Walt Disney World At The Holidays: Tips for Surviving The Busy Season

by Ann Weber, PassPorter Guest Contributor
Last modified 11/1/2007

Photo illustrating Walt Disney World - Making Magic

Although we had been to Walt Disney World several times, last year was our first experience going at what is probably the busiest season for the World.

I spent a lot of time researching in preparation for our Walt Disney World trip. After our trip, I realized that even with all of the knowledge I had gained beforehand, I learned even more lessons while there. I want to share with you some of what I learned so that you can have the most magical holiday possible at Walt Disney World.

Epcot - Spaceship Earth photo
Epcot - Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth on a busy day.

The first and most important tip is to plan early. Hotels, airlines, and Disney's Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) fill early at this busy time of year. We were able to get a very good price on airfare almost 12 months out, so we purchased it. I kept watching as time passed, and the rates only went up. This won't always be true, but frequently it was.

The next tip is equally important -- be flexible. For example, because we made most of our ADRs on the day the reservation window opened (180 days in advance of our trip), we were able to originally get all of the ones we wanted. However our flight times changed at least four times over the course of that year and we found that once we arrived at Walt Disney World, some of our ADRs no longer fit in our plans. So we canceled them and tried to get new ones, but it can be difficult to obtain ADRs on short notice. If you are planning a trip on shorter notice, try some of the less well known locations. At the resort restaurants, we saw several people walk up without ADRs and be seated within a reasonable amount of time. On New Years Eve, we decided we wanted lunch earlier than planned so we could go to the Animal Kingdom to see the special Christmas Parade (a very fun parade!) and do a few things before that park closed. We called the dining reservation number to change our ADR and we were told that Whispering Canyon Cafe, where we had our original ADR, was completely booked for the entire day. This was not surprising for New Year's Eve. We decided to go early and see if we could get in. We were seated in only 10 minutes (almost an hour before our original ADR). The Trails End Buffet at Fort Wilderness is also a less crowded location with good food and a relaxing atmosphere.

At this busy time of year, I recommend staying on Disney property. When the parks start to fill to capacity, you are guaranteed to get into a park every day. You are not guaranteed that you can get into a specific park (for example the Magic Kingdom may be full but you can still get into Epcot), so remember -- flexibility is key! Additionally, by staying on site, you can choose between a variety of transportation options that best fit your plans.

Go to the parks very early. We found we were able to see most of what we wanted to see each day before the crowds became too overwhelming. On the 29th, we were planning to have a late breakfast at the Grand Floridian and then head into the Magic Kingdom to watch our daughter march down Main Street USA with her high school band. We changed our plans (again, flexibility) and went to the park bright and early since we talked to people who had been turned away the previous day from both the Magic Kingdom as well as Animal Kingdom because the parks had hit capacity. Luckily, by the time they started turning people away, we were already in our park of choice.

Remember, FASTPASS is your friend. FASTPASS is available to everyone, not just Walt Disney World resort guests so take advantage whenever possible. FASTPASS rules and tips change from year to year, so make sure you check the most recent edition of PassPorter and/or visit http://www.allearsnet.com/tp/fastpass.htm before heading out to get the latest tips.

Leave the parks whenever the crowds start to frustrate you. There are many things to do outside of the parks. Take the time to go and see the decorations at some of the resorts. We went to the Yacht and Beach Club, the Grand Floridian, the Wilderness Lodge, and Fort Wilderness. The decorations were amazing at all of these. Don't make my mistake -- remember your camera! Some of the resorts with water have small boats that you can rent and go out on the lagoon. There are several miniature golf courses, and much more. We enjoyed spending time relaxing at our Fort Wilderness cabin. The cabin had two TVs, so everyone did not have to agree on what to watch.

If Disney offers a test run of their New Year's Eve festivities on December 30th, take advantage of this. We do not like crowds, so we decided we would celebrate the New Year in our cabin and get an early start on January 1st to enjoy the parks while everyone else recovered from their late night for New Year's Eve. We noticed that Magic Kingdom was having their Super New Years Eve fireworks at midnight on the 30th. They were also having two SpectroMagic parades that evening, and the park was open until 3:00 am. Our goal for the evening was to see the parade and the fireworks. Any rides that we took were bonuses. Some of the popular rides still had some significant waits, but we were able to find plenty to do for our evening.

