How To Survive (and Enjoy) The Holidays at Disney World

Leah AlthiserVacation Planning Tips, Walt Disney WorldLeave a Comment

The week before Christmas and New Year’s is the busiest week of the year at Walt Disney World. The parks will be filled with throngs of people and Magic Kingdom will likely fill to capacity and close to more guests at several points during the week.

But if you visit during this week you can still have a fantastic time – but you will need to switch up your tactics. Here are my top ten tricks for actually enjoying yourself during the holidays at Disney World.

1) Take Advantage of Extended Hours at Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom is the busiest park, and this is especially true during the holidays. To help accommodate the crowds, Disney World offers extended hours at Magic Kingdom during the holidays.

Beginning Saturday, December 22nd, Magic Kingdom is open from 8 am until at least midnight every day until New Year’s Eve. AND there are morning Extra Magic Hours every day during that period from 7 am to 8 am!

If you are staying at a Disney World resort hotel then you should absolutely make plans to visit during the early morning if at all possible. This will be your best chance to ride attractions and I’d bet you could walk onto many during that first hour.

2) Don’t Wait Forever for Food

Lines for buying food at Quick Service dining locations can be just as long as lines for attractions when the parks are packed. Here are three ways to be prepared for this:

Be ready to use Mobile Order at any Quick Service location that accepts it – even if you are just getting a Dole Whip! Learn all about how to use Mobile Order in this post.

Don’t try to eat at peak dining times, which are generally from 11:30 to 1:30 for lunch and 5:30 to 7:30 for dinner. Plan your meals to eat at off-peak times to avoid long lines.

Consider bringing your own food into the parks so you don’t get hangry trying to wait to eat at off-peak times. Throw some fruit and bars into your park bag, even if you are usually a die-hard theme park foodie.

3) Pick Which Park You Visit On Which Day VERY Carefully

Crowds move in pretty predictable ways at Disney World during the holidays. Here are a few things we know for sure:

  • Magic Kingdom will be the most crowded park on December 24th and 25th, followed closely by Epcot.
    Epcot and Magic Kingdom will both be packed on December 31st.
  • The third most crowded park on these days will be Hollywood Studios due to the holiday shows there.
  • To dodge crowds, plan to visit Magic Kingdom and Epcot on the other days during your visit if possible (such as the 23rd instead of the 24th, for example). Head to either Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios on the busiest days.

My husband and I were at Disney World over Christmas a few years ago, and decided to visit Animal Kingdom (the least-Christmasy park) on Christmas Day. We were nervous about going to the theme parks at all on likely the busiest day of the year but were surprised to find VERY low crowds!

So even on the busiest days if you choose your park days wisely you can avoid the crowds to some degree.

4) Change Up Your FastPass Strategy (Especially at Magic Kingdom)

If you are used to visited during less-crowded times of year you may have a go-to FastPass strategy in place. But with increased crowds and extended park hours, you will likely need to change up your strategy.

This is especially true at Magic Kingdom, which offers FastPass for MANY attractions. Normally I wouldn’t recommend getting a FastPass for the first few hours the parks are open, but this changes during the crowded Christmas season.

I suggest grabbing three FastPasses for the early morning hours for attractions with waits that will build quickly (the four mountains, Peter Pan, etc.). The beginning times for these FastPasses should be roughly 8 am, 9 am, and 10 am.

After you scan your MagicBand and check in for your third FastPass (ideally around 10 am), get on the MyDisneyExperience app and select your fourth FastPass. Try to find something you want to experience with a window starting as soon as possible.

After you check in for that attraction, pick another immediately, and so on, until FastPass are completely exhausted (which I would expect to happen in the early afternoon hours). I estimate you’d be able to ride at least 6 attractions before noon this way, even on the busiest days of the year at Magic Kingdom!

Most people will follow the normal plan to select FastPass for the afternoon, not understanding how crowded the parks will get. You can spend the afternoon enjoying the shows and atmosphere in the parks, having already ridden many attractions with your additional FastPasses.

5) Adjust Your Expectations

If you’ve visited Walt Disney World during less-crowded times of year and are heading there during a peak time, you will need to adjust your expectations in order to actually enjoy yourself.

