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The Ultimate Guide to Managing the Disney World Holiday Crowds

by Leap on November 29, 2016 32 Orlando   Video

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 experience a level of closeness you've probably never known before with perfect strangers. While Disney World is an amazing place to visit during the holidays, the parks can be packed. If you're heading to Orlando this season on a "red" day, this post is for you! Here are the best tips for handling the Disney World holiday crowds.

Our Top Tips for Managing Disney World Holiday Crowds

Managing Disney World Holiday Crowds - Magic Kingdom

Tip #1 – Book FastPass+ reservations before you arrive.

As soon as you're 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 Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Test Track and Soarin’ at Epcot, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Frozen Ever After at Epcot, and Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Tip #2 - Have a plan ... but be flexible.

Disney World Holiday Crowds - Coloring PageWe offer touring plans for each of the parks that are great for crowd level 5s, 6s, 7s and 8s, which cover most of the season. If you download our printable plans, you'll find additional park and touring 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 more busy that that, especially Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, it's better to set a few priorities for each family member, then 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. 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 the bonding.

Tip #3 - Download our iPhone app. 

Disney World Holiday Crowds - A Frozen Holiday Wish

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 new 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!

Tip #4 – Arrive early and stay late.

Disney World Holiday Crowds - Magic Kingdom entrance

The most tested time-saving tip is to arrive early, and this is mostly true during the busy holiday season. 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. Pick another park if you can.

This is unavoidable during the busiest days at Magic Kingdom, which is offering morning Extra Magic Hours from Dec. 16 through Dec. 31 (minus Dec. 21). 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, congratulations! 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 our visit, especially if you have night owls. Stay as late as you can.

Tip #5 - Avoid hopping

Park hopping is not recommended during the very busiest times—crowd level 9s and 10s—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.

Tip #6 – 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. Yes, we said an hour. Use our 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. If you're planning on seeing "Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!"—the new holiday spectacular at Disney's Hollywood Studios—we've got a whole post dedicated to it and tips.

Tip #7 – 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. You can 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, and a picnic lunch in a less busy spot in the park is a great way to regroup and save money.

Tip #8 - Dine during off-peak hours. 

Managing Disney World Holiday Crowds - Turkey Leg

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. Restaurants inside the parks get busy around traditional dining times—11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for lunch and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. for dinner. Consider having those big meals outside of busy times. Most restaurants begin serving lunch at 11:00 a.m. and dinner at 4:00 p.m. Plan your dining times around any shows or parades you want to see and keep your hunger satisfied with a turkey leg or fresh popcorn.

Tip #9 – 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 #10 – 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 #11 – 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 #12 – Take a break from the parks.

Disney World Holiday Crowds - Grand Floridian Gingerbread House

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.

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 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.

Disney World Holiday Crowds - WishesTip #13 - Watch the fireworks outside of the parks

Along the same lines as the previous tip, consider watching the fireworks from outside the park. Many people don't realize it, but you can see Epcot and Magic Kingdom's fireworks from afar. Magic Kingdom fireworks shows are viewable from 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. 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.

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 #14 – 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.

Tip #15 – 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’.

Whew! There you have it — our top tips for successfully managing the Disney World holiday crowds. 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!

Related: Complete Guide to Disney World Holiday Crowds

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
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Jo Bergin Dwyer Jan 16, 2017 at 12:02 a.m.


We went to dlp Nov 2016 it was the start of Christmas period. I'm just wondering when is the start of Christmas period in Orlando. We cannot go December due my husbands job but can go up to 2nd later week November thanks in advance Jo

FrogBlog Jan 16, 2017 at 6:34 p.m.

Hi Jo,

You'll find that some of the Disney World parks and resorts have their holiday decorations up by the second week of November. Still more decorating is in place by the week before Thanksgiving.

Keep Hopping!


Emily Jan 9, 2017 at 5:39 a.m.

We are hoping to go to Disney starting November 4th through the 11th. Will Christmas items not be out at this time? Wondering if we should push our vacation back by a week but am afraid of crowds and cooler weather.

FrogBlog Jan 9, 2017 at 2:54 p.m.

Hi Emily,

The park usually starts decorating starting November 1st. If you go that early, know that the Small World Holiday and Jingle Cruise holiday overlays may not be up yet. If you can go the week before Thanksgiving week, all of the holiday decorations and installations should be up.

Hoppy Planning!


Terri Dec 22, 2016 at 1:43 a.m.

If you watch the EPCOT illuminations show from the boardwalk bridge, as far as I know, you can't view the full show such as the globe with the fire and the images projected onto it. And the music is not piped in. But yes, the sporadic fireworks of this show are visible from here.

FrogBlog Dec 22, 2016 at 2:19 p.m.

Hi Terri,

Great tip! Thanks for sharing.

Keep hopping!


Mrs. B Sep 24, 2016 at 1:29 a.m.

Also, if I buy passes for our family to Hollywood Studios can we still see the famous castle you see on TV and the fireworks or do I have to buy a separate pass to see that? This will be the first time for my family ever going there. :)

FrogBlog Oct 11, 2016 at 12:28 p.m.