In addition to the special fireworks, some of the outdoor dances, etc. were also running in a practice mode for the next evening. It was fun dancing to the Cha Cha Slide as we were walking (dancing) from Tomorrowland to Frontierland to get ready for SpectroMagic. While we waited in line to watch the parade, my son went into Diamond Horseshoe Saloon where they were teaching line dancing and had a great time doing some old dances and learning some new ones. It was very easy to find a good spot for the parade. Even people coming at the last minute were able to see. After the parade, we decided we would head to Tomorrowland. Due to an unexpected breakdown of Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin while we were on it, we were running through Tomorrowland trying to get to the Castle area when the music started for the fireworks. We decided to stop in the middle of Tomorrowland and wait to see where would be the best place to go for the fireworks. We were happy and amazed to see the fireworks were everywhere and you really could be just about anywhere in the park and have a great view of at least one set of fireworks.

Tip: Eating Earlier Than Your Reservation Time
If you made Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) and got a reservation later than you wanted, it doesn't hurt to go in early and check if there is a table available. When we traveled to Walt Disney World during the holiday season, we made sure to make ADRs online, even taking late dining times. When we finished up "touring" early (a half hour to an hour), we checked in at the restaurant where we had an ADR for that evening and more times than not we were seated immediately or with just a short wait. I think the key here is to already have an ADR, especially during the busiest seasons.
related tip

related tip Save This Tip

So, if you are planning on Christmas at Walt Disney World, plan, stay flexible, and have a very magical and happy holiday.

Magic Kingdom - Peter Pan's Fastpass Tickets photo
Magic Kingdom - Peter Pan's Fastpass Tickets

Fastpass anyone?

About the Author:
Ann Weber is an avid traveler who loves exploring new places as well as returning to old favorites such as Walt Disney World with her husband and two teenagers.

Recent Walt Disney World Articles:

How Disney Trips Helped Me Overcome My Fear of Flying

How Disney Trips Helped Me Overcome My Fear of Flying

A Disney Parks Planning Article

The Star Wars Launch Bay at Hollywood Studios

The Star Wars Launch Bay at Hollywood Studios

A Walt Disney World Attraction Review

Premium Events at the Magic Kingdom

Premium Events at the Magic Kingdom

A Walt Disney World Event Review

Walt Disney World in a Wheelchair

Walt Disney World in a Wheelchair

A Walt Disney World Special Needs Article

Visiting Walt Disney World While Pregnant

7 Essential Lessons for Pregnant Moms at Disney World

A Walt Disney World Planning Article

More Related Links:

Premium Events at the Magic Kingdom

Premium Events at the Magic Kingdom

A Walt Disney World Event Review

Five Hidden Treasures at Disneyland

Five Hidden Treasures at Disneyland

Cool Stuff at Disneyland You May Not Know About

The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco - Part 2

The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco - Part 2

A Walt Disney Attraction Review

Freezing the Night Away on the Disney Wonder

Freezing the Night Away on the Disney Wonder

A Disney Cruise Line Review

Reader Comments:

Great article, and some awesome tips! We're going earlier than the crazy season, but your tips will apply nonetheless! Thank you!

     snoozin on November 16, 2007 @ 1:57 pm
Nice article! Thanks for all the added tips!

     akleos on November 17, 2007 @ 1:39 pm
We have a trip to WDW planned for November over Thanksgiving. I realize that this is a busy time in the parks, but our 12 yr old is off school a few days then and we don't like pulling him out of school for too long. We are leaving 11/21 and returning on 12/2.

That being said, we have purchased our tickets for Mickeys Very Merry Xmas Party on the 29th. We are also purchasing Park Hopper passes for 3 or 4 days. Other than the Osborne Spectacle of Lights at Hollywood studios which we plan to see for sure, I'm looking to those of you who have been to WDW at the Christmas Season to give suggestions on things to see at WDW -- things not to miss. I understand that the decorations are fantastic, but I'm looking for input on things to see and do also that may not actually be in the parks too.

