It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… It was the holiday season at Walt Disney World. Yes, Walt Disney World during the holidays is one of the best times to visit due to the magical holiday décor, festive treats and merchandise, special entertainment, ticketed events, and more. But it’s also one of the busiest times of year with gridlocked paths and extra-long waits not only for attractions, but for restaurants, monorails, and even the restrooms! Many Disney World regulars avoid the parks around the holidays and understandably so. But with a little strategy, you and yours can still enjoy Walt Disney World during the most wonderful time of the year. Take a look at a few of my strategies for how to escape the crowds at Disney World during the holiday season.
Rope Drop Mornings
If you don’t start your day at a Disney Park with rope drop, you’re doing it wrong. This is my philosophy no matter what the season, but even more so at the holidays.
First of all, you can walk on almost any attraction without the need for FastPass+, meaning you can save those reservation slots for when the holiday crowds descend. Cast Members are usually out and welcoming guests into the park, and many areas of the park are largely empty and give you the sensation of having the place all to yourself.
Mornings at the Magic Kingdom are definitely the best time to visit as this is when the Main Street Vehicles and the Main Street Trolley Show are out and about, something you won’t see any other time of the day. I also have to note that Main Street, U.S.A. now opens a full hour before the park does, meaning you can get your shopping out of the way, grab a coffee at Starbucks, and take one of those coveted crowd-free photos for before the park even opens.
Note: While I recommend rope dropping all of the parks during your vacation, I should mention that rope dropping Animal Kingdom does NOT mean a crowd-free experience at Pandora – The World of Avatar. Flight of Passage is still incredibly popular and pretty much everyone rope dropping the park are heading in that direction. However, a crowd-free experience is still a possibility throughout the rest of the park!
Visit Disney Springs Early in the Day
Shopping shouldn’t be your only reason to visit Disney Springs as Walt Disney World’s ultimate shopping and dining destination also offers live entertainment, decorations, a meet and greet with Santa Claus, and the Christmas Tree Trail complete with a 100% chance of snow!
Disney Springs opens 10 a.m. and the earlier you visit to shop and dine, the less crowds you’re likely to encounter. Special features like the Christmas Tree Trail and meet and greets with Santa Claus may have different hours, so always check before you go.
Catch the Fireworks from a Special Location
There’s nothing more magical than ending the day at a Disney Park with fireworks. It can also be said that there’s nothing more stressful than hunting for a spot along Main Street, U.S.A. or the hub at Magic Kingdom or World Showcase Lagoon at Epcot and attempting to hold it for hours in advance as the crowds slowly close in around you!
This experience is intense no matter what time of year, but arguably more so at Christmastime. To still see fireworks, minus the crowds and stress, consider catching the show from a nearby resort. The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa offers views of the fireworks, and the Contemporary Resort has outdoor viewing areas looking into the park. Fireworks are also visible from the Transportation and Ticket Center. Inside Magic Kingdom, you can get great views of the fireworks (although not the special effects on the castle) from Storybook Circus.
Another option to consider is booking a dessert party, where you can enjoy the show from a special designated area reserved for attendees and with a buffet of themed desserts.
If you’re viewing the fireworks from inside Magic Kingdom, don’t make a mad rush for the exit the minute they end in the hopes that you’ll beat the crowd. Instead, find a place to relax for a half hour while the initial rush of the crowd disperses. You may still have to wait for transportation, but waiting inside the park for some of that time is far better than waiting in the sardine-can-like holding areas for the busses, ferry boat, or monorail.
Go Swimming/Visit Water Parks
Winter temperatures in Florida are unpredictable, varying from warm and balmy to frigid! But for those milder or even warm Florida winter days, you may want to consider going for a dip or dropping by a water park, not only to experience it but for the low crowds.
For some, going swimming in December, even in Florida, sounds miserable; but the pools and waterparks are open and a number of guests take advantage of these amenities, but without the summer crowds. Also, the pools at Walt Disney World are heated, which definitely helps! Note: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon typically undergo refurbishments during the winter months and may or may not be open during your visit, so check the water park hours before planning your day.
Explore the Resorts
I love to visit the different Walt Disney World Resorts, especially during the holidays. Each resort has its own Christmas Tree, and the Deluxe Resorts go all out with life-size gingerbread displays and trees several stories high with their own themed décor.
Throughout most of the year, resort hopping is the best way to escape the crowds; but, for reasons I’ve stated, the resorts are also draws during this festive time of year, particularly the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. So here’s what I suggest.
Be sure to see the resort’s decorations and holiday offerings, but spend time truly exploring and experiencing a resort. For instance, at Animal Kingdom’s Jambo House, explore the resort’s grounds and see the animals, take some photos from the bridge spanning the lobby. At Wilderness Lodge, have a snack or enjoy a meal at the Geyser Point Bar and Grill, bring a book and enjoy it by the Grand Canyon fireplace, or play a board game with the family in the Boulder Ridge Villas lobby. You could even take the trail between the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground and see some wildlife! If you have kids, or want to up your Instagram game, explore the Art of Animation Resort and pose for some pics before taking the Generation Gap bridge to Pop Century for a few more.
See a Movie
Tired of standing in lines all day? Escape the crowds by going to the movies–there’s sure to be something fantastic playing during a holiday trip.
Disney Springs is home to the AMC Movies at Disney Springs 24 and AMC Dine-In Theater, the former being your standard theater and the latter being a theater where you can literally eat a meal while you watch.
Know When to Explore World Showcase
Epcot’s World Showcase opens later than Future World; but a couple World Showcase eateries are open for breakfast. If you’re looking for some breathing room, grab breakfast at Norway’s Akershus (reservations required) or France’s Les Halles Patisserie (no reservations needed). You should also plan to explore World Showcase as soon as it opens for the least crowded experience and to catch some of the characters before their lines get too long and to make sure you can see multiple storytellers around the world.
Those are a few of my strategies for how to avoid the crowds during the holiday season. Do you have tips or tricks for how you avoid the seas of people during this time of year? Let us know in the comments.