So… You Just Have to Visit Disney World at Christmas

Okay, by now you know it’s not the best idea to visit Walt Disney World during Christmas week (December 25-31). You know it is the most busy and crowded time of the entire year. Yet you are still going that week. So how will you manage to enjoy your time at Disney World? Here are our Top Ten survival tips:

1. Mentally prepare yourself for big crowds, long lines and cranky people. There is nothing you can do to change this, so just accept it. Fighting the inevitable will only make you unhappy.

2. Plan, plan, plan. Set priorities: what are your top 5 attractions in each park that you consider “must do” experiences? Once you know that, you absolutely must have a touring plan. Get yourself over to TouringPlans.com and find the best plans for your party size, age groups and length of visit. Then follow them! Make sure to take full advantage of FastPass+ by prebooking your top three rides in advance.

3. Arrive at the parks early each day. Most people won’t get up early, so you’ll have short lines for the first hour or two. If you are staying on property, take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours, particularly the morning ones. During Christmas week, the crowds will start to grow enormously around 10:00 am and by noon everything will be gridlocked. The lines will also go down some very late in the day, but they’ll never be as low as they are in the first few hours after opening. During Christmas it’s common for the Magic Kingdom to have a regular opening time of 8 am, and Extra Magic Hours at 7 am. If you can haul yourself out of bed and be in front of the Magic Kingdom at 6:45, the ride lines will be really, really short for quite some time. Yes, that means getting up at 5:30 or so, throwing on clothes and heading out. But you can leave at noon, go back to your hotel and take a nap.

4. The parks (especially Magic Kingdom) will usually reach full capacity at one or more points during the week. December 25, 26 and 31 are the most likely dates when capacity issues may occur, but other days may be affected as well, particularly the Saturday of Christmas week. There are several levels of staged closures, and in the first stages you may be able to get in if you have a dining reservation in the park or if you entered the park earlier that day and are coming back. But if the park is truly full, it’s full — Disney has to follow fire codes! Typically the worst stages of closure will be in the middle of the day. Assume that you might not be able to enter the park from about 11 am to 6 pm. It might not be that bad, but plan for the worst. You can arrive early and stay in one park all day, or leave mid-day and don’t plan to come back until after dinner. When we were there at Christmas, we just left the parks at about 1 pm, and didn’t come back until well after dinner (or didn’t come back at all). We made all our dinner reservations at resorts, which worked out exceptionally well. If you head back to the park at about 7 pm, you’ll pass a stream of tired, cranky people heading out who thought they could just stick it out, but couldn’t make it.  If you do elect to stay in the park all day, bring any sweaters or jackets you may need later and stow them in a locker when you arrive (the lockers will also sell out).

5. Don’t plan on going on a lot of rides, especially in the afternoons. Instead, make it your priority to enjoy the atmosphere. If there is a band playing, stop and listen. Wander around and look at the decorations. Enjoy some holiday treats. Wave at the characters.

6. Make dining reservations as early as possible. Ideally you will make them 180 days (6 months) in advance. Yes, that’s right! If you don’t have any advance dining reservations when you arrive, you will have very few options for table service dining. Most of the available reservations will be for very early or late, or at second-tier restaurants in resorts, or both.

7. Plan to eat any quick service meals at off-hours (lunch before 11:00 or after 3:00; dinner between 3:00 and 4:30 or after 8:00), or you’ll be waiting in line for a long time. Consider bringing some snacks, like granola bars, string cheese and juice boxes, with you to stave off starvation, or budget for plenty of churros and ice cream (which will also have lines, but not as long as the ones for the restaurants).

8. If you have young children, rent a stroller in advance. We recommend Magic Strollers, which will save you a ton of money compared with renting from Disney. In crowded conditions it is very hard to keep track of kids on foot, and it’s also exhausting for little kids to fight their way through masses of people. A stroller is completely worth it, even for kids who would normally be a little old for one.

9. If you want to see Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, buy the Fantasmic! Dinner Package. Otherwise you are facing a very, very long wait in line for the show, or you may not get in at all. Likewise, if you want to see the Candlelight Processional at Epcot, buy the Candlelight Processional Dining Package or you probably won’t get in.

10. Schedule some “down time” during your vacation. It is extremely stressful to spend the whole day fighting crowds. For every three days you spend in the parks, consider taking one whole day off to explore the cheap and free things to do at Disney World.