I hope you enjoy this Disney World trip report from 2022, where I’ll walk you through my entire awesome trip to Disney in December! [This trip report was written by Kimberly and edited by Michael].
I just returned from five magical days at Walt Disney World (early December, 2022). This is the first time we’ve been back since before the pandemic, and there were definitely some changes since our last trip.
This vacation was to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and we were focused on not being rushed and just enjoyed being back at Disney World. We also wanted to make a point of experiencing new things that we hadn’t done before. Taking a more relaxed approach made for a less stressful, less exhausting vacation than our prior trips.
We were there during the first full week in December. Usually, the crowds are a little lower during this time; it’s after the Thanksgiving week rush and before the time when people are visiting over Christmas break. The weather was good. High temperatures around 80 degrees during the day, lowering to the 60s in the evening. However, the legendary Florida humidity did make it feel a bit warmer in the afternoons.
Here are the highlights of our visit, followed by my thoughts on some of the recent changes that have happened at Walt Disney World.
Disney World Trip Report 2022
Let’s begin with our awesome Disney World resort.
Our Resort Hotel – Port Orleans French Quarter
Port Orleans French Quarter is one of Disney’s Moderate category resorts, and it’s one of our favorite places to stay. The grounds are just lovely; filled with pretty landscaping, Mardi Gras theming, and peaceful walking paths.
Like all the resorts and parks during this time of year, holiday decorations were everywhere!
There have been some room upgrades made since our last trip. Most notably, the beds are now higher to allow space for luggage storage underneath. Since the rooms aren’t particularly large, the extra space is a nice touch.
However, the beds are really high off the ground now! I felt like a little kid climbing up onto the bed each night! I’m 5 foot, 8 inches tall with long legs. If I was a few inches shorter I might have had to jump to make it up onto the bed!
I’ll admit, I kind of missed the purple bedspreads with gold and green accents that used to be in the rooms. Now, the beds are made with crisp white linens, which seems to be a current trend at most hotels. The beds were comfortable and the pillows were marshmallow-soft, so I really didn’t mind too much.
The first day of our vacation was spent at Animal Kingdom. I know some people who actually skip this park, or they describe it as a “half-day park”. I disagree. Honestly, I feel like Animal Kingdom doesn’t get enough love!
Like all the parks, Animal Kingdom was filled with holiday decorations everywhere!
I booked a Lightning Lane for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride early in the morning. I love this ride, and if you can do it early in the day the experience is so much better. The animals are more active and visible In the morning hours. Our vehicle had to stop twice because of a giraffe and then an ostrich that decided to block the road. It’s amazing to see these beautiful animals close up!
Okay – the big cats weren’t exactly “active” that morning. But lounging in the sun seems like normal cat behavior!
Soon after our safari, we wandered along the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail to check out more of the animals. It was here that we had a fascinating conversation with a cast member (Paul) who had worked at Walt Disney World for over 40 years! He’d been with Animal Kingdom since its opening day, and it was obvious he loved his job.
We talked about the conservation efforts Disney is involved in, the animals on display, and what it’s been like for him to be a long-time cast member. I always love chatting with cast members. I’ve learned so much about the park attractions and operations just in the course of casual conversations.
After our stroll through the Gorilla Falls Trail, we happened to catch a performance by the Harambe Acrobats! This group is so impressive; they make what they do look so easy.
I should mention here that live performances of any kind are one of my favorite things to discover at the Disney Parks. While wandering over to the Asia section of Animal Kingdom, we were entertained by an amazing sitar concert. This skilled musician played a mix of traditional tunes as well as some familiar holiday favorites.
We had late lunch/early dinner reservations at Yak & Yeti Restaurant. The restaurant has a “pan-Asian” menu that is sure to have something for everyone. The decor is fascinating, with artwork and decorations from a variety of Asian regions.
The sitar music wasn’t the last of the live music we wandered into! After our late lunch at Yak & Yeti restaurant, we discovered the exuberant sounds of Viva Gaia! This Caribbean band creates a dance party that is impossible to resist.
