Visiting Disney During the Holidays: 12 Tips to Beat the Crowds
Updated: Dec 19, 2019
The holidays are upon us and what better place to celebrate the season than at the ‘happiest place on Earth’, right? Well, except for the fact that you and millions of other families on school break also share the same dream.
It’s no surprise that the busiest times at Disney will be anytime school is not is session. And of all the holidays and school breaks, the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas undoubtedly attract the largest crowds. But as someone who has consistently braved the parks in the days following Thanksgiving with three kids ages 5 and under, I’m here to tell you a stress-free Disney vacation during the holidays is possible!
If you’re planning to visit Disney World during the holidays there are a few things you can do to make your visit even more memorable. Ready to rock your next family holiday vacation at Disney? Read on!
1. Arrive early and stay late
You won’t be able to see and do as much as the day progresses, so set the alarm a little earlier and plan to arrive when the gates open. We noticed the most congestion started to fill in around noon and continued to progress throughout the afternoon. If you capitalize on the ‘smaller’ crowds in the morning hours you'll be able to experience even more!
*pro-tip: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. Set realistic expectations and plan extra time into your day for everything.
2. Preferred parking
Trust me, the extra $30 (and complimentary bottled waters) is well worth being within walking distance to the ticket station. This way you don’t have to worry about loading kids and breaking down strollers to get onto the tram. PLUS, a closer parking spot also allows for a quicker getaway!
3. Have a plan
You can book Fast Passes up to 30-days in advance so be sure to take advantage of this free feature. I would recommend using your Fast Passes for rides that generally have the longest wait times. For Magic Kingdom these include: Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, Seven Dwarfs Train Mine, and Peter Pan's Flight.
** pro-tip: If you have an odd number and/or a small child in your party you can ‘double-dip’ on your Fast Passes. For example, mom rides Splash Mountain with the older child while dad stays back with the smaller child. THEN, dad can enjoy the ride using his Fast Pass with the older child who gets to ride again!
4. Book your Fast Pass times strategically
If possible, book your Fast Passes for the afternoon or evening so you can cruise through the lines of other attractions in the morning when the park is less busy.
5. Wait until the last minute
Wait, what? Yes, you can book your dining and other character experiences 90-days out. But in reality, who knows exactly where and what they’re going to be doing 3-months in advance? Plans change and things happen! Use this to your advantage and start searching 1-3 days out for your desired experience. As the date approaches time slots will begin to open up as other parties change or cancel their reservations.
**pro-tip: Avoid dining during peak hours, 11:30 am-1:30 pm and 5-7 pm. Even if you have a reservation the restaurants will be busier during these traditional meal times. I recommend fueling up with a big breakfast, packing lots of snacks, eating your main meals outside of these busy hours to allow time for more fun!
6. But give yourself time!
Trying to cram all the things into one day at Disney during the ‘off-season’ is a stretch. But during the holidays when the parks will already be busier? Forget about it.
Magic Kingdom in itself requires either one realllly long day or two days to hit all the top attractions, meet a few characters, shop, and not feel super rushed. Don’t stress and try to cram everything into one day. You’ll end up exhausted and likely bummed that you were so wrapped up in trying to see and do it all that you didn’t get a chance to actually enjoy it!
7. Avoid park hopping
During this very busy time of year the parks will often reach capacity and you will not be allowed to re-enter. Plus, moving between parks takes time, and with the larger crowds you’ll likely be waiting in much longer lines for the buses, monorails, and ferry, etc. Maximize your precious time and stay put in one park for the whole day!
8. Pack light
With the park being more congested you’ll want to bring as little as possible. This particularly applies to strollers. Maneuvering a single stroller through the swarms of people will be much easier than trying to fight the crowds with an over-sized double stroller. If you have multiple young children I would bring a single stroller and a backpack or standing carrier if need be for the smaller child.
**pro-tip: Forget an essential item? Run out of diapers? Need a fever-reducer? Pay a visit to the Baby Care Center located in each park. The centers are complementary and include a kitchen, a main room with rocking chairs, a room with changing tables, and a small shop offering baby food, diapers, wipes, and over the counter medicines! (No need to pack the entire kitchen sink!)
9. Bathroom breaks
If you see a short line for a bathroom, RUN! Even if you or your kids claim they don’t have to go, if will be well worth not having to suffer through the opposite situation.
10. Always have your phone with you
I need not go into detail but during our most recent visit Ryan and I got separated. Leaving me alone, in Magic Kingdom, without a phone. Large crowds plus kids equates to stress. Be sure to go over your safety plan beforehand and have a meeting place established should you get separated.
11. Exit wisely
Plan to make your way home at least 30-minutes prior to the park closing. If you wait until the last minute there will be a huge bottleneck at the monorail and ferry lines. By no means is this how you want to end your fun-filled (and let’s face it, tiring) day!
12. Roll with it
Rides will break down, lines will be longer, your kid gets a fever. It happens! Traveling with kids is unpredictable at best, but if you can get comfortable with a few mishaps, then you can keep calm and carry on!
So there you have it, my top tips for surviving AND enjoying Disney during the holidays. Yes, it will be busier than usual, but with proper planning, mental preparedness, and a positive attitude, you too can make tons of magical memories.
What are your best tips for managing the holiday crowds at Disney? Spread some love and share them in the comments below.