Ok theme park fans, it’s time to talk turkey! If you want to have the Best Week Ever at Walt Disney World, common wisdom says that the Thanksgiving holiday isn’t the most stress-free time to visit in terms of attendance. In fact, the last week of November can be one of Orlando’s busiest seasons, right behind Christmas Week and Spring Break. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a great time in the parks this week, as long as you go in armed with some advice from your friends at Touring Plans, plus a whole lot of patience. To prove the point, I recently spent an afternoon elbow-to-elbow with Magic Kingdom Thanksgiving Week crowds to bring you this turkey day travelogue. Hopefully you won’t find it too fowl!
Violating the first rule of holiday touring, I showed up at the Magic Kingdom not at rope drop, but at high noon, just as park attendance should be reaching its peak. Much to my surprise, I was parked not in outer Siberia, but in the Zurg section of the Villains lot, right night to medical parking. From here I could walk to the TTC as easily as taking the tram, a nice treat on a busy day.
The wait for the Monorail to the Magic Kingdom was also pleasantly short: only about 2 minutes until the next train arrived.
While traveling on the monorail, we paused for a minute while exiting the Contemporary, and a got a close-up look at some construction scaffolding on that hotel’s northern face.
Welcome to the Magic Kingdom! The beautiful sight of open touchpoints greeted me at the park entrance.
Ah, so this is where the people are. To be perfectly honest, I had expected to see Town Square more packed than it was; though busy, Main Street USA was still more navigable than I’ve seen in early afternoon on some peak days.
Waits for the Town Square character meet and greets looked moderate.
While we’re on Main Street, let’s peek into the candy shop to see the selection of Christmas confections now on sale.
Across the street, the Emporium’s animated windows are once again paying tribute to Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
To give an idea of how crowded the Magic Kingdom feels a few days before Thanksgiving, I took a counter-clockwise stroll around the entire park and broadcast my POV via Periscope. Big thanks to the nearly 800 of you who watched my stream!
Unfortunately, Periscope streams expire after 24 hours, but I’ve archived a copy here (minus the live viewer comments, so I sound like I’m talking to myself):
As you can see from the video, the Magic Kingdom was very busy on this pre-Thanksgiving weekday, with triple-digit waits for a number of headliner attractions. However, the park wasn’t in the state of complete gridlock I’ve sometimes experienced on peak days in the past; subjectively, the crowds didn’t feel quite as bad as I expected.
I ended my loop of the park in Adventureland, where I observed mixed signals about how busy the park was. On the one hand, there was actually a queue with a 10 minute wait for Swiss Family Treehouse, a rare sight indeed!
On the other hand, I never saw more than one or two people waiting for a Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom interactive window. Once upon a time there were long lines for these games; has their popularity waned?
Every time I’ve been in the Magic Kingdom recently, Tortuga Tavern has been closed, so I was excited to try their new barbecue menu. I was even more excited to see a Quick Service Restaurant with no wait whatsoever!
I selected the barbecue beef brisket sandwich on Texas Toast with cole slaw and baked beans.
The meat was tender with a good smokey flavor and an appropriate amount of fat around the edges, and the toast was hot and buttered. The meat was a little dry, and the Heinz BBQ sauce served isn’t my style, so I piled the cole slaw on the sandwich for some moisture and crunch. The beans were a watery disappointment, but overall it was one of the best QSR barbecue meals I’ve had at WDW. That may be damning with faint praise; if you want really good BBQ, go to Pig Floyd’s or 4 Rivers in Orlando.
With wait times for pretty much every attraction approaching an hour or more, I wasn’t exactly eager to jump in a standby line after lunch. Luckily, I had logged into My Disney Experience the night before and booked 3 back-to-back afternoon FastPass+ reservations. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was sold out on short notice, but I was able to secure some of my favorite classics, starting with the Jungle Cruise.
Like last year, the Jingle Cruise holiday overlay has again made this opening-day attraction more popular than ever. The posted standby wait was over an hour and a half, and even the FastPass+ wait was 20 minutes.
The first time I experienced the 2015 Jingle Cruise I was a bit underwhelmed by how little the overlay had been plussed since last year, and my skipper hadn’t yet settled into the new script. After taking another Jingle Cruise voyage by daylight, I’m still disappointed that more props haven’t been added, but happily my second skipper was much snappier with the seasonal jokes.
Here’s full daytime video of Walt Disney World’s 2015 Jingle Cruise:
By the time I returned from my exotic expedition, it was already time for my appointment with some Caribbean pirates. PotC’s standby line had dropped to under an hour by the time I arrived, but with FastPass+ I only waited 5 minutes.
Pirates looks fantastic since the recent refurb, with spruced up lighting and costumes that look as good as new.
Unfortunately, the refurb did little to reduce the amount of water getting into the boats during the brief drop. The row of guests ahead of me got a surprise soaking, and everyone was tracking wet footprints back up the exit ramp.
I exited Pirates into the middle of a Captain Jack Sparrow pirate tutorial show, which created one of the worst bottlenecks I saw that day. Cast members were out in force to direct guests along the narrow walking paths.
Have a few minutes to kill during a busy day in the Magic Kingdom? There’s no better place to recharge than the Enchanted Tiki Room: climate control, comfy benches, and barely any waiting!
Did that tropical serenade make you hungry for a Dole Whip? As busy as the park was, the queue at Aloha Isle was only few guests deep.
That wasn’t the case over in Liberty Square, where the line for the Haunted Mansion started just outside the Columbia Harbour House.
Speaking of Liberty Square, the Liberty Tree Tavern restaurant reopened on the day of my visit after a 4+ month refurbishment.
Here’s a look at the new Liberty Tree Tavern menus, both for lunch…
Right next door in Frontierland, the Diamond Horseshoe was having a rare seasonal opening, offering drinks, snacks, and sandwiches during peak hours:
Temperatures this day were dipping into the high 60s, which is what we in Florida call “winter.” That wasn’t stopping patrons from taking the plunge on Splash Mountain.
Time for my last FastPass+ reservation of the day. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad drew such a big crowd that switchback queues had been taped onto the ground outside the entrance, but FastPass put me on my runaway mine train with less than a 10 minute wait.
I ended this afternoon amid the Thanksgiving Week hordes with a lap on the Walt Disney World Railroad. The queue to board at the the Frontierland Station stretched all the way down the staircase and beneath the overpass, but with multiple locomotives on the line I only waited 15 minutes for a seat.
Here’s the bottom line: in a little under six hours in the park I managed to experience six attractions, eat a meal, and enjoy couple laps around the Magic Kingdom. That’s not bad considering the Thanksgiving week crowds, so remember that you can still have a great time at Walt Disney World during peak periods. Just come prepared with FastPass+ reservations, pace yourself, and pick the right time to pack it in for the day!