Christmas at Walt Disney World was a pipe dream for us. But then we were lucky enough to be able to leave the 29 degree weather in Ohio last week for a quick visit to Orlando. Eager to hunt down fresh Christmas decorations at Disney World we had our Holidays at Walt Disney World Checklist in hand ready to get a sneak peak at anything that may be going up early. But technically, we arrived one week too soon…
because while Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) began at Magic Kingdom November 9th, along with Jingle Bell Jingle Bam at Hollywood Studios, everything else at Walt Disney World didn’t actually make its debut until late this week. Resorts wouldn’t have all the decorations up until Nov 15th and Epcot had to finish Food and Wine on November 13th before the tear down/set up of International Festival of Holidays Holiday Kitchens (15 booths this year ). The lesson we learned here was that if you can swing it, the weekend right before Thanksgiving is the best time to visit for early Christmas decorations and low crowds. This being our very first trip to Disney during the holidays we got a ton of intel on this trip and just had to share!
Christmas at Walt Disney World
Disney Crowds During the Holidays
Oh, so many people, so, so many. Be ready to wait in lines and experience a faster Peoplemover than you ever have before. We’re quite sure rides actually speed up when the park is dealing with higher capacity. Our best advice here is to plan ahead. Get all your dining and fastpasses booked ahead of time and then be ok if you veer off schedule. Crowds will hold you up. Lines will hold you up. It doesn’t have to ruin your vacation. Consider this your heads up.
Disney Holiday Events and Shows
There are loads of holiday events and parties in November and December. While Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a hard ticketed event that you have to pay for and will limit your Magic Kingdom evenings if you’re aren’t going to the party, everything else you’ll find in the parks is pretty much included in your admission ticket. Check out the list of events on the printable pdf at the bottom of this post. There are enough to fill your whole vacation and you won’t get to them all, so pick a few must do items and plan your days around them.
Disney Holiday Merchandise at the Gift Shops
The holiday merchandise is magical, Santa can be found in select gift shop locations and everyone will be shopping. For gift shop browsing and shopping avoid the late evening hours if you can manage it. As you probably guessed everyone will be trying to grab those last few items before the park closes. And if you’re trying to save suitcase space. Use the shop parks app on your phone to find the exact item you want by scanning the barcode, purchasing in the app and just sending it to your home instead. No lines necessary.
Arrive at the parks early
It’s worth it to get to the parks at 7:30am if the park opens at 8am. While this may sound ludicrous, you would only do this with the promise of an afternoon nap or break from the crowds. The early morning hours will get you access to the main part of the park (unless you go on a day with early magic hours) and a chance to get pictures, maybe some breakfast and coffee and allow you to settle into your morning. This will also allow you to be pretty close to the first in line at your favorite rides if you hang out by the ropes at rope drop. This will help you feel in control of your day and make everything go a little smoother.
Save Hollywood Studios for the weekends
Typically smaller crowds than the other parks, you’ll have to remember that Hollywood Studios is the smallest park so will naturally feel more crowded. However, it is still our recommendation for weekend plans mainly for the night shows. While you can watch Jingle Bell Jingle Bam and the great new digital show, Sunset Greetings on Sunset Boulevard, there will still be many people that choose a Epcot, Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom for the evening shows at those parks instead. We’re actually really beginning to love Hollywood Studios, even with all the construction, so we’re pretty sure everyone else will catch on to its awesomeness pretty soon as well.
Sketchy Wi-Fi at Christmas
Wi-fi will be intermittent if you’re on Disney Guest Wi-Fi. Why? Because there will be a ton of guests all trying to be on it at once. If you have a child dependent on Wi-Fi for a phone/snapchat connection, be sure to make plans ahead of time in case they go off on their own and you need to get in contact with them. Also be aware of your family data plans and plan accordingly. Perhaps don’t bring all the phones to the park, this should help you keep your data usage in check. Remember a phone searching for wi-fi can also drain the battery, so bring a charging cord as well and charge it at the Tangled bathrooms Haunted Mansion.
The Disney Holiday Transportation Situation
There’s more people at Disney in November and December than at any other time, so transportation is slower. Now, Disney is pretty good about this. They do accommodate for the crowds but there will still be wait time. There is no guarantee on bus times or waits and even Disney has limited drivers, a limited fleet and traffic to deal with. Note: Your drivers have no control over how long you’ve waited at the bus stop- please don’t yell at them. The Real Lesson? Don’t try to leave the parks an hour before you need to be at the airport, leave earlier. A fastpass or dining reservation, if missed, is inconvenient, but missing a flight because Disney’s bus took too long is just poor planning. You know better. Be prepared to call Uber or the Lyft Minnie Vans.
The Other Disney Guests
“What can I say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery,” ( National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.) This is a true statement and I’m always reminded of it when my expectations for a perfect holiday get too out of hand. Whether you’re visiting around Thanksgiving or Christmas your expectations for the perfect vacation will be sky high! So will everyone else’s. There will be lots and lots of people just trying to make it through the day without spending too much money, eating too many treats and keeping track of the kiddies. You will see the meltdown on the bus, the angry guests yelling at cast members and more than your fair share of rudeness. Just breathe and be kind.
