Christmas at Walt Disney World means tips. Lots of holiday tips. Lucky enough to leave the 29-degree weather in Ohio for a quick visit to Orlando we were eager to hunt down fresh Christmas decorations at Disney World. With our Holidays at Walt Disney World Checklist in hand, we were ready for all the Christmas cheer we could find. But we weren’t ready for the crowds, cost, and chaos! Therefore, we thought we’d do a roundup for you so that you can get prepared for Disney at Christmas.
What is the Best Time to Visit Walt Disney World During the Holidays?
So we’ve talked about the best days to visit Disney World before. And the lesson we learned here was that if you can swing it, the third week in November and the week right after Thanksgiving, are the best times to visit for early Christmas decorations and low crowds. This gets you there the first week that the Christmas decorations are up, but before the crowds start to arrive for the holiday break. As expected, Thanksgiving and Christmas week are always busy, so avoid those at all costs. Know that through the holidays it’s best to stick to the weekdays and try for mornings and afternoons instead of evenings. The least crowded evening in any park is Tuesday. And the parks are always less crowded before 4 p.m.
Tips for Christmas at Disney World
In addition to sharing the Disney Christmas Tips for each Disney Park, we’re giving you a bunch of tips that are absolutely necessary to survive Disney World during the holidays.
Disney Crowds During the Holidays
At Disney World, there are so many people visiting for Christmas. So, so many. Be ready to wait in lines and experience a faster Peoplemover than you ever have before. We’re actually quite sure rides actually speed up when the park is dealing with higher capacity. Our best advice here is to plan ahead, by making sure your Dining Reservations are booked ahead of time. Disney World Crowds will hold you up in the ride lines, at restaurants, and at the buses. It doesn’t have to ruin your vacation. Consider this your heads up.
Arrive at the parks early
It’s worth it to get to the parks at 7:30 a.m. if the park opens at 8 a.m. 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 if you’re a Disney Resort Guest because you can take advantage of Early Morning Entry. This gives you 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.
Visit Hollywood Studios on a Monday
While other vacationers head to Magic Kingdom on Mondays, we recommend heading to Hollywood Studios. Since Hollywood Studios is the smallest park it will naturally feel more crowded, plus it will hit Disney’s Maximum Capacity Limit faster. And it’s a great way to kick off the holiday season! You can watch Sunset Seasons Greetings, and take in the flurries on Sunset Boulevard. Check out our whole post on why you should visit Hollywood Studios during the holidays. And be sure to take a look at the Jollywood Nights Christmas Party schedule, so that you don’t have to leave the park early on your Hollywood Studios day.
Sketchy Wi-Fi at Christmas
Dare we say Turn Off your Wi-Fi? While you will be on your phone almost nonstop in the My Disney Experience App, using data will make everything go faster, and not drain your phone battery. 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 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 near Haunted Mansion.
The Disney Holiday Transportation Situation
There are 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 the crowds but there will still be a 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.
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 we’re 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. Read our 12 things about a Disney Vacation that most people don’t tell you so you can go prepared.
What to wear at Disney During Christmas
We love a good Disney Christmas Outfit. Yes, it’s Florida, but in November and December, it’s 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. We like layering with our Disney Holiday Shirts from the shop. Be sure to pack those fluffy cozy socks too, because there will be puddles and your shoes and socks may get wet. Check out our winter packing list to get you ready.
The Extra Family Time
Let’s 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 vacation, 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 crapload 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. Or grabbing that milkshake with little baileys, do that. If it means canceling 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 we regret this? Not really. It’s 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 holiday!
Increase your Budget for the Holidays
Christmas at Walt Disney World is all about extra magic. 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. Check out our post on building a Disney Budget.
Plan for at Least One Souvenir
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 to remember that they didn’t get anything they wanted on this trip because it was too close to the holiday. Check out our favorite Free Souvenirs at Disney if the money is tight.
Build in a little downtime. Our favorite getaway 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.
Tour the Disney Resorts with Gingerbread Displays
Many of the Disney Resorts have lobby trees, but only certain resorts have Gingerbread Displays. The Grand Floridian Gingerbread House, the Beach Club Gingerbread Christmas Carousel, and the miniature historical buildings at the American Adventure building in EPCOT. Check out all the Gingerbread Displays at the Disney Resorts through the holidays.
