Top 10 Tips for Disney World at Christmas & Thanksgiving
November and December are such an amazing time to visit Walt Disney World because of all the beautiful decorations but Thanksgiving week and Christmas though New Years get the highest crowds of the whole year - so high that the parks sometimes close to capacity. We've compiled some of our best tips to help manage crowds and have an incredible Disney vacation.
Tip 1: Book Your Disney Dining & Resort Reservations As Soon As Possible: Disney World dining reservations can be booked up to 180 days in advance and some locations fill quickly so book your dining as soon as possible. Check park hours to make sure you're selecting dining times that don't interfere with parades, fireworks, or other priorities. Make it easy on yourself by letting us do it for you - we book dining reservations, subject to availability, for our clients. A lot of the official Disney World resorts will fill to capacity so you want to make your hotel reservations early too. The deposit on a Disney World vacation package is only $200 is completely refundable up to 45 days prior to arrival so there is no real risk. If Disney releases a discount for your travel dates, it can be applied to your existing reservation - subject to availability, of course.
Travel Agent Secret Tip: There are a few restaurants that do not release all of their inventory to the Disney reservation system so you can sometimes get a seating by calling the restaurant directly:
- Big River Grill at the Boardwalk Inn (near Epcot) - Call 407-560-0253
- Raglan Road (Downtown Disney) - Call 407-938-0300
- Rainforest Café (Downtown Disney) - Call 407-827-8500
- Rainforest Café (Animal Kingdom) - Call 407-938-9100
- T-Rex (Downtown Disney) - Call 407-828-8739
Tip 2: Book FastPass+ Reservations Prior To Arrival: Disney changed their FASTPASS system and you can now make FastPass+ reservations prior to arrival. You can now book FastPass+ reservations up to 60 days in advance of arrival when you are staying at an official Disney World hotel or a few select "Good Neighbor" hotels. If you're not staying "on property", you can now book FastPass+ reservations up to 30 days prior to arrival as long as you've already purchased your theme parks tickets. Buying your tickets early will eliminate two lines right away because you won't have to get in line at the ticket booth and you won't have to get in line to make FastPass+ reservations after entering the park. There is a limit of 3 FastPass+ advance reservations per ticketed day; you can add additional FastPass+ reservations in the park after you've used your first three. Remember that, once purchased, tickets are non-refundable.
Tip 3: Really, Really Important - Have good Disney World theme park touring plans: We are convinced that everyone benefits from good theme park touring plans. During busy times, a good plan will absolutely keep you ahead of the crowds and out of the lines, even at thrill rides and headliners; this is especially valuable when some attractions will see lines that are 60, 90, and even 3 hours long. The most important benefit of a good plan is that everyone gets to ride and see the things that they are looking forward to because everyone's priorities are included in a plan that tours the parks efficiently and effectively. Theme Park Touring Plans are so helpful that we provide them at no extra cost to everyone who books their Disney Vacation through us. Click here for more information about theme park itineraries and touring plans.
Tip 4: Be Aware of Unusual Park Hours ~
- General Public Early Opening Alerts: The Disney World theme parks usually open to the general public at 9:00AM but there will be days during the holiday season where one or more of the theme parks will open to everyone (not just guests of the Disney World hotels) at 8:00AM. If those parks have a morning Extra Magic Hour, they will open to Disney World official hotel guests at 7AM. Remember that the early bird gets the shortest lines.
- General Public Early Closing Alerts: The Magic Kingdom will close early (6PM) for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party on November 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 25, 27 and December 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 2018. these nights will not have the "Happily Ever After" Fireworks. The Christmas parties are a separately ticketed event and you cannot enter using your regular admission ticket.
Tip 5: Most Important Tip - Arrive at the Disney Theme Parks at least 30 - 45 minutes prior to park opening. The parks are at their least crowded in the first hour or two of the day. It is so much better to arrive early and take a mid-day break than to arrive late and get in line behind everyone else.
Ride these things as soon as the theme park opens if you don't have FastPass+ Reservations:
- Disney's Animal Kingdom: Arrive and get through security at least 45 minutes prior to arrival and ride Avatar - Flight of Passage as soon as they let you into the park. Click here for more information.
- Disney's Hollywood Studios: Slinky Dog Dash or Toy Story Midway Mania; then ride Rock 'n Roller Coaster, if desired. Until the new Star Wars land opens, Toy Story Land will probably be less crowded at the end of the day than at the beginning of the day.
- Epcot: Frozen Ever After. If you have a Frozen Ever After FastPass, ride Soarin', followed by Test Track & Mission Space as soon as the park opens.
- Magic Kingdom: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, then hit Space Mountain. Peter Pan has a low loading process and low rider capacity so this is another good option for park opening or use a FastPass.
Tip 6: Avoid early morning Character Breakfasts: I don't want you in a restaurant when the crowds are low, just to leave and get in a long line when the crowds are building towards their peak. Get a late (brunch) seating or, better yet, book Character lunches or dinners - you'll enjoy the lower morning crowds in the parks and then get to sit down and eat when you're ready for a break. Remember that character breakfasts are now confirmed with a credit card and subject to a $10 per person "no show" penalty - another big reason to avoid early morning reservations. Since breakfast is typically the least expensive meal of the day, character lunches and dinner are also a better value when using a Disney Dining Plan.
