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When families start planning a trip to a Disney park the first image to pop in their mind is usually something iconic: The Magic Castle, Mickey Mouse, photographs with characters, and fun rides. What you may not know is that in addition to these classic experiences, Disney hosts many special events throughout the year. From sporting events to art displays, there’s a Disney special event worth checking out.
Get Your Sweat On
With over 200 events a year and 60 sports represented, the ESPN Wild World of Sports Complex in Orlando rules the Disney sports world. Catch an Atlanta Braves Spring Training game. Shout “GGGOOOOAAALLLL!!” with the crowds at the Major League Soccer sanctioned The Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic. If you’re partial to collegiate and high school sports, check out Disney’s spring training for baseball, softball, golf, lacrosse, tennis, and rugby.
Watch the college teams shoot some hoops in the AdvoCare College Basketball Tournament. Check out USA Field Hockey teams as they are scouted by collegiate teams at the Disney Field Hockey Showcase. Several youth soccer tournaments and events run throughout the year.
In addition, the ESPN Wild World of Sports Complex is home to collegiate track and field championships, middle school, high school, and college cross-country races. There are also cheerleading, dance, wrestling, and gymnastics competitions.
If your family prefers to get out of the bleachers and in on the action, Disney has options for you as well. Have a child who loves soccer? Check out the IdeaSport Soccer Academy, a fun way to hone skills for kids ages 13-18. Perhaps you have a rising high school triple jumper; the Disney Track & Field Showcase might be just the place to compete.
Disney World Special Events and Festivals
For families who love music, good food, movies, art, or nature, there is a Disney event for you as well. Epcot is home to another popular Disney World event, the International Flower and Garden Festival. From early March through May, you can find Disney character topiaries, activities for kids, outdoor concerts, and gardens from around the world. In addition to Flower and Garden, International Festival of the Arts is all about the beauty of Disney artistry. From the food offerings to the live shows and displays, budding artists will enjoy every moment.
Honor the Jedi within at Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars Weekends from mid-May to mid-June. Young Padawans can see their favorite characters, watch a fireworks display set to music from the movies, and participate in Jedi training. Walt Disney World’s Sounds like Summer concert series at Epcot is also sure to be a crowd pleaser (especially for those of us who grew up in the 80’s).
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Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
Foodies and wine connoisseurs who find themselves in Florida in the fall will enjoy Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival. I often plan my trips to Walt Disney World around it.
Sure, it’s definitely geared toward adults, with international food and drink from countries around the world, but kids can have just as much fun. Pop-up playground areas add to the appeal and give families a chance to take a break from touring the park.
Then, add in the free concerts at American Adventure Pavilion (most feature famous singers and bands from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s). I personally like to attend with my teen daughter and embarrass her by singing along at the top of my lungs. Yeah, I go there.
Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival
Don’t worry, Disneyland Resort has its own foodie festival. The Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival celebrates all the bounty of California’s thriving food scene. This 50+ day festival take place every spring and there are 14 different Festival Marketplaces serving creative dishes and regional beverages. Culinary demonstrations, Junior Chef experiences, and signature events round out this wonderful event.
Read all about the Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival.
Disney sure knows how to celebrate! While every day is a great day to celebrate when visiting a Disney park, there are definitely some standout dates that give us all a reason to keep on visiting.
Lunar New Year
Lunar New Year celebrations at the Disneyland Resort have become a pretty big deal. This festival generally take places around the end of January/beginning of February and last a few weeks. It includes plenty of amazing food and entertainment options reflecting Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese culture.
Read more about Lunar New Year at Disneyland Resort.
St. Patrick’s Day
As a gal that took years of Irish Step Dance classes, the St. Patrick’s day celebration at Disney Springs in Walt Disney World makes me kick up my heels, literally. Sure, you can dine at Raglan Road any day and catch live shows and dance performances, but it’s the month of March that makes everyone feel like Irish, if even for a few moments.
