The weeks before and after Christmas are pretty much the busiest weeks of the year at Florida's attractions, with the kids out of school, relatives in town and the snowbird season at its height.
The best advice would be to avoid Disney World or the other theme parks if you can and wait until mid-January when you can pretty much walk on any ride. But for many families, this is the only time you can all go together so here's some tips on getting the most out of a super-busy theme park visit:
Be realistic: The Disney crowd calendar on vacation planning site touringplans.com puts Disney World at a full 10 out of 10 in crowd size until Jan. 3. (By mid-January the crowd levels can drop to a 3 or 4 on weekdays). But it's not just Disney. These are busy weeks at Busch Gardens, Universal and pretty much all the Florida attractions, so don't expect to see everything. Everything from food to shopping to restrooms will involve long lines. Even moving through the street can be tough to navigate, so pack an extra load of patience in your fanny pack, theme park tourist.
Get there early or stay late: If your hotel offers early admission, take advantage of it. Otherwise, plan to get there when the park opens. Look for nights the parks are open extra late and plan around the lighter post-bedtime crowds. A good plan of action is to hit the park early, leave during the middle of the day to rest while the crowd is at its peak. Then return around dinner time and stay until the close.
Eat at odd hours: If you think the Space Mountain line is long, wait till you see the lines at restaurants. Don't eat lunch at noon or dinner at 5 p.m. Instead, plan your eating time at odd hours, either when restaurants first open or 3-4 p.m. to avoid punishing lines.
Go off the beaten path: Instead of spending half your day in line for the most popular rides, hit some of the lesser attractions or leisurely train rides.
Look on the bright side: Focus on the holiday-only attractions instead of the long-lines for old favorites. The features in the $60 ticket people pay for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party are included with admission these weeks such as the Christmas parade at the Magic Kingdom and special Christmas fireworks show. The New Year's Eve fireworks shows at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney's Hollywood Studios are an especially nice bonus.
Alternative firework viewing sites: Avoid the crowds at the park by watching the Magic Kingdom's fireworks from the Ticket and Transportation Center. Also, the beach of Disney's Polynesian Resort and restaurants located along the monorail at the resorts are all fireworks viewing locations. Epcot's fireworks are so intense, some people wear sunglasses and ear plugs. When you find a spot around the lagoon, make note of any poles or trees that could block your view of the lagoon and move to a different spot.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] or (727) 893-8595. Follow @SharonKWn.