Ready for a magical Christmas at Disney World? Well, we’re sure you’ve heard that Christmas break is one of the most crowded times to visit. The parks are packed, the resorts are full, and trying to get a dining reservation is as challenging as convincing Gaston that he needs to move on from Belle! So, to make your Disney Christmas break experience the best possible – check out this survival guide with ten tips and tricks to visiting Disney World during Christmas break.
1 – Make Your Park Reservation ASAP
The Disney Park Pass reservation system is apparently here to stay. We’re still hearing of guests who are still surprised to learn that they need to make park reservations. Currently, reservations are available (and necessary) through January 2023. It is absolutely critical to make park reservations as soon as possible. During Thanksgiving week 2021, parks were full across all ticket types. You don’t want to be in a situation where you arrive for the holiday week and can’t get into the parks. Seriously, make those reservations now if you haven’t already.
2 – Be Aware that Park Hopping Has Limitations Now
As you consider which park to make your park reservation at for any particular day, be aware that park hopping now has limitations. If you want to park hop, you now can’t enter your second park until you have 1) entered the first park, and 2) enter after 2:00 pm. So plan your day accordingly. Also, know that if you leave your first park and want to reenter, you have guaranteed reentry, even if the park has reached capacity. So for instance, let’s say you begin your day at Magic Kingdom and park hop over to EPCOT. Yet, you want to return to Magic Kingdom for the fireworks. While at EPCOT, Magic Kingdom hits capacity and is no longer letting park hopping guests into the park. However, since you have a park reservation at Magic Kingdom, you will be able to return and reenter the park.
3 – Study the Parks
When thinking of a vacation, the last thing you want to hear is to “study”! But, to make the most out of the crowded Christmas break, our top tip is to know the parks inside and out. Don’t wait to arrive at the park to look at a map for the first time. The most current maps are available on Disney’s website, just ready for you to explore! The better you know the park, the easier it will be to dodge crowds, find the easiest route to an attraction or restaurant, and easily change plans when needed. You’ll be a Disney park pro!
4 – Make a Must-Do Attraction List
Attractions are some of the best parts of visiting Disney. During Christmas break, the lines and wait times are longer than Rapunzel’s hair! You will want to make a must-do attraction list (including character meet and greets). These are the handful of attractions that you and your family merely must do. Make the list simple, and hopefully, you’ll have time to hit them all. If you get in any extra attractions, you can count them as icing on the cake!
5 – Consider and Know How to Book Lightning Lane Access
While it’s not right for everyone, purchasing Lightning Lane access will let you “skip the line” and give you theoretically give more time during your day. During especially busy times, using the Lightning Lane may be a great way to experience certain attractions. If you plan to use the new paid Lightning Lane service at the parks, you need to understand and be prepared so you know how and what attractions you want to book for the day.
There are two Lightning Lane paid options that include different attractions. First, you can purchase Disney Genie+ for the day of your visit. This costs $15 per day, per person. With Genie+ you can access the Lightning Lane at select attractions at each park. Much like the original FastPass system, you can only book one Lightning Lane attraction at a time. At 7 am on the day of your visit within the My Disney Experience App, you’ll book your first return window at one of the attractions below. After that, you can make one selection at a time, based on availability. Also, note that you can only use the Lightning Lane for each attraction on the list one time. You will not be allowed to book another return window for an attraction you’ve already used for Lightning Lane that day. During Christmas week, it will be critical to book your first attraction right at 7:00 am. Many attractions will hit capacity and not allow any more selections later on in the day.
A second option for purchasing Lightning Lane is the a la carte method. Each park has two attractions** that are NOT included with your Genie+ purchase and must be purchased separately. Lightning Lane selections for the top-tier individual attractions will also be made on the same day of your visit and can be made across multiple theme parks (great for those who have the Park Hopper Option). Access to purchase Lightning Lane for the individual top-tier attractions will be available to all guests when the park that attraction is at opens. Guests staying on Disney World property will receive the benefit of early access to top-tier reservations and can make their purchases at 7:00 am on the day of their visit. Prices will vary by date, attraction, and park, but expect prices to be higher during this busy week. Again, you’ll want to book your Individual Attractions right at 7:00 am, especially for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. This Lightning Lane attraction consistently hits capacity early in the morning and once full, you won’t be able to purchase access.
