So, you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World for the Christmas holidays. Oh, it’s a lovely time of year, filled with holiday decorations, special music, cooler weather, and massive crowds that close the park to capacity . . . what? Wait a minute?  Did you say you’re going to Disney World during Christmas week?  Now why would you want to do a thing like that? It’s the only time you can get off work and school? Okay, well let’s just make the best of it, shall we?

Look, visiting Disney World during Christmas week is not ideal, but there’s wonder and magic in any Disney vacation if you have the right attitude. First, congratulate yourself in not breaking all the rules. I always say don’t visit Disney World when it’s hot (May) or when it’s crowded (April) and definitely not when it’s both hot and crowded (July!): That’s just a recipe for disaster.  Christmas week can be downright chilly, so bring clothing you can layer, but take solace in the fact that you won’t be hot and uncomfortable.

Get Park Wise:  Because it may be cold, don’t add the water park option to your tickets until you know it’s warm enough to swim. You can always add it during your trip if it’s unseasonably warm.

Not all trips to Disney World require precision planning, but visiting during Christmas week does. Make your dining reservations as far out as possible. For you non-Disney World travelers, you can make advanced dining reservations (ADRs) 180-days out.  If you can plan that far ahead, do so, especially for special meals like your Christmas day dinner.   Consider booking your room as early as possible as well, particularly for resorts that fill up quickly like the Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, the campgrounds, and standard rooms at the value resorts. You only need to make a $200 deposit to secure your package reservation and it’s fully-refundable 45-days prior to travel, so you’ve got nothing to lose.  Finally, consider using a touring plan when you tour the parks. They really do work and can show you how to cut wait times drastically.  I prefer the ones from the guys who started it all, Touring Plans.

Plan some alternate activities if the parks become too crowded. Resort hop, take a carriage ride at Ft. Wilderness, go shopping at Downtown Disney–you can even see a movie or try the new bowling alley,  Splitsville.  Keep in mind that some parks handle crowds more efficiently, so consider skipping the Magic Kingdom on Christmas day in favor of Epcot. Both parks will be crowded, but Epcot is designed to handle larger crowds (think about how wide those walkways are) so you won’t notice it as much.

While I generally don’t advise getting a park hopper unless you know you’ll need it, I make an exception for crowded weeks like Christmas. The reason is simple: If one park becomes overwhelming, you can leave and go elsewhere. Now, obviously you’re not telepathic (okay, maybe you are), so you won’t know what the crowds are like at other parks. For this you’ll need to use an app like Lines, which can tell you pretty accurately what the wait times are for just about any attraction on property no matter where you are (you can even use it back at home).  I never hop without checking this app first.

Finally, nothing will help you more than having a good attitude. This isn’t a good first-timer’s trip because if there’s much you want to see and do, you likely won’t be able to accomplish much of it. But for guests who know Disney World well, understanding that you’re there for the experience of enjoying Christmas in the parks and knowing that this might mean you never get on Soarin’ can help a great deal.  The upside of this is that you end up doing things you usually don’t do because the big rides are all so busy. So stop and see the Dapper Dans, watch a street performance, visit the Tiki Room or climb the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House. You might just find that you enjoy it just as much as a trip on Space Mountain.

Don’t let your fear of crowds keep you from visiting Disney World, but do make sure you have a good plan.  If there was a ever a time to be that guy with the spreadsheet, Christmas would be that time.  What about you? Have you visited the parks during Christmas week? If so, what are your battle tested tips?

  • Great tips Chris. If you must visit at Christmas, take it easy and enjoy some of smaller attractions or skip the parks all together. We particularly enjoyed visiting Boardwalk, Yacht Club and Grand Floridian for Christmas. The decorations, snacks and gingerbread houses are wonderful.

    For me, the holidays always center around family and friends, so I like to book lunch and dinner reservations at places that are warm and comfortable to chat and linger. Being in the parks is nice, but being with those you love is even better!

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    Last year, I spent a random day resort hopping to see the Christmas decorations. Was impressed with the giant trees at the Wilderness Lodge and Grand Floridian, plus the gingerbread house at the latter.

  • Pingback: Back on Track: Happy Thanksgiving - Theme Park Canuck()

  • Neverlandtink

    Great tips for those who are crazy enough to visit during Christmas week.

    We’ve always gone the first week of December. The crowds are generally low and the weather is absolutely perfect. We’ve always felt that it was totally worth it to take the kids out of school. They’ve never suffered in their school work and most teachers (at least in CA) offer a homework packet to turn in when they get back. I think it’s the best way to experience WDW at Christmas time!

  • holierthanthoutx

    We’ve taken the children out of school for trips during the first half of December as well. With all their homework assignments happening online these days, it’s easy for them to keep up, as we allow two hours every day for homework while we’re there. We’ve also had the kids write an essay on things they learned at Epcot, sort of as an extra-credit project, and that seems to make the teachers happy.

    Being there before December 15 is really the optimal time to go — you get all the Christmas decorations and events, without the crowds. It’s also the time of year when you use the fewest DVC points…