If you think Walt Disney World is the perfect place to visit during Christmas break while school is out of session, you're not alone in that sentiment. In fact, don't be surprised if over 100,000 of your closest friends have the same idea and are also visiting the popular vacation destination during this same period.
The week leading up until Christmas until January 1st is generally one of the busiest times of the year, with the week between Christmas and New Year's Ever being especially bad crowd-wise. In fact, many Disney-centric websites and resources indicate that this is the busiest time of the year. Fred Hazelton, statistician for TouringPlans.com and The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, reports that while average peak wait times across Walt Disney World are 23 minutes on the slowest days of the year, those same average peak wait times are 46 minutes during Christmas break. Yikes!
Now, this isn't to say that you shouldn't visit Walt Disney World at Christmas. Quite the contrary, in fact (besides, chances are you already have that trip booked and can't very easily back out now!). Christmas is a great time to visit Walt Disney World or Disneyland, as the decorations and ambiance of the parks are absolutely spectacular during the Christmas season. Here are some quick tips to help you enjoy the experience without the crowds driving you insane.
Experience Christmas Beyond the Parks
Sure, the four theme parks at Walt Disney World are beautiful during the holiday season, but the Disney hotels and restaurants within those hotels are also beautifully decorated for Christmas. Many of these resorts feature 60-foot tall Christmas trees and life-size gingerbread creations in their lobbies. Take an afternoon during your trip to relax as you tour the resorts on Disney's monorail loop and check out their ornate decorations.
Arrive at the Parks When They Open
Most Disney veterans will tell you that the best way to avoid the crowds is to arrive to the parks in the morning before the masses. Disney theme parks are least busy each day during the first couple of hours they're open, and if you devise an efficient plan of attack, or use a Touring Plan, you can experience a lot during these first couple of hours. If you arrive early, you also can leave during the midday rush when the parks are most crowded. You can instead spend this time taking a nap or enjoying an afternoon swim in your hotel's pool before returning to the parks to enjoy their nighttime Christmas entertainment.
Utilize Disney's FASTPASS
A lot of Disney guests don't take the time to understand FASTPASS. During the busy Christmas season, use of FASTPASS is a near-necessity. Disney's complimentary FASTPASS Service allows guests to obtain a paper pass for select attractions that saves their place in line for an attraction while they enjoy other attractions. FASTPASS can mean the difference between a 10 minute wait in line for an attraction and a 180 minute wait during the Christmas season. While waiting for your FASTPASS to become valid, it's best to visit less-popular, but classic, attractions such as the Carousel of Progress, Country Bear Jamboree and Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room. FASTPASS: learn it, use it, love it.
Eat Early or Late
As mentioned above, the middle of the day is typically the most unbearable time to be in the theme parks. Given the intensity of the crowds during the Christmas season, Disney's restaurants are just as crowded as the attractions. Eating at off hours ensures that you won't wait as long at restaurants nor will you encounter intense crowds in the restaurants. As a general rule, it's better to eat when restaurants first open. If you catch restaurants nearer to their closing times, they won't be busy, but you're more likely to catch servers at the end of their shifts and after the heavy crowds have taken their toll. Many Disney sit-down restaurants open for dinner at 4 pm, making this a great time to eat. Enjoy some of the excellent restaurants in Epcot's World Showcase or in the hotels on the monorail loop near the Magic Kingdom. Reservations for sit-down restaurants are not just highly recommended, they're essential.
Check Out Christmas Entertainment
The upside to going to Walt Disney World during Christmas Break is that you don't have to pay extra to see Christmas entertainment that is part of a special hard ticket event called Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. These tickets can cost $60 per person! The downside, as has been hammered upon throughout this post, is the crowds. You will likely have to stake out Christmas parade spots in the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Animal Kingdom an hour or more in advance, and you'll also want to find a location to view the holiday fireworks at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom well in advance. Don't let the need to camp out dissuade you from seeing these shows, as they're amazing. Great views of the Magic Kingdom's fireworks actually can be found outside the park on the beach of the Polynesian Resort or at the Ticket and Transportation Center. These locations are great for avoiding the crowds, especially for the immensely popular December 30th and New Year's Eve fireworks.
Regardless of what strategies and plans you employ when visiting Walt Disney World at Christmas, remember to slow down, relax and have fun! The best you can do is try to work around the crowds -- you can't avoid them completely. With so much festiveness in the air, you'll be hard-pressed not to have a good time!
Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom with its thousands of icicle lights.
Main Street, USA in the Magic Kingdom looks resplendent at Christmas.
Fireworks explode over Minnie and Mickey Mouse after the conclusion to a Christmas stage show in the Magic Kingdom.
The finale of the Magic Kingdom's Christmas fireworks, Holiday Wishes!, as viewed from the Ticket & Transportation Center.
Neil Patrick Harris has been one of several celebrity narrators for Epcot's Candlelight Processional.
Christmas-themed topiaries, like this one of Stitch, can be found all around Walt Disney World.
At example of one of the large Christmas trees in select Disney hotels is this 60-foot tree in Disney's Wilderness Lodge.
Festive decorations make Walt Disney World an incredibly fun place to visit during the Christmas season.
The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios is the most impressive light display you'll ever see.
To see more great photography visit HuffPost Exposure.
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