Christmas week is coming. Maybe it’s because I’ve been overly busy with work and traveling the past few weeks, but I couldn’t believe that Christmas is now 17 days away. Holy cow! I need to travel before Christmas more often—it makes times pass by so much quicker!
With Christmas less than three weeks away, I thought I’d cover some of the biggest questions and concerns going during the Christmas season at Disney. After all, Christmas at Disney is a whole different animal. It’s far more crowded than most of the year, the weather is different and there’s so much more to see and do. So, let’s get right into it!
Is it really as crowded as people say it is?
Yes. Christmas is the most popular time of the year to travel to Disney. So much so that it receives its own pricing tier. Even though it’s the most expensive time of the year to stay at Disney, many resorts are at capacity and finding a dining reservation, even at a less-popular restaurant, could be near impossible.
Eesh, so is it even enjoyable?
Of course it is. Look, everyone is different. I work in New York City. Crowds don’t faze me. Someone from a small town or rural area may curl up in fear at the thought of wall-to-wall people on Main Street in Magic Kingdom.
You know the saying “a bad day fishing is better than a good day at the office”? Well, a bad day at Disney is better than a good day anywhere. I promise the second you turn down Main Street and see Cinderella Castle, nothing else matters. It happened to us. Weeks before going to Disney I discovered blogs and forums warning people not to go, claiming it wasn’t worth it. We were nervous and thought we made a big mistake. From the second we stepped into Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day, though, we were hooked. Of course we miss our family, especially now that we have some little ones running around, but we don’t miss the stress of cooking and cleaning.
Do you have any tips on how to avoid the crowds?
I’m glad you asked. We like to bookend our day at the parks. What does this mean? We arrive very early, leave in the afternoon when it gets overly crowded, then return at night. It typically gets very crowded around 10am. With the parks opening at 8 or 9am, with an Extra Magic Hour most mornings, this gives you ample time to get in a few attractions before the masses arrive. We usually leave in the afternoon. By noon or 1pm, the parks are flooded with people. Wait times for most attractions are an hour or longer, even the less-popular or continuous-loading rides like Small World or Spaceship Earth. We head back to the resort and relax, either in our room or by the pool depending on the weather. After showering, we head to dinner then back to a park, depending on the crowds.
At nighttime, the crowds tend to decrease after the first major show. At EPCOT, the crowds will go down after the first showing of Illuminations. At Magic Kingdom, guests should start leaving after Wishes, and so on. While most guests are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort, there’s a solid amount of those that came just for the day or are staying off-site. These guests typically arrive early to avoid phased closures and stay until the main nighttime show. After, they’re usually exhausted and ready to leave. Young families and off-site guests should be gone by 9 or 10pm. This is a solid opportunity to hop on the family oriented rides, like Small World or Peter Pan in Magic Kingdom, or Turtle Talk with Crush in EPCOT, at a reduced wait time.
How’s Disney Transportation?
Well, it depends. For years we stayed at Port Orleans French Quarters. The quaint size of the resort combined with its one bus stop made it easy to get from the park to our room—especially after a long night at the parks. Larger resorts, such as Port Orleans Riverside or Coronado Springs will make multiple stops throughout the resort.
This year we’re staying at Beach Club. While we go to Magic Kingdom the most, we love to visit EPCOT and usually go there for New Year’s Eve. The fact that we can walk there from our resort makes it a very attractive option. However, staying at a more expensive resort doesn’t always mean better transportation. Sure, staying at a monorail resort gives easy access to Magic Kingdom; and staying at an EPCOT resort means a quick walk to the park; but we’ve heard horror stories of guests waiting a while for a bus to come to Grand Floridian en route to EPCOT or Hollywood Studios. It happens. It’s best to leave yourself 1.5 hours, 2 if traveling between resorts (i.e. heading to Magic Kingdom en route to Grand Floridian.)
Traffic is especially heavy on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Disney does its best to provide as many buses as possible, often contracting in outside companies to transport guests. Disney has also implemented a new internal bus service, available for an additional price.
How’s the weather during Christmas?
If you tell me the winning lottery numbers, I’ll tell you how the weather will be. Many people associate Florida with hot and humid sunny days. Growing up, we’d always go to Disney during July. We’d grown accustomed to sweating profusely and doing any and everything to keep cool. Going in December, we didn’t think it’d be hot, but we did figure it’d be a reprieve from the cold Northeast weather.
We packed for spring-like weather in 2009 and a brisk cold front swept in. It was around 70 degrees the first day and didn’t go above 55 degrees the rest of the trip. Every night saw the temperature plummet into the 30s. The next year was a little milder, but still damp and cold at night. We skipped in 2011 and 2012 was some of the best weather we’ve ever had, with most days in the 70s and in the 50s and 60s at night. 2014 was warm for the first half of the trip, then it became damp and chilly the second half. It even rained a day or two. Last year was the hottest weather we ever experienced at Disney. We definitely overpacked. Most days it was in the 80s, but felt much hotter. Nighttime offered no reprieve, as it hovered in the upper 70s.
So how should I pack?
Well, it’s all subjective. I remember in 2009 when we were layering everything we could find, we ran into an older couple wearing shorts. We got to talking and found out that the couple was from Minnesota. The 50-degree weather was mild for them.
I suggest packing layers. If you’re in the Northeast, the weather could be a lot like late October or early/mid March. It can either be cold and damp or warm and humid. I like to pack jeans and t-shirts. Then, I pack a few nicer button-down shirts for dinner. I also pack a sweater or two to layer and a hoodie incase it gets cold. Believe it or not, I also back gloves and a knit hat.
What’s new this season?
At Magic Kingdom, “Once Upon a Nighttime” debuted on November 4th. The new projection show replaces “Celebrate the Magic.”
“Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM” is the new show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There will also be a meet-and-greet with Santa until December 24th. Santa Goofy will be there from Christmas on.
EPCOT will feature new season offerings as part of the Holidays Around the World.
Disney Springs will feature the new drone show, a Christmas Tree Trail and elaborate storefront windows.
What about the Osborne Lights?
Sore subject. The Osborne Lights ran for the final time in 2015. The lights were discontinued due to the construction and ongoing renovations at Hollywood Studios.
What are some must-see things?
Definitely get out and see the resorts. Everyone assumes that they need to be in the parks 24/7 during their trip. While this may be true during any other time during the year, there are far more things to do during Christmas. Many of the Deluxe Resorts, especially those along the monorail, are wonderfully decorated during Christmas. Go and do a monorail tour and stop by the Wilderness Lodge. After EPCOT, check out the Boardwalk, Yacht & Beach Club and the Swan and Dolphin.