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 my 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!

3. Arrive at the parks early each day. A lot of people won’t get up early, so you’ll have short lines for the first hour or two, and you can collect a FASTPASS or two to use later in the day. If you are staying on property, also consider taking 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.

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. You will not be admitted (or re-admitted) to the parks after that point. This is true even if you have a ticket, even if you’re staying at a Disney resort and even if you have dining reservations in the park. If the park is full, it’s full — Disney has to follow fire codes! For that reason it’s best to arrive first thing in the morning and stay in the same 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 might as well forget about doing any table service dining.

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.

8. If you have young children, rent a stroller in advance. I 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 totally 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.