Surviving Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day

While it may seem a little too early to start planning your day for Christmas, you should start weighing your options. What park will you choose? What rides will you target? What rides will you try and get a FP+ for? My family always goes to Magic Kingdom for Christmas. Sure, it’s the most crowded park on Christmas Day and believe me – we’ve weighed our alternatives, but we can’t imagine spending the day anywhere else!

The Disney website currently has Magic Kingdom listed as opening at 9am on Friday, December 25th and closing at 12am. There’s no mention of Extra Magic Hours in the morning or evening. If I were a betting man, I’d predict that Disney will extend the park hours and announce at least a morning Extra Magic Hour from 7am – 8am. It’s hard to tell right now. Disney edits the park hours based on expected attendance. You may see an increase in hours of operation as early as late October, or as late as the day before!

As far as evening EMHs go, that’s a bit harder to predict. Usually, Magic Kingdom will stay open until 2 or 3am the first Friday after Christmas. This year, Christmas falls on a Friday. My family usually calls it a night after dinner on Christmas Day. We’re wiped out after traveling Christmas Eve morning and waking up early on Christmas Day. However, I seem to remember Magic Kingdom staying open until 1am on Christmas.

People call my family “crazy” to battle the overwhelming crowds on Christmas Day. I won’t sugarcoat it – Magic Kingdom gets packed on Christmas Day. By around noon, the popular attractions see wait times exceeding 90 minutes and areas like Main Street are almost impossible to navigate. But what if I told you that you can conquer a lot of the park before noon? Here’s some tips to surviving Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day:

Arrive Early

If you’re staying on-site, take advantage of the morning Extra Magic Hour. If you’re offsite, it’s imperative that you arrive as close to rope drop (the park’s opening) as possible. If you arrive after 10:00am, you risk being turned away due to phased closures. My family usually arrives for the last 30 minutes of the morning EMH. Once we arrive, my sister and I make a B-line to Space Mountain. The wait time is usually around 20 minutes. By the time we finish on Space Mountain, the park is open to the public and the crowds start to file in.

The park is far less crowded than one would expect between rope drop and around 10am. I have my theories – maybe guests sleep in, or families enjoy a big breakfast or spend their mornings opening gifts before heading to the parks. Whatever the reason, these two hours give you a golden opportunity to get into the park and fit a few attractions in before the big crowds arrive.

Plan Your FP+

Since debuting about two years ago, FP+ has gotten mixed reviews. Some guests hate the idea of the added planning and responsibility. Others love the structure that it adds to their trip. Personally, I love it. I think having FP+ is pivotal to a smooth Christmas week vacation at Disney. It’s especially important on Christmas Day.

Plan your FP+ for later in the morning or in the afternoon. As I said above, it doesn’t get overly crowded until 10am. Your FP+’s are better used once the park fills up. You’ll get more value using your FP+ for a ride that has a 90-minute wait than one with a 30-minute wait.

Avoid the Newer Rides

Quick – what’s the number one ride you have to go on this trip? If you answered 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, you’re not alone. In fact, I’d bet that nearly every reader is itching to ride the new roller coaster. I’m not saying that you should avoid 7 Dwarfs Mine Train all together – definitely try and get a FastPass+ for it! But, if at first you don’t succeed, try for something else. At the 60-day mark (or 30 if you’re off-site,) it’s imperative that you secure your FP+’s for Magic Kingdom (should you choose to brave the crowds.) You should definitely try for 7DMT, but don’t waste too much time on it. In the time you hit “refresh” hoping for it to show up, your second and third choice could be going, going, gone!

Instead, look to ride 7DMT and the newer rides on a less-crowded day. Last year, my family had to settle for December 30th. Remember, on-site guest can book FP+ choices 60 days before your trip, and up to 14 days thereafter. I’ll touch on this in a few weeks when I give some FP+ tips, though.

Many will try to go on 7DMT during Extra Magic Hours. My family had the same idea. We got to Magic Kingdom at 7:30am for the last half of the morning EMH hoping to ride the new coaster. Well, the wait time was already at 120 minutes! I wouldn’t recommend waiting that long for any ride – especially on a day like Christmas – where every minute matters. And for those planning on riding it during evening EMHs, you may also be out of luck. If the wait time is at two hours when the park closes and the Extra Magic Hours are from 12am to 2am, well – you do the math! The best chance you have of riding 7DMT without an astronomical wait is at the very beginning of the morning EMH or if you can secure a FP+.

Use the Park Layout to your Advantage

It could be pretty hard to navigate a crowded Main Street, especially during parades and shows. Let’s say that you plan on leaving the park at 1pm, but there’s a parade! The kids are overtired and the crowds are overbearing. What do you do? Do you weave in and out of people on Main Street? Do you wait for the parade to pass in Frontierland? No…

Take the train. The train makes stops at each of Magic Kingdom’s lands. It’s a relaxful way to take in the park and an efficient way to navigate it. The train will drop you at the front of the park, allowing you to easily leave the park without fighting the crowds.