Both its indoor and outdoor stages rock with Irish tunes, but it’s the award-winning dancers that are the stars. The best part? You can join in on the fun! Raglan Road dancers LOVE to bring folks up from the crowd to try some hardshoe steps.
Honor your mother with a special Mother’s Day Brunch. Both Walt Disney World and Disneyland offer special meal options and treats, so make sure to lock down dining reservations early. And don’t forget, a simple stroll through the parks with Mom can be all you need for a fun day.
Fourth of July
Enjoy a patriotic fireworks celebration for both the 3rd and 4th of July at Walt Disney World and on Independence Day in Disneyland. Yes, Disney amps up the patriotism with an extra-special fireworks show and music!
One of THE most popular days in the Disney parks, if you’re planning on visiting, make sure you arrive early. And, if you can swing it, consider staying at a Disney hotel. There is a cap to the amount of guests allowed into the park and on-property guests receive priority.
Halloween is hands down my favorite time of the year in the Disney Parks. The Disneyland Resort and Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort get beautiful, autumn-themed makeovers, buts it’s the Halloween parties that are the hits!
At Disney World, the spooky fun begins in August with Mickey-Not-So-Scary Halloween Party dates and in mid-September at Disney California Adventure for Ooogie Boogie Bash. A hard ticket event, you’ll have to pay for these tickets in addition to regular theme park admission.
One of my favorite parts of the Disney Halloween parties is that adults get to dress up in costume! It’s the one time of the year where we can channel our inner fave Disney character and guests go all out. Of course, there’s no need to feel obligated to do so, but it certainly is a good excuse.
It’s so astounding how Disney can have autumn decorations in the parks one day and the very next day they’re swapped out for Christmas ones. While it may seem hard to believe, I’ve seen it at Magic Kingdom with my own eyes. And, keeping the ball rolling, at Disney World there’s only about a week in between Halloween and Christmas parties.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is another worthwhile, hard ticket event. Instead of trick-to-treating, guests queue up for hot cocoa and cookies or slushies and pretzels. And while you’re waiting for one Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, make sure to keep your yes to the sky: it “snows” on Main Street U.S.A.
At Disneyland, there’s no official Christmas party, but that’s definitely not a bad thing. Some attractions get a holiday makeover, holiday-themed fireworks are extra-special, and the holiday lights and decor are perfect for family Christmas card photos. Highlights include the Candlelight Processional, Haunted Mansion Holiday, “it’s a small world” Holiday, and the great Cars-themed Christmas decorations in Radiator Springs. Read all about Christmas at Disneyland.
Give thanks with those you love while enjoying a Thanksgiving meal Disney-style. End the year with Tuba Christmas concert at Anaheim’s Downtown Disney.
Certainly, a special events Disney list would not be complete without a mention of runDisney events at Walt Disney World. Several times a year, avid fans gear up and run though the freeways and theme parks while getting high five and affirmations from onlookers. Sure, finishing the race is rewarded with themed medals, but it’s the comradery and fun during the event that keeps folks going back year after year.
For many years, Disneyland has hosted the annual charity event CHOC’s (Children’s Hospital of Orange County) “Walk in the Park” to raise funds for the services provided by the hospital. Create a team and join in the fun while helping a good cause. Runners and walkers on both coasts swear by runDisney. In fact, families love runDisney races so much that we’ve dedicated an entire runDisney article to them.
Show Off your #DisneySide
True, die-hard Disney fans like to show off their Disney Side in as many ways as possible. At the Disneyland Resort, girls can celebrate their quinceañeras in true Disney princess style. Share how much you love each other with a wedding or vow renewal at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani, or on a Disney cruise.
Want to see the park while dressed in true sophistication? Head out to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland for Dapper Day, an independent social event where people dress up in sophisticated clothing for a day at the park. Dapper Day is the perfect excuse to pull your Sunday best out of the closet and doll up!
Last, but not least, join other Disney fans at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA. The convention put on by the official Disney Fan Club is chock full of celebrities from Disney films, movie memorabilia, and sneak peaks.
Feature image by: Disney Parks