Obviously the best way to beat holiday crowds is NOT to going during a busy holiday time, but sometimes we don’t have a choice due to work or school commitments. With 2/3 of my children now in middle & high school it is more and more difficult for them to miss school for various reasons—and they have more extra-curricular activities to work around too. For the past couple of years we have ventured down to Walt Disney World during our Spring Break—which happens to be Easter week every year. And in 2014 we traveled down during Thanksgiving. And I am here to say not only did we survive, we had a great time! When we are talking the busiest holidays those are: Christmas-New Years, July 4, Spring Break season—but particularly the week before & after Easter, the week of Thanksgiving, and a few other holidays that are still crowded but not as bad, like President’s Week, Columbus Day, Martin Luther King Weekend, and Veterans Day. Here are my top 6 tips to make the most of your holiday vacation:
6. Take Breaks
I know, it seems counter-intuitive to leave the park when you are up against so many other people, but it doesn’t have to be a break outside the park (and definitely during peak, peak days like Christmas Day, July 4, New Years Eve you may want to leave the park because you might not get back in). When it is very crowded you just need to get away and relax away from the sea of humanity—at least I do. During our Spring Break and Thanksgiving trips we did this back at our resort, swimming, napping, playing a card game, and just generally unwinding. On Thanksgiving Day we stayed at Hollywood Studios all day but found a quiet, uncrowded spot on Streets of America and just sat down for a while and had a snack. We all need to recharge our batteries and get out of the hustle and bustle for a while to make sure that they rest of our day stays happy.
5. Stay On-Site
This would mean at one of the Walt Disney World Resort owned & operated resorts. You get so many advantages and perks when you stay on-site at any time of year, but during the busy holiday seasons these will mean even more to you. The proximity and transportation will make it easy for you to get to & from the parks compared to those driving in or relying on offsite shuttles that do not run on a frequent schedule. You have the advantage of time to plan and book your dining and FastPass+ reservations before offsite guests: staying on-site you get the 180+ 10 days for dining and a 30 day advantage on FastPass+ (on-site guests can make FP+ at 60 days, offsite at 30). This is HUGE during the holiday season when you can go to the last day of your vacation & make that coveted dining reservation because it isn’t open to everyone yet. And it can mean the difference in getting a FP+ to Soarin’ . . . and not. During holiday seasons taking advantage of extra magic hours (particularly in the morning) can also be a nice advantage—and you only get those by staying on-site. Also, by staying on-site you have some benefit if the parks begin closing due to capacity. There are stages of closing and usually guests of the Walt Disney World resorts will still be admitted even after it has closed to “day” guests staying at offsite hotels. Not to mention the magic that happens at your resort! On Easter morning we had a candy “hunt,” character meet & greets with the White Rabbit and Mickey & Minnie, along with other games during the morning. We spent the whole first part of the day enjoying all of that. At Christmas there are similar activities. Having the fantastic pools and recreation options at your resort makes it enjoyable even if you stay away from the crowds in the parks.
4. Dining Reservations
Make them. As early as you can. You don’t want to miss out on your Christmas dinner at Le Cellier or your Thanksgiving lunch at 50s Prime Time Café. And the chance for walk ups during these busy times is really non-existent. Just like any time of year you want to plan ahead, but it is even more important when you know there will be crowds vying for the same reservations you want. Herein lies the advantage of booking your resort package as early as possible—definitely more than 6 months in advance so you have a game plan when your dining reservations open at 180 days out (+ 10 if you are staying onsite—so instead of going day by day you can make your dining reservations for up to 10 days from the 180 day mark from your check in).
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3. Have a basic touring plan
Even if you don’t want to have a step-by-step (literally) plan, you will want to know a basic plan of attack for the parks during these peak visitation times. It may be as simple as: hit Fantasyland ride XYZ, move over to Frontierland for the mountains, use a FP+ for 7 Dwarfs . . .and so on. It will help guide you and keep you on track instead of fumbling around trying to decide where to go. During our Thanksgiving vacation I used a touring plan and we got so much done so quickly that we did our entire list & just about every other attraction at Magic Kingdom on the day after Thanksgiving . . . .the biggest lines I encountered were in the ladies restrooms (thank you Pixie Dust Planners!)
2. Know the Least Crowded Park Days
Yes, it is crowded everywhere. But there is a theory of relativity for Walt Disney World parks . . . on any given day one or two of the parks are going to be less crowded than the others, so relatively speaking it is “not” crowded. A whole complicated algebraic expression comes into play to figure all of this out (or something like that . . .I wasn’t a math major). Luckily, other people have already done this for you. When you are making your plans—remember more than 6 months out—decide which park you will visit on each day based on these predictions. I really like wdwprepschool.com for this, and touringplans.com is another good site to consult. If you pick Epcot and everyone else picks Magic Kingdom you will be all the better—and believe me it makes a difference!
1. Arrive Early!
It is vacation, and my teenage & pre-teen boys made a face when I told them we needed to leave our resort at 6:15am to get to the Magic Kingdom for a 7:00am extra magic hour (luckily we were staying on the monorail so we could sleep in). However, when 9:00am rolled around and they had ridden every mountain multiple times, plus several dark rides they were happy campers while we took a break for cinnamon rolls and LeFou’s Brew. I normally shy away from parks with extra magic hours, but if you are traveling during the peak holiday seasons they are great. Often the park opens early at 8:00am, so morning extra magic hour is 7:00am—and the number of people willing to be at a park for a 7am opening on vacation isn’t that many. It was fabulous. Even without the extra magic hour, get there at least an hour before the advertised opening. This will put you at the front of the turnstiles, and on several occasions we had parks that opened 15-20 minutes before the advertised opening time. This is where the breaks from #6 come back in—if you go to the park first thing before everyone else you’ve already experienced all of the attractions you want. So go back to the resort, swim a bit and avoid all of those people! Then you can come back for dinner & fireworks and just take it easy.
Holidays can be a great time to visit Walt Disney World with some nice advantages like special activities, decorations, not missing school or work, etc. The disadvantage of the crowds can be managed by following a few tips & tricks. What are your suggestions for dealing with holiday crowds?