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Your Disney World at Thanksgiving Survival Guide

by Mommy Frog on October 23, 2014

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 the Walt Disney World Resort in particular. After all, who wouldn't want to spend Thanksgiving at Disney World? But if you're planning a trip between Nov. 22-29, you should plan on longer waits for attractions and larger crowds everywhere you go.

Disney World at Thanksgiving - Pumpkins at Living with the Land

Despite the crowds, Disney World at Thanksgiving is a decidedly low-key affair as far as the 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. 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 the notoriously busy Thanksgiving holiday week an enjoyable one.

Top Tips to Survive Disney World at Thanksgiving

1. Pick Your Park Wisely & Stay There

When the parks are extremely crowded, park hopping is not recommended. You’ll spend more time than normal getting from one park to the next, and if a park reaches capacity you won’t be allowed re-entry (even if you were there earlier in the day). We're predicting the two busiest days this week will be Thursday and Friday. On Thanksgiving Day itself, we've compiled a few insights to help you choose the best park for your family.

Magic Kingdom® Park

Disney World at Thanksgiving - toy soldiers on Main Street

The Upside: Open later than the other parks (until 12 a.m.); plenty of entertainment like parades & castle stage shows (two showings of A Frozen Holiday Wish at 6:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and two showings of the Main Street Electrical Parade at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.); beautiful holiday decorations, Wishes fireworks show; morning Extra Magic Hour.

The Downside: It will be one of the busiest parks, if not the busiest park, in the land.


Disney World at Thanksgiving - Mickey and Minnie at Epcot

The Upside: Epcot® has lots of room & can handle large crowds -- it is a recommended park on Thanksgiving Day; plenty of places to eat (even without ADRs); IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth; there will be new entertainment in the form the Canadian Lumberjack and Sbandieratori Di Sansepolcro.

The Downside: Lots & lots of walking; no holiday-specific events since the Candlelight Processional doesn't begin until Friday, although the Holidays Around the World decorations will already be on display.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios®

Disney World at Thanksgiving - Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

The Upside: Plenty of daytime shows & entertainment; Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights; two showings of Fantasmic! at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The Downside: Not much shade; the park gets really congested when there are big crowds.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park

Disney World at Thanksgiving - Santa Goofy Mickey and Minnie The Upside: Great regular daytime entertainment & shows; open later than normal; meet-and-greets with your favorite characters in their holiday duds.

The Downside: Park is not recommended on Thanksgiving day; closes earlier than the other parks, but if you get to the park at opening you will truly be tired by closing at 8 p.m. (if not, you could spend the evening at Festival of the Seasons at Downtown Disney); no holiday parade.

2. Arrive Early Disney World at Thanksgiving - Welcome Show Opening ceremony at Magic Kingdom

The MOST important thing to do on a busy day at any of the theme parks is to ARRIVE EARLY! This is especially true for Disney World at Thanksgiving. Try to be at the gate at least an hour before the park officially opens. This will ensure you have a few hours of low wait times on rides and fewer crowds. Generally, we recommend you avoid the Disney park with morning Extra Magic Hours -- even if you're staying on resort.

3. Have a plan

The NEXT most important thing to do is to already have a plan in place. Is your goal to go on as many rides as possible or do you want to take your time and enjoy the atmosphere? Do you want to get a front row viewing spot for the shows and parades or take advantage of the shorter lines at the attractions? 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.

4. Dine before or after regular mealtimes.

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. or eat a big breakfast and wait and have a late lunch. Be sure to check out our list of all the restaurants in the Orlando theme parks that will be serving up Thanksgiving dinner and a few places where you can find a turkey leg. If you want an ADR for a sit-down meal, be sure to keep checking in the days leading up to your visit for cancelations.

5. Review Your Safety Plan

Large crowds and small children can make parents' anxiety levels skyrocket! 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. At Disney World, make sure to utilize Fastpass+ Disney World at Thanksgiving - Toy Story Midway Mania!

We highly recommend that those of you visiting Disney World at Thanksgiving use FastPass+. Make sure you book your FastPass+ reservations as early as you possibly can. For resort guests, this is 60 days in advance. For non-resort guests, this is 30 days in advance. FastPass+ reservations for the most popular attractions, such as Toy Story Mania! at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Elsa and Anna at Princess Fairytale Hall are likely to be gone even at the 30 day mark (if this is a must for your princess, make sure to read our tips for meeting Elsa and Anna). For those of you who are unfamiliar with FastPass+, we explain the ins and outs of it in our Guide to Disney's FastPass+ and MyMagic+.

7. Pack Your Patience

It will be crowded, really, really crowded inside Disney World at Thanksgiving. Adjust your expectations going in and remember to give thanks for all the fun you're having in the Orlando theme parks.

Here are Leap’s Top 10 Time-Saving Tips (blog) that are extremely useful for Disney World at Thanksgiving and other busy days. And don’t forget to use Undercover Tourist’s apps for park maps, accurate wait times and customizable schedules. Wherever and however you spend your Thanksgiving holiday, be safe and have fun!

Related: Where to Find Thanksgiving Dinner in the Orlando Theme Parks

Related: A Mickey-Inspired Thanksgiving Craft for Your Little Turkeys

Happy Planning, Mommy Frog

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FrogBlog Nov 6, 2012 at 9:27 p.m.

Hi everyone!

Please share if you have any tips for surviving Thanksgiving week at Disney World, SeaWorld or Universal!

-- Mommy Frog

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Amy Kennedy Nov 14, 2012 at 10:14 p.m.

I just want to thank you for all of the helpful advice you share. We are having a family trip to WDW next week and I am so excited. For several in the family, it will be their first trip. Your information and advice have already been invaluable and we haven't even left our home state. Again, THANK YOU!!

FrogBlog Nov 15, 2012 at 1:49 p.m.


You're welcome. We love being a resource Have a great trip!!

-- Leap

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katherin3 Nov 22, 2012 at 2 a.m.

Having just left Magic Kingdom I will reiterate it is crowded. Long lines and lots of people. The upside is you can take food and drink and we were prepared. The kids enjoyed it but we are all exhausted.

FrogBlog Nov 26, 2012 at 4:13 p.m.

Hi Katherine,

Thanks for sharing!

-- Leap

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chelle belle Nov 16, 2014 at 7:43 p.m.

I've visited WDW Thanksgiving the past 5 years and the crowds were just fine for my family of 6 (2 adults 4 children 15,7,6.3) Yet I've never thought about a special turkey day dinner - we're at Disney enjoy the memories :) Arriving on the 22nd and leave on the 30th #teameeyore #teamolaf

Dan Nov 19, 2014 at 7:32 p.m.

I am planning a vacation for my family the first week of December, 11/30 - 12/6. How are the crowds then??

FrogBlog Nov 20, 2014 at 9:50 a.m.

Hi Dan,

Should be a good week. Here is the Crowd Calendar.


Jennifer Sep 17, 2015 at 10:10 p.m.


Our kids have always wanted to see Disney at Christmas time. We are thinking of going Thanksgiving week as that is the only time we can get away. Will the parks be decorated for Christmas? Will characters be dressed in Christmas outfits? There isn't a Christmas party scheduled the days we will be there, will there be any Christmas themed parades or shows? Thanks so much. We hate to spend all the money for the trip and miss out on Christmas events, decorations, music etc.

FrogBlog Sep 23, 2015 at 11:34 a.m.

Hi Jennifer,

The parks will be decorated, and some of the characters will be in Christmas attire. Don't miss The Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and you can take part in Epcot Holidays Around the World and the Candlelight Processional the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Keep hopping!


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