One of the experiences we had skipped during prior trips to Animal Kingdom was the “Feathered Friends in Flight” bird show. I’m so glad we did it this time. The show was funny and educational, and the birds are amazing. If you go to this show be aware that some of the birds fly out over the audience just barely above everyone’s heads!
The final highlight of our day at Animal Kingdom was the “Awakenings” projection show on the iconic Tree of Life. Beginning at dark, wintry holiday animated scenes are projected on the tree accompanied by seasonal music It’s absolutely breathtaking!
An Evening At Disney Springs
After our nice day at Animal Kingdom, we decided to go to Disney Springs for drinks and a late dinner. Every Disney Resort hotel provides bus service to Disney Springs, but one of the perks of staying at Port Orleans French Quarter is that you can take a boat to get to Disney Springs. The ride is relaxing and so picturesque.
During the holiday season, Disney Springs hosts the Christmas Tree Stroll throughout the property. You can wander the property to discover over 20 elaborately decorated themed Christmas trees.
We didn’t find all the trees, because our focus was to go to one of my favorite Disney Springs nightspots: Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar. This fun Indiana Jones-themed bar is filled with holiday cheer during the holiday season!
For our light dinner, we ordered the Air Pirates Cargo Loaded Pretzel, which is a charcuterie board in a giant soft pretzel. Two of us shared it and could barely finish it all. (Sorry, I tore off a corner before taking the photo. What can I say? I was hungry!)
If you like fruity rum drinks, the Hangar Bar makes some of the best! One of my favorites is the “Cool Headed Monkey”, which features flavors of tangerine, lime, watermelon, and pineapple mixed with rum. It’s delicious, but like all of the specialty drinks there, it’s stronger than it tastes!
We got up bright and early to get to Magic Kingdom as close to rope drop as possible. The park closed at 6 PM on this day, because of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party happening in the evening. We’ve bought tickets to this event in the past, but decided against it this year. There is still plenty of holiday magic to experience in the parks!
We arrived just a few minutes after the park opened. After spending a few minutes taking photos of the holiday decor near Town Square, a bright red car pulled up with a friendly cast member offering one-way rides down Main Street to the castle.
Have you ever seen the vintage style cars or horse-drawn trolleys carrying people to the castle and wondered “how do they get picked for that ride?” Or “are they celebrities?” As it turns out, anyone can ride to the castle simply by being in the right place at the right time.
There are signs near Town Square designating pick-up spots. So we hopped in the car and took a fun ride down Main Street! We waved at people and our driver told jokes and bantered with other cast members along the way.
Once we reached the castle, our driver graciously let us pose for pictures in the car.
Cinderella’s castle looks beautiful with the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary color scheme! Honestly, photos don’t do it justice.
From the castle, we wandered over to Fantasyland where we rode some of the classic rides before the wait times grew too long.
The first ride of the day was Dumbo the Flying Elephant! With two identical Dumbo rides and a large indoor waiting area, there is almost never a long wait. Once you’re on the ride, use the controller to make Dumbo fly as high as possible for a spectacular view of the park.
Next up, was the Mad Tea Party ride. There’s something about this classic ride that brings out the kid in me. I can’t help but try to get the teacup spinning crazy fast!
Another favorite ride for me is The Journey of the Little Mermaid. This ride is great when you need a break from the heat of the day. Once the line reaches inside, it’s cool and dark. The queue area has a few interactive features that help pass the time while waiting for the ride.
At this point in the day, it was getting warm and we wanted to take a break with something cold & refreshing. I know that Dole Whips are most people’s refreshments of choice, but I also love LeFou’s Brew from Gaston’s Tavern. This delicious beverage has the flavors of apple juice, mango juice, and marshmallow syrup, with no added sugar. It’s sweet, icy-cold, and (in my opinion) a great fruity treat in the heat of the day.
By this time, it was time for our first Lightning Lane pick of the day (and one of my favorite rides), the Haunted Mansion.
The Haunted Mansion is so popular that even at park opening the wait time was 60 minutes, so you will definitely want to use a Lightning Lane for this one. If you don’t have a Lightning Lane, the queue area winds through a graveyard that is filled with a lot of interactive features that make the wait time pass by quickly. It’s almost a bit disappointing that the Lightning Lane queue bypasses the graveyard. Still, I never get tired of this spooky classic!
