Do you love ginormous crowds of people, endless seas of strollers, and triple-digit wait times? If so, you’ve picked the Best Week Ever to visit Walt Disney World. But even if you are allergic to all of the above, it is actually possible survive the madness of Magic Kingdom holiday week crowds, and even enjoy a visit to America’s most popular theme park during the busiest week of the year, with the proper preparation.
In contrast to my relatively calm Christmas Day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, my December 29 visit to the Magic Kingdom came smack in the center of 2015’s winter peak season psychosis. I braved the Magic Kingdom holiday week crowds in order to share with you a first-person perspective on navigating Disney when attendance is at its most extreme.
Without that professional motivation, I’d normally avoid Walt Disney World on days when our Crowd Calendar hits 10 out of 10, but many visitors don’t have another option due to work and school schedules. If the busy holiday week is the only time your family can visit WDW, I hope my experiences will help educate you about the perks and pitfalls of a peak season vacation.
Magic Kingdom Holiday Week Parking
As any Magic Kingdom veteran knows, simply arriving at the park is an adventure in itself; that’s doubly true during peak holiday weeks. My day of queuing began around 9 a.m., many yards before the Magic Kingdom parking toll booths.
Enjoy Christmas Day at Animal Kingdom without getting out of your pink bunny pajamas. (Photos by Seth Kubersky)
No matter which park you pick, the Christmas holiday is one of the busiest times to visit Orlando. But if you must attend a Walt Disney World theme park during the peak travel system, I discovered that you could do worse than spending Christmas Day at Animal Kingdom.
Animal Kingdom may seem like a strange Christmas Day selection, since the park is positively Scrooge-like in the seasonal cheer department when compared to the other WDW parks. There’s nothing at Animal Kingdom on the scale of Magic Kingdom’s Holiday Wishes, DHS’s Osborne Family Spectacle, or Epcot’s Holidays Around the World; there isn’t even an Animal Kingdom Christmas parade anymore.
But that lack of seasonal draws made Christmas Day at Animal Kingdom a great idea, if your plans included enjoying attractions without asphyxiating in capacity crowds. This may change after Avatar arrives, but as the least-attended Walt Disney World park Animal Kingdom was a relative oasis for those seeking a smidgen of elbow room.
On my way into Walt Disney World property on Christmas morning, road signs advised that the Magic Kingdom was closed. Over at Animal Kingdom, however, there were acres of empty parking spot. Since this lot is the easiest of the four parks to get in and out of, consider using it when heading to one of the other parks on peak days.
For Christmas 2015, the entrance to Animal Kingdom was decked out with the usual giant tree, and new security scanning stations. Unless you are one of the few folks randomly selected for scanning, the new procedures appear have little to no effect on your entry speed.
This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE Christmas at the Orlando Theme Parks. It’s hard to beat Halloween in Orlando. Universal has its world class Halloween Horror Nights while Disney has their Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, both of which are among the highlights of the theme park year. It is just an amazing time, but can there actually be a time that’s better? Yes there is, and it’s called Christmas season. Not only are the hotels decorated (in fact a day could be spent resort hopping at WDW just to see the Christmas decorations such as the giant tree at Wilderness Lodge or the huge gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian) but the parks have a whole bunch of new stuff. Plus IT’S CHRISTMAS! To paraphrase Frank Cross in Scrooged, it’s the time of the year when we all act a little nicer, we give a little more, and we actually are the people that we always hoped we would be. So today we are going to look at some of our favorite reasons that Christmas in the Orlando Theme Parks is our favorite time of the year….
# 6 -Macy’s Holiday Parade
For our family, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV every year is the official start of the Christmas season. Universal has it’s own version of that parade starting in December with the Macy’s Holiday Parade in Universal Studios Florida. Not only are there the large balloons (several from the actual parade in New York), but guests can sign up to be balloon handlers! There are also many floats and of course your favorite characters.
Balloons making their way in Macy’s Holiday Parade. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
Straight from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York comes the Happy Hippo balloon. (photo by Mike Sperduto)
‘Tis the season for snowmen, sledding, and snuggling up by a fireplace…unless you live in Orlando, where temperatures are currently in the 80s. So for that real holiday feeling, I flew up north to visit family…and found New York City unseasonably spring-like with near-record highs in the mid-60s. Despite the wacky weather, I was able to able to soak up some of that world-famous Manhattan holiday spirit during a Best Week Ever visit to the heart of Broadway, where some familiar Floridian faces can also be found — along with some frightening ones. Join me now for A Times Square Disney Christmas, with special guest stars Charlie Brown, Geoffrey the Giraffe, and an all-star cast straight from the Island of Misfit toys.
I was one of approximately 1,000,000 people in line for the Hamilton ticket lottery. No, I did not win. I blame Aaron Burr…
Times Square Disney Store
From The Lion King to Aladdin, Disney is all over Times Square, but the Mouse’s flagship store is ground zero for fans of Mickey’s film franchises. Though there is precious little in the Times Square Disney Store that directly relates to the Orlando theme parks, you will find a wide range of almost every other brand of Mouse merchandise, along with a few surprising bargains.
Believe it or not…sometimes not every table is filled months in advance!
