December is the most magical time of the year for Disney World. In what seems to be overnight, the park is transformed into a Christmas wonderland. With garland hanging all along the facade of Main Street and a massive Christmas tree in the hub, the decor alone could get any Scrooge into the holiday spirit.
During this time there are many holiday-exclusive treats, meals, and merchandise throughout all four Walt Disney World parks. Some attractions get into the spirit as well, such as the Jungle Cruise converting to the Jingle Cruise during the weeks leading up to Christmas. If there is anywhere on earth that does the holidays right, it’s Disney World.
The parks transition from Halloween to Christmas in less than a week. Stand-by lines during the holidays can exceed 120 minutes, so visiting WDW earlier in the season will free up more time during your stay. A trick I have learned in the past is to arrive on days when guests are leaving the parks/resorts.
For example, weekends are generally busier days at the parks, whether during the holidays or in the slower seasons. A large influx of guests arrive late Thursday or during the day Friday and will stay at the parks during the weekend and then start heading home Sunday to Monday. For me, arriving on a Monday or Tuesday not only gets you cheaper airline rates but also a cheaper rate at the resorts.
What is a Disney World Crowd Calendar?
In the beginning stages of your Disney World vacation planning, a helpful tool is a “Crowd Calendar.” What is a crowd calendar? A crowd calendar is a user-generated, informational calendar predicting the level of attendance at the parks. As you do your preliminary research the calendars are handy in showing you trends in park traffic at any point in the year.
Walt Disney World does not have a crowd calendar of their own, so there is not an “official” calendar to predict park traffic. When looking at these calendars it’s important to keep in mind that the information is based on trends and is not 100% accurate. Although the information is not perfectly accurate, crowd calendars can give you an estimation of how busy the parks will be on possible dates you plan to arrive at WDW.
Prepare Adequately in Advance
I believe the trick to your December visit to Disney World is planning far in advance. The magic is truly in the planning, doing your research and finding what you would like to do in each park, or where you would like to eat and make those reservations. Creating a wish list of what you hope to do, see, and eat can help narrow down and map out your visit.
Determine what your “must dos” or “priorities” are and this will help when selecting FastPass+ reservations and dining reservations ahead of time. Dining reservations can be made 180 days ahead of your visit, and FastPass+ selection can be made 60 days before arrival. One of the first things to do while you prepare for your trip is to make those crucial reservations.
A trick that I have used in the past is planning your FastPass+ reservations around your dining reservations. Since dining reservations are made much further in advance, you can determine which park or resort you will be at and then choose attractions in that area. This saves you travel time between parks or resorts because you’ll already be there. With wait times for some attractions exceeding 120 minutes on Christmas day, it’s best to make your Fastpass+ reservations early to maximize your time.
When looking at resorts to stay at, I usually look first at the value level resorts. I don’t want anyone to be discouraged when hearing the term “value.” Value resorts have incredible theming, amenities and transportation options to and from the parks; all without completely breaking the bank. Guests hoping to stay at the All-Star Resorts (Music, Movies, and Sports), you may want to avoid the first week of December.
Disney World Pop Warner Crowds and More
During this time, Pop Warner Championship and National Cheerleading and Dance Championships usually take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. Some events may be held in massive tents outside of the All-Star Resorts as well. Pop Warner is the biggest youth cheer, dance and football association in the world. In the past, Pop Warner participants have stayed not just at the All-Star Resorts but also Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs.
Attendance to the park does not have a large influx of traffic caused by Pop Warner since the events are all through the day during the week of competition. To avoid the Pop Warner crowd I strongly recommend avoiding the All-Star Resorts. Luckily there are two other resorts at the value tier; Disney’s Art of Animation Resort and Disney’s Pop Century Resort.
Art of Animation has family suites that can fit up to six adults as well as standard rooms. Pop Century, just like the All-Star Resorts, offers standard rooms at the value level tier. Let’s not forget the other 20 resorts all around Walt Disney World and other good neighbor resort properties.
It is not impossible to go to Disney World during December, in fact, with careful planning and diligence, you can make the most of your visit. The times you want to avoid visiting the park are the last two weeks of December, specifically the week of Christmas. At night, most guests make their way to Magic Kingdom to catch Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which frees up the other parks. As the special event starts at Magic Kingdom, it’s an excellent time to visit the other parks as crowds will start dying down while the party gets underway.
Character Dining Options
One of the best tricks I have learned when visiting the Disney Parks is to take advantage of your character dining options. Some of the character dining options have really great theming and food, and your favorite characters come to your table versus waiting in an 80+ minute line in one of the parks. Character dining, for me, is a “two birds with one stone” type of deal.