If you’re visiting Magic Kingdom during the holidays, don’t miss out on riding the Jungle Cruise (or should I say, the “Jingle Cruise”). Yes, the famous Jungle Cruise gets a holiday theme complete with decorations and seasonally silly jokes from your cruise skipper. The Jingle Cruise is a popular ride, so it’s another strong consideration for using a Lightning Lane.
Even the boats are renamed for the Jingle Cruise! Pictured here is the “Noel Nellie”. Our boat was the “Icicle Irma”.
Of course, no visit to the Magic Kingdom is complete without some shopping at The Emporium on Main Street. The Emporium was filled with holiday items, in addition to the usual selection of pins, clothing, and toys.
During the holiday season, be sure to check out the windows of The Emporium. In a nod back to when department stores created elaborate Christmas window displays, The Emporium had a series of windows depicting scenes from “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.”
The parades and cavalcades are back in full swing and happen all throughout the day at Magic Kingdom. It was wonderful to see Mickey, Minnie, and so many other characters smiling and waving to the crowds!
We actually scheduled two days at Epcot during this trip, because Epcot during the Christmas season is filled with holiday magic. The Epcot International Festival of the Holidays happens all throughout the park; primarily in the World Showcase section. This popular festival features special holiday food booths, entertainment, and storytellers at several of the World Showcase pavilions.
The storytellers share tales of holiday traditions from different cultures around the world. From Pere Noel in France to Los Posadas in Mexico to Befana the Christmas Witch in Italy and more…it’s so interesting to learn about the different holidays and traditions celebrated during this time of year.
The Holiday Kitchens (food booths) are filled with wonderful seasonal menus. Unfortunately, none of the Holiday Kitchens were set up for mobile food ordering so the lines were usually long. Well worth the wait, though!
One of the standout dishes we had was the lamb kefta kabob from Tangierine Cafe in Morocco. This was perfectly spiced and served over a bed of fresh carrot/chickpea salad. Another delightful treat from the Moroccan pavilion was a selection of baklava, as well as frozen mint tea and frozen pomegranate tea. The slushy frozen teas were perfect for the hot part of the afternoon!
Near the French Pavilion we caught the Hannukah Storyteller…
…and in Italy, we listened to Befana The Christmas Witch tell her tale.
Mexico featured music by the incomparable Mariachi Cobre, accompanied by traditional Mexican dancers.
Another big highlight from our time in Epcot was Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Instead of trying to join a virtual queue for this ride, we decided to pay for the Individual Lightning Lanes. At $15 apiece, I’ll admit I hesitated for a minute. After riding it however, I have to say it was totally worth it!
If you’re a roller coaster enthusiast, or just someone who loves fast thrill rides in general, you have got to ride this! Disney has done another outstanding job at creating an immersive ride experience with excellent theming.
The Guardians of the Galaxy are there to help you on the mission to save Earth from “an unusually large man” (as described by Drax).
The ride itself is a reverse launch “omni-coaster,” which means the cars swivel as well as race along the track. The ride is smooth, but it’s fast and the swiveling action can make one feel a little bit dizzy.
If you have trouble with motion sickness, you will definitely want to take some medication before riding this. The graphics and music combine with a great story to make this ride an exciting experience! We had to take a few minutes afterwards to steady ourselves after riding, but I’d ride it over and over again if I had the chance!
Our day at Hollywood Studios was, of course, highlighted by a time spent in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
There are some people who get teary-eyed and choked up when they see Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom. For me, the sight of the Millennium Falcon transported me back to being an 11-year-old nerdy girl seeing “A New Hope” in the theater for the first time. I’m not ashamed to admit I had to take a moment.
The details throughout Galaxy’s Edge are astounding!
Our first ride in Galaxy’s Edge was Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. Again, Disney has created an immersive ride experience that is unparalleled. The premise is that Hondo Ohnaka is putting together a crew for a very important smuggling mission to help the rebel alliance. Hondo gives details about the mission as you move through the queue.
