8 Tips to Survive Walt Disney World at Christmas and Make It the Most Wonderful Trip of the Year

in Disney, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

Mickey Mouse in front of Cinderella's castle at night

You’ve decided to visit Walt Disney World during Christmas! You already decided on the length of your vacation, your travel arrangements have been made, and you’ve secured your dining reservations. All that’s left is to sit back and wait, right?

Suddenly, you find yourself reading blog posts and Internet forums that talk about how chaotic the Christmas season is at Walt Disney World. You feel a bit of uncertainty as you read about how crowded the parks are and how long the wait times are for your favorite attractions. Are you willing to wait two hours to ride the Tower of Terror? Do the parks really close due to capacity?

Seven Dwarfs on WDW main street during Christmas

These questions alone have probably made you feel anxious, perhaps even a bit “grumpy.” For that, I apologize. The truth is, however, that an immense amount of planning goes into booking a Walt Disney World vacation. Even more, planning goes into a Disney vacation during Christmas–the most crowded time of the year.

Having celebrated four of the last five Christmases in Disney, I’m here to help. The holiday season at Walt Disney World is an incredible experience, but many become discouraged due to the crowds. Below are some tips and tricks my family uses to make the most of our Christmas vacation and beat the crowds:

1. Plan your Day

By now, Disney has released the theme parks’ hours of operation. While the hours are subject to change, they will give you a solid idea of when the parks open and when they close. Use the hours of operation, as well as any other reservations or appointments that you may have (such as dining reservations) to set up your itinerary. Make a list of the top rides and attractions you would like to experience. After making your list, check where each attraction is on its respective theme park map. You will be able to gain an idea of what rides are close to one another and map out your plan of action.

Magic Kingdom lit up with Christmas lights
Credit: Disney

2. Use Genie+ Service

Disney Genie+ will be the paid part of the new Disney Genie service. Disney Genie+ will operate a lot as MaxPass did at Disneyland Resort — meaning that Guests will pay a flat rate per day and be able to book Lightning Lane (FastPass queue) access right from their phones. FastPass booths are no longer in operation and everything will be done via the Disneyland and Walt Disney World mobile apps.

Disney genie + details
Credit: Disney


3. Be an Early Bird

The parks typically begin to fill up by 10 am. Most parks are open to the public by 8 am. The window of time between 8 am and 10 am provides a solid opportunity to experience rides and attractions at a reduced wait time. I understand that not everyone is from the East Coast, making it very difficult to wake up so early. If that’s the case, take my next tip into consideration…

4. Be a Night Owl

If you can’t get up early, stay out late. Rides see a significant decrease in standby wait times following the final Illuminations show at EPCOT, Holiday Wishes fireworks show at Magic Kingdom, and Fantasmic! show at Hollywood Studios.

Magic Kingdom holiday firework show

5. Rest During the Afternoon

My family normally “bookends” our days at the parks—meaning, we arrive early and stay at the park until noon or 1 pm. By 1 pm the park is insanely crowded, so we head back to our resort. We relax and grab a quick nap and shower before heading out around 5 pm for our dinner reservation. If our dinner reservation is at a theme park, we will hang out at that park following our meal. If our reservation is at a resort, we will hop on a bus to whichever park has the latest hours or best Extra Magic Hours that evening.

6. Attend the Dress Rehearsal

The New Year’s Eve celebration at Magic Kingdom is stunning. The voices of Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy start their countdown to the New Year following the Holiday Wishes fireworks show. At 12 am, the sky becomes illuminated with a breathtaking fireworks display.

Disney performs the show on December 30th as well as December 31st. Magic Kingdom is incredibly crowded on New Year’s Eve, often leading to phased closures. Not only does the “dress rehearsal” allow you to see the fireworks without the immense crowds, but it also gives you the opportunity to attend a second celebration at Hollywood Studios or EPCOT the following night.

7. Check out the Resorts

Take a break from the parks and tour the resorts. Most resorts at Walt Disney World boast a pretty impressive holiday display. Hop onboard the monorail and start at the Contemporary. There’s a huge gingerbread display inside of the resort, located in the Grand Canyon Concourse. The Grand Floridian’s lobby is home to a gorgeous life-size gingerbread house, as well as a towering Christmas tree. Other gingerbread displays can be found at the BoardWalk Inn and Disney’s Beach Club Resort.

Grand Floridian gingerbread house

One of the hidden gems at Walt Disney World is Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. Stepping into the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge, you are immediately transported to the Pacific Northwest. I love to grab a hot chocolate and sit around the massive fireplace. The tree is tastefully decorated, sitting right in the middle of the lobby.

After touring the lobby at the Wilderness Lodge, head over to Fort Wilderness. The campgrounds feature displays from long-term campers. Some of the displays are really cool, but best viewed after dusk. Fort Wilderness offers carriage rides throughout the campgrounds, giving an awesome opportunity to see the decorations!

8. Tailor Your Expectations

You should not expect to accomplish everything when traveling to Disney during the most crowded time of the year. It’s easy to become disappointed when you are not able to see or do everything because of high crowd levels and wait times. If you are looking to ride every ride and see every show, this is not the trip for you. Crowds and wait times will not allow this. While strategic planning will help you accomplish most of your “to-do” list, you should tailor your expectations and enjoy the vacation. Take in the sights and smells of Walt Disney World and enjoy your time in the parks rather than worrying about the crowds.

Magic Kingdom Christmas parade with Mickey and Minnie in front of a christmas tree

Want to plan a trip to Walt Disney World for the holidays? The Authorized Disney Vacation Planners at Academy Travel can help. You can book a vacation to Walt Disney World and explore Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. No matter which Disney destination is on your bucket list, Academy Travel can help plan the trip of your dreams. Click here for a free, no-obligation vacation quote from Academy Travel!

Will you be celebrating the holidays at Walt Disney World this year? What tips will you be using to ensure a joyful visit to the parks this holiday season?

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