Looking for a fun way to celebrate Christmas at Walt Disney World while on a budget? This holiday stroll through Disney Springs is sure to get you in the holiday spirit!
Disney Christmas on a Budget
Want to soak up the holiday at Walt Disney World without the $99 ticket price of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party? The Disney Springs area is always an easy way to access Disney magic without the park ticket price, and it’s turning the fun up a few notches to get you in the Christmas spirit.
To help you spend an entire day in the Disney Springs area without simply wandering the shops, I’ve put together an itinerary that I tested out myself. Hey, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. This trip is best started a couple of hours before sunset, and try for a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday if you can help it (to avoid the local crowds).
First, a Round of Melting Mini Golf
We’re actually going to kick off our holiday 10 minutes down the road. It’s always Christmas at Winter Summerland Mini Golf, where Santa’s elves somehow keep snowmen and ice castles from melting in the Florida sun.
Some of that icy magic might be coming from the chill of Blizzard Beach, which shares the parking lot. It may be a bit strange to pull into the empty Blizzard Beach parking lot (it is typically shut down in the winter for refurbishment each year), but keep driving to the end of the lot to find Winter Summerland.
Winter Summerland has two themed 18-hole courses: One is Christmas among the Florida beaches and palm trees, and the other is a snowy winter wonderland where “Squirty the Snowman” lies in wait. I won’t spoil the surprise, but if you’re looking for a solid holiday experience, take the winter trail.
There are concessions available for purchase at Santa’s “Winterbago”, including Mickey bars — a favorite no matter which season you’re putting in. Each round of mini-golf is $14 per adult, $12 for kids 3 to 9 years old. It’s open until 10 p.m. and your second round is half-off on the same day: So if you’d like to try both Christmas courses, you can certainly do so at a cool discount.
Train Rides and Gingerbread Houses
After tallying up who really won mini golf, head to the Lime Garage at Disney Springs. This garage is centered in the middle of the action, so you won’t have a long walk back to the car later. To continue our holiday itinerary, hang a right toward the Marketplace district.
Disney Springs has been decked out in all manner of holiday trimmings, from a glittering Christmas tree in the Town Center area to giant ornaments in the bushes.
With so many shops to explore, this can definitely be your one-stop-shop for everyone on your list. But the landscape can be confusing, so don’t hesitate to approach a cast member to find exactly what you’re looking for. The Disney merchandise has been split up into various locations like the Marvel and Star Wars Stores in addition to the World of Disney store.
Stroll toward World of Disney and you’ll find more than exclusive Disney merch: Right next door is Amorette’s Patisserie, which showcases elaborate artisan cakes and chocolate creations year-round… so you can bet they do a little something special for Christmas.
Amorette’s puts together a stunning gingerbread display, and offers specialty holiday treats. The cakes are gorgeous, but pricey… starting at about $8 per treat. To save some money, but still take in a special holiday treat, wait to snack on the Christmas Tree Trail (we’re heading in that direction).
Further into the Marketplace district, you’ll see exclusive shopping experiences like the trendy Marketplace Co-op and the Pearl Factory booth, where you can watch them extract a pearl from an oyster for $15.99, just like at the Japan pavilion in Epcot.
In this area, you’ll come upon a few special experiences like the Marketplace Carousel, where kids of all ages (yep, including you) can ride for $3. The nearby Marketplace Train has the same going rate, and adults that ride with small children get on for free. Kids crazy about trains? It’s only $5 for two rides.
These whimsical rides are right next to the Days of Christmas specialty store. From The Incredibles to Maleficent, this shop has a Christmas tree ornament for just about any Disney fan. Can you find all of the 12 Days of Christmas posters in the shop?
The Christmas Tree Trail: More Than Trees
The trees along this trail are beautifully designed and sure to inspire your decorations at home. Each tree is themed after a specific Disney movie or park attraction, and they even feature ornaments that you can purchase at the Days of Christmas store (very clever, Disney). We took photos of the decorations and texted them to friends back home: Could they guess the theme of each tree?
Near the middle of the trail, you’ll find a concession stand with plenty of holiday specialties, including the much-sought-after Pluto popcorn bucket ($15.50) and holiday sugar cookies ($4.50).
If you’re feeling adventurous, try the gourmet flavored cotton candy in gingerbread man, candy cane and egg nog for $5.49. There is frozen hot chocolate ($14.00) and even adult holiday brews (starting at $9.50).
Nearby, Santa has taken up residence at a beautiful Christmas cottage. But no need to wait in line to meet the big guy. You can check-in with helpful elves (they might be cast members), then explore the trail and shops around Disney Springs until it’s time to share your Christmas list. Santa is working from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, so there is plenty of time to pay him a visit.
A Very Merry Ferry Boat Ride
After being on your best behavior around Santa, it’s about time to reward ourselves with a free ride. The ferryboat to the Port Orleans resorts takes off from the Marketplace Dock, located right next to the Christmas Tree Trail.
The boat plays Christmas music during your ride, and your captain may even encourage a sing-a-long down the Sassagoula river. Get off on the second stop, Port Orleans Riverside, where beautiful New Orleans Christmas decorations await. Can you identify the Southern flowers on the Riverside lobby tree?
Yehaa Bob’s Christmas at the River Roost
Whether you snacked too much at Disney Springs for a full meal or are ready to chow down, you’re in for a real treat. Grab a table at the River Roost for appetizers, desserts and some free entertainment from the one and only Yehaa Bob.
Bob has a special repertoire of Christmas classics peppered in with Disney favorites. You won’t just be watching, though: Bob makes sure to get the entire audience involved and out of their seats. Your part in the 12 Days of Christmas (and you will have a part) is going to be a holiday memory your family won’t soon forget.
On the River Roost Lounge menu, I recommend the Loaded Potato Puffs ($11), which are enough for a few people to snack on. River Roost is a lounge, so there are specialty adult drinks to try, including an Abita beer flight ($8.25).
With jingle bells still dancing in your heads, stroll along the river to Port Orleans French Quarter to stop in at the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory. Here you can get an exclusive taste of their famous Mickey-shaped beignets (three for $4.49).
You’re likely to see a few musical crocodiles and a dragon on your way to the ferry boat dock at French Quarter along with Mardi Gras-themed Christmas decorations. Be sure to take in the view of the glittering lights of Disney Springs as you cross the water.
Wrapping Up the Night
After twilight, Disney Springs transforms from Christmas whimsy to glitzy wonderland. There is no shortage of twinkling lights and live entertainment through the streets. Even as soon as you disembark from the ferry, there is a family-friendly DJ dance party happening right in front of the Christmas Tree Trail until 11 p.m.
Head to the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop to grab a dessert worth walking with. There is a Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa on the menu for just $4.50, but for some holiday color, I recommend the shareable Marina Raspberry Sorbet ($11.45) and the Mint Bliss Sundae ($12.45).
Take your treats to the Town Center district. On your way you may encounter a toy soldier on stilts, a moving statue, an acapella group belting Christmas carols or even a man on a strolling piano.
If you’re finishing up some holiday shopping on the way back to the car, try some interactive opportunities like the Lego Store or the Build-a-Dinosaur shop inside the T-Rex Restaurant (you don’t have to eat there to visit the shop and dino dig site).
Lots of snacks, shopping, and maybe too many hot cocoas later, your merry day through Disney Springs is complete. If you’re short on time, pick and choose your snacks and entertainment from my itinerary, but try to hit the must-dos like the Christmas Tree Trail and Yehaa Bob’s sing-a-long.
By Rain Blanken