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Coping with Holiday Crowds at Disney World

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It’s that time of year again. While many of us are running around trying to buy last minute gifts and planning our Christmas dinners, thousands of people are completing the last minute details before they make their way to Disney World to celebrate this festive time of year and perhaps ring in the New Year. The biggest crowds of the year can be found during the weeks around Christmas and New Years when the Magic Kingdom often experiences phased closures and it can be difficult to make your way around the parks. Fear not! I am here this week to offer some great advce on how to cope with this chaotic time of year. To make your holiday vacation enjoyable you must be proactive. Here are some ideas to get your prepared:

Photo by Heather Winfield

Get there early: If you plan to tour a Disney park during this time of year it is very important to arrive at the gate well before the scheduled opening time. We preach about rope drop all of the time here at, but it is especially good advice during the holiday rush. We recommend arriving at the parks at least an hour before the scheduled opening. Being among the first guests into the park will allow you to get several attractions done before queues stretch out for hours. Heading straight to headliner attractions like Space Mountain or Soarin’ first thing in the morning may be your only shot at getting a FASTPASS or riding without a huge line. When I visited Disney World during President’s Day last year (the second busiest time in the parks) my family was completely overwhelmed by the crowds when we strolled into the Magic Kingdom at around 2 p.m. It was our arrival day so it couldn’t be helped, but it set them into a panic. They were very pleasantly surprised when we got to the parks early on the remaining days and found everything to be much more manageable.

Touring Plans: Of course, we also recommend the use of our touring plans. You may print them out to carry them with you throughout your park adventures, or you can access them on your smartphone via our app, Lines. If you aren’t familiar with our plans they are designed to save you up to four hours of waiting in line per day in a Disney theme park. They are helpful at all times of year, but especially when huge amounts of people descend on the Orlando area at the end of December each year. The plans instruct users on which attractions to see in the most efficient order so they can maximize their time having fun and minimize their time standing around in line. There are tons of plans to chose from to suit your touring style, the ages of folks in your family,or the amount of time you intend to spend in the parks. You can even customize plans to best serve your group! No one in your family wants to ride the Tower of Terror? No problem! You can simply take it out of the running. You get the idea.

Crowd calendar: An excellent tool to use along with with touring plans is our Crowd Calendar. Our statisticians have spent countless hours crunching numbers to predict the crowd levels at each Disney park throughout the year. They also recommend which is the best park to visit on any given day. The Crowd Calendar lists each day between December 22-January 1st this year as a 10 out of 10. Yikes! However you can visit the Per-Park Crowd Calendar to figure out which is predicted to have the fewest people visiting each day during this busy time of year. The levels are still very high, but there are some slight differences which may sway you to head to one park over another.

Be flexible: If you see that the third day of your trip is the best day to visit the Magic Kingdom, go on that day. If the wait for Expedition Everest is long, grab a FASTPASS or use the single rider line. In the same vein, try to eat lunch or dinner at an off time instead of during the rush. It will be much easier to grab food at 11 a.m. than it will be at noon. Plus, if you got there at 7 you’ll probably be ready for lunch at 11 anyhow.

Visit the road less traveled: When my family arrived on that crowded February day there was no way I was going to have them get in line for Peter Pan’s Flight which was most likely a two hour wait. Instead, we headed for attractions like the Tiki Room and the Country Bear Jamboree. I knew the kids would enjoy these shows and we wouldn’t have to wait. We did the less popular attractions late in the day and saved Fantasyland for the day we arrived early. Perhaps you haven’t been to Tom Sawyer Island in a while? Christmas break is a perfect time to check it out. Or maybe you’d like to see all the movies in World Showcase. Go for it. If you’re willing to avoid headliner attractions, you’ll also avoid massive queues.

Take a break: Many of our Touring Plans recommend taking a midday break and I couldn’t agree more. Even during times when crowds aren’t overwhelming, it is nice to get off your feet for a couple of hours and relax. This couldn’t be more true when there are wall to wall people everywhere you go. Getting out of there for a little while each afternoon may help you regroup after a hectic morning of trying to do your favorite attractions with 30,000 other people. Be aware, though, this strategy may be difficult when visiting certain parks. Epcot almost never has capacity closures, but the Magic Kingdom does. Be sure you’ll be able to get back into the park of your choice if you leave before you decide to head back to your resort for a nap.

