Some tips for visiting Disney over the holidays
The holidays at Walt Disney World are my most favorite time to visit. There is just something in the air (sometimes literally when it "snows" on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom!) and the magic is amplified. But the crowds are amplified too, so here's some tips if you plan to hit the Mouse House over the holidays.
One of my family's "must do'" traditions each season is visiting all the Disney resort hotels to see their decorations. Each resort has its own specially-themed tree and other fun things like the Grand Floridian's life-sized gingerbread house, at right, or the Boardwalk's holiday scene made entirely out of chocolate. Best of all, these experiences are free since you don't need to enter a park to see them. Parking can be at a premium during the busy season, so you may want to use the Disney transportation system to explore the resorts.
If you're headed to the parks in the coming weeks, be sure to call ahead and see if the resort's decor is up to enjoy (and escape the crowds!).
When I was a young Disney cast member on Main Street, USA many years ago, I happened to be scheduled to work on Christmas Day. I remember walking out onto Main Street at one point around noon and seeing only a sea of people. There was not a bit of sidewalk or roadway in site -- just people. I can't imagine actually trying to experience the Magic Kingdom that day as a guest. Well, no, I take that back. Armed with some knowledge, I bet I could still enjoy it -- and hopefully you can too. I have been serving on the Disney Moms Panel this past year, dispensing advice from my many trips there and here's what I learned about visiting during the holidays:
Of course the first set of tips any Disney expert will tell you is to avoid the holidays, go to the parks on weekdays, when kids aren't out of school, you know, the usual.
If wearing the badge of "I survived Walt Disney World during the busiest time of the year" isn't something you aspire to, the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving week are traditionally some of the least crowded, as are the weeks in December leading up to Christmas week. If you want to experience all that Walt Disney World does during the holidays without giving up that goodwill-toward-all feeling, plan to visit during those before or after the holidays dates.
Make a plan
But if you have relatives in town or you still want to experience Walt Disney World on Thanksgiving or Christmas, wear some comfortable shoes and plan ahead. It's a bit late now, since Disney advanced dining reservations may be made up to 180 days in advance. Availability will be slim but check with 407-WDW-DINE, check online or even your cell with Disney's new mobile dining site which now has a "near me" option for checking availability on the fly in and around the parks. If you are not worrying about dining reservations and just want to save time and money at counter service spots, try to eat at off times - earlier and later than the usual will equal less lines and more tables.
More than just dining, knowing what you want to do will help make the most of a crowded day. Check the crowd levels at sites like TouringPlans and decide which park you want to visit on which day. For example, according to their "Crowd Calendar," the crowds on Sunday Dec. 19 rank a 1 out of 10 in annoyance. It rises to 6 out of 10 the next day all the way up to 10 out of 10 from Dec. 22 to Jan. 1.
Find out the park hours and be there before it opens to be able to do the most. If you are staying at a Disney resort, you can take advantage of "Extra Magic Hours" in the morning or evenings on select days at select parks for even more time in the action. From there choose which attractions are "must do" for your family and head there first, either to ride or get a FastPass if available for less wait time when you return at your specified time. If you get a FastPass, visit your second choice first while you wait for your time.
Go the opposite way
Avoid watching the parades and fireworks if you want to catch more rides, the wait time will be less when most people are lining the streets to see the displays. If you do want to see a night-time parade, choose the later of the two showings, which is always less crowded. Don't try to exit the park right as a parade or fireworks show ends, you'll be walking en masse with the rest of humanity and waiting for transportation out of the parks and into the parking lots.
Relax, sit on a bench, enjoy the views and people watching or even some shopping close to the exit and wait for the major wave of crowds to head out.
~Suzannah DiMarzio, ZannaLand.com
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