Last Updated on November 28, 2023 by Happily Ever Park Hoppers
How to Survive Disney during the Holidays
With Thanksgiving in a few days and Christmas and New Year’s Eve coming up quickly behind it, some of you may be heading to a Disney park soon. Visiting any Disney park during the Holidays is absolutely magical, however, it is one of the busiest times of the year.
So how can you avoid long lines, big crowds, and aggravation? This is JUST the post for you!
It should be no surprise that traveling to any Disney park during the Holidays is THE BUSIEST time of the year in the parks. Regardless if you’re headed to Orlando or Anaheim, you can expect LARGE crowds and LONG lines. Both Magic Kingdom Park and Disneyland Park will reach capacity on Christmas Morning.
Know what the park hours are
One of the most important planning strategies when heading to the parks during the Holidays is to know the park hours. ALL of the parks have different operating hours. Some parks open earlier than others, while others stay open later. Also, Magic Kingdom Park and Disneyland Park will close earlier on the days there are Holiday after-hour parties. So you definitely want to have a good idea of what park you will want to head to in the evening if you’re not attending one of those parties. Also, knowing what time each park opens and how long it may take you to go there, is helpful so you know how early you need to be up and ready to leave each morning.
Take advantage of Early Theme Park Entry & Extended Evening Hours
I cannot stress these next few points enough. Getting into the parks first thing in the morning is going to be your most productive time during the day without having to pay extra to do so. Again, knowing the time the parks open is very important. Early Theme Park Entry is for Disney Resort Hotel Guests, which allows guests entry into all four Walt Disney World or both Disneyland Resort theme parks 30 minutes before regular park opening hours. These 30 minutes will allow you to hit a couple of those super popular rides that will later have 60, 90, or even 120+ minute waits!
Another way to survive those long waits is by taking advantage of Extended Evening Hours. Unlike Early Entry, Extended Evening Hours are just for Disney Resort hotel Guests staying at Disney Deluxe Resorts and Disney Deluxe Villas at the Walt Disney World Resort. These evening hours are on select nights at Magic Kingdom Park & Epcot (and now, on certain nights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios). If you are traveling with older children or are on an adult-only trip and staying at a Disney Deluxe Resort, this would be the way to go. Seeing that these evening hours can go pretty late and most little kids won’t make it until 11pm, you might be able to take advantage of low crowds during these times.
Rope Drop is always the most efficient, “free” way to accomplish the most in a short amount of time. “Rope Drop” is a term for hitting the parks right at; or slightly before, the parks open. Now with Early Entry being available every day at all of the theme parks, it’s a little hard to rope drop if you’re not staying at a Disney Resort hotel. But if you are staying off property and want to attempt to rope drop, I suggest getting to the parks at least 45 minutes before park opening. That way you can make your way to the front entrances to the land of your choosing, and be some of the first off-property guests to enter once you are allowed to do so.
Keep in mind that if you are staying off-property and driving to the Disneyland parking structures or Walt Disney World parking lots, that you account for the time it may take you to get from the parking structure to the front entrances. And again, check those park hours. See what nights Disneyland Park or the Magic Kingdom Park have Holiday parties because those days are “typically” less busy because most people tend to avoid those parks on party days. Which makes rope dropping for off-property guests a little more successful.
Pay for Disney Genie+
This option may not be for everyone since this is a new paid add-on feature on the My Disney Experience app and Disneyland app. The new Disney Genie+ will allow you to skip the standby line and use; what was Fast Pass, the new Lightning Lane. By using Disney Genie+ and skipping some of the super long lines, you will be able to accomplish more without sacrificing a lot of your time or sanity.
You can purchase this new feature for every day you have a theme park ticket or you can opt to pay for it for one day only. Know that you have to purchase it for each person in your party if they wish to utilize the Lightning Lane. For all the details, tips, and pricing information on Disney Genie+, click the links below for everything you need to know.
