By Darlin’ Diva
There’s a reason Disney trip planning books and websites advise avoiding a Walt Disney World vacation during spring break and the weeks around Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s CRAZY busy! But what if that’s your only option? For many families, those weeks (surrounded by dire warnings and dark foreboding) are the ones available for everyone to vacation together. If you are a member of this type of family (me too!), I am here to help!
We booked a Disney World vacation for December 26-31, 2015 because those days were easy to take off from work. We knew crowds would be extreme, but we were not passing up the opportunity to wrap up the year at our favorite place to relax and have fun. Could we relax? Would we have fun? Yes, indeed! Because we planned around the crowds, were flexible, and toured the parks in a different way than we do at other times of the year. Here’s what worked for us…
Be Zen With the Crowds – Know before you go that it’s going to be a wild ride. Book your FastPasses realizing that you may not be able to get any more after you use your initial three (depends on the park). Standby lines for some attractions can reach two hours (or more). Decide on “Plan B” before you ever arrive so everyone’s on board with crowd-avoidance maneuvers when they becomes necessary. In our case, my husband and I decided that when Magic Kingdom got too crowded, we’d take the monorail to each resort on the loop to check out the Christmas Decorations, shop, and relax in a lounge or two. This proved to be an excellent strategy! When Epcot got crazy, we exited through the International Gateway and strolled along the Boardwalk checking out the different shops. We stopped in Wyland Galleries and found some incredibly talented artists actually working on paintings. Unexpected Disney magic is all around – even at the busiest times of the year.
Consider Skipping Morning Extra Magic Hours – We are huge believers in Extra Magic Hours, but with guest attendance at its peak, getting up super early to be outside Magic Kingdom for the opening show at 6:30 am sounded like an unnecessarily stressful and tiring thing to do! Instead, arrive for park opening at a park that is not opening extra early. We chose Disney’s Hollywood Studios one morning with a regular opening time of 8:00 am. We arrived at 7:30 and found guests being let in by 7:40 (a strategy Disney uses sometimes during peak seasons) – we headed to Rock’n Roller Coaster and walked on with no wait. After that we ate breakfast at Starring Rolls before hitting Star Tours with a 20 minute stand-by line. Our FastPasses were all for late morning/early afternoon and it worked out perfectly around our lunch reservation at 50’s Prime Time Café. This was my favorite day of the trip!
Book Some Special Meals – If it’s in your budget or you’re on a Disney Dining Plan, make advance dining reservations at places you’ve not tried before. One meal that worked out particularly well for us was lunch at Wilderness Lodge’s Whispering Canyon Café. We entered Magic Kingdom before 10:00 am, rode standby for Under the Sea-Journey of the Little Mermaid and Mickey’s PhilharMagic before using our first FastPass at Pirates of the Caribbean. Then we hit our second FastPass for Jungle Cruise (Jingle Cruise at that time) – when we were finished there, we managed to catch part of the Christmas Parade before we headed for the boat dock and rode (sailed?), almost alone, to Wilderness Lodge. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch before catching the boat back to Magic Kingdom. Our last FastPass was for Space Mountain after which we rode the PeopleMover before heading to Frontierland for Country Bear Jamboree. Finally, we grabbed a Citrus Swirl in Adventureland and visited the Enchanted Tiki Room before calling it a day. At this point, the crowds were ridiculous, but we didn’t care! We’d had a great day and a lunch break outside the busy parks was perfect!
Try Mid-Morning/Early Afternoon FastPasses in Magic Kingdom – Enjoy breakfast at Be Our Guest or Crystal Palace before getting started on rides and attractions. Use the My Disney Experience app to check standby times and hit what’s reasonable (30-40 minutes is our limit) between FastPasses. When the FastPasses have all been used, spend the rest of the afternoon outside the parks at your resort pool, perhaps.
Explore More, Ride Less – When the parks are packed, it’s hard to move around quickly. We had a great time just wandering around checking out places like the new Harambe Market in Animal Kingdom. In Magic Kingdom, we stopped for a while to watch Gaston entertain guests in Fantasyland. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we roamed around inside the new Star Wars Launch Bay before waiting about 30 minutes to meet Chewbacca. The queue winds around interesting displays and the time went by quickly. In Epcot, we spent about an hour in The Seas With Nemo and Friends exploring the sea life on display and watching the manatees, Lil’ Joe and Lou.
When the crowds are not crazy, we’re all about squeezing as many rides and attractions as we can into each day. When lines are long and the streets and walkways are packed, we found a more leisurely approach paid off for us in the form of less frustration and disappointment. We had a fantastic vacation during one of the busiest weeks of the year and you can too!
Until next time!