What to wear at Disney During Christmas
Yes it’s Florida, but in November and December, its strangely breezy, a little chilly and it still rains. Bring the poncho, bring pants and definitely pack a hoodie or cardigan for the evenings and maybe a beanie too. Be sure to pack those fluffy cozy socks too, because there will be puddles and your shoes and socks may get wet.
The Extra Family Time
Lets face it, through the holidays if you’re blessed with a family in any shape or size, there will be drama! At Disney especially there are always a lot more emotions in play. Do you really need that 9 dollar ice cream sundae if you’re getting a 50 dollar Christmas gift from me in a week? Why don’t we skip the souvenirs this time? We need just one more picture for uncle Frank! Why aren’t you smiling? Whatever your family dynamic it will be tried during this vacay, mainly because every single person at Disney during the holidays is in the same situation. Think about that for a second. Everyone is trying to spend less, no one likes waiting in lines, we all have a crap load of stuff to do when we return to real life. And if you’re a woman, you’re probably trying to eat healthier or are on a diet, which means not being able to eat those special holiday whoopie pies will just make you cranky. Lesson: Do what you have to do. If it means taking a break from the family for an hour, do that. If it means grabbing that milkshake with a little baileys, do that. If it means cancelling a holiday obligation at home you won’t have time to plan, do that. Do what you have to do and try to enjoy your family time together.
Your Life Back Home after the Holidays
No matter when you’re visiting Disney if it happens to be in November or December, you will no doubt have a ton of “stuff” to do when you get back home. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t pinning Thanksgiving recipes or planning Christmas activities or buying gifts while waiting in line for rides or food on this mini trip to Disney. Do I regret this? Not really. Its keeping my mind falsely “in control” whereas ignoring real life would no doubt have me in whirlwind breakdown mode as soon as I stepped foot back in my house. That said, bring a small notebook to jot your ideas down to get them out of your head… and try to enjoy the castle lighting.
Tips and Tricks for holiday travel at Walt Disney World
- Plan to spend a little extra money on treats. With all the unique snacks during the holidays you don’t want to be too tied to a budget that you miss out on the magic.
- Promise one souvenir to any kiddies you have in tow. Yes, Christmas is coming up and yes, they’ll be getting plenty of presents, but you don’t want them remembering that they didn’t get anything they wanted on this trip because it was too close to the holiday.
- Build in a little down time. Our favorite get away time is often at the resorts. Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge offer a calm atmosphere and some resorts like Beach Club, Boardwalk Inn, and Grand Floridian have special Christmas decorations you’d want to see anyway. Regardless of your age, or if you have kids or not, everyone needs a little time away from the chaos.
WDW Annual Passholder Tips for the Holidays
- If you’re eager to nab the free Disney Dining Plan when it comes available for your holiday trip, you only have to book 2 nights at any Disney resort to get the offer.
- Make sure your hotel is linked to the My Disney experience app so you can get your fast passes in the parks. You need them most this time of year.
- You know the crowd calendar better than anyone, but through the holidays stick to the weekdays and try for mornings and afternoons instead of evenings. The least crowded evening in any park is Tuesday.
Christmas at Magic Kingdom
Visiting Magic Kingdom during the holidays is everyone’s dream. Keyword being “everyone”. For a magical rather than stressful experience here are a few MK specific tips.
- Have the important fast passes booked ahead of time. Choosing Peter Pan, Jingle Cruise or Snow White’s Mine Ride will be your best bang for your buck. We’d choose Jingle Cruise simply because this holiday experience is exclusive to Disney World and only available during the holiday season.
- Special Treats, like peppermint ice cream at Storybook Treats and the Santa candy apples at the Big Top Circus Tent are a must if you’re not heading to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
- Between 5:30 and 6:00pm Elsa “lights” Cinderella’s Castle. While this is a cute little show, it’s not must see if you have other plans.
- The Once Upon a Christmas Time Parade and fake snow on Main Street only takes place during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Christmas at Epcot
- The Candlelight Processional is a must do, regardless of the celebrity speaker hosting during your vacation dates.
- The International Festival of Holidays, much like the Food and Wine Festival, now has 15 booths that will offer special holiday foods to match the countries. Also a must do.
Christmas at Hollywood Studios
- Jingle Bell Jingle Bam introduced new pyrotechnics this year to up their game a bit. We actually really liked this show and would definitely recommend it. There is a dessert party option if you want to get the best seats near the Chinese theater.
- Sunset Greetings is the new digital show that appears on the exterior of Tower of Terror and loops every 15 minutes with four “stories” for the holidays. The addition of “snow” in the form of soap suds makes everything more magical. A definite must watch. We’re figuring they will switch out the stories every year. 2017 Sunset Greetings includes a Classic Victorian Mickey, Toy Story, Frozen, and Swedish Chef.
- Hollywood Studios has so many holiday things to do.
Christmas at Animal Kingdom
- Animal Kingdom sometimes decorates a tree for the holiday, but there aren’t really any holiday specific events at AK. With the inclusion of River of Lights the Tree of Life shows this years, along with the opening of Pandora, we figure the holiday plans got pushed to the back burner for this park.
Christmas at Disney Springs
- The Christmas Tree Trail is a collection of Disney themed trees that flank a path you can walk through at Disney Springs. This isn’t necessarily a big show of any kind, but it’s a great little avenue with cute trees you can view while taking a stroll. Also a great little break from the crowded stores this time of year.