Check the special events pages at the theme park websites to see if any themed weekends or smaller events are in the works. In addition, the events listings at Visit Orlando (www.visitorlando.com), “Orlando Weekly” (www.orlandoweekly.com), and the “Orlando Sentinel” (www.orlandosentinel.com) are comprehensive. You will also find a few listings at “Orlando” magazine (www.orlandomagazine.com).
Walt Disney World Marathon. The route goes through all four theme parks, or just do the Half, which hits Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. Close to 80,000 runners come for at least one of the five events. Other half-marathon events pop up over the rest of the year. First week of January. There is also a Princess Half-Marathon in February. www.disneyworld.com.
Epcot International Festival of the Arts. The newest and least focused of Epcot’s four major annual festivals is about performance, visual art, and food. In addition to Broadway-style performances and kiosks selling gourmet mini-dishes throughout World Showcase, on many days there are free talks or short workshops with artists who share their disciplines. Mid-January to late February. www.disneyworld.com; 407/939-3378.
Epcot International Festival of the Arts ends
Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival. This spring event, which lasts about 75 days from March through May, transforms Epcot with some 30 million flowers, 70 topiaries, a screened-in butterfly garden, presentations by noted horticulturalists, and a lineup of “Flower Power” concerts (in the past: Chubby Checker, the Pointer Sisters). It’s free with standard entry. 407/934-7639; www.disneyworld.com.
Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival continues
Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival ends
Gay Days. What started in 1991 as a single day for party-minded gay and lesbian visitors has bloomed into a full week of some 40 events managed by a host of promoters. It’s said that attendance goes as high as 150,000. Gay Days are a blowout party with group visits to the city’s parks (wearing red shirts as a gentle reminder of visibility, which is also done the first weekend in June for the parks’ unofficial Red Shirt Days), concerts (En Vogue, LeAnn Rimes), a marketplace, several dance events, and more than a dozen pool parties. June at the host hotel (in 2021, that was Margaritaville Resort Orlando). www.gaydays.com.
Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. The World Showcase makes amends with the countries it ignores by installing temporary booths selling tapas-size servings of foods and wines from many nations. That’s supplemented with chef demonstrations, seminars, “Eat to the Beat” concerts by known acts, and tastings by at least 100 wineries. In short, it’s a sensation. A few of the more extravagant events are charged, but most are free. The festival, which tends to be more crowded on weekends, lasts more than 3 solid months from mid-July to mid-November; hotly awaited details are posted by Disney in the summer. www.disneyworld.com/foodandwine; 407/939-3378.
Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival continues
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party / Boo Bash. The best of the Magic Kingdom’s separately ticketed evening events, this one mounts a special parade with a fiendishly catchy theme song, a few special shows, a fireworks display that surpasses the usual one, and stations where you can pick up free candy. Kids even show up in costume, although it’s not required, and crowds are shoulder-to-shoulder. Before the pandemic, this event happened on scattered evenings from mid-August through the end of October. As of press time, there has been no announcement of its return, but for 2021, Disney mounted a less intricate, 3-hour substitute, After Hours Boo Bash. Target audience: people who like lollipops. www.disneyworld.com/halloweenparty; 407/934-7639.
Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival ends
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party / Disney Very Merriest After Hours. This crowded night, which before the pandemic occurred on various nights starting before Thanksgiving, is probably Disney’s most popular special annual event. It requires a separate ticket from regular admission. What you get is a tree-lighting ceremony, a few special holiday-themed shows, a special fireworks display (very green and red), an appearance by Santa Claus, a special parade, and huge crowds. During the pandemic, the MVMCP was replaced with Disney Very Merriest After Hours, a separately ticketed event that gave access to about 20 attractions. It's only a 4-hour event, so probably not worth the ticket price, which is about what a full day at the park would cost. Meanwhile, Disney’s warehouse for holiday decorations (it exists) empties out and its hotels deck the halls: The Grand Floridian erects a life-size house made of gingerbread. www.disneyworld.com/christmasparty; 407/934-7639.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party / Disney Very Merriest After Hours continues
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. This 1-month event features holiday customs of many nations and a host of costumed storytellers, but its real showpiece is the daily, 40-minute candlelight processional, a retelling of the Christmas Nativity story by a celebrity narrator (regular names include Whoopi Goldberg, Gary Sinise, Edward James Olmos, and Neil Patrick Harris) accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra and a full Mass choir. The processional is a WDW tradition going back to its earliest days—Cary Grant did it! www.disneyworld.com/holidays. www.disneyworld.com.
New Year's Eve. Yahoo.com reports that Orlando regularly makes its list of top five most-searched New Year’s Eve destinations. There’s no shortage of places to party. At the parks: CityWalk lures top acts such as Cyndi Lauper. Three Disney parks, minus Animal Kingdom, stay open until the wee hours. SeaWorld brings in big-band music or jazz, plus fireworks.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.