Don’t plan on riding a lot of attractions, especially during the busy afternoon and evening hours. There will be long lines for most attractions at this point. Instead, enjoy all of the extra holiday entertainment and mood in the parks. Grab a show schedule when you arrive (even if you’ve never done this before) and look for some shows later in the day you’d like to see.

Also adjust how much time you plan for getting around in the parks. Added crowds mean longer “travel” time for getting from attraction to attraction and across the park.

And last, don’t be in a rush! The key to enjoying yourself despite the crowds is to take your time and find delight in the fact that you are in the most magical place on Earth during the holidays!

6) See The Christmas Party Entertainment Without Paying For The Party!

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party features a special Christmas parade and a special holiday version of the Wishes fireworks show. Most people pay extra to see this entertainment at the hard-ticketed Christmas party.

However, starting on the December 22nd, the Christmas parade is performed twice daily at noon and 3:30 pm. Holiday Wishes happens at 10 pm nightly and all of this is included with your regular park admission. So while you will have to deal with more crowded parks, you WON’T have to pay extra to see these amazing shows.

7) Watch Magic Kingdom Fireworks Outside Of The Parks

The theme parks will be the most crowded during the evening entertainment. This means you might have a more enjoyable experience watching the fireworks OUTSIDE of the parks.

My favorite places to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks outside of the parks are the docks of the Transportations and Ticket Center, the beaches of the Polynesian and Grand Floridian, and from California Grill atop the Contemporary.

The fireworks start at 10 pm so arrive to your destination well before that. Music is piped in at all of these locations and you’ll be able to get out of there without battling the throngs of people trying to leave the park after the fireworks.

8) Take A Break From The Parks And Visit The Resorts

The ultra-crowded afternoon hours are a great time to duck out of the parks and visit some Disney resorts.

The Disney Deluxe resorts are lavishly decorated for the holidays – you can’t miss the life-size gingerbread house in the Grand Floridian lobby. The gingerbread displays at the Contemporary, Boardwalk, and Beach Club resorts are also incredible!

You can escape from Epcot via the back entrance between the France and UK pavilions and walk over to the Beach Club or Boardwalk. You can take the monorail or boat launch from Magic Kingdom to check out the Grand Floridian, and take the monorail or walk over to the Contemporary.

Two warnings though: you will likely NOT be permitted to park at any Deluxe resort close the parks during the holidays without a dining reservation. Also, if you leave Magic Kingdom to visit the resorts and the park reaches capacity while you are gone, you will NOT be allowed to re-enter the park later in the day.

9) Check For Last-Minute Dining Reservations

If you are visiting during a crowded time of year you might be discouraged by the limited Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs). But fear not – many dining reservations will open up 24-48 hours in advance of each day.

There is a penalty if you don’t show or cancel your dining reservation the same day, so many people keep multiple reservations and cancel the day before as their plans settle down. I have found a great time to grab last-minute dining reservations is the afternoon before the day you want to dine.

So keep checking the day or two before you want to eat somewhere, and I’d bet a reservation will appear that you can grab.

10) Visit Attractions You Haven’t Seen (Or Haven’t Seen In Years)

Big crowds mean long lines at all of the popular attractions. The holidays are a great time to revisit attractions you haven’t seen in years or finally check out those attractions you’ve never seen.

Here are some suggestions for attractions you may have overlooked that will have short waits during the holidays:

  • Carousel of Progress (MK)
  • Tom Saywer Island (MK)
  • The Enchanted Tiki Room (MK)
  • Liberty Square Riverboat (MK)
  • Impressions de France (Epcot)
  • Journey Into Imagination (Epcot)
  • Turtle Talk With Crush (Epcot)
  • Beauty & The Beast Live on Stage (HS)
  • Muppet Vision 3D (HS)
  • It’s Tough To Be A Bug (AK)
  • Maharajah Jungle Trek (AK)
  • Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail (AK)

I hope this post gave you lots of ideas for how you can enjoy your trip to Disney World during the crowded Holiday season! You can join the discussion over in the private Facebook group DVC Chat.




About the Author

Leah Althiser

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Leah Crocker Althiser has more than 30 years experience planning visits to Walt Disney World. She shares tips and tricks for doing Disney on a budget on The Budget Mouse blog and podcast. She lives with her husband, daughter, and flock of chickens near Durham, North Carolina. View More Posts By Leah