This is a guest post from Kim Wright Wiley, author of Fodor’s Walt Disney World with Kids 2011 and Fodors.com Family Travel Expert.
Photo courtesy of Don Nunn on Flickr
There’s no doubt that Walt Disney World is at its most magical during the holidays. The theme parks and resorts are decorated to their jaw-dropping max, and there’s plenty of extra entertainment in the form of special parades, shows, and themed character greetings.
The downside? Crowds. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is generally the busiest of the year. So much so that two-hour waits are common for rides, even casual restaurants require reservations, and you may find yourself standing behind three rows of people, struggling to boost little Kyle and Maggie on your shoulders for a glimpse when that special parade finally does come by.
So how can you have the best of Disney holidays without the drawbacks?
These tips will help.
1.Avoid peak travel times. Decorations begin going up right after Halloween and, with the exception of Thanksgiving weekend, the month of November and the first two weeks of December have light crowds and generally good weather. This is my personal favorite time to visit Disney World!
2.If school schedules dictate you must visit closer to Christmas, aim for the weeks before December 24th or after January 2nd.
3.Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas runs in the Magic Kingdom on select dates between November 8-December 19 and is not only very merry but very popular. Advance tickets are a must ($53-60 for adults. $47-54 kids nine and under) and can be purchased by going to disneyworld.com and clicking on “Things to do” and then “Special events.” The Magic Kingdom is closed to regular visitors during these parties; guests holding party tickets can enter around 4 pm, and have the run of the park.Since only a certain number of guests are allowed in, the parties are a great time to ride attractions, meet the charactersand enjoy the unique parades and shows with a mug of hot chocolate in hand.
4.If you’re planning to take in Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas, recognize that it’s a late night for little kids. Spend that day just hanging around your resort, taking a swim in the pool, napping and watching movies, so you can stay late and enjoy the full benefit of the party without exhausting the kids – or burning a day on your multiday ticket.
5.Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas is geared toward younger kids, primarily those under 9. If you have older kids the nights when they’re holding parties in the Magic Kingdom are a great time to visit the other parks – Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom. They have their own holiday festivities, such as the Candlelight Processional in Epcot and Osborne Lights in Hollywood Studios, which are more geared toward the preteen and up crowd.
6.Make dining reservations as far in advance as possible, especially if you want a holiday-style meal. The Liberty Tree Inn in the Magic Kingdom does a great “dinner at Grandma’s” style feast and many of the sit-down restaurants throughout the Disney resorts and parks run special buffets or limited menus during the weeks around Christmas. This means not only a traditional meal, but they can get you in and out faster than if they were offering full menu service.
7.Trying to get into the theme parks, especially the Magic Kingdom, on Christmas Day is nearly impossible. Christmas Day itself is better spent watching the parade on TV, having a great meal – weren’t you clever to book in advance? – and doing something low stress like playing a game of miniature golf at Fantasia Gardens or Winter Summerland.
8.The resorts are gloriously decorated at Christmas, so save time to visit a few. The gigantic gingerbread houses at the Grand Floridian are great fun for kids and the trees at the Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge are the most uniquely themed and fun on property.
9.Contact your hotel in advance and see what special perks are on tap for the holidays. All the Disney resorts and many off-site resorts in Orlando offer special little goodies for their guests at Christmas. Maybe carolers on Christmas Eve, a stocking hung on a hotel room door Christmas morning, breakfast with Santa….It’s easier to take advantage of these fun extras if you know about them in advance.
10.If you’re traveling at a peak time like Christmas and still want to ride the big-deal rides it’s especially essential that you get to the parks early (at least an hour before their stated opening time) and that you use Fastpass to cut down on wait times in line. A good guidebook and a solid touring plan are always important at Disney but when you’re traveling at Christmas they’re an absolute must. And … relax. You’re not going to see everything, and that’s okay. This is not the time to be a Disney commando, dashing from ride to ride in a mad quest to do it all. This is the time to slow down, take a deep breath, and savor those small special moments Disney does so well.
For more Disney travel tips, you can visit fodors.com or grab a copy of my new book Fodor’s Walt Disney World With Kids 2011!
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Disney Florida is one of my best family travel destinations… I still remember our first travel there where I realized the importance of family bonding to the children. From then on we keep going back and it is always an amazing experience.