It's no surprise, really, with the kids out of school for at least part or all of the week that Thanksgiving is one of the busiest weeks of the year at the Orlando theme parks and Walt Disney World Resort in particular. After all, who wouldn't want to experience Thanksgiving at Disney? But if you're planning a trip on or around the week of Thanksgiving, you should plan on longer waits for attractions and larger crowds everywhere you go. With the Disney Park Pass reservation system in place to limit capacity in the parks through early 2022, things should be more manageable than in years' past! However, it's important to note that Park Passes are booking up quickly — so be sure to hop to it if you haven't already!
Despite the crowds, Thanksgiving at Disney World is a decidedly low-key affair as far as the actual holiday is concerned. Don't expect to see window fronts decorated with cornucopias and pilgrims everywhere you turn. All of the parks will be decorated for the holidays — just not the Thanksgiving holiday — and that's fine by us. Those of you visiting during this time will be eased right into the Christmas spirit, and there are already plenty of Disney holiday events already hoppening in the parks. The one exception to this is the Land Pavilion at Epcot, where pumpkins, gourds and scarecrows are usually on display in Living With the Land and the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot. Here are the Frog Family’s best tips for making Thanksgiving at Disney World an enjoyable one!
Top Tips for Enjoying Thanksgiving at Disney World
1. Pick Your Park Wisely
If you're headed to Thanksgiving at Disney World, you want to pay even closer attention to our Crowd Calendar, so you can pick the best day to visit. While this week isn't as crowded as the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, it will still be very busy. In fact, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be especially busy. It's entirely possible that some of the parks will reach capacity these days, and that Disney Park Passes will not be available for certain (or all) parks. Disney's Hollywood Studios remains a fan-favorite to try to snag a Boarding Group for the popular Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction, and Magic Kingdom's all-new holiday offerings are a big draw for guests as well. Guests can and do cancel their Park Passes, so check back before your trip if you want to swap parks — but know that you'll have to cancel your current Park Pass before booking another, so there is a little risk involved.
2. Have a Plan
The next most important thing to do is to have a plan when experiencing Thanksgiving at Disney World. Is your goal to go on as many rides as possible? Do you want to take your time and enjoy the atmosphere? Maybe the holiday sights and sounds are your top priority?
Don’t wait until you get inside the park to figure out what everyone wants to do. We always put together a short list of priorities by family member. That way, we can best strategize and make sure no one, especially Tad and Lily, are left out. Be sure to check out our Park Plans for Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld before you go. Also, make sure to download our Orlando Planning app to follow our touring plans or customize your own. If you're looking for special seasonal food, beverages or merchandise, we always find it hopful to have those on-hand, too, so that we know exactly where to stop. (I know, I know — it's a little overboard, but I can't tell you the number of times I've walked out of a park only to magically remember a specialty snack, popcorn bucket or spirit jersey that I had my mind set on! With sensory overload in the best way happening all around the parks, it is so easy to froget.)
3. Think Ahead for Dining
With your park plan, it helps to have some idea of what meals will be like during the day. Are you planning on taking advantage of quick-service all day? Are you hoping to enjoy some seasonal dining, such as Minnie's Holiday Dine (where Minnie and friends will say hello in their seasonal best), or Liberty Tree Tavern for a Thanksgiving-esque feast? If your gameplan involves table-service restaurants, be sure to make a reservation in advance! Guests can book dining reservations 60-days in advance of their trip ... and guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel can book for their entire length of stay!
No matter where you'll be feasting, you'll want to have the My Disney Experience app handy. It's where you'll make your dining reservations, access Mobile Ordering service, check for walk-up availability for last-minute reservations, check-in for your dining reservation and even access the menu for the restaurant. Not able to snag a reservation for your first restaurant pick? Be sure to keep checking in the days leading up to your visit for cancelations. Check out our ins and outs of Disney's ADR for even more hopful tips.
4. ... and Dine Before or After Regular Mealtimes
Thanksgiving at Disney World brings in extra crowds, which means restaurant queues will also be extra long. You'll save time waiting in line for food if you eat during off-peak times. Eat an early breakfast and have an early lunch at 11 a.m. Alternatively, eat a big breakfast and have a late lunch. Take advantage of mobile ordering. Be sure to check out our list of all the restaurants that will be serving up Thanksgiving dinner, and a few places where you can find a turkey leg.
5. Review Your Safety Plan
Large crowds and small children can make parents' anxiety levels skyrocket, especially Thanksgiving at Disney World! Have a family meeting beforehand to review your safety strategies like where to meet in case the group gets separated. On Thanksgiving Day, dress everyone in the same bright color and take a picture of your children that morning so you have a recent one with what they’re wearing. Read more on our theme park safety strategies.
6. Plan Some Downtime at Your Resort
Whether it's taking a midday break or getting in some early zzz's, try to find quality time with the family back at the resort (either on Thanksgiving day or anytime during the busy holiday week). We know it's tempting to crank out long days at the parks, but give yourselves plenty of rest to keep that energy up. Take advantage of the fun amenities at your Disney Resort.
7. Pack Your Patience
With increased crowds and new policies in place, know that there may be some delays in your day. Whether it's waiting to get into a pavilion, a socially distanced ride queue or onto hotel transportation, there is going to be some waiting involved in your day. With complimentary transportation also limiting capacity, know that waits may be a little longer than usual. If you brought your own vehicle and are staying at a Disney Resort hotel, remember that free theme park parking is included in your stay. Likewise, with ride queues spacing guests six feet apart, know that what looks to be a long queue may actually be a walk-on — wait times are a better indicator than the length of the line itself (though these can sometimes be inflated too). Adjust your expectations going in and remember to give thanks for all the fun you're having in the Orlando theme parks!
8. Keep an Ear Open
One of our favorite experiences at the parks are the new character cavalcades and pop-up character greetings around the parks — and they're unique to each park, including some just for the holidays! You can usually tell these are about to hoppen when the music around you changes, so be sure to listen carefully. In each park, we stopped for a snack along the route and caught several cavalcades while we refueled. With Festival of the Holidays going on at EPCOT, it's a perfect opportunity to grab something tasty from the Holiday Kitchens and wave at Santa, Mickey and his pals in their holiday best, Disney Princesses or even Anna and Elsa! During our last visit to EPCOT, Lily, who was in her Anna dress, was ecstatic to catch the Frozen promenade twice — especially when Queen Anna told her, "I remember you! You look beautiful!" on her second pass! The character experiences are toadally magical and worth stopping to take in, especially if you have tadpoles!
Have you celebrated Thanksgiving at Disney World? What tips did we miss? Be sure to share with us in the comments below! And don’t forget to check out our When to Visit Orlando page for more tips. Wherever and however you spend your Thanksgiving holiday, we hope you stay safe and have fun!