I think my favorite time to visit Walt Disney World is when the parks are decorated for the holiday season. That usually starts in early November and continues through New Year’s, so a trip during Thanksgiving week when my entire family can go together is a great time to visit. Here are a few of my tips for spending Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World:
6. Plan Ahead
This is true with a visit to Walt Disney World at any time of year, but around holidays you find that more people are visiting so planning ahead is to your best advantage to make sure you are able to get the resort accommodations, dining reservations, and FastPass+ arrangements that you want. While I don’t think Thanksgiving is the busiest of holiday weeks from past experience, there is an uptick in crowds. You will want to make your resort package reservation as soon as you can, usually you can do that as early as the summer the year before you want to travel (so Summer 2018 for Thanksgiving 2019). This will help you have your choice of resorts and room categories. Remember, it is a refundable $200 deposit that you put down on a package so if plans change as you get closer you can cancel or modify before your final payment date with no penalty. You definitely want to have this in place ahead of your 6 month mark because you can begin making dining reservations 180 days before your check-in date. Being ready to go to make any table service meals you want—especially for your Thanksgiving dinner—will give you the best chances. And if you have this in place you’ll be set to make your FastPass+ reservations at 60 days before you check in.
5. Consider a Villa
If you are traveling with extended family, you might want to consider a Deluxe Villa accommodation that would give you a full kitchen. One, Two & Three Bedroom Villas, along with the Bungalows at the Polynesian, the Copper Creek Cabins at Wilderness Lodge, and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness all offer a full kitchen to guests. Maybe everyone in your group shares a villa or two, or maybe just one part of the group gets the villa with the kitchen. This way you would have the option of having a Thanksgiving dinner for your family all together in the villa. Whether you buy or have the ingredients delivered, or buy a meal from somewhere like Publix that is made to heat & serve, everyone taking a break from the theme parks to come together in one place to have a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner is a relaxing way to enjoy the holiday.
4. Thanksgiving Meal Options
If you don’t have the kitchen or don’t want to cook for your family while on vacation (& I can’t blame you), you need to think ahead about where you want to eat for Thanksgiving. You will find that many Walt Disney World restaurants will offer a special Thanksgiving meal for the holiday featuring favorites like Turkey, Dressing, and Pumpkin Pie. But some restaurants just have that “homey” holiday Thanksgiving feel to them. Here are a few that say Thanksgiving to me:
- Liberty Tree Tavern, Magic Kingdom
- 50’s Prime Time Café, Hollywood Studios
- Trail’s End, Fort Wilderness Campground
- Garden Grill, Epcot
- Art Smith’s Homecomin’, Disney Springs
Others get honorable mention like Le Cellier, Yachtsman Steakhouse, Raglan Road, Rose & Crown, Hoop Dee Doo Revue, and Whispering Canyon.
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3. Travel Days
When planning ahead think about which days you will actually plan your travel. Thanksgiving is probably the busiest holiday of the year in airports and on the highways with everyone trying to get over the river and through the wood to grandmother’s house. You can save yourself a lot of time stuck in traffic, or a lot of money on airfare if you plan your travel days wisely. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is going to be busy on the highways and the airports, so if you can stay until Monday you will be better off. As far as your arrival day you will want to check airfare, but normally the Tuesday & Wednesday right before Thanksgiving are the popular travel days, so if you can get to Orlando on Sunday or Monday you may be in better shape.
2. Pack your Holiday Cheer
While I am all about giving each holiday its own time and place, in our world Christmas begins in October in the stores. And as you will see in #1 it is in full swing at Walt Disney World by Thanksgiving. I like to bring a little bit of that with me. We always have some type of Christmas themed park gear—like t-shirts or ears. And I usually bring a little something to decorate the room too. Maybe a table top Christmas tree or a little garland. But I have been known in the past to put up a Thanksgiving banner or garland and maybe a pumpkin (from my favorite Target Dollar Spot/Bullseye’s Playground) to honor Thanksgiving . . . then switch it out to Christmas.
1. Celebrating the Holidays
As I’ve said, the holiday season begins in early November and at Thanksgiving you will see the parks and resorts decorated as well as the special activities taking place across property. Be sure to build in time to your Thanksgiving week vacation to experience as many holiday offerings as possible. At Magic Kingdom you will want to see the decorations, experience the lighting ceremony at the Castle, and take the Jingle Jungle Cruise (or other attractions that are themed to the holidays). Over at Epcot build in time to visit with the holiday storytellers throughout World Showcase while you stop at the food booths as part of the International Festival of the Holidays. In the evenings the Candlelight Processional is a must-do (I recommend one of the reserved seating packages), and stay around for Illuminations with the awe-inspiring holiday ending (it is the last year to catch it). Hollywood Studios is filled with amazing vintage inspired decorations and at night Sunset Boulevard lights up with projections on the Tower of Terror. And the holiday fireworks Jingle Bell Jingle BAM! at the Chinese Theater are very festive. Animal Kingdom’s celebrations are a little more low-key, but the park decorations are gorgeous with their African an Asian inspired elements. This year the Up! A Great Bird Adventure show will have add Diwali the Indian Festival of Lights to the show for the holiday season. And you can’t miss the resorts all decked out for the holidays—I love resort hopping to see the life sized Gingerbread House at Grand Floridian, the Chocolate & Gingerbread Carousel at Beach Club, the towering trees at Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge . . .and so many more!
What are your tips for Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World?