A Disney World Parade Primer

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Disney trips planners often go to great lengths to arrange their days to include a parade viewing: scoping out a spot, camping out on the curb, and repeatedly asking cast members the well worn question, “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?”

Mickey and Minnie always celebrate in the parades.

While there may be good reason for some guests to plan their time around some parades, other guests might have a happier vacation if they work in a few more rides, or a nice long nap, during the parading part of the day. To help make your decision process as smoodge easier, here’s a handy dandy run down on the Walt Disney World parade situation.

How many different parades are there at Walt Disney World?

Well, it depends on what exactly you count as a parade, but currently there are four regular parades, plus the special parades at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Very Merry Christmas Party. I’m leaving the Magic Kingdom’s Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It! Street Party off the list because, while it is paradesque, it mostly ends up being stationary.

Can you describe what each parade is like?

I’ll do my best…

    • Animal Kingdom, Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade.
      • Lasts approximately 13 minutes from the time the first float passes you to the time the last float passes you. Runs most days. There is a variation, Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade, that runs during much of November and December.
      • Performance time is usually 3:45 pm. For last minute changes, check the free Times Guide when you enter the park.
      • What you can expect to see: Some floats are decorated jeep-style cars with characters aboard. Many other floats are larger-than-life stylized animals: giraffe, birds, camel, elephant, monkey, etc. Think “Lion King on Broadway” costumes and you’re in the right ballpark. Characters include: Rafiki, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald, Chip & Dale, Terk, Timon, Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Bear, others. Cast member dancers in the show wear safari gear and pith helmets.
    • Mrs. Incredible works it at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

      Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun.

      • Lasts approximately 8 minutes from the time the first float passes you to the time the last float passes you. It’s faaast.
      • Performance time is usually 3:00 pm, check the Times Guide for last minute changes.
      • What you can expect to see: characters from The Incredibles, A Bug’s Life, Ratatouille, Monsters Inc., Up, and Toy Story riding on floats and marching along the pavement. Cast member dancers in the show wear uber-colorful, cheerleader-like costumes. They twirl rhythmic gymnastics ribbons and ride little scooters.
    • Magic Kingdom, Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade.
      • Lasts approximately 14 minutes from the time the first float passes you to the time the last float passes you.
      • Performance time is usually 3:00 pm, check the Times Guide for last minute changes.
      • What you can expect to see: characters from Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Aladdin, Snow White, Pinocchio, Toy Story, Lilo & Stitch, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Cinderella, and the regular Mickey gang. The characters mostly just sit on floats and wave. Cast member dancers wear classic bob wigs and costumes that look suspiciously like rejects from the movie version of the Brady Bunch “Search for the Stars (Keep on Movin’)” episode.
    • Magic Kingdom, Main Street Electrical Parade.
      • Lasts approximately 20 minutes from the time the first float passes you to the time the last float passes you.
      • Performance time varies, could be any time between 6:00 pm and 11:00 pm. There may be one show or two. Check the Times Guide or online resources for the schedule during the time of your visit.
      • What you can expect to see: This is a nighttime parade which mostly features lights. Lots and lots, and lots, and LOTS of lights; sort of like a moveable Christmas display without the Christmas. It’s beautiful, but the electronic music will be seared into your brain for all eternity. Characters include Tinker Bell, Mickey and his pals, Cinderella and friends, Peter Pan and foes, Snow White and the dwarfs, Pinocchio and friends, Pete’s Dragon. The end of the show is a light up, electronic salute to America. Why not? All the cast member dancers wear costumes with lights sewn into the fabric.

Lotso Toy Story love in the Pixar Pals parade.

There’s no parade at Epcot?

No, not at this time.

How do I know where the parade route is?

The park maps all note the parade routes with a dotted red line. If you’re standing along the line, the parade will pass your spot.

Where is the BEST viewing spot for the parade?

While there may be better or worse positions for viewing some of the Disney fireworks presentations, in my opinion, there is no parade viewing spot that’s better or worse than any other. The show is the same, no matter where you see it.

If you’re watching a daytime parade, the best spot may be one that’s in the shade.

The my child’s FAVORITE character is only in the parade. Can I can get a photo/autograph with him before or after the parade?

The toy soldiers are a highlight of the MVMCP parade.

