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Top 10 Tips for Crowded Theme Parks During the Holidays

by Leap on November 20, 2014

Ahhh, the holidays are almost upon us, bringing with them warm cheer and good tidings from family and friends. If you'll be spending your holidays at Disney World or any of the Orlando theme parks, you will also likely experiencing a level of closeness you've probably never known before with perfect strangers. Because while the holidays are an amazing time to visit Disney World with their holiday decorations and special events, they are also packed. If you're heading to the parks this season and know you'll be there on a "red" day, this post is for you! Here are the top 10 sanity-saving tips for crowded theme parks during the holidays.

Tip #1 – Arrive early and stay all day.

Tips for Crowded Theme Parks during the holidays - Magic Kingdom entrance

The most tested time-saving tip is to arrive early, but this is especially true during the busy holiday season. Arrive at the Disney World parks about 45 minutes before rope-drop and ride your favorites in the first hour or two before the lines get really long. Park hopping is not recommended during exceptionally busy times; if a park reaches capacity, you won’t be allowed re-entry. Plus, moving between parks takes up a lot of time.

Tip #2 – Bring snacks and drinks with you.

Bring your own snacks, drinks and even a full picnic lunch. The restaurant crowds can be busier than attraction lines when the parks are packed, and a picnic lunch in a calm spot in the park is a great way to regroup. Save the line-waiting for the fun stuff.

Tip #3 – Review your safety plan

Crowds + tadpoles (children) = sky-rocketing anxiety levels for parents. Review things like “what happens if we get separated” beforehand. Take a look at Lily’s Safety Strategies for more safety tips.

Tip #4 – Know the parade & show schedules.

The special holiday versions of the parades and stage shows draw large crowds so save a viewing spot an hour before show time. Use Undercover Tourist’s iPhone app or grab a times guide at the park entrance. A common mistake (and a sure-fire way to miss a parade or show) is to underestimate the time it takes to get from point A to point B.

Tip #5 – Book FastPass+ reservations before you arrive.

Tips for Crowded Theme Parks During the Holidays - Anna

As soon as you're reservation window opens (60 days in advance for resort guests and 30 days in advance for non-resort guests), make sure to book FastPasses for the most popular attractions such as Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Test Track and Soarin’ at Epcot, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Elsa & Anna in Princess Fairytale Hall at Magic Kingdom, and Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Tip #6 – Don’t pass up a restroom break.

If you pass a restroom and the line isn’t too long, GO! Even if you think you can wait…GO!

Tip #7 – Set a souvenir budget.

Tips for Crowded Theme Parks during the Holidays - Nutcracker

It’s easy to get carried away especially during the holidays. We give Tad and Lily a souvenir allowance to spend as they wish. My wife and I also surprise them with souvenirs we purchase in advance at a much lower price. And it’s not just the kiddos who hate hearing, “No dear, you can’t have that.” I think I may have the hardest time of any of the frogs passing up the goodies!

Tip #8 – Take a break from the parks.

Tips for theme park crowds during the holidays - Gingerbread Olaf

If you or your little ones are completely frazzled by the afternoon, take a break from the parks completely. One alternative is Downtown Disney’s Festival of the Seasons. There are Toy Soldier and Reindeer stilt walkers, live holiday music, dining, shopping…and SANTA!

The Frog Family also really likes strolling along Disney’s BoardWalk Entertainment District. There are shops, restaurants and carnival style games.

Another fun thing to do around the holidays is to take a tour of the Disney World resorts. You can take in all of the holidays decorations and oversized Christmas trees decorated to the nines. You definitely don't want to miss Disney's Contemporary Resort this year, which has created a "Frozen" and "it's a small world"-inspired, gigantic gingerbread castle. It took 212 eggs, 311 pounds of honey, 514 pounds of flour, 222 pounds of icing and 423 pounds of chocolate to create this confectionary masterpiece!

Don’t forget you can watch fireworks shows from spots outside the parks. Magic Kingdom fireworks shows are viewable from the Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the beaches at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, Grand Floridian Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Resort, and on the boat ride between Magic Kingdom and Fort Wilderness. Epcot's fireworks can be seen from the bridge that connects Disney’s BoardWalk Entertainment District and the Yacht & Beach Club. (They’re also viewable on Undercover Tourist’s YouTube channel !)

Tip #9 – Pack your patience.

The Grinch™ is great as long as he stays in his place at Universal's Islands of Adventure. Don’t let him take over your vacation. If you start to feel overwhelmed, just take a deep breath and maybe a five-minute “time-out.” It’s very important to bounce back from a melt-down…yours or your kids’.

Tip #10 – Be flexible.

While I love when a great plan comes together, I know when it’s OK to alter that plan and change course. Take occasional “temperature” checks of everyone’s energy levels and attitudes. If you have to cut something short or go to a different park than you planned, don’t sweat it. It’s about quality not quantity.

Have a tip for navigating the parks during the busy holiday season? Spread some joy and share it in comments below!

Hoppy planning!

Leap

Comments
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Where to Meet Santa at Disney, Universal and SeaWorld Orlando Nov 15, 2012 at 12:01 p.m.

[...] you haven’t finished making your holiday planning list yet, make sure you check out our top 10 sanity-saving tips for visiting the theme parks during the [...]

Reply
Jeff S. Dec 15, 2014 at 9:29 p.m.

We have been to Disney once per year for the past 6 years, always during Easter Week which is touted as being just as busy as Christmas week. We have young children and have had great success with getting up early, eating a quick breakfast, and getting to the park well before the opening ceremony. We love the opening ceremonies and always try to get a good viewing spot.