DH is not overly excited about this trip (as we've been to Disney many times, and we are taking our twin boys along who will be 3 when we go so we'll be moving at a slower pace obviously) so I'm hoping to learn some things that will make it sound like more fun and give us all something to look forward to (besides me).

Thanks for your suggestions.

     mommy2theAteam on June 19, 2009 @ 10:31 pm
Osborne Lights like you mentioned. Don't see them right when they first light them each night - mob scene. Wait 30 minutes to an hour OR get there 30-45 minutes before they light them.

Illuminations at Epcot as a holiday tag at the end - maybe 15 minutes worth

The story tellers in Epcot. They'll be out in the early evening so you may need two evenings to see. The best is Italy, China, Norway, and France.

Magic Kingdom - get there early for the party. They'll let you in at around 4 pm. (take a nap that day) See the castle lighting - don't miss, it's awesome.

Magic Kingdom - the fireworks at the party and the parade is sooo cool. It's neat on Main Street because it's snows and there's some other stuff to see. Try (I know it's hard for little ones) try to see the second parade or plan on staking a spot early.

I love to visit the resorts to see Christmas decor. The best (in order) Grand Floridian to see the huge Ginger Bread House, Beach Club and Boardwalk for carousel and characters, Wilderness Lodge just for the feel of it.

I also like DTD during the holidays. Very festive and usually there is a choral group and/or carolers.

Have a great time :wave:

     Minnie Lor on June 19, 2009 @ 11:01 pm
Oh and :welcome: to Passporter.

     Minnie Lor on June 19, 2009 @ 11:02 pm
Hi Kim! Welcome!
Were you only going to have tickets for the parks for 3 or 4 days?

     gardengirl628 on June 19, 2009 @ 11:06 pm
Try to resort-hop as much as possible.....The Xmas decor is individually themed, to that resort, and is fantastic!!

     tio marco on June 19, 2009 @ 11:48 pm
Hi and welcome to the boards! :wave:

I think Lorie's covered everything I can think of in her answer. smiley for :waytogo:

     chezp on June 20, 2009 @ 2:13 am

My Christmas favorites:
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
Cinderella's Castle Lighting
Epcot's Candlelight Processional
Osborne Family Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Grand Floridian Christmas tree and Gingerbread House
Polynesian - Gingerbread houses made by cast members on display
Beach club - Carousel made of chocolate

I didn't see the Animal Kingdom Lodge tree, but I understand it's beautiful.

     AGentlRose on June 20, 2009 @ 3:44 am
welcome to the boards! i believe all my personal favorites are covered already. i love candlelight processional, but not sure if the kids will "sit still" for you long enough for you and hubby to enjoy. definitely the "santa" stories from each countries will be something the boys would enjoy. and i agree about not missing downtown disney...there is a lot to see/experience over there as well. they do great holiday face painting. my thing is to go there and get face paint THEN go over to christmas party at MK at 4pm when it opens. you don't need a park ticket for that day then. wow. i am so excited for you! and yes, it will be very crowded during that time. but hey, more people to enjoy with!

     skateycat on June 20, 2009 @ 5:43 am
These guys did a great job explaining all my favorites. smiley for :yes: It's definitely a great time of year to go.

:welcome: to the boards!:hi:

     WDWJAMBA on June 20, 2009 @ 9:31 am
in a word: EVERYTHING. at least everything you can. i really loved downtown disney at this time, too. everything is so storybook-perfect in every resort hotel and park. i would for sure suggest illumination fireworks at epcot. they added a very special peace on earth theme at the end that made my family cry!

     xgirlherox on June 20, 2009 @ 10:00 am
:hi: and :welcome: to the Boards! This is my first time at Christmas and I'm looking forward to seeing everything!

