Christmas is our FAVORITE time of year at the parks, but it comes with its downsides. If you'll be spending your holidays dashing through the crowds at Walt Disney World Resort or any of the Orlando theme parks later this year, you will likely get quite close with many guests, as crowd levels are at their peak! While Disney World is an amazing place to visit during the holidays, the parks can be packed. If you're heading to Orlando on a "red" — or high crowd day — this post is for you! Here are the best tips for handling Disney at Christmas.
Our Top Tips for Visiting Disney World at Christmas
1. Book FastPass+ reservations before you arrive.
As soon as your reservation window opens (60 days in advance of check-in for resort hotel guests and 30 days in advance for non-resort guests), make sure to book FastPasses for the most popular attractions, such as Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Avatar - Flight of Passage at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
2. Have a plan ... but be flexible.
We offer park plans that are great for crowd levels 5, 6, 7 and 8. These levels cover most of the season, so they can help ease the stress of Disney World holiday crowds. If you download our printable plans, you'll find additional park plan maps, plus packing lists for the whole family. For the tadpoles, make sure to print out our packing list coloring page that they can use to help with the planning.
On the handful of days when it is busier than an 8, especially Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, it's better to set a few priorities for each family member. Get to the parks early so you can experience any priority attractions you don't have FastPasses for. You're not going to be able to do and see as much when crowds are at their highest later on in the day. Factor in more time for everything. Be flexible and set realistic expectations for the whole family. Make sure to take some deep breaths, plan some chill time and enjoy quality family bonding time.
3. Download our iPhone app.
As mentioned above, our Orlando Planning App offers pre-set and customizable touring plans. It also has park schedules, show times and wait times in an easy-to-use interface, so it's a great tool for managing Disney World holiday crowds. We've added a map feature so you can easily navigate and see your plans and wait times. It won't drain your precious battery life, and it covers Disney World, Universal and SeaWorld. Best of all, it's FREE. You definitely don't want to leave home without downloading it!
4. Arrive early and stay late.
The most tested time-saving tip is to arrive early, and this is mostly true with Disney World holiday crowds. Arrive at the Disney World parks about an hour before rope drop and ride your favorites in the first hour or two before the lines get really long. The exception to this is if a park has morning Extra Magic Hours and you are staying off-site. In that case, pick another park if you can.
This is unavoidable during the busiest days at Magic Kingdom. You can still arrive early so you get in when the park officially opens, but it will be more crowded. If you are staying on-site, hop to it! Make sure to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, and if you have night owls, take advantage of the late Extra Magic Hours.
During the very busiest times, park hours are extended. This is a great way to get the most out of your visit. Stay as late as you can. (This was our secret to riding Slinky Dog Dash for the first couple times!)
5. Avoid hopping on the very busiest days.
Park hopping is not recommended during the very busiest times — crowd levels 9 and 10 — especially if you're a first-time visitor. If a park reaches capacity, you won’t be allowed re-entry. Plus, moving between parks takes up a lot of time. There will be more people using Disney transportation, so you may have to wait in long lines for the buses, boats and monorails. Use that precious time inside one park for the day!
6. Know your transportation options and factor extra time in.
Speaking of Disney transportation, it's important to know all of the transportation options available so you can have a back-up plan and not rely solely on one option. The monorail system can take you to Magic Kingdom, the Transportation and Ticket Center, the Magic Kingdom resorts and Epcot. Disney Skyliner, which opened in summer 2019, links Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and several resorts, including Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, Pop Century Resort and Art of Animation Resort. Or, hop on a ferry boat to get from place to place. For a complete breakdown of transportation options by park, use these guides to help navigate your way to and from Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Factor the extra time needed to use Disney's complimentary transportation since all options will be busy! If you don't mind splurging, calling a Minnie Van or an Uber is always an option, as well.
7. Know the parade and show schedules.
The special holiday versions of the parades and stage shows draw large crowds, so save a viewing spot at least an hour before show time. Use our app or grab an official 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.