**Between December 19, 2021, and January 3, 2022, Expedition Everest — Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Frozen Ever After, and Space Mountain will be included via Disney Genie+ service and will not be included as an individual Lightning Lane selection.
6 – Be Smart About Dining & Be Prepared for Long Waits
Of course, we first must recommend advanced dining reservations – 60 days in advance. If you don’t have an advanced dining reservation, chances are you’ll be unable to walk up to one of Disney’s table service restaurants in the park to dine. It is very likely restaurants will not be accepting walk-ins due to the volume of advanced reservations. Quick service will be your best option, which can be tricky with the Christmas break crowds. Be smart about dining and do your best to dine during off-hours – such as 10 am for lunch or 3 pm for dinner. This includes using Mobile Order for quick service. Now, most restaurants require the use of the Mobile Order service. The earlier you place your order, the better off you will be. If your return window is during those prime hours, expect long waits to get your food–up to an hour in some cases. Read here to learn more about the state of Mobile Order during especially busy times at Walt Disney World. Plus, don’t forget about Disney’s many snack kiosks that might be a great option to tide you over until the next meal. Mickey pretzels – here we come!
7 – Make a FULL Day of It
While park hopping can be awesome, keep in mind by coming and going, you will also have to fight the transportation crowds, which will forfeit much time. Arrive early and plan to stay late. In other words – get some rest the day before.
8 – Arrive Early for Parades, Fireworks, Shows
Some of the most popular activities are the parades, fireworks, and/or stage shows, probably because they feel like the most magical moments! During Christmas break, you will need to plan to be at a viewing spot likely an hour to 45 minutes early. We recommend that you watch the crowds and see if they are gathering even earlier in some cases. It will be crowded, but getting to your spot early enough will at least provide you with a spot to see. Another tip – after the fireworks are over and the park is closing, you’ll want to let the crowd rush out. Go shopping or hold tight for a little bit in your spot, then you’ll be able to exit the park without the great push!
9 – Prepare for Transportation Time
Whether you are staying at a Disney Resort or driving in from offsite, be sure to allow yourself plenty of transportation time. Traffic will be heavy on all forms of transportation, from cars on the road to long lines to get on a Disney’s buses, boats, monorail, or Skyliner. Just a courtesy tip – if you are in standing room only transportation and are healthy and able to stand, you might want to think about offering your seat to an elderly person, child, or someone pregnant. You will make their day even more magical!
10 – Prepare for Children in Tow
If you have a child cruising through the park with you during Christmas break, the very best thing you can do to survive the crowds is be ready for their inevitable meltdowns. Pack a backpack with simple new toys (Dollar Store!), plenty of snacks, and lots of water to keep them hydrated. Prepare for the weather being warm or cold with sunscreen and jackets. And most importantly, let them rest when needed. This means someone might have to sit with them in a quiet space to let them nap in the stroller or in your arms – but it will be worth it when they wake up refreshed.
11 – Avoid Iconic Spots
We understand that you’ll want to capture that magical family photo in front of iconic spots such as the Cinderella Castle. Snap a photo early if possible and move on from these popular areas. If you are traveling with a large family or group, you’ll want to arrange meet-up spots that are not considered the popular areas. For example, instead of meeting up in front of the Cinderella Castle, meet up in front of Country Bear Jamboree. Love those cute bears!
12 – Enjoy a Resort Day
One of the best things about Disney Resorts is that they are full of activities and entertainment over Christmas break! Not only are the resorts decorated beautifully, but Cast Members make fun experiences for their guests. We suggest planning a resort day if it works in the plans to rest and relax for a day during your Christmas break vacation. If a resort day isn’t in the plans, prepare for a time to rest while in the park by finding a quiet corner or somewhere to tuck yourself away for a little break.
13 – Prepare for the Unexpected
Unfortunately, the unexpected will happen. By this, we mean you will have a grand plan (Plan A) and a back-up plan (Plan B) – but suddenly, you’ll find yourself needing a Plan C! A heavy dose of patience is key to any kink in the plans. If you go in expecting that your day will most likely have some hiccups and moments of not so merry feelings, you’ll be able to handle the unexpected with a deep breath and quickly adjust as needed.
We hope you have the most magical Christmas possible at Disney World!
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