If the train is not running, use the park’s layout to your advantage. Many buildings along Main Street and other lands in Magic Kingdom are connected. Did you know that you could walk from Casey’s all the way down to Town Square from within the stores? Casey’s is connected to the block-long souvenir store and will bring you right into Town Square. You could also get some shopping done on your way out of the park!

If you’re looking to leave from Tomorrowland and there’s a show at the castle or a parade down Main Street, don’t head to the Hub. Instead, use the path along the Tomorrowland Terrace restaurant to your advantage. It’s a great way to avoid the hub and the crowds.

Your Magic Kingdom "Escape" Plan

Your Magic Kingdom “Escape” Plan

The Plan

Every family is different. But, I’d like to think my family has a pretty efficient plan for tackling Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day. Here’s what we do:

On Christmas, we like to be together as a family, so our FP+ choices may be a bit unconventional. My mom doesn’t like big rides, so we shoot for at least two rides that she could go on with us. Our family favorite is Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. We also love going on the Haunted Mansion together. My sister and I can’t visit Magic Kingdom without going on Thunder Mountain, so we always book a FP+ for the coaster, as well.

We’ll usually start our FP+ choices around 10am. Last year we started with Buzz Lightyear.

Depending on when we wake up and how soon we catch a bus, we normally get to Magic Kingdom by 7:30am, 7:45am at the latest. When we first enter the park, there is a 20-minute wait for Space Mountain. In just a few short hours, that wait time will be up around 90 minutes or more! My sister and I head toward Space Mountain, leaving my parents behind. By the time we wrap up Space Mountain, the park is officially open and the crowds start to file in.

By now, we’re pretty hungry and decide to look for breakfast. In the past, we’d head to the Main Street Bakery for an oversized cinnamon roll. Now that the bakery has been converted to a Starbucks, we head to Gaston’s for its version of the beloved cinnamon roll. You can avoid this “lull” in time by eating before you head to the park. Or – you can even book a breakfast ADR at Be Our Guest (counter) or Crystal Palace (Table) to add some more structure to your morning.

After eating our cinnamon roll, it’s around 9am. We’ll check the My Disney Experience app or another wait time app to plan our next step. We usually like to head to the Jingle Cruise. During Christmas, the Jungle Cruise gets a “holiday makeover.” The Jungle Cruise is one of those cult favorite rides. You wouldn’t rank it as a top ride at Magic Kingdom, but it will always have a long wait. On the walk over to Jungle Cruise, we’ll check the wait time for Small World. It’ll most likely say “20 minutes.” So long as the line doesn’t extend up to the ground-level area, the wait time shouldn’t be longer than 10 minutes. We’ll jump on Small World before making the trek to Adventureland.

After Small World, we head to the Jungle Cruise. We’ll wrap up the Jingle Cruise by 10:10am and head over to Buzz Lightyear. And so begins our FP+ selections. Once we finish Buzz Lightyear, it’s around 10:30-10:45am. We we start to walk toward Thunder Mountain. The park is starting to really fill up and it’s a little difficult to navigate the area. We make it back to Thunder Mountain by around 10:50am and wait until our FP+ window opens up. At 11am we redeem our FP+ for Thunder Mountain. We’re done by around 11:30am and walk back toward the castle. Our last FP+ for Haunted Mansion is at 1pm. There’s a show at the Castle at 12pm, so we watch it from the hub. When it ends at 12:30pm, we head back toward the Haunted Mansion. Here’s where we realize just how crowded Magic Kingdom is. The line for Small World extends to the Haunted Mansion. It’s crazy for a continuous-loading ride that seats so many guests to have such a long wait! By 12:30pm, the ride wait times for Space Mountain is at least two hours. Buzz is up at 60 minutes, Thunder Mountain is at 90 minutes, and the Jungle Cruise is at least 60 minutes

We ride Haunted Mansion at 1pm and walk toward the park exit. We’ll either head to one of the Magic Kingdom Resorts for lunch, or back to the Port Orleans French Quarters to relax for the afternoon.

So on the most crowded days of the year, we manage to ride Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Small World, the Jungle Cruise, Buzz Lightyear, eat breakfast and watch a show in just six hours. I’ve seen wait times for Soarin’ longer than that! Kidding, of course, but I’ve seen it come close! And, had we eaten breakfast beforehand, we could have probably fit in another ride!

You see – it’s definitely possible to have an enjoyable experience at Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day! By 1pm, it’s just too crowded and the wait times are far too long. That’s when we normally call it a day. We may head to a store or two before leaving the park and head back around 2pm, but we rarely go longer than that. After a relaxing afternoon, we go out for a nice dinner and call it a night after our meal.

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