Tip 7: Avoid Extra Magic Hours like the plague during peak travel times: The Extra Magic Hour (EMH) park will be the most crowded park of the day and that morning extra magic hour means getting up painfully early. Go to a less crowded park and enjoy a more relaxed vacation. When the parks open at 8am, the morning Extra Magic Hour will be at 7:00am, which means leaving your resort by 6:15am to catch the bus. If you are up anyway, you might as well go and enjoy the lower crowds but planning to go to a morning EMH and sleeping through it, only to arrive after long lines have formed is only going to lead to frustration.
Exception to the Rule: Adults and teens may find the super-late Evening Extra Magic Hours really fun but know that the parks will be crowded and know that you'll be dog-tired the next day. Guests at non-Disney resorts need to be especially aware of Extra Magic Hours because you cannot participate in them - you sure don't want to have to stand in line behind Disney World hotel guests - go a different day and get your shot at the front of the line. If you have a TouringPlans.com subscription (free to all our clients), you can easily check hours using their excellent crowd calendar; you can also use their "Track This Day" feature to receive updates if the schedule changes.
Tip 8: Tips for Nighttime Shows:
Disney's Hollywood Studios park -"Jingle Bells, Jingle Bam!" will return on November 8, 2018 that run nightly through January 6, 2019. The show will feature a seasonal musical score along with state-of-the-art projections on the buildings and rooftops, special effects, and fireworks - it all builds to a festive finale and there will be show! This replaces the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights and is included with park admission.
Fantasmic! at Disney's Hollywood Studios will have 2 performances on certain nights and the latest performance will always be the least crowded. Try to book a Fantasmic Dining Package - with this package, you'll dine earlier in the day at either Hollywood & Vine, Mama Melrose, or The Hollywood Brown Derby and you'll receive a voucher giving you guaranteed seating in a reserved area at Fantasmic! later that day. These packages fill early so book your reservation as soon as possible by calling Disney Dining at 407-WDW-DINE
Happily Ever After Fireworks (Magic Kingdom): The Magic Kingdom will not have "Happily Ever After" Fireworks on any night where the park closes at 6PM for the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party: November 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 25, 27 and December 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 2018
Magic Kingdom Afternoon Parade Bonus Tip: Want to see the afternoon Disney Festival of Fantasy or Mickey's Christmastime Parade (offered during Christmas break only)? Here's a viewing tip: Watch the parade near the Emporium Gift Shop & the Fire Station near City Hall on Main Street. This part of the park is not as crowded mid-day and you get to see the characters twice - once as they approach and then a second time when they turn and wave before exiting the park.
Candlelight Processional at Epcot / November 22 - December 30, 2018 - The Candlelight Processional is a perennial holiday favorite tradition that tells the story of Christmas with a celebrity narrator, 50-piece orchestra and mass choir and is offered three times (5PM, 6:45PM, & 8:15PM) most evenings in the American Gardens Theater at Epcot. This experience is included with park admission but the capacity of the theater is small enough that this always gets long lines. Arrive early for the first show or book a Candlelight Processional Dining Package (prices start at $38 per person and go up from there) to get a guaranteed viewing at one of the performances.
Tip 9: Go to Quick-service restaurants at non-standard times: Most of the Disney quick-service restaurants don't accept advance reservations and lines can get long at standard meal times. During peak travel times, try to eat lunch by11:00AM and dinner late in the evening or by 4:00PM; you'll enjoy shorter lines at the counter and have an easier time finding a table.
Special Note for Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom - This is the new "Beauty and the Beast" themed restaurant in the Fantasyland area of Magic Kingdom and reservations for dinner often fill 180 days in advance. The restaurant is a "quick-service" location for breakfast and lunch and is the only quick-service location where advance reservations are accepted. Definitely get a reservation, if possible, because the restaurant is hugely popular long lines form for stand-by spots. They'll cut off the line when they think they have as many people as they'll be able to serve in the time that they're open for lunch. If you have a reservation, you can pre-order your breakfast and lunch through your "My Disney Experience" account and we strongly recommend this; it is a huge time saver.
Mobile Ordering - If you're paying for your meal with a credit or debit card, take advantage of mobile ordering which lets you order and pay for your meal for 17 Disney quick-service restaurants through the MyDisneyExperience app. When you arrive, go into the app and click "I'm here; prepare my food." You'll receive notification when your meal is ready, allowing you to completely by-pass the order line. Not available with Disney Dining plan, cash or gift card payments. Click here for more information.
Tip 10: Book your Disney vacation through Build A Better Mouse Trip: Build A Better Mouse Trip gives you a better Disney vacation by taking the stress out of trip planning & providing theme park touring plans. We book directly with Disney so you never pay more than if you booked the reservation yourself and we provide lots of help and advice designed to take the stress out of vacation planning at no extra cost to you.
- We help you select the right resort or hotel for your budget. We don't just book Disney resorts - we're happy to make reservations at other accommodations too.
- Help with building a Best Days Itinerary - a daily schedule that puts you in the best park for each day of your trip
- Help with dining reservations (subject to availability)
- Theme Park Touring Plans - At no extra cost to you, we will provide 1) a TouringPlans.com subscription, - or -2) the newest edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (printed guidebook) when you book through us.
More Helpful Articles:
- A Perfect Epcot Christmas
- Christmas at SeaWorld
- Disney World Ride Closures & Attraction Refurbishments