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The Holidays at Disney: Managing Your Schedule With Flexibility

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year in the Happiest Place on Earth, what could go wrong? If you didn’t shudder at the irony of that sentence then you are not emotionally ready to travel during the season of perpetual bliss and overpopulation.

If you’ve caught part one and part two of this series you will know that we have already covered how to plan your Disney vacation during the holiday season as well as how to transport that magic of holidays at home into your resort room. Now it is time to look at how to take your regular Disney schedule and make it fit into the unique shape that is Disney theme parks during December and early January.

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Traveling at this time of year can be the most magical experience you will find in any theme park vacation; it can also be one of the most hectic. It can leave you wondering if all major cities around the world are resembling a scene from I Am Legend since everyone in existence seems to be in the parks with you. Never fear, the human race has not conspired against you, no one is in cahoots, Ashton Kutcher isn’t about to spring out from behind a hidden Mickey; it’s just Christmas.

Everyone loves a schedule. Even if you are the type of care-free person who lives life on a whim, there is something about the aura of Disney that will fire up that planning gene hidden way down in the back of your consciousness. While planning in advance is ultimately a good thing, the first tip to surviving the holiday season in the parks is to stay flexible. Now those two things don’t organically go together, so if you have to look in the mirror and repeat a few supporting mantras before the two can co-exist, then so be it.

I can be well scheduled and flexible,

I can be well scheduled and flexible,

I can be well scheduled and flexible.

As changes to the date-based purchasing of tickets in Walt Disney World don’t leave you too much room to adjust your visiting days, this referred flexibility is most relevant to your planned days, not to mention the emotional flexibility you will need as well.

Now suit up because it’s almost game time. During this fanciful time of year, you might want to give the old Park Hopper a miss. The added commotion of the season can make the commute between parks in Walt Disney World long and arduous, wasting your time in bus lines and security checkpoints. Also, consider that the added guest population can often push crowds to capacity, which leaves you no guarantee that you will actually be able to enter your next destination.

When visiting Disneyland during the week before and after Christmas, I have seen people exit one park headed to the other, only to find they can’t get in due to crowds being at capacity. The problem is they also can’t return to the one they came out of for the same reason, effectively ending their Disney day.

Anyone who is used to traveling to Walt Disney World would be familiar with being stripped of any sort of spontaneity by needing to choose your daily destinations 60 days in advance for FastPasses, and dining destinations 180 days in advance in order to secure your plans (changing to 60 days in advance for 2020). If you haven’t done this or at least prepared for it, stop reading this immediately and log into your My Disney Experience account.

The holidays in Disneyland are a much more relaxed planning-wise because aside from securing your accommodation, FASTPASSes are selected on the day either using the app or visiting the distribution points around the parks. Because you don’t need to lock these in months in advance, you can also make your choices of which park you might like to attend each day at the last minute. It makes it easier to accommodate the uncontrollable aspects like weather, crowds, and even attraction closures.

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Wherever you decide to visit at this time of year, my advice to you is to get where you want to go early. Take advantage of Extra Magic Hours (when available) and Early Morning Magic. When you leave, be prepared not to go back in. Don’t count on being able to exit for that midday for a swim or nap time; as mentioned earlier, you may not get back in.

One thing that will greatly change what you get out of this vacation is your attitude or expectations. If you go into each experience with patience and a willingness to take each moment as it comes, your entire existence in the parks will become more enjoyable.

Everyone will encounter at least one fellow guest, making a public example of their entitled attitude with outrage or disgruntled passive aggression. Everyone will come across an attraction or two that is disappointingly closed unexpectedly. Everyone will have moments of feeling exhausted and cramped into a small space with what feels like every person they have ever known to exist at the same time. You aren’t alone.

What you need to remember is that you aren’t alone in your happiness either.

Instead of letting that loud-mouth knob rile you up, just walk on by. Not only are people like that looking for an audience, but a bad attitude can become contagious. Restore the rest of your day but moving in another direction. More people are rolling their eyes at that person than jumping on the bandwagon. Take solace in knowing your greater Disney-loving community are silently in agreement that this person is a tool. It doesn’t have to be said to be true.

When you come up against an uncomfortable situation where it feels like everyone in the park is in one place, relocate. Don’t persist with a plan that isn’t working out just to check the box on your schedule. Mix it up. If everyone is eagerly waiting in their fireworks positions for three hours ahead of time, give it a miss and take advantage of that time to ride some of the more prominent attractions while they are less crowded.

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If you take nothing else from this series, leave yourself more time to get everywhere you need to go. Allow extra time to get to and from your destinations. Leave earlier for reservations and allow extra time for Disney transportation. Get comfortable with the reasonable expectation that you will get less done even when allowing for long days. One year, we visited Disneyland on January 2nd, arrived at rope drop, and were only able to get in five rides for the entire day. We left at night after the fireworks more exhausted than ever.

It’s this time of year when you need to remember what is attracting you to the parks in the first place. Is it the sights, the smells, the decorations, or the food? Remember these are your attractions. They may not be your traditional ride that comes to mind when we say attractions, but each encounter with these aspects is fulfilling your desire to visit during the holiday season. You will need to find the value in these off-hand experiences to get the most out of the holidays at Disney — for every twinkling light, festive food offering, or cheerful sound will bring you the gift of the holidays if you allow it to.

Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.

Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.


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