Remember to Take Breaks
Yes! I know this might sound odd because you’d paid all this money to be in the parks, but yes. Take breaks! If you’re following my advice and hitting the parks first thing in the morning, you are going to be ready to head back to the resort come lunchtime. By lunchtime, the parks are going to start filling up. If you are going to Magic Kingdom or Disneyland Park Christmas morning, the park will likely reach capacity before Noon. Anyone traveling from off-property or those who want to get their beauty sleep, have now made it into the parks and the crowds and lines are continuing to grow. This is when I like to head back, take a dip in the pool, let the littles take a nap, or just cool off in the A/C (because in Florida it is still going to be HOT!). Then when you head back to the parks, you will be rejuvenated and have a fresh set of patience.
If you want to take a break but don’t want to head all the way back to your resort, a lunchtime break can be just as beneficial. During the busy Holiday months, sitting down for a nice Table Service meal can be a great escape from the crowds. Plan ahead and make your Advance Dining Reservations during those peak times (Noon to 5pm), so you can take your time during your dining experience and get that much needed reprieve and give your legs a rest.
Book Table Service Restuarants
Booking table service restaurants is another great way to enjoy the holidays, while also escaping the crowds. There are several restaurants that offer holiday meals, characters and festive characters.
Hollywood & Vine is character buffet with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy & Pluto. All dressed in fun holiday outfits. Rather than waste time in line, waiting for characters, you can meet them during lunch or dinner.
Whispering Canyon Cafe is an “all-you-care-to-enjoy” family style dinner that features a holiday feast, that you don’t have to cook or clean up! This restaurant is also at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, which has a huge Christmas Tree in the lobby.
Again, intentionally planning your meals in or out of the parks will allow you get a break from the crowds, de-stress and fuel up so you’re go to continue your park day.
Disney Resort Holiday Decorations
Another thing to do while you’re taking a break from the parks is to wander around the resorts and take in all the beautiful Holiday Décor.
I’m not sure why but there is a huge Disney Resort Hotel misconception and it’s that people either don’t know or think that if you’re not a guest of that resort, you can’t walk around….and that is entirely UNTRUE!! You can visit any Disney Resort Hotel regardless of whether or not you’re staying there. And during the Holidays it’s one of THE best times to wander around and take in all the beautiful Christmas trees, Holiday decorations, and Gingerbread houses!!! And, know that many of the Disney Resort hotels have Table Service restaurants that have delicious Holiday Feasts!
Attend a Holiday Party
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom Park, and the new Disney Jollywood Nights are an additional way to enjoy the Holidays while at Disney with “lower” crowds. These parties are ADDITIONAL and can be pretty pricey for families. One tip I always like to tell families is that if you are planning on attending an after-hours event or Holiday party is to buy one less park day (so instead of paying for a 5 or 6-Day ticket, only do 4 or 5-Day tickets) and have a relaxing morning/afternoon at the resort and then head to the party in the evening. During these Holiday Parties, you can expect lower wait times, special parades and nighttime fireworks, characters dressed in their Holiday Bests, specialty themed treats, and more!
Enjoy Holiday Décor in Disney Springs & Downtown Disney
A great FREE option to enjoy the Holiday decorations is by going to Disney Springs or Downtown Disney. Both outdoor shopping centers offer fun and festive Christmas Trees, lots and lots of garland with twinkling lights, and you might even find some holly and jolly window displays. Day or night, these decorations will definitely give you all the Holiday feels!
I always enjoy heading to Disney Springs and Downtown Disney for a break from the crowds. Typically on the weekends, these locations can be busy but are nowhere near the crowds you will see inside the parks. You’ll be able to stay in the “Disney Bubble” while escaping the crowds and still being surrounded by all the Holiday cheer.
If you are headed to the parks during the Holidays, I hope this post helps you. And that you and your family are able to have a cheerful Holiday vacation with minimal stress and a whole lot of fun!
Spreading magic one post at a timeKristin