With Christmas under 10 weeks away, here are some bold predictions for the holiday week at Walt Disney World:
Animal Kingdom will see an uptick in crowds
In truth – Hollywood Studios is still a formidable park. Despite the renovations, Toy Story Midway Mania, Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster aren’t going anywhere. But the news of the impending (and current) closures and renovations to make way for Toy Story and Star Wars Land has guests viewing Hollywood Studios as a park in flux. Outside of the three main attractions and the Osborne Christmas Lights, there’s not much to do at Hollywood Studios. It lacks a solid quick service restaurant, the Animation Courtyard is closed, and there’s a lot of ongoing construction. The Osborne Lights will still be a draw, but guests will most likely flock to other parks this year.
I believe Animal Kingdom will see the most noticeable difference. I’ve seen Animal Kingdom packed. It’s rare, mostly due to the park’s layout, but I’ve bobbed and weaved through my fair share of crowds at the park. For years, Animal Kingdom has been the “stepbrother” of the Disney parks. It has a solid group of fans, but overall, many guests would prefer the other three parks. For this reason, many people recommend heading to Animal Kingdom for Christmas, describing it as the least crowded park during the holiday. With Hollywood Studios gaining a reputation as a “park under construction,” I think a lot of people will head to Animal Kingdom – especially one-day guests and those visiting for an abbreviated vacation.
The Osborne Lights will see a consistent, overwhelming crowd
Okay, maybe this isn’t so “bold” and it kind of contradicts my previous prediction, but I believe that tons of guests will flock to Hollywood Studios to see the lights in their final year.
The Streets of America usually gets pretty packed at night, but I think this year will see overwhelming crowds. I think a lot of people will head to Hollywood Studios in the afternoon and stay through the night. While the lights are always a big draw, I think the crowd will feel a lot like Times Square on New Year’s Eve (or EPCOT or Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve). Don’t be surprised if the park opens up some backstage areas to increase the flow of traffic into and out of the area. With the lights being in their final year, this is a must-see!
Higher crowds Early December Through Christmas
Disney is offering free dining during December. So long as you check in between December 15th and 21st and stay a minimum of three nights at a certain resort, your family will receive free dining. Theoretically, you can check in on December 21st and stay until December 26th or 27th and enjoy free dining during your trip. My family usually checks in on December 24th. Being on the meal plan, if we were to add three days to our vacation and become eligible for free dining, we’d actually save around $500 on our vacation.
After Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party ends on December 18th, Disney sees a lull in crowds before they pick up again on the 23rd. That won’t be the case this year. I think a lot of people will head down in time to receive free dining and stay until December 26th or 27th. I also think Disney will see higher crowds throughout December due to the Osborne Lights being in their final year.
A Park will see a Phase 4 Closure
It’s most likely to happen at Magic Kingdom. I’ve been in a park during a Phase 3 closure, but I’ve never witnessed a Phase 4 closure. In fact, the last Phase 4 closure happened on April 7th, 2009 at Magic Kingdom. A Phase 4 closure means that all guests are turned away – it doesn’t matter if you’re on-site or off, have an ADR or an annual pass – you’re not allowed in the park until the closure is lifted.
I think it’ll be earlier in the week and most likely happen on Christmas Day. With the free dining, I think a lot more people will head to Disney for the holiday week and will go to Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day.
Magic Kingdom EMH will go until 3am on Sunday, December 27th
I love Extra Magic Hours – it’s probably my favorite time to be at the parks. I’m not a morning person, I’m very much a night owl, so I love to take advantage of the late-night EMH. There’s something really cool, and at the same time peculiar, about being in an overwhelmingly crowded park at 1pm, and then seeing that same park nearly empty at 2am.
I’ll cover Extra Magic Hours once the actual hours are released. For now – I’ll predict them. Every year, Magic Kingdom has late-night EMH the first Friday after Christmas. Last year, that Friday fell on December 26th, which was a nice perk. My family is up bright and early Christmas Eve morning and again on Christmas. It’s nice to sleep in on December 26th in anticipation of the late night.
This year, Christmas falls on a Friday. The parks usually close pretty early (comparatively speaking), on Christmas Day. Last year Magic Kingdom stayed open until 1am, while the rest of the parks were closed by 11pm. Looking at my calendar, I think Sunday, December 27th is the best bet for late-night EMH.
Decreased Extra Magic Hours
I feel like just a few years ago, Extra Magic hours were an everyday occurrence at Disney World. Now, it seems like they’ve dramatically decreased over the years and there’s even been whispers (rumors) of getting rid of the benefit all together. Disney does an awesome job at adding hours based on crowd levels. One year, they even added EMH at EPCOT intraweek. But I think this year will be a little different. Between the decrease in Extra Magic Hours and the way the calendar falls, I think this year will see a drop in the amount of late-night Extra Magic Hours.
Disney rarely keeps the parks open late on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Even on New Year’s Eve, most parks are closed by 1am. You may see a late-night EMH at Magic Kingdom on Sunday, December 27th (as I mentioned above,) but I think the hours dramatically decrease this year.
Osborne Lights Merchandise
With 2015 being the final year for the Osborne Lights, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some themed products for the holiday extravaganza. Whether it be mugs, souvenir cups or apparel, expect Disney to commemorate the fan favorite in its final year.