Once you’re ready to board the Millennium Falcon, you’ll be divided into teams of six people. (Two each of pilots, gunners, and engineers). Each person has a role to play on the mission. You’ll need to pay attention to the action on the screen, as well as near your seat. Lights on panels near each seat will show you when you need to do your part! At the end of the mission, Honda will communicate onscreen to tell you how successful your crew was, and how many credits you’ve earned.
My husband and I both said we wanted to ride this over and over to try different crew assignments and to improve our scores.
After Smuggler’s Run, we moved on to the highlight of the day: Rise of The Resistance. This is more than a ride. It’s a completely immersive experience unlike anything else at Walt Disney World. The premise is that you’re part of a group of new recruits to help the Rebel Alliance. After a briefing, you’re divided into groups to load onto transport vehicles. However, the First Order soon captures you and the entire group of recruits!
What follows is an amazing experience of trying to escape the First Order while being pursued by Kylo Ren himself! The cast members during this experience are amazing. The members of the First Order are intimidating, but fun to interact with. The ride experience itself is nonstop excitement! There are videos online of the ride, but they truly don’t convey what a thrilling attraction this is. This is an absolute “must do” ride for any Star Wars fan!
If you purchased a MagicBand+, you can use the free Play Disney app in the Black Spire Outpost area to play the Batuu Bounty Hunter Game. Using your MagicBand+, you can solve puzzles and interact with different locations throughout the area to earn credits. It’s a complex game, and we could’ve happily spent most of the day in Galaxy’s Edge playing around with it. In fact, I could easily see myself devoting an entire day to Galaxy’s Edge on a future visit.
The next highlight of our day at Hollywood Studios was riding Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad. This ride is all kinds of silly fun! It’s another great immersive experience, except this time you’re immersed in a zany cartoon world. The animation effects are quite impressive. The ride vehicles are on a trackless system, which makes for an overall smooth ride. Parts of it are faster than others, but there are no drops or sudden turns. It’s simply nonstop silliness and it’s sure to make you laugh!
Pay attention to the open area next to the Hollywood Brown Derby Restaurant. Chip and Dale showed up several times throughout the day to play games with guests. I enjoyed a hilarious game of charades, with Chip and Dale impersonating various Disney characters. If you’ve never seen an oversized chipmunk impersonate Captain Jack Sparrow, you can’t even imagine the hilarity!
I love the retro style of all the holiday decorations around Hollywood Studios. There’s a lot of nostalgia associated with holidays anyway, and I think the decor at Hollywood Studios emphasizes this in the best possible way.
Even Santa Claus gets to ride in a vintage automobile when making the rounds at Hollywood Studios!
50th Anniversary Golden Statues
While at any of the parks, we spent some time looking for the 50th Anniversary Golden Statues. There are a total of 50 of these, and if you have a MagicBand+ there’s an interactive feature available through the Play Disney app.
Getting the interactive feature to work on all of them was a little tricky. There were a few that we never did get to work, but it was still fun to find them. I think we found 46 out of 50.
Most are in obvious places, but a few took a while to find!
These statues are really adorable, and will be in the parks through March of 2023. I don’t know what will happen to them after that, but I hope they’ll be displayed somewhere.
My Thoughts On Genie+ and Lightning Lanes
One of the biggest changes since our last trip in 2019 is the new Genie+ app and the Lightning Lane system that replaced the old Fast Passes. There’s a lot of detailed information online about Genie+ and strategies for how to reserve your Lightning Lanes. I won’t get into all the details (because there are websites that can do it better than I can), but overall I will say that I really like this new system.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that Genie+ is complicated to use. Honestly, I didn’t find it that difficult. Genie+ is used via the free My Disney Experience app, and it’s fairly user-friendly. Take a little time to familiarize yourself with the app before your trip; you shouldn’t have any problems. I think the app seems intimidating at first because there is a lot it can do.
With the My Disney Experience app, you can check into your hotel, book your Lightning Lanes for rides, check wait times for rides, see your daily itinerary, utilize mobile food ordering, access your PhotoPass photos, and so much more.
