Here at Walt Disney World, it sometimes seems like we just barely survive one holiday peak season before another wave of tourists arrive. After the overwhelming crowds of Christmas and New Year, Orlando’s parks saw a brief respite before Martin Luther King weekend came around and packed the parks again. For this edition of Best Week Ever, we’re going to brave the happy hordes and enjoy a Magic Kingdom Martin Luther King weekend visit.
The Sunday before Martin Luther King Day dawned overcast and blustery in the low 50s (what we locals call “Florida Cold”). But by the time I arrived at the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot, the weather was beginning to clear up into a gorgeous day.
Grey skies, sweatshirts, and shorts: yup, it’s winter in Orlando!
After twenty years of warming holiday memories at Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights has flickered out for the final time. Following a few days extension, the beloved annual tradition was extinguished for the last time ever on January 6, 2016, and we were there to capture the Dancing Lights closing seconds for you in ultra-sharp 4K video.
The last night of the Dancing Lights drew huge crowds to Disney’s Hollywood Studios during the evening. I attempted to park at the theme park around 6:30 p.m., and was redirected to Animal Kingdom instead. The busses arrived for us a a rapid pace, but the detour added at least a half-hour my trip.
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.
In case you’ve been living inside the belly of an asteroid-bound space slug, The Force Awakens has ignited moviegoers and burnt down box office records ever since the long-awaited Star Wars sequel hit screens nationwide on December 17. Right now, there’s no better place in Orlando to celebrate The Force Awakens than Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which has spread new Star Wars stuff to every corner of the park. In this follow-up to my first look at the recently added DHS Star Wars offerings, we’ll check out additional attractions, edibles, and entertainment engineered to take you to that galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars Launch Bay and Chase Disney Visa Private Meet and Greet
Let’s start with a walk around Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which I originally broadcast on the Touring Plans Periscope channel.
A tribute to the popular comedy club that once anchored Downtown Disney’s Pleasure Island in the days before Disney Springs, the 2015 Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special brings a half dozen of the beloved venue’s veterans together for half-hour shows of skillfully improvised skits and seasonal songs.
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.
We were there for opening day of the new Star Wars attractions to bring you this detailed photo review of the additions. Let’s start with a look at the current Times Guide, with the new offerings highlighted by a red symbol.
I caught up with the quartet, who posted on Twitter that they are returning to Scotland to record an album, after a recent afternoon performance. They said that they have no plans to return to Walt Disney World after next week, so if you are a Paul McKenna Band fan you only have a few days left to see them without having to fly across the pond.
It’s fair to say that, although McKenna and company are talented performers who authentically represent their musical tradition, they never enjoyed the kind of cult-like popularity garnered by Off Kilter, the Canadian rock band that was controversially canceled prior to McKenna’s debut.
In case you never had a chance to experience the Paul McKenna Band in person, I’ve immortalized one of their sets on YouTube for posterity:
Take a Best Week Ever walk around Disney Springs to the new Twenty Eight & Main shop. (Photos/video by Seth Kubersky)
Black Friday is fast approaching, so for this installment of Best Week Ever I took another trip to Disney Springs in order to check out Twenty Eight & Main, the newest spot inside the Marketplace Co-Op to spend a mortgage payment. Come along as see what you’re going to go broke on during your next Walt Disney World visit!
As I reported in October, the new I-4 exit ramp to Disney Springs makes entering the Orange parking garage pure bliss. If you are used to spending an hour sitting at stoplights and circling surface lots each time you tried to park at the old Downtown Disney, the new traffic flow into the renamed complex is going to seem like nirvana. I parked on the garage roof for easy access to the exit ramp, and also to snap some panoramic pictures of continuing construction on Town Center: