At 10 a.m., a fellow cast member approached me, her face ashen beneath her Mickey-Mouse-eared Santa hat.
“They just closed the Magic Kingdom,” she whispered.
“How is EPCOT?” I replied with dread.
She shook her head. “Filling up fast.”
The holiday season had begun at Walt Disney World. I loved working crowd control, but I was always grateful that I wasn’t doing it at the Magic Kingdom. Hollywood Studios is the smallest Walt Disney World park, and when I worked there it seldom got too crowded. But during the holidays, all of that went out the window. The holidays are the busiest times for Disney theme parks – especially Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. There is no exception.
Are you planning on treating your family to a Disney Christmas? The best advice I can give you is “don’t.” Or at least celebrate Christmas a little earlier in the year. Walt Disney World starts decorating for Christmas in November – and they start hosting after-hours Christmas parties too. You’re not going to miss any tinsel if you go a little early.
But let’s say you can’t. For whatever reason, you are going to be stepping foot on Disney property sometime from 12/20 to 1/1. Here’s how to survive the most wonderful time of the year at the happiest place on Earth.
Let nothing you dismay
To survive a Disney Christmas, your most important resource is patience. You are not going to do everything you want to. You’re not going to get to ride all the rides you want. But you’re still in the happiest place on earth. Take in the scenery, get a hot chocolate and remind yourself that you are on vacation.
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Face unafraid the plans that you’ve made
You should make reservations for all of your table-service meals far in advance. For your quick service meals, try to eat at off-peak hours so that you don’t have to battle the crowds for your burger and fries.
If you can, take advantage of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – a ticketed, after-hours event celebrating Christmas at the Magic Kingdom. It only runs until around December 21, but it’s a great way to enjoy the Magic Kingdom’s Christmas events without battling huge crowds.
You better watch out
Download the MyDisneyExperience app (operated by Walt Disney World itself) so you can see park maps, show times and wait times for rides all on your phone. You can even use it to schedule more FastPass+ reservations (if there are any left).
Run, run Rudolph
Don’t let visions of sugarplums dance in your heads for too long. If you’re going to enjoy the parks, you have to get up and out early – take advantage of Extra Magic Hours if you can. Do not hop between different parks throughout the day. During the holidays, parks can fill up quickly and stop admitting guests (especially Magic Kingdom and EPCOT).
It only comes this time of year
Walt Disney World is filled with themed holiday experiences, but which ones are worth braving the crowds for?
Experiences that are worth it:
- Mickey’s Once Upon a Time Christmas Parade is a delightful parade through the Magic Kingdom – complete with toy soldiers, princesses, the fab five and Santa Claus himself.
- EPCOT’s Candlelight Processional is a reverent concert retelling of the Biblical Christmas story, narrated by a celebrity guest (let’s be honest, it’s usually Neil Patrick Harris). It made me cry – five stars!
- Celebrations Around the World Showcase on New Year’s Eve. As the clock strikes midnight around the world, different pavilions at World Showcase light up with fireworks and their own New Year’s celebrations.
- The Jingle Cruise is a holiday overlay of The Jungle Cruise and it is not to be missed.
Experiences that are not worth it:
- Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM at Hollywood Studios is always a disappointment. There aren’t enough fireworks, and it’s hosted by the characters from the holiday TV special “Prep and Landing,” of all things. I used to work this show, and I still don’t like it.
- A Frozen Holiday Wish is pretty take-it-or-leave-it. I love “Frozen,” but this show in front of the castle falls flat for me.
- Disney Springs’ Christmas Tree Trail is a deeply sad tour through a grove of Christmas trees (dying in the Florida heat) with lackluster Disney-inspired decorations. It’s not even a good photo-op.
As for the New Year’s Eve fireworks shows, there are only two to consider going to see: Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks at the Magic Kingdom or Illuminations’ New Year’s Countdown at EPCOT. I myself would not do either of them, since the crowds are so insane, but they are both beautiful, exciting shows for ringing in the new year.
If you want to get a good spot for a New Year’s Eve fireworks show, arrive a few hours (yes, I said HOURS) early to start camping out. Some people even stake their spots in the morning and stay there all day, but that doesn’t sound very fun to me.
Be good, for goodness sake
Don’t let the packed park make you irate – be polite and kind to your party, to the cast members and to the other guests. You’ll be surprised at how much this can improve a stressful day.
Have you ever had yourself a merry little Disney Christmas? Would you brave the holiday crowds? Let us know in the comments below!
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