The new Lightning Lane system is convenient, but note that you’ve got to get up early to get a Lightning Lane for the most popular rides. The Lightning Lanes become available at 7:00 AM each morning for resort guests. So I set my alarm for 6:45 AM each morning to log on and book our favorite rides to start the day. I had read online reviews of how the system was “glitchy” or how people couldn’t get it to work first thing in the morning, but I never had any problems with it.
For some of the most popular rides, you have the option of purchasing an “Individual Lightning Lane”, or joining a “virtual queue”. We did purchase Individual Lightning Lanes for Rise of the Resistance in Hollywood Studios, and for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind in Epcot. In both instances, we paid $15 each. Both of these rides were amazing, and I don’t feel any regrets about the money spent!
When we booked our trip (nearly a year ago), the only option to buy Genie+ was to purchase it upfront for the entire length of your stay. That has since changed, and you now buy it on each day of your trip. I think this is an improvement because there might be some parks where you don’t feel that you’ll get your money’s worth out of the app. For example, we spent two days in Epcot during this vacation and really only used Genie+ on one of those days.
My Thoughts On Mobile Food Ordering
Mobile food ordering was another big change since our last visit to Walt Disney World. I love this system, and wish more food booths utilized it! It’s done through the My Disney Experience app. You simply find the location of where you want to order your food, choose a pick-up time, look over the menu and place your order, then click to let them know when you’ve arrived so they can start making your food. We used this several times and I don’t think we ever had to wait more than 10 minutes for our food.
When mobile ordering first became available at Walt Disney World, I read that some people were having to place their orders an hour or more before they wanted to eat because there were no available pick-up time slots. We never had this problem. In fact, most of the time the first time slot available for our food was a 45-minute slot starting “now”. Maybe it’s different during busier times of the year, but our experience with mobile food ordering was that it was fast, convenient, and efficient.
Thoughts On My Disney Experience & Play Disney Apps
Another misconception that I’ve seen repeatedly online is that you’ll end up spending your entire day staring at your smartphone while at Disney World. While it is true that you’ll be on your phone if you’re using Genie+, I never felt like we were on our phones for an unusual amount of time.
My husband and I both used our phones to check ride wait times, book Lightning Lanes, make mobile food orders, and, of course, take lots of photos. It didn’t take more than a few minutes to do any of this. I highly recommend having a portable phone charger though, especially if you’re taking lots of photos in addition to using the apps.
There are other nice features on My Disney Experience, such as fun PhotoPass Lenses you can use to take silly selfies:
One great feature on the app is the “Cast Compliment” option. With this, you can send a compliment to recognize any cast member who helped make your day especially magical. The compliment gets passed on to the cast member.
Everyone at Walt Disney World works hard, and they always seem to be smiling and friendly. If the cast members are ever tired or having a bad day, they sure don’t let it show. Taking a minute to send them a compliment is a nice way to send a bit of “pixie dust” back to them, in appreciation for their hard work.
Additionally, we downloaded the Play Disney app, so we could play the various games available. In addition to the Batuu Bounty Hunter Game, there are also Disney Trivia and multi-player games available. The games are easy and fun, especially if you need something to pass the time while waiting in a long line.
Both the My Disney Experience and Disney Play apps are free to download to your phone or other mobile devices. They’ll only take up as much time in your day as you allow, and they definitely make some things much easier.
A Great Vacation
Overall, it was wonderful to return to Walt Disney World after several years. A lot has changed, and there are still ongoing changes happening, but I never felt that the Disney magic wasn’t there. I still get a thrill when I see Cinderella’s castle, or when Mickey Mouse waves in my direction from a parade float. Yes, it’s getting more expensive to take a Disney Vacation, but I also think the quality of the Disney experience is improving in many ways.
Early December is a great time to visit if you want to enjoy the holiday decorations and events, without overwhelming crowd sizes. The weather is still hot and humid, but it’s much more tolerable than Florida in the Summertime.
I hope reading about the highlights from my Disney World trip report 2022 answers questions you might’ve had about the many new things at Walt Disney World (or, at the very least, I hope you enjoyed reading about some of our adventures).
This trip report was written by Kimberly and edited by Michael.
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