Snag a Dining Plan to Make Things Easier
Nothing is worse than facing that Disney dining bill 3 times a day just because you and your family have to eat. Especially when the cost of food at Disney Parks is already pretty high. We recommend planning a Disney Dining Budget that allows you to grab a dining plan offer, or to put your budget on gift cards to make things easier.
Christmas at Walt Disney World Events and Shows
There are loads of holiday events and parties in November and December. Check out our Christmas at Walt Disney World Checklist for everything that is happening in all four parks during the holiday season!
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. And we highly recommend you Mobile Check Out if the gift shop is crowded. 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 be sure to check shopDisney.com first. As they often have many of the new Disney Christmas Merchandise online.
Have your Best Disney Planning in Place Before You Go!
Make sure your hotel is linked to the My Disney Experience app so you can get your Lightning Lane and Genie+ plans in place, restaurant reservations, party tickets, and more.
With so much to consider about the holidays at Walt Disney World, it’s important to know as many insider tips as possible. Here, we’ll break down the important stuff for each park. Read up on What’s new at Walt Disney World for the Holidays.
Tips for Christmas at Magic Kingdom
Visiting Magic Kingdom during Christmas is everyone’s dream. The keyword is “everyone”. For a magical rather than stressful experience here are a few Magic Kingdom-specific tips.
- Ride Jingle Cruise! This Christmas Overlay on the Jungle Cruise is amazing, and filled with Holiday puns!
- Try the Special Treats, like peppermint ice cream at Storybook Treats and the Santa candy apples at the Big Top Circus Tent are a must.
- Stay and Watch the Disney Christmas Castle Projection Show!
- See the Frozen Holiday Surprise Castle Lighting. *NEW for 2023*
- Attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Check out the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Guide.
Tips for Christmas at Epcot
Christmas at EPCOT for the holidays gets all dressed up with cultural traditions from the World Showcase countries.
- Visit the World Showcase. The International EPCOT Festival of Holidays offers special holiday foods to match the countries, storytellers, and live entertainment.
- Ride Living with the Land! This Epcot ride gets dressed up for the season and it’s a lovely calming boat ride, much needed during the busy season.
- Check out the New Celebrity Narrators at the Candlelight Processional. Grab a Candlelight Processional Dining Package for dinner and a guaranteed seat.
Tips for Christmas at Hollywood Studios
Christmas at Hollywood Studios is our FAVORITE place for the holidays! And it’s not even because of all the Star Wars things! Add in kitschy decor, amazing seasonal snacks, and festive and free Disney fun, and this park makes our must-do list!
- The Sunset Seasons Greetings Show is a digital show that appears on the exterior of the 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. Sunset Greetings has included a Classic Victorian Mickey, Toy Story, Frozen, and Swedish Chef in the past.
- Toy Story Land Overlay. Head to Andy’s backyard for larger-than-life Christmas decorations and Christmas lights.
- Flurry of Fun as part of the Hollywood Studios Holiday Entertainment
- If you’re looking for extra glitz and glamour this holiday, consider adding the Jollywood Nights Event to your Christmas plans at Disney World.
Tips for Christmas at Animal Kingdom
One of our favorite places to go for the holidays, Christmas at Animal Kingdom has really stepped it up for the holidays! You can find new holiday snacks, a show on the Tree of Life, and animal marionettes throughout the park. Check out the decorations and you can revel in all the holiday fun at Animal Kingdom.
- Tree of Life Awakenings serves up a Holiday Edition, complete with beautiful wild animals frolicking in the snow for its wintry tale stories displayed on the tree.
- Holiday Marionette Menagerie featuring cute animal puppets that you can see around the park.
Tips for Christmas at Disney Springs
In addition to shopping, holiday treats, and lots of reasons to spend your holiday season here, we also love Disney Springs for the Christmas Tree Stroll; a collection of Disney-themed trees that show up all over Disney Springs. Hopefully, this has been a helpful round-up of all the things you need to know for the holidays at Disney!
Rochelle Mariah is a writer, designer and photographer with an MLIS in Information Science and a B.S. in Arch and Design. Determined to make Planning a DIY Disney Vacation easier she makes lots of lists and drinks lots of coffee. When not designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's watching old movies and planning the holidays. She has been traveling to Disney destinations since 2010.