Eat outside of the parks: While you’re thinking about taking a break, you may also consider enjoying meals outside of the parks. They are almost always less crowded whether you are looking for counter service or table service. If you are looking for a full service experience I still highly recommend making ADRs and planning in advance, but these reservations should be easier to snag than ones inside one of the main gates. The Epcot resort area offers lots of yummy table service options (there are a little lacking in the counter service department) and you can easily walk to them from the International Gateway. From other parks you should consider your transportation options to various resorts. If it will take you too long to take a bus to your desired location, you may reconsider your choice and opt for something closer.

Bring snacks: Who wants to wait in a 15 minute line to buy a bottle of water and some popcorn? If you bring your own drinks and snacks, it is one less line to deal with while you’re in the parks. You and your family can find a place to sit for a few minutes while you rehydrate instead of battling it out just to buy your sustenance. You may not want to haul around dinner all day, but a few snacks tucked into a backpack is easy to carry around and will probably keep everyone in your group happy.

Pack your patience: This may be the most important tip I can give. Knowing the parks are going to be packed and preparing yourself for those conditions may be half the battle. If you go in ready to take on the crowds and ready to have a good time anyway, you’ll already have a leg up on the family who didn’t prepare for their trip at all. People are going to bump into you, it is going to be tough to get around in some areas, there are going to be lines for the bathroom. If you go in with a positive attitude, you’ll be able to have a great time instead of grumbling about how you never want to visit Disney World ever again.

These are just a few ways to help you cope with crowds during this busy time of year. Since I will be visiting between Christmas and New Years for the first time this year I’d love to hear some of your ideas too! Please leave them in the comments and you just might help out some of our readers!



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Kristen Helmstetter

Kristen Helmstetter is an Unofficial Guide researcher who will share her 20-something perspective of all things Walt Disney World with blog readers. Kristen’s email address is You can also follow her on Twitter: @khelmstetter.

7 thoughts on “Coping with Holiday Crowds at Disney World

  • We just got back from WDW and used Lines and the customized touring plans with the optimizer. It saved us a TON of time! We always felt like we were a step ahead of everyone else. We rode all the headliners in HS and AK on day 1, took a 4 hour break, and went back for Osbourne lights in the evening. We hit MK for EMH on the 23rd and were walking out by 10am with 12 attractions under our belt when the rest of the people were just coming through the turnstiles!
    Our family gives this 2 big thumbs up. An invaluable tool!

  • Another good afternoon break to break away from the biggest crowds is to visit the various resorts and see their decorations and such.

    We’re heading back next Christmas (2013), and I always make sure my 8 year old daughter understands that the Christmas trip is mostly to see the sights and usually only once or twice on each ride (hitting these hard early duing morning EMH). Our past 2 trips in August were for the numerous ride hopping when crowds were low.

    As many have said… just knowing it will be very crowded and make sure you pre-plan your activities will still make for a successful trip!

  • Agree wholeheartedly with the post and the above comment. My family visited over Thanksgiving and followed this advice … and we had a blast. No lines over 20 minutes and those were character stops. Multiple rides on our favorites when we did rope drops at EMH parks.

  • Kristen’s advice is letter-perfect.
    You are going to the busiest and most-crowded happiest place on earth. You have these well-documented facts before you go. So if you choose to sleep in, skip afternoon breaks, stand in the middle of a crowd with your party of 8 trying to decide what everyone wants to do first…well, you really are going to not enjoy much of your vacation. There’s wishing and there’s planning, and planning wins every time.
    If you follow Kristen’s advice you will have a very enjoyable vacation at Walt Disney World. I know; we tend to go between Christmas and New Year’s and over spring breaks and even July 4. And we always have a blast. And we plan!

  • If you plan to be in MK New Year’s Eve or the night before New Year’s Eve, try to do the Dessert Party. It’s a pleasant diversion, you get dessert and can watch the fireworks from Tomorrowland Terrace. The best part is getting out of the crowds for that hour or so.

    • Marie — would you recommend the dessert party for an anniversary? Were you able to see the electrical parade beforehand? Thanks!

      • You can see the parade a little bit. Tomorrowland Terrace is kinda far away to really see it well through the crowds.

        The party would be special enough for an anniversary celebration. I don’t know if they do anything special for it, but it’s Disney, you never know. 🙂

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