Eric is correct, you can beeline to the top attractions and ride them with no or minimal wait for the first few hours. We generally leave the park around noon and head back to our condo for lunch (saves money and waiting in food lines). We swim and/or sleep and then head back to the parks around 6.

During Spring Break it is hot and the people that are in the park all day are burned to a crisp or heat stroked by 6 and head home. The result is smaller crowds in the evenings.

As to whether this strategy will work during Christmas, my guess is it will depend on the weather. We have a park hopper and like the luxury of being able to switch parks if we feel like it. We only experienced a park being closed due to capacity one time during Easter week. I am curious if anyone knows how common it is during Christmas week? Our Easter week strategy may not be the best for Christmas week, only one way to find out...

Either way, if you relax and enjoy the small things all the parks have to offer you will still have a great time.

Best,

Jeff

Reply
Cory v Jan 3, 2015 at 3:18 a.m.

Opening ceremony? I would love any info. I didn't know such a thing existed. Thanks!

Reply
FrogBlog Jan 5, 2015 at 8:56 a.m.

Hi Cory,

It's a real treat and sets the stage for a great day in Magic Kingdom! Here is a video.

Leap

Reply
Planning for Disney World in December Nov 29, 2012 at 7:01 a.m.

[...] busiest of the entire year. If you are planning to visit during this time, be sure to check out our top 10 sanity-saving tips. We’d love to hear your own survival strategies (share them in [...]

Reply
David Dec 3, 2012 at 3:19 p.m.

WDW-DINE and dinner reservations online are great! You can plan ahead of your visit and take a break with a nice lunch or dinner. Be on the look out for restaurants that include characters such as the Crystal Palace at MK, and special packages at EPCOT that include VIP acces and seating for the fireworks and the Candlelight Processional! Making reservations also gives you an idea of how the park is going to be like, some restaurants are out of reservations since Midyear.

Reply
Marilyn Dec 4, 2012 at 3:02 p.m.

Is Disney offering a dinning discount during non peak hours of the day? They offered a discount 2 years ago when we visited Disney for Christmas and we found out about it at Undercover Tourist. Please let me know if this discount will be in effect this year.

Thanks a bunch!

Reply
FrogBlog Dec 4, 2012 at 4:35 p.m.

Hi Marilyn,

I have not heard of this discount being in effect right now.

-- Leap

Reply
Marilyn Bergeron Nov 30, 2014 at 12:02 p.m.

Disneyworld in March...looking forward to my first visit with my adult grandchildren

Reply
Burt Ward Dec 3, 2014 at 6:23 p.m.

My mom was the worst on our trips. I knew we were hosted by a friend in management but the whole trip there she kept saying "What if we are going 1000 miles to find out he wasn't serious about getting in for free." I then just told her, "Well, we can have fun at Downtown Disney and then hit Old Towne in Kissimee." Well she was cynical as we walked up to meet the friend and he pulls out his ID and badges in all 6 of us. Then mom started her, "Well, we are here, now we have to figure out where to go." But the friend didn't just bail out. He guided us to Soaring and took all our park ID's the machine had generated. He then met us at the end of Soaring and gave us the printout for our fast pass reservations at the rest of the rides in Epcott. He then gave us good suggestions on food options and we set about our day. It was fantastic and we had the most fun, even mom came out of her negative shell and had some fun. We ended our day with 10 rounds of Spaceship Earth then the fireworks.

Reply
Eric Dec 12, 2014 at 9:53 p.m.

My wife and I will be visiting WDW for four days around New Years (28th, 29th, 31st, and Jan 1st) and understand the chaos the we are signing up for. My question is to hop or not to hop. My first instinct was four parks, four standard tickets. Made sense. But then park hours made me doubt myself. Leave for the day when Animal Kingdom closes or get three or four more hours by heading over to the Magic Kingdom. Also, we'll be early birds and night owls, but probably won't want to stay open to close. I fear leaving our park of choice mid afternoon and being denied reentry that evening and because we have standard tickets, we would have no options to go to try another park. Even with these concerns, our trip advisor swears we're just throwing money away for the hopper option. Your advice is geeatly appreciated.

Thank you!

Reply
FrogBlog Dec 15, 2014 at 7:43 a.m.

Hi Eric,

Park hopping is a personal decision, so you have to go with what you think will work best for you. Magic Kingdom is the most likely park to reach capacity and hopping to it or getting back to it after a break might be your biggest bottle neck. Now, if it reaches capacity, you would not be allowed admittance until it is again below capacity. So it doesn't mean you wouldn't get back in for the day, but you might not get back in right when you show up, if that makes sense. With the hopper, you would have the flexibility to move to another park that had not reached capacity.

As to your decision on whether to park hop, you should factor in the length of your stay and whether you are a first-time visitor. If you are first-timer, you don't yet know which parks you will enjoy the most. Since you are there for four days, you would likely visit a different park each day. Having the park hoppers would allow you to revisit your favorite parks in the evenings.

Hope this helps! Let us know what you decide to do.

Best,

Leap

Reply
Meag Feb 21, 2015 at 11:47 a.m.

My family and I went Dec 26-Jan 3rd. Everyone in our group was over

17. We wpuld split up in day sometimes (excellent time to use the single rider lines) We had park hoppers ( we didn't have any issues around parks being at capacity - but on NYE we stayed in the MK... Just in case) generally we slept in, used fast passes well, and stayed at the parks REALLY late (sometimes as late as 2am bc of PM EMHs) we all had a great time, went on all the attractions that were important for us.

Reply
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