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Review: Thanksgiving Weekend at Walt Disney World

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Happy Thanksgiving!

If you’re familiar with the TouringPlans Crowd Calendar, you know that major holidays at Walt Disney World can be intense when it comes to lines and crowds. But this year, I abandoned all logic and spent Thanksgiving with my family at Walt Disney World. I survived, but would I do it again? Read on for my Review: Thanksgiving Weekend at Walt Disney World.

November 23rd

My concern over the holiday crowds and never ending lines wasn’t limited to the confines of Walt Disney World. Actually, I was more concerned over what awaited me at my local airport since my family and I were flying into Orlando the day before Thanksgiving. One of the busiest travel days of the year!

Fortunately, our Frontier Airlines flight was scheduled to depart at 7:00 A.M.; and while the queues for security had already been extended, we made it through with plenty of time to spare and with no delays.

I was shocked when we found that there were no lines for Disney’s Magical Express at Orlando International Airport. Maybe because it was still early in the day? Or maybe Disney was more than prepared for the holiday rush? Regardless, we walked right on our bus bound for Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort. We had never stayed at the French Quarter as Port Orleans Riverside is the Moderate Resort we gravitate to; but, thankfully we loved the French Quarter! It was smaller and more intimate, yet never once felt crowded or chaotic.

Our only complaint was with the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory. It had just reopened after a lengthy refurbishment and looked rather bare, and the variety of menu options and some of the service we encountered wasn’t typical of Disney World Resorts.

Christmas Décor at the Port Orleans French Quarter Resort

So we spent the first afternoon of our trip at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The wait times for attractions were high, but surprisingly the park didn’t feel crowded for being the day before Thanksgiving. We also enjoyed taking in the festive atmosphere as Hollywood Studios seems to have upped its decorating game this year!

November 24th

Our Thanksgiving began with a rope drop morning at the Magic Kingdom to take advantage of the park’s headliners before the crowds arrived. I admit, it was a little busier than usual for being the first few hours of the day, but still a dream compared to what it would be later on.

Thanksgiving morning at the Magic Kingdom!

The park began to fill up around lunchtime, so we retreated to the second floor of Liberty Square’s Columbia Harbour House. The first floor was packed, but only a handful of families were upstairs and we enjoyed a whole dining room to ourselves!

My favorite quick service restaurant at the Magic Kingdom

Next, we hopped aboard the Monorail to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa to see its annual gingerbread house, and gorgeous tree, for the first time this year.

The Grand Floridian Resort’s lobby is prettier than a Christmas Card!

I always love the treats for sale inside the house, particularly the gingerbread shingles and chocolate Mickey pops.

A look at the treats for sale inside the gingerbread house. Yum!

I had reserved Cape May Café at Disney’s Beach Club Resort for our Thanksgiving meal, which was perfect for my family. We all love seafood, and some of us wanted traditional holiday fare, and Cape May Café was unique in that it offered both.


Plus, did I mention that they offered an additional dessert bar just for Thanksgiving? I was also able to use my Annual Pass 20% discount on the bill too.

The desserts were inspired by Thanksgiving flavors, like Cranberry Panna Cotta, Pecan Tarts, and Pumpkin Cupcakes.
A view of the Cape May Café Buffet
Cape May Cafe’s Christmas Wreaths!

November 25th

Disney had been promoting Black Friday at Disney Springs for weeks and I was excited to it check out. My family and I arrived about half an hour after Disney Springs opened, not entirely sure what to expect… Lines? Unbearable crowds?

Neither! Apart from a few handfuls of people , we pretty much had Disney Springs to ourselves! I felt bad for Cast Members and store employees, but we had a blast exploring and doing a little shopping without lines or crowds. Looking back, it was one of the highlights of our trip.

A handy Disney Springs Black Friday & Saturday Event Guide listing all of the offers, discounts, and entertainment!
There’s nobody here!
For the first time ever, the build your own lightsaber station was organized. I’ve never seen this before, and probably never will again.

I found that some stores at Disney Springs had great Black Friday deals, while others not so much. I was impressed with the tables of Black Friday deals set up at the Marketplace Co-Op, the World of Disney Store, and Once Upon a Toy. It’s rare to see anything at Disney World on sale!

Yes, Vera Bradley was on sale at the Marketplace Co-Op!
World of Disney Black Friday Deal Tables
Black Friday deal on Frozen merch
I’ve never seen the World of Disney Store so empty!

Around 11:00 A.M., Disney Springs finally began to fill up so we dropped in at the AMC Theater at Disney Springs to see Moana! I’ve been excited about this film for months and I loved it! I think Disney can do a lot with this film in the parks. I also loved Moana as a character, even more than some of Disney’s more recent leading ladies.


Inspired by Moana, we headed over to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort where I indulged in a Pineapple Float from the Pineapple Lanai and took in some of the new Moana merch before taking the Monorail over to Epcot.

Moana display at the Polynesian Village Resort

After cashing in a FastPass+ reservation for Soarin’, we took a tour around World Showcase where those crowds we had successfully avoided so far finally caught up with us. After checking out the gingerbread displays of the Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument, we encountered literal gridlock between the American Adventure Pavilion and the queue for the Candlelight Processional!

After this experience, we decided to surrender. We headed for the park exit and enjoyed the rest of our evening at our resort.

American Adventure gingerbread displays!

November 26th

For the last day of our trip, we spent the morning at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. It’s a great park to visit during busy periods due to its size and the number of paths and walk-throughs that don’t require waiting in line.

While the wait times for some attractions, such as Expedition Everest, were a little long, the lines for characters were short and some had no wait at all! Also, the cooler November temperatures enabled us to explore and enjoy this park more than in times past. Usually the Florida heat keeps our visits to the Animal Kingdom Park brief, and it was nice to walk around without sweating or constantly needing a break.

That evening, we decided that the Magic Kingdom would be our final destination for our Thanksgiving trip. We maintained a few family traditions, such as a ride aboard the PeopleMover and competing on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. But my favorite part of the night was spending time on a glittering Main Street, U.S.A. with a view of Cinderella Castle covered in lights. It was the perfect place to kick off the Christmas Season and I was feeling very thankful to have spent the weekend with family at the most magical place on earth.

My view the last night of our Thanksgiving trip.

We truly had a magical Thanksgiving weekend and I believe I would take on Walt Disney World during the holidays again. However, I should mention that we planned our activities around the crowds and spent a lot of time taking in the resort’s holiday offerings. If this trip had been my very first, or if I had spent all of my time in the parks, my review may have been very different.

So have you ever spent Thanksgiving, or another major holiday, at Walt Disney World? What was your experience and would you do it again? Let me know!

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Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

2 thoughts on “Review: Thanksgiving Weekend at Walt Disney World

  • Amazed (and somewhat dismayed) that on “official” Disney signage they let slip through a reference to “advanced” reservations.
    Otherwise, glad you enjoyed your trip. You’re braver than I am.

    • DIN 301 – Advanced Reservations.
      Prerequisite: DIN 101 – Introduction to Reservations.

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