8. Eat breakfast before you arrive, and bring snacks and drinks with you.
We like to fuel up in our hotel room or even splurge on the occasional breakfast buffet (Boma at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is our very favorite!) before we head into the parks. If you eat a hearty breakfast, you can go lighter — or even skip — lunch. This helps you beat some of the Disney World holiday crowds during mealtime. You can also bring your own snacks and water bottles into the parks, or even a full picnic lunch. The restaurant crowds can be busier than attraction lines when the parks are packed. A picnic lunch in a less busy spot in the park is a great way to regroup and save money.
9. Figure out activities to do in long lines.
When you're waiting in a long line for a ride, restaurant or the bus to take you home, this is the perfect time to eat those snacks you brought. To pass the time and keep spirits high, play games, such as "I Spy" or the mobile game "Heads Up!" A Frog Family fave is a game of "Guess Who" with Disney and Pixar characters. The free Play Disney Parks app also has some interactive queue games for attractions such as Space Mountain and Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, as well as park trivia!
10. Dine during off-peak hours.
If you're going to eat at the restaurants while you're in the parks, save your line time for the fun stuff by eating during off-peak hours and using mobile ordering. Restaurants inside the parks get busy around traditional dining times — 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for lunch and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for dinner. Consider having those big meals outside of busy times. Most restaurants begin serving lunch at 11 a.m. and dinner at 4 p.m. Plan your dining times around any shows or parades you want to see. Keep your hunger satisfied with a turkey leg or fresh popcorn in between meals.
11. Review your safety plan.
Crowds + tadpoles (children) = sky-rocketing anxiety levels for parents, especially with the Disney World holiday crowds. Review things like “what happens if we get separated” beforehand. Take a look at Lily’s theme park safety strategies for more tips.
12. 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! You'll thank us later.
13. Set a souvenir budget.
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!
14. Take a break from the parks.
If you or your little ones are completely frazzled by the afternoon, take a break from the parks completely. One alternative is Disney Springs. During the holidays, there are Toy Soldier and Reindeer stilt walkers, live holiday music, dining, shopping … and SANTA! Do keep in mind that Disney Springs can be just as crowded as the parks during the holidays, so if you want to avoid that, go early in the day.
The Frog Family also really likes strolling along Disney’s BoardWalk Entertainment District. There are shops, restaurants, a dance hall and carnival-style games.
One of our favorite Disney at Christmas tips is to take a tour of the Disney World Resorts. You can take in all of the holiday decor and Christmas trees decorated to the nines. Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge and Wilderness Lodge have gargantuan trees that are absolutely amazing inside their already spectacular lobbies. The other Deluxes (minus Disney's Polynesian) offer oversized gingerbread displays that are works of art in their own right.
15. Watch the fireworks outside of the parks.
Along the same lines as the previous tip, consider watching the fireworks from outside the park. By doing this, you can have a less stressful time fighting the Disney World holiday crowds and getting back to your hotel. Many people don't realize it, but you can see Magic Kingdom's fireworks from afar. Magic Kingdom fireworks shows can also be seen from the beaches at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, Grand Floridian Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Resort and on the boat ride between Magic Kingdom and the Bay Lake resorts.
Additionally, the fireworks can be seen from California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort. You need a reservation for this, but it can be for any time in the evening. Just save your receipt, and you can come back up later to watch! I must confess, this is my favorite place to watch the fireworks because you're watching from above. It's one of the only places I know where you really see the whole show. The music is "piped in" at each of these locations, so you're not even missing that element of the show.
16. I repeat ... be flexible.
While I love when a great plan comes together, I also 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 originally planned, don’t sweat it. It’s about quality, not quantity. And when you're trying to navigate through those tough Disney World holiday crowds, flexibility is key!
17. 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 the tadpoles' :)
Whew! There you have it — our top tips for successfully managing Disney at Christmas. Have a tip for navigating the parks during the busy holiday season? Spread some joy and share it in comments below! And hop over to our When to Visit Orlando page inside the Orlando Planning Timeline!