particularly small world. Especially during the week between Christmas and New Year's, crowds pour into the Orlando mega-park to celebrate the holidays. If you're heading south to join the fray, here's a look at the yuletide highlights, including tips on how to get around some of the mayhem.

WHEN: Most holiday special events run through Dec. 31, with a few extended through Jan. 7.

DASHING THROUGH THE PARKS: If you have only a couple of days in the World, the following fetes are events you shouldn't miss. Some require advance work, so be sure to book tickets or make reservations before you go (see Information below).

Magic Kingdom. Sip free cocoa as toy soldiers march down Main Street during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade, part of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, where you'll find shorter lines for popular attractions (though not all rides are open), two holiday stage shows, character dance parties and a fireworks show with a holiday theme. The party is 7 p.m. to midnight Dec. 11, 12, 14, 15, 18, 19, 21 and 22. Naturally, it costs extra, and you should buy tickets in advance: $45.95 ages 10 and older, $37.95 ages 3-9 (tickets for Dec. 11, 12 and 14 are $6 less).

Our advice: There are two parades on party evenings (8:15 and 10:45) and a 9:30 fireworks spectacular. Opt for the later parade if possible so you don't have to fight the sea of people leaving the park at 7 p.m. as the party crowd is coming in. Don't want to spend that extra 50 bucks? You can still see the parade Dec. 23-31 during regular hours, when it replaces the park's Disney Dreams Come True Parade.

Animal Kingdom. If this park is on your agenda, head to the 3:45 p.m. daily safari-theme Jingle Jungle Parade for a jammin' holiday event where you and the masses can dance to a world beat.

Epcot. One of the World's best holiday events is this park's Candlelight Processionals, which feature a large choir, a 50-piece orchestra and a rotating cast of celebrity narrators (Cuba Gooding Jr., Gary Sinise and Marlee Matlin, to name a few) retelling the Christmas story. Even better: It's free. The show is held three times nightly (5, 6:45 and 8:15) at the open-air America Gardens Theatre through Dec. 30.

These are wildly popular, so arrive 60 to 90 minutes before showtime to nab a seat. To avoid the line (and that crowd can get pushy), book a Candlelight Processional lunch or dinner package that includes a seating badge; prices range from $27.99 to $45.99 for age 10 and older, $11.99-$12.99 for ages 3-9. Or do what we do: Watch from the sidewalks -- you can see and hear everything without the long wait.

Disney-MGM Studios. There's a new reason why the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights shouldn't be missed. Millions of lights -- in the form of everything from twirling carousels to Santa and his reindeer -- now "dance" to synchronized holiday music every 15 minutes from 6 to 8 p.m. daily. (Don't worry, it lasts for only a few minutes.)

The crowds at this attraction can be overwhelming. Deb Wills, who runs AllEarsNet, a Web site ( http://www.allearsnet.com/) that offers tips to the Disney-bound, suggests visitors go when the Fantasmic show is taking place (usually at 7 p.m.). You'll have smaller crowds, which will be particularly appreciated if you're pushing a stroller. The show runs through Jan. 7.

ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD: Mini-golf aficionados can putt their way to the "North Hole," past peppermint drops and snowy castles, on Disney's Winter Summerland miniature golf course at Blizzard Beach; $10.75 for age 10 and older, $8.50 for ages 3-9. New Year's Eve revelers can head to Pleasure Island (8 p.m. to 2 a.m.) for a special night of live music, dancing, food (petite steak sandwiches and barbecued smoked pork), fireworks and a champagne toast. Tickets: $89 per person.

WHERE TO STAY: Disney World resorts typically sell out over the holidays; at press time there was no availability at the low-budget properties. Expect to pay a premium elsewhere: Rates during Christmas week are $475 per night for a standard room at the BoardWalk Inn and $545 per night for a water-view room at the Beach Club resort.

Many more options are available outside the park gates in the chain hotels and resorts clinging to highways and local routes. The Comfort Suites Maingate (7888 W. Irlo Bronson Hwy., 888-390-9888, http://www.kisscomfortsuite.com/), one of the newer properties along U.S. Route 192, offers rooms with large sitting areas and pullout couches and a free continental breakfast. Christmas week rates start at $139.99 per night double. Just a few minutes from the parks is the Hampton Inn Lake Buena Vista (8150 Palm Pkwy., Orlando, 800-426-7866, http://www.hamptoninnlbv.com/), with spacious rooms and free shuttle service to Disney parks. We found rates starting at $119.

INFORMATION: Go to http://www.disneyworld.com/ or call 407-934-7639 (where you can also make reservations). The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau (800-551-0181, http://www.orlandocvb.org/) and Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau (407-847-5000, http://www.floridakiss.com/) provide guides to lodging, dining and activities.

-- Christine Koubek

© 2006 The Washington Post Company