By Sarah Sekula
In true Disney style, the holidays at Walt Disney World in Orlando are completely over the top, in a very good way. You've got the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios (this is the last year to see it), Holidays Around The World at Epcot and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, just to name a few. If you are planning on being there this year, here are a few things to keep an eye out for:
#1. The lights
If you've never experienced the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, now's the time. This beloved event, now in its 20th year, is in its last season. You can see the extravagant holiday lights display until Jan. 3, 2016. Initially created by an Arkansas man as a gift for his daughter, it had morphed into something that people from around the world come to see.
"Like many things we experience in Walt Disney World, the lights are special," says Lou Mongello, a Disney expert who has written three books about Walt Disney World. "Not just because of their visual brilliance, but really it's about how they make us feel and the wonderful, heartwarming family story behind them."
Tip: The Made with Mickey Ear Hats make watching the lights even more fun; the ears light up in sync with the music.
#2. The singing
The Candlelight Processional at Epcot is always a crowd-pleaser. A celebrity narrator tells the Christmas story as the 50-piece orchestra and choir performs your favorite holiday songs.
"I think that the processional brings a nostalgic memory of home to many, the childlike feeling of having a parent read the traditional story to us, coupled with a beautiful venue and enchanting musical favorites," says Mongello.
Tip: Shows are each night during the holiday season at 5:00, 6:45 and 8:15 p.m, except on Dec. 6, when show times will be at 6:45 and 8:15 p.m. only. Get there early to snag a good seat.
#3. The entertainment
"Magic Kingdom transforms for the holidays unlike any other time of year, and it really is a completely different experience," says Mongello. "We talk about how the parks allow us to be a kid again, and I think that is true more so during the party than possibly any other time of year. Simple things like holiday carols, the smell of hot chocolate and everyone enjoying time with family and friends is truly representative of the season and message of the holidays."
Tip: The parade at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas is captivating. There are two parade times. Consider going to the second one; it tends to be less crowded.
#4. The shopping
If you need some fun holiday presents, Disney's got it covered. From scarves to hats to necklaces, there's a lot to choose from inside the parks and at Disney Springs, too.
"So many guests love to not only commemorate their visits, but to also collect a variety of different merchandise items," Mongello says. "Seasonal merchandise, found during the holidays, lets people bring home not only something to remember their vacation, but to them, a piece of the parks to display at home."
Tip: Do your shopping at the end of the day, so you don't have to lug bags around.
#5. The decor
"The holidays at Walt Disney World is a planning process that takes all year," Mongello says. "More than 80 cast members work closely with both Walt Disney Imagineering, as well as, the Entertainment division to help pull storylines into holiday décor."
"Miles of garland, ribbon, twinkling lights and glitter transform Walt Disney World Resort into a winter wonderland during the holiday season," Mongello says. "More than 1,300 decorated trees can be found throughout the entire property, with a giant Christmas tree in Magic Kingdom standing upon a base that is 25 feet wide. Throughout the entire resort, it's that attention to detail and level of authenticity that affords guests a wonderful opportunity."
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Sarah Sekula is a national travel correspondent who lives in Orlando and regularly contributes to USA TODAY, CNN.com, NBCnews.com, FOXnews.com, ISLANDS and Destination Weddings & Honeymoons. Follow her journeys at SarahSekula.com or @wordzilla on Twitter
@wordzillapics on Instagram.