It’s one of the most unique experiences at a Disney Park, you still get to meet your favorite characters, and you get a delicious meal on top of that. There are character dining options for a wide variety of characters. Over in Fantasyland Cinderella’s Royal Table has a number of your favorite Disney Princesses.
Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace features the characters of Winnie the Pooh. Meet Chip ‘n’ Dale, Mickey and Pluto at the Garden Grill in Epcot. At the Tusker House in Animal Kingdom, you’ll find Donald Duck with a few friends. This option not only minimizes the stress of waiting in line and maximizes your time in the parks but is also a fun experience for the whole family and creates memories to last a lifetime.
Disney World Fireworks and Crowds
Walt Disney World fireworks are among the best in the world, and it’s safe to say the holiday fireworks are no exception! Most people flock to Main Street to see them, but I am here to tell you that Main Street isn’t the only place where you can get a view of those fireworks. If you go to the neighboring lands you’ll encounter lighter crowds and less traffic while the fireworks are going off.
Rather than wait for hours along Main Street, this frees you up to have more time exploring the park. If fireworks aren’t your thing, while the fireworks are going, wait times tend to go down slightly in standby queues. So if you missed a FastPass for a certain ride during the day, the fireworks and parades are a good time to try to hop in line for stand-by.
Enjoying the Christmas Party
Another thing to keep in mind when visiting Disney World during December, on select days Magic Kingdom does close at 6 pm for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, a hard-ticketed after-hours event for guests. Now, this might sound like a bummer, but I am here to tell you this can actually be a perk. It is no surprise that Magic Kingdom is very busy during the holiday season, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Why is this a perk?
Well, guests who want to attend the party with a wristband can enter the park as early as 4 pm. Meaning, party guests can take advantage of the park and FastPasses (yes you can get Fastpasses with a party ticket) for 3 hours leading up to the start of Mickey’s party at 7 pm. For guests already in the park prior to the event, the rides stop at 6 pm for those without wristbands, come 7 pm at the start of the event; non-party guests will be escorted out of the park. It’s a wonderful perk to be able to ride those big-ticket rides prior to the event. Don’t forget to grab a few cookies during the party!
Viewing the Candlelight Processional Show
At Epcot, during the International Festival of the Holidays, the Candlelight Processional takes place three times a night starting on Thanksgiving Day. The moving and almost spiritual experience is one of the headlining attractions at Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays. It’s a re-telling of the Christmas Story, accompanied by Disney’s Cast Member Choir and a 50 piece orchestra.
The choir is comprised of some of the best choral singers from around the United States. At the center of the processional is a celebrity guest narrator. Past narrators have been: Whoopi Goldberg, Pat Sajak, Jodi Benson and Neil Patrick Harris; just the star power alone brings a pretty big crowd. Unfortunately, the venue for the processional is quite small and is a first-come, first serve basis.
A way to secure your seat is to purchase a Candlelight Processional Dining Package. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner packages are available at various restaurants throughout Epcot and at select Walt Disney World resorts. For adults, the package can be between $40 and $80; kids range between $17 to $25. These prices are subject to change and vary in several by location and which meal you are purchasing (breakfast, lunch, or dinner). Guests staying at a Walt Disney World resort may use their Disney Dining Plan credits on the Candlelight Processional Dining Plan, any meal or restaurant will be worth 2 table service credits.
Holiday Attractions at the Parks
Your favorite cruise that goes on for “Niles, and Niles, and Niles,” gets in the Christmas spirit; when the world famous cruise becomes the Jingle Cruise. As you venture down the Amazon in South America, the skippers all change their witty jokes to fit the holidays. In the Amazon River, presents can be floating in the water.
The gorillas trashing the camp seem to find presents and another gorilla finding a Santa Claus coat. Trader Sam seems to get into the spirit, with holiday clothing deeming him, “Trader Sam-ta.” It’s a treat every Disney Parks fan should see, and is a seamless holiday transition from the world-famous Jungle Cruise we all know and love.
We cannot talk about Christmas without talking about Christmas photos with Santa. It just wouldn’t be a holiday visit to Disney World without giving good ol’ Santa Clause a visit, and yes he does come to Walt Disney World. You and yours can snap pics with good ol’ Kris Kringle at a few spots throughout Disney World.
Starting with Hollywood Studios, a photo opportunity is available and when Santa Nick needs to step out to make his list and check it twice; Santa Goofy steps in until Santa returns. Over in Epcot, during the International Celebration of the Holidays, you can find both Mr. and Mrs. Claus greeting children in the American Pavilion. Can’t make it in the park? Not to worry photo ops with Santa are also available at Disney Springs. Lastly, you can find Santa greeting guests during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party.
Now, these are only a few of the many events and happenings around the holidays at Walt Disney World during the holidays. Hopefully, with these tips, you and your family will have a magical and safe holiday at the happiest place on earth!
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