The Holidays at Disney: Your 2021 Survival Guide


Have you ever noticed that they don’t have a Christmas carol that sings you through the stress of the holidays? It’s not all snowflakes and reindeer. Stress and the holidays go hand-in-hand every year, but if you are adding in a vacation to the happiest (and busiest) place on earth, you might need a bit of help when it comes to keeping your cool.

Since I am guessing you didn’t add a nervous breakdown in your wish list to Santa, I thought we might look at a few tricks to survive this time of year in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Three Things to Plan:

Manage expectations
Even the most experienced parkgoers might not be fully prepared for the high season in the Disney parks, as it can be a completely different experience from only a few weeks beforehand. Call a family meeting and manage everyone’s expectations of what you can achieve and how it will feel. This might even include a discussion about how you feel in crowds in general; as for many, this is now out of practice and could feel really confronting. Get that prep work in early, and you will have a better chance at keeping the general feeling at the good-vibes-only level.

Prioritize your attractions
There is nothing worse than missing out on your number one attraction. When visiting at busy times, I like to get everyone to provide preferences to make sure we tick off everyone’s number one attraction and then work down the list from there.

Set family budgets
Setting financial boundaries can be a touchy one that might pop up