It is no secret that making dining plans for an entire Walt Disney World vacation can be a difficult and time consuming task. This task becomes even harder during the busy holiday seasons when Advance Dining Reservations can completely fill up months ahead of time. While we can not stress enough how important the planning process is for dining, touring, etc. (otherwise what would we be doing running a website like this?) we also must admit that there are times when it is enjoyable, and even a relief, to visit Walt Disney World with no plans and to simply “play it by ear.” So even though we can’t really recommend visiting Walt Disney World at the holidays with no planning, we can tell you that if you decide to go this route, you will not be completely out of luck for eating a quality holiday meal. Here are three suggestions for how you might approach the situation (yes, this is a planning guide for a trip with no planning…sometimes we can’t help ourselves.)
Book A Last Minute ADR
As of the morning before Thanksgiving 2015, a quick MyDisneyExperience search of all restaurants at Walt Disney World for an afternoon reservation on Thanksgiving for a family of four yielded plenty of results including restaurants in all four theme parks, Disney Springs and plenty of resorts throughout property, many of which offer special holiday menus. So even with only one day of planning, it is possible to get an ADR for a holiday meal. It should also be noted that Disney is well aware that the vast majority of its guests on Thanksgiving day will be looking for a meal that at least in some way contains turkey, dressing, etc. and some restaurants that normally wouldn’t serve this kind of cuisine add it to the menu for the holiday including Magic Kingdom’s Tony’s Town Square Restaurant and Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Sanaa. Similarly, ham is among the most common standard menu items on buffets and can easily be found on menus throughout property for Christmas and Easter meals. The point being that you may not even need to sacrifice your traditional holiday menu items by booking a last minute ADR at wherever is available.
Ring in the holidays with this video of the 2015 Osborne Family Spectacle lighting ceremony. (Photos/video by Seth Kubersky)
Walt Disney World‘s holiday season celebrations are in full swing, and the final season of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is drawing huge crowds each night to the Streets of America at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Recently, I brought you video of the Spectacle, featuring three full performances from the Dancing Lights. After that posting, some readers wondered whether the small ceremony that kicks off each evening’s illumination is still occurring. Well, wonder no more, because I’ve brought you this complete video of the 2015 Osborne Family Spectacle lighting ceremony:
If there is one disappointing thing about holidays at Universal Orlando it’s the fact that the festivities start so late in the season, especially by comparison. Some of the holiday celebrations at Walt Disney World started as early as November 6th this year, that means that Universal Orlando is basically a month behind. Even comparing to SeaWorld Orlando (whose Christmas Celebration is my absolute favorite holiday celebration in any Orlando theme park) Universal Orlando is two weeks behind (December 5th). So since we still are a few weeks away from the kickoff of holidays at Universal Orlando, let’s take a look at how you can get into the holiday spirit while we’re waiting.
New York and Hollywood Backlots
Here’s the good news. One of the most important parts of getting into the holiday spirit when visiting theme parks, the decorations, are practically fully up right now. Over the next few weeks the finishing touches will be put on, but enough sparkling ornaments and garland decorate the two most festive spots in Universal Studios Florida to put you in the spirit. Every year I love seeing the Christmas trees on the R.H. Macy’s facade and the delicate snowflakes on the Paradise theater facade, both in the New York backlot area. This section of the park is where you will find the big Christmas tree (though during my visit this weekend it was not yet up). While you’re visiting the New York backlot, stop in at Finnegan’s, my favorite theme park restaurant, and very festive to boot!
Disney World has truly spectacular offerings during the holiday season.
It’s no secret that I dress for success when I plan my outfit choices in Walt Disney World – no detail is left out. While this usually refers to some light DisneyBounding, it means something a little different in December, when a cute dress and Mickey ears isn’t enough to get you through the cold evenings in the parks. Thanks to the fantastic holiday offerings, December is one of the most exciting times to visit Disney World. You’ve got Magic Kingdom’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP), Epcot’s Candlelight Processional, and Hollywood Studios’ Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. On top of that, the resorts and parks are decked out in their holiday finest, so even if you don’t want to spring for the extra cost of a party ticket to MVMCP, you can still enjoy the ambiance during the day. Just make sure, as you’re planning for your holiday trip, to give serious consideration to the weather. As unlikely as it sounds, Florida gets COLD at night in December!
I know what you might be thinking, “I’m from [insert cold state here — mine is Michigan]; Florida doesn’t even know what cold is! I walk eight miles uphill both ways through six feet of snow just to get to the Disney Store!” Okay, that might not be exactly what you thought, but it is pretty close to my viewpoint on the subject before my first December trip. Luckily, I followed the advice of others and (even though I scoffed) I packed for the cold weather. And thank goodness I did! Based on that experience, I’m going to give you a breakdown of my 5 must-pack items for cold weather, some tips specific to nighttime holiday entertainment options, and a few final pieces of advice so you can dress for success on your holiday adventures in Disney World!
Collecting mementos and souvenirs can be one of the best ways to encapsulate your vacation for years to come. One of my favorite souvenirs are theme park based Christmas ornaments. No matter what time of year the visit takes place, a Christmas tree ornament is a great way to commemorate a special vacation.
I’d like to share with you some ways to make purchasing, sharing, or gifting a theme park ornament even more special. Let’s also take a look at some special theme park ornaments collected throughout the years.
One of the best ways to make a theme park ornament extra special is to get it personalized. Both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando offer ornament personalization. At Walt Disney World nearly any ornament can be personalized. This can be done at the 12 Days of Christmas store as well as Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe at the Magic Kingdom. Just know that the closer you get to the holidays the longer the wait for your ornament. Pricing runs about $4 per word, name or date, plus the cost of the ornament.