Hi Mrs. B,

In order to do this, which is in Magic Kingdom, and Disney's Hollywood Studios in one day, you would need to purchase Park Hoppers. You can view all of our Disney World ticket options on this page.

Keep hopping!


Terri Dec 22, 2016 at 1:49 a.m.

Another option would be to make dinner reservations at the California grill restaurant in the contemporary perhaps 45 minutes before fireworks time at the magic kingdom and ask for a window seat. Or watch them outside from the bridge between the contemporary hotel and bay lake tower, but they may not let you park there without a dining reservation.

Mrs. B Sep 24, 2016 at 1:27 a.m.

Hi, any advise is appreiated we are planning on going to WDW Christmas week just for a day as we will be staying with my in-laws who live there. Trying to find where the Star Wars people dance to music on stage? My 10 yr. old watches them on KidsYoutube and it says Hollywood Studios but when I've looked on here I don't see any show times or know what the shows are called. Anyone know what and when they are?


FrogBlog Oct 11, 2016 at 12:26 p.m.

Hi Mrs. B,

I think your tadpole is thinking of March of the Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away stage show. There are multiple showtimes daily.

Keep hopping!


Terri Sep 17, 2016 at 6:48 p.m.

We are planning to go Dec 16-22 which is right before Christmas and will be our families first time for all of us including parents. Park hoppers or no? What is must have and must do being our first time? We have 3 boys and a girl. Are we crazy going our first time in Dec?

FrogBlog Oct 3, 2016 at 1:18 p.m.

Hi Terri,

You can do it! Have you seen our quick-start guide for Disney World? It offers experiences popular with boys and girls. Unless you feel strongly that you want to hop, we generally don't recommend them for first-timers, who will spend more time taking everything in.

Keep hopping!


FrogBlog Oct 3, 2016 at 1:12 p.m.

Hi Terri,

You can do it! Have you seen our quick-start guide for Disney World? It offers experiences popular with boys and girls. Unless you feel strongly that you want to hop, we generally don't recommend them for first-timers, who will spend more time taking everything in.

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

BridgetonMotherof2 Mar 31, 2016 at 6:58 p.m.


I am going to Disney World after christmas (27, - jan 2nd) Any advice on what day to go to what park? Will the best New years bash be at Magic Kingdom? When do the Osborn light show end? Do i need to go the first day just in case? Any advice will be appreciated.


LuckyDad Aug 29, 2016 at 6:10 p.m.

I was able to go similar days in 2015/2016. I'd say these were the things that worked out better for me:

1. Have a stroller if the kids are young enough - the stroller allows you to control your kids movements and through a heavy crowd, they won't get bumped as much. You can move much quicker through the park.

2. News Years Party - The Magic Kingdom has two New Years Eve fireworks shows - one on the 30th and one on the 31st. I'd recommend the one on the 30th. It's just a bit less crowded. Not much but enough. It's the same as the one thrown on the 31st.

3. Character Dining (Breakfast mostly) - This isn't for everyone because of the expense but if you can schedule a character dining experience very early in the morning at the park you're visiting that day, it's not a bad idea. You'll be in the park before anyone else, get pictures with characters, have a great breakfast (depending on where you go) and start off the day a bit quieter.

4. Enjoy the resorts - the resorts are nicely decorated and will be less crowded than the parks.

5. Don't plan on seeing everything - I saw the stuff the kids enjoyed and didn't care if I saw the rest which really helped in making sure we stayed relaxed the entire time.

6. Parties - The parties are decent at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Epcot is more geared towards adults as there seems to be a theme of "drinking around the world" for a lot of people that go.

7. Dining - reservations are encouraged as even the quick service dining locations fill up... quick. If that doesn't work, bringing your own meals (pb&j sandwiches, crackers, fruits, meal bars, etc.) can help. You can ask for water at most restaurants. They hand out cups for free.

In any case, I hope you have a great time!

FrogBlog Sep 1, 2016 at 2:15 p.m.

Hi LuckyDad,

Thanks for sharing—these are great tips!

Keep hopping!


FrogBlog Apr 14, 2016 at 2:36 p.m.

Hi there,

Check out our Crowd Calendar for specific recommendations:

The Osborne Lights will not be back at Disney's Hollywood Studios this year, but there are always rumors floating around about a reappearance.

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Peggy Dec 23, 2015 at 9:19 a.m.

Our family solved the souvenir problem...we gave each child a set amount-usually about $20. This was their Disney allotment for souvenirs-their choice, their money. We bought no other souvenirs for them. We told them that they could keep whatever money they did not spend...many trips a few of our children came back with almost all their funds! Plus, we didn't have to hear, "Can you get this for me?" It was more enjoyable for everyone, and we didn't have to say NO constantly.

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.

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!

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.



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.

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

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

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!

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

Hi Marilyn,

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

-- Leap

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.

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 [...]

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 [...]

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.



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!

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.


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