Viewers of ABC’s ‘Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade’ commonly ask what dates it’s filmed, what watching it performed live is like, and how to get tickets to see it in person for Walt Disney World and Disneyland. If you want to view the parade filming live in Florida or California, here’s what to know. (Updated December 25, 2021.)
First, ABC’s Disney Christmas Day Parade is not filmed live on December 25th. Showing up to Walt Disney World or Disneyland on Christmas expecting to see these celebrity performances live is about the biggest possible Disney-related mistake you can make. Not only will you not see the parade in person, but you will be subject to one of the busiest days of the year in the parks. No joke–it’s nuts!
With that said, we highly recommend visiting Walt Disney World during the holiday season. (If you read our Best & Worst Months to Visit WDW, you’ll see both November and December rank well, including our #1 week of the year.) However, to avoid the insanity, consult our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World. For planning basics beyond that, read our 2022 Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide. Beyond that, here’s what you need to know about ABC’s Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade…
This year, things were a bit different–but closer to normal. The 2021 Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade airs Christmas Morning on ABC at 10 a.m. ET and 9 a.m. CT/PT and begins streaming the next day on Hulu. Derek and Julianne Hough return to host the 2021 Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade from Walt Disney World in Florida.
They’re joined by Trevor Jackson and Sherry Cola from Disneyland in California. Additionally, comedian Kevin Nealon fills the role of “KEVIN WINTERBEAN,” also known as “The Christmas Day Guy” who answers any and all questions relating to Christmas Day.
In addition to the beloved Disney Christmas Day parade itself, musical performances include:
- Derek Hough and Julianne Hough – “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”
- Jimmie Allen – “White Christmas”
- Kristin Chenoweth – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
- Chance the Rapper – “Who’s to Say”
- Darren Criss – “Christmas Dance”
- Meg Donnelly – “Jingle Bell Rock”
- Brett Eldredge – “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
- Norah Jones – “Run Rudolph Run”
- Pentatonix – “I Saw Three Ships”
- Gwen Stefani – “Cheer for the Elves”
Here’s how all of this was recorded for television and Disney’s streaming services…
Last year, the specials were shot exclusively after-hours to facilitate physical distancing and stringent health safety protocol in the parks at the time. For Christmas 2021, filming was done for most musical acts during normal operating hours once again at Walt Disney World since there are no longer rules applicable outdoors (and there’s where the entirety of these specials are filmed).
We saw television crews in Epcot and Magic Kingdom a couple of times. To our knowledge, filming was done November 10-14 and again around November 30 and December 1. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list; it’s entirely possible that recording occurred other days or in other parks and we just missed it.
Portions were also recorded at Disneyland Resort during regular park hours once again, as well. Of course, it’s always possible that segments of the 2021 Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade were recorded overnight like last year. The special hasn’t aired yet, so we aren’t totally sure.
During “normal” years, Disney typically records the Christmas special for ABC, Disney Channel, Disney+ and other outlets (usually, multiple specials are recorded all at once) during the daytime park hours over the course of a few dates in early November when crowds are low. Recording is spread out over many takes, consuming several days. It is most certainly not one-time pass-through of a parade.
Recording the first week of November gives Walt Disney World a chance to take down the Halloween decorations and get up Christmas decorations in advance of the recording. Moreover, Disney starts airing these television specials on Thanksgiving, which pretty much requires at least a couple weeks of lead-time for sufficient edits. So, if you do want to attend the Christmas parade filming, that’s the window to aim for.
One thing that’s worth noting is that more recording is now done in out-of-the-way locations. Disney used to record everything on stages in front of Cinderella Castle, which caused congestion. That stage is still used to some degree, but not nearly to the extent it used to be, when there were several consecutive hours of high-profile performers (like Mariah Carey) who drew crowds. With Walt Disney World attendance increasing, recording for the holiday specials is more spread out to diffuse crowds.
As always, select Cast Members and guests are recruited for the prime viewing areas closest to the stages. However, regular guests visiting Walt Disney World on these days may fill in available space and watch the recording of segments if they so desire. In actuality, only stage performances and interviews will be recorded at Walt Disney World, and not the traditional parade segments.
The traditional parade segments will likely be recorded at Disneyland once again. Dates for Disneyland are always less certain. Again, Disney uses this footage for Thanksgiving specials in addition to the popular ABC’s Disney Christmas Day Parade.
Nowadays, ‘parade’ is probably a misnomer for what’s broadcast on ABC Christmas Day, because what airs is so broken up and more like a synergy fest to promote upcoming movie releases, television shows, Disney Parks, up and coming artists under Disney labels, and more. It’s basically a thinly-veiled infomercial for all things Disney…but a fun one, nonetheless!
In terms of who is allowed to watch, tickets for the performance/reserved viewing areas at Walt Disney World are distributed to Cast Members and their families. The general public is allowed to watch from farther back, but crowd control often necessitates people not being able to stand in certain areas.
We’ve also heard reports that guests have been randomly selected to receive tickets to these viewing areas, but that’s very much luck of the draw. It’s probably dependent upon how much Disney-branded Christmas garb you’re sporting or how photogenic your kids look.
These segments used to be filmed in early December, and we’re not totally sure why they’ve moved to November, but we have a couple of guesses. The most likely scenario is because ABC has been airing multiple holiday specials each year during its “25 Days of Christmas” and the longer lead time allows for footage from the filmings at Disneyland and Walt Disney World to be used prior to Christmas day.
On Thanksgiving, ABC airs “The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration” which featured an identical lineup of performers, and was filmed simultaneous to the Christmas Day Parade. This special kicked off the holiday season with a star-studded celebration showcasing musical performances, special appearances, and Disney magical moments including the castle lighting from Disney Parks around the world: Florida, Anaheim, California, Paris, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.
Even if ABC were to stop doing this special, which necessitates filming early in November, growing crowds in December make the parade filming a nightmare for Magic Kingdom operations. Typically, early November crowds are much lighter. We can’t say for certain if the filming would occur in November irrespective of the Thanksgiving special filming, but we think it’s pretty likely.
We’ve been at Walt Disney World a few times in the past when the parade segments were filmed there, and it was a miserable experience. Banish whatever notions you have of it being fun, and getting up close to celebrities. It’s long, drawn out, and what you’ll witness does not resemble the finished product.
We actually recommend avoiding the parks where the Disney Christmas Day Parade is being recorded, as it’s boring to watch in person and it creates congestion in the parks. What you’re seeing on television now might look really fun to see in person, but we promise you that’s the result of meticulous work in shooting, re-shooting, and careful editing.
This really goes for the parade segments more than the stage show performances, which are more enjoyable to watch, and typically involve less arbitrary stopping, pausing, and restarting. Still, it’s worth noting that the songs are not like a traditional concert with the performer singing a variety of different holiday hits. It’s the same song several times, and then the next performer moving on to their song…also performed several times.
Of course, reasonable minds can vary on this. We have friends who go every year to linger in the areas where the performances are filmed, and they generally enjoy the ‘behind the scenes’ nature of the experience, and getting to see some of their favorite celebrities ‘up close’ (err…from about 100+ yards away).
There’s definitely something to be said about the inside look at how the parade is shot, but it’s not something around which you’ll want to plan a trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland. If you want to see a celebrity in the parks, we think the better experience (by far) is Candlelight Processional at Epcot or Disneyland, which is presented as a finished product.
It’s also worth noting that in early November when the Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade is filmed, Walt Disney World is not yet totally celebrating Christmas. Magic Kingdom is totally decked out for the holidays due to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, but the same can’t be said for Epcot or the resort hotels.
While early November is one of the lowest crowd times of the holiday season, we personally favor the couple of weeks after Thanksgiving (just be sure to avoid Pop Warner!). We detail everything you need to know about visiting during the holiday seasons in our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World and Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Disneyland.
Overall, we enjoy the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade, and it’s nice to see it returning to some semblance of a “parade” format after being simply a “celebration” for a few years. Yes, it boils down to being an extended commercial for the parks and other Disney stuff, but it’s fun. However, it’s best enjoyed as a finished product from the comfort of your home on Christmas morning.
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What do you think of ABC’s Disney Parks Magical Christmas Day Parade? Have you been in the parks during a filming? What was your experience like? Would you like to attend? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!