Unfortunately not. The characters in the parades will not interact with guests before or after the show. The parade starts and ends in cast-only areas, behind closed doors. The characters that are riding on floats may wave to you as they pass by. You can get a photo of them, but not a photo with them. There are a few characters who march along the street, rather than ride on a float. They’re mostly involved in their song or dance routine, but you may catch them in a lull moment where you can get a super brief photo with them, but no autographs or conversations.

Are there real plants, giant balloons, or marching bands in the Disney parades?

Nope (that’s the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena), nope (that’s the Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City), and not usually, but maybe during the Disney Christmas parade.

What’s the deal with the Christmas parade?

The Disney parade that’s shown on TV (ABC, natch) is not, gasp, actually filmed on Christmas day. The actual filming dates vary year to year, but this often takes place sometime during the first or second weekend in December. Disney does not typically make a big deal about announcing when the taping will be held, as adverse weather conditions may impact the filming schedule. If you happen to be around during filming, you can possibly watch, but usually the spots up front are reserved for folks who are prepped for the occasion. This might be cast members and their families or annual passholders who have been asked to come wearing festive holiday garb.

Is this different than the parade during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party?

Yep. The Christmas parade and the Christmas Party parade are totally different things. The MVMCP parade usually runs twice per party night. There’s Mickey and Minnie, dozens of Disney characters, and Santa, all wearing red and green. But the real highlight is the toy soldier parade. Fun choreography.

And what about the parade during the Halloween party?

The parade starts with the ride of the headless horseman. It’s cool, trust me. Here the dozens of Disney characters are wearing costumes so they look like they’re dressed up. While the Goofy’s Candy Company float passes by, cast members will toss drop candy into your bag, or even into your hand. If you’ve got a child with a food allergy, keep an eye on this. The best dance moves are by the Haunted Mansion gravediggers. They scrape the pavement with their shovels, sending sparks into the night. Spoooky!

Any other parades I should know about?

There are occasional ad hoc parades. These sometimes happen with very little notice. Recent examples include “I’m going to Disney World” parades for sports stars or American Idol winners and special parades for park anniversaries. Sometimes there are parades or parade modifications for Easter or Thanksgiving, and sometimes not.

What’s Spectromagic?

It’s an evening light-up parade at the Magic Kingdom, similar to the Main Street Electrical Parade. It’s not currently running, but there are perpetual rumors about its return.

What’s the Electrical Water Pageant? Is that a parade?

Some characters only appear in parades.

Not exactly. The Electrical Water Pageant is a parade of barges with light-up displays synchronized to music. The EWP runs past in Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon, past the Magic Kingdom, Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. You can’t see it from inside the Magic Kingdom park.

Can I be in a parade?

Maybe, but it’s a real longshot. Check out our post on getting your 15 minutes of fame at Walt Disney World for the scoop on this topic.

How far in advance do I have to find a spot to watch a parade?

If it’s not Christmas or July 4th week, honestly you could just walk up five minutes before the parade and get a somewhat decent view. If you want to be right up front, during slow times of the year you can grab a spot on the curb 20-30 minutes in advance. If it’s a holiday week and you want a spot up front, you’ll need to stake out your curb space an hour in advance. In my experience, people tend to stake their real estate claim for the evening parades further in advance than they do for the day time parades.

Is there anything to do while I wait for the parade to start?

There may be games to keep the kiddos busy while waiting for a parade.

You could eat. Send one member of your party to a nearby quick service restaurant and grab some grub for the gang.

In recent years, Disney has sent cast members out to keep the kiddos occupied while waiting. They may have bubbles, hula hoops, jump ropes, or other diversions.

Is watching a parade worth it?

Well, that’s the big question isn’t it.

You’ll need to sort out your priorities to figure this out. I must confess that I rarely see the day time parades. To me, mid-afternoon is rest time. I don’t even think my kids knew about the day time parades into they were in their double digits. I was not going to sacrifice their naps for a quick view of Mickey on a float, especially when we could meet Mickey in the park at other times.

Also bear in mind that the lines for the rides may thin out a bit while thousands of park guests are occupied with parade viewing.

However, if your child’s absolute favorite character only appears in a parade, then it may be worth staying to get a glimpse. (For example, the only place I’ve ever seen Winnie the Pooh’s Kanga is in the Halloween parade.)

OK, so what time is the 3 o’clock parade? Why is this funny?

The 3 o’clock parade does actually start at 3:00 pm. However, if your viewing spot is at the end of the route, it may take 15 minutes before the parade gets to you. So if you’re sitting at the end of the route, the 3 o’clock parade actually starts at 3:15 pm. Keep this in mind when selecting your viewing location. You may be waiting around longer if you’re sitting at the end of the route rather than at the start of it.

So fellow park goers, do you love a parade? What are the pros and cons of parade viewing? Do you have any words of wisdom for folks wanting to watch a parade? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

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Posted on August 29, 2012

23 Responses to “A Disney World Parade Primer”

  • by Andrew Drummond on August 29, 2012, at 2:06 pm EST

    One thing you don’t get into here is the pushing/shoving/jostling you need to do in order to get a clear shot of the parade.

    We did all 3 daytime parades on our kids first visit (they were 5 and 6) and there was a great moment between my daughter and the Queen of Hearts, but I couldn’t really see it or photograph it through the throngs of people all trying to take their own pictures.

    That said, after you’ve done it once, you really don’t need to do the parades anymore.

    • Um, why would you be pushing/shoving people to get a view of the parade? Maybe you meant people shoving you? I would hope that folks who are smart enough to use touring plans also know that shoving people to get a better view is profoundly uncivilized.

  • by Heather Louise on August 29, 2012, at 2:06 pm EST

    Every time you post an article Erin, I truly believe that you have been reading the notes I am making to myself about my upcoming trip. #7 Find out best viewing spots for parades and research which ones we want to go to.

    Thank you yet again for your fantastic articles.

    P.S. #8 on my list is to find the best fireworks viewings, any chance you want to tackle that one before we get to the world on 9/25?

  • Great article! I second the best fireworks viewing, that would be incredibly helpful!

  • Thanks for the heads up on the parades. We’re leaving for Disney next Wednesday and we will be at Wishes on Thursday, September 6th. I could really use some viewing location tips!

  • We were there in July and saw the Electrical Light parade. We grabbed a spot, literally 5 minutes before the parade start right by City Hall. Considering the parade starts there, we had prime viewing and were the first ones out if the park when the last float went past us.

    While it’s still open, we found the best fireworks view to be from the California Grill at The Contemporary, but make reservations well in advance.

  • They may not have bands now, but when I was a Sophmore in High School (1985), I was fortunate enough to march in the parade at the Magic Kingdom. We were taken backstage (I still remember it) and lined up with all of the cast members. It was quite a thrill and I remember the experience to this day. Do they still have high school bands occasionally?

    • A couple of years ago, I was there in March and there was a marching band parade with several high schools. They were so good and we enjoyed it so much that I made a special point of looking up and emailing their principals to say how proud they should be of their students.

    • Yes, but not as part of the parade–when we were there in May 2011, waiting for the afternoon MK parade, some high school bands marched along the route before the actual parade as a sort of pre-show. I’d imagine the afternoon MK parade is the only one that does this.

  • by Debbie from Chicago on August 29, 2012, at 5:03 pm EST

    We’ve seen most of the parades and think they are more of a headache than they are worth. Due to the sometimes rude adults that someone mentioned earlier. We usually use the time now to be napping in the afternoon or more rides in the evening.

  • Don’t under-estimate the thrill of the parades to a preschooler. The parades have always been a huge highlight for our little ones… they get so excited about every character that comes around the corner and wave constantly, like they are in the parade and all those characters are there just for them. Some of our most magical moments are parade watching.

    If it’s just us though, we skip the parades and go for more rides.

  • My family travel from England and stay for 3 weeks – a luxury I know, but every second year we go without a holiday to save, save, save! We do 2 full days in MK, the first for all the rides – no stopping for parades (and we don’t do napping either), just rides from rope drop until we drop. Second day we do all the fluffy stuff, the paddle steamer, the meet n greets, photo ops, the swiss family tree house, tom sawyer island and of course the parades and fireworks. This works for us.

  • The Christmas Parade is typically taped the first or second weekend in November. The best way to check this is to find out when large groups are congregating on SoCal to be part of the parade. Mouseplanet.com had info that says Nov 3, 2012 will be the day of the Xmas parade this year. Of course, weather can change last minute but that is the current plan.

  • If you do want to see the afternoon parade at MK, book a res at Tony’s town square right before three… You can watch the parade while you eat and don’t have to worry about saving a spot! :-)

  • I am going to Disneyland after Dec. 21 ,and I wanted to know what are good places to eat vegetarian food, where to watch Christmas shows, and good, but not extreme rides. I need help because this would be my very first visit with my kids. So, please also advise me good shopping places, and good “Christmas Food” shops. Help!
    Thank You ;)