     KMB733 on June 20, 2009 @ 10:22 am
It's been several years ago, but we stayed at WL the week after Thanksgiving. BEAUTIFUL!!! So don't miss checking out that resort. The tree is amazing..
Our DD loved the story tellers around World Showcase. It was a great way to sepnd a couple of afternoons (we had to see them ALL).
But the best Santa was the one at Downtown Disney. He looked like he stepped off of a holiday Coke can. Our DD was convinced that HE was the real Santa...
We loved the Osborne Lights, but that was back when they still had the houses on the backlot tour. Clarke Griswold had nothing on those house displays...
We're going back Nov. 28-Dec. 6 and simply cannot wait!!

     KristaB on June 20, 2009 @ 10:44 am
Thanks everyone! We'll do as much as we can, but knowing that we have the 3 yr old twins with us -- that limits us a bit as they will tend to get to cranky and tired and that spoils things for us all, so our 'plan' is to do what we can and then whatever we don't get to do, we'll probably catch on another trip. I'm really excited to be going during the Christmas season. I wish we were staying on WDW property, but my DH travels A LOT for his work so we have TONS of Marriott points and are using them to stay just down the road at the Marriott Cypress Harbour Vacation Club. I'm going to get a stroller rental from Orlando Stroller Rentals as I have no desire to carry the kids at the end of the night, and they are big boys and just kill my back. :-)

We'll probably get tickets for 4 days, and the site I'm going to buy from offers a 5th day for free when you buy 4 day park hopper passes. Plus we have our tickets for MVMCP -- that day we plan to just hang out maybe go to DTD in the a.m. and then take a nap and then go to MK.

Mom to Alex (11), Aaron & Aidan (2 1/2)
Heading to Disney 11/21 - 12/2

     mommy2theAteam on June 20, 2009 @ 4:39 pm
Have fun!!! I'm dying to go at Christmas time. I want to see all of those lights in person. ENJOY!!!

     MakingScrapbooks on June 20, 2009 @ 5:14 pm
It is a very magical time to go. Just enjoy what you are able to see. We enjoyed the Santas in Epcot (American Adventure) and Magic Kingdom (Main Street) 2007. We also enjoyed the Osborne lights and Epcot Storytellers. Our 2 yr old enjoyed those, but got antsy at the Candlelight Processional (but we plan to try it again this year). We will also try to see some of the resort decorations as that sounds like a great idea. Enjoy your trip.

     tdhc on June 20, 2009 @ 9:29 pm
Hi Kim and welcome to the boards. You are just going to love WDW at Christmas.
I will be going for the 3rd year and cannot wait. One of my favorites is the Candlelight Processional. The kids might be a little young but maybe you can just catch part of it. It is just so impressive. The kids will love all the lights and decorations. Have a wonderful time.

     omd on June 21, 2009 @ 9:31 pm
I would say the grand floridian gingerbread house.

     mstinson14 on June 21, 2009 @ 9:35 pm
Thanks for these tips! This year we are going in the middle of August and I am so nervous about the crowds (and heat!) I think I've got these tips covered in my planning already - nice to know I'm on the right track!

     goofyboysmama on March 12, 2011 @ 10:41 am
blankView all 20 comments in forum thread

So what do you think? Click here to share your comments, feedback, and experiences on this article and topic!

(Note: You must be a member of our PassPorter Message Board Community to leave comments. Join today for free!)

Updated 11/1/2007 - Article #217 

Subscribe to our free e-mail newsletter, PassPorter News, published for more than 50,000 opt-in subscribers worldwide. As an added bonus for subscribing, you will receive a 20% discount coupon for the PassPorter Store -- no catch! We respect your privacy and never sell or rent our subscriber list.

Copyright 1998-2016
by PassPorter Travel Press, an imprint of MediaMarx, Inc.

PassPorter ~ 1998-2016 ~ 18 Years of Making Dreams Come True!
Publishers of bestselling travel guidebooks and proud recipients of 13 national book awards
Questions? Check our Site Map and visit our Help Desk to learn how to contact us online and by e-mail.
Please feel free to link to this page so that other vacationers can find it.

PassPorter in the News