Tips for Dealing with Christmas Crowds at Disney
You’re about to have a dream vacation! You’re going to a Disney theme park over the holidays! What could be better? They wouldn’t call it the Happiest Place on Earth if it sucked, right? You’ll have to deal with the Christmas crowds at Disney, but no worries!
I’m here to offer a word of caution. Indulge me as I make a strange comparison first. I write about box office for a living, and one of the strange phenomena that I examine involves the holidays. I call it the Twelve Days of Box Office, the time when literally every film in movie theaters does well, even the heinous ones that everybody mocks.
Why does this happen? People are off from work at a much higher rate than normal. It’s the x-factor of time wherein people watch more movies because they can. This same premise applies to Disney theme parks. Vacationers have the free time and thereby opportunity to visit the parks. And they do. It helps that Disney is also decorated majestically over the holidays, but that’s beside the point for the purpose of this article. I’m here to give you five tips on how to navigate the massive Disney crowds over the holidays.
Don’t Panic! But Arrive Early.
Our friends over at TouringPlans maintain a calendar with a running estimate of the most crowded times at various theme parks. They rank each day at each park on a 10-point scale. Go ahead and guess which number you’ll see the most from December 20th through January 2nd. Hint: it’s the double digits one. Yes, every park’s a 10 on most days.
Let’s keep in mind that not all 10’s are created equal. Disney’s two most popular parks, Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, sometimes sell out on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. How does a park sell out? Well, they have so many people go through the turnstiles that fire marshal regulations and other safety concerns become an issue. Disney has to stop letting people into the parks for the safety of all. Even if you have tickets to one of these parks, you can’t get in if they aren’t letting anybody in.
That brings me to the first tip. Arrive early. Disney might halt ticket sales and redirect potential visitors to other parks such as Disney California Adventure and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Check-ins occur on a first come, first served basis. If you arrive 10 minutes before the park opens, you should be fine. If you arrive 10 minutes after the park opens, you’re still probably safe, but you’re taking a risk. If you arrive 90 minutes after the park opens, prepare to lose face in front of your family as they cry about the inability to enter the park. You’ve now ruined Christmas, you monster!
Seriously, just start your day a bit earlier. As long as you do that, you’ll avert disaster. What happens if you don’t?
Okay, this tip is admittedly better for Walt Disney World than Disneyland. When Magic Kingdom sells out, you still have three other great parks to explore. Plus, the resorts are great, and there’s plenty of other fun stuff to do in Orlando, even on holidays. If you can’t get into Disneyland, Disney California Adventure is nice and all, but it’s not quite the same. As for the rest of Los Angeles, you probably don’t want to fight holiday traffic. So, you reaaaaaaaaally need to make sure you arrive early at Disneyland.
At Walt Disney World, stay flexible. You’ll find plenty of great stuff at the other parks. This does bring me to an important point, though. You need Park Hopper for the holidays. Without it, you’re stuck if you can’t get into Magic Kingdom or you can but find it way too crowded to have fun. These are days when you should splurge on tickets. You can upgrade your current ones to add Park Hopper. Disney’s always happy to make more money.
While Magic Kingdom has plenty of wonderful attractions, many of the most entertaining ones on the Orlando campus are at the other three parks. Use My Disney Experience to keep an eye on wait times for your party’s favorite attractions. The only potential issue is that transportation might be more problematic than normal due to the crowds. Consider using a ride-sharing service if you don’t mind paying $10 or so to skip the wait. Given what you’re paying for a day at the parks, it’s not a bad price, all things considered. You’re not spending your hard-earned money to sit around waiting for buses, after all.
This strategy seems like common sense, but cast members frequently relay stories about guests who ignore the system. These folks show up at the parks and simply stand in lines all day, not realizing that their Magic Band comes with special powers. By perusing My Disney Experience, you can book FastPass selections for rides later in the day. You can use these bookings to inform some of your current park choices. For example, when you know that you’re going to Fantasyland at 3:30, you can spend more time at Frontierland and Adventureland right now.
When you spend Christmas at home, the day tends to start early. That’s especially true when you have children, presuming that you open your gifts on Christmas morning. Kids will wake up before the rooster crows, rushing downstairs to shred mountains of giftwrap. You’re going to need lots of coffee to survive the morning, and you won’t have the energy to stay up late at night.
At a Disney theme park, the situation is a bit different. You can spend part of the day away from the park and then return later. What you’ll discover at Disney after dark is that many FastPasses have sold out for the day. The ones that haven’t, however, are a gold mine. You can bounce around several attractions, walking straight to the front of the line. This statement is true even on holidays.
Crowds tend to disperse as the sun sets for the evening. Assuming that you have the energy to stay awake, you’ll have a better time at Disney after dinner. Magic Kingdom is open until midnight on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and until 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve (i.e. through the first hour of 2018. By staying late, you can ride all the attractions that are way too crowded early in the day.
Remember Extra Magic Hours!
You were smart and booked your room through Mickey Travels, right? By staying at a Disney resort, you gain access to Membership Extras. On holidays, THE most important Membership Extra is Extra Magic Hours. Yes, Disney has these on holidays, too.
The parks post their schedules early. So, we already know that Magic Kingdom will open an hour early on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In fact, the world’s most popular theme park has early Magic Hours EVERY DAY from December 22 through December 31st. You can enter Magic Kingdom starting at 7 a.m. each morning. This Membership Extra has another subtle benefit. You guarantee that you get in the park prior to it potentially experiencing a sellout. That’s true for any of the final ten days of 2017!
You can read the full list of Extra Magic Hours here. What you should appreciate in reading the list is that you should ALWAYS stay at a Disney resort. The benefits stand out during the busiest times on the calendar, especially holidays.
Bonus TIp: Reach out to our friends at MickeyTravels for a free quote on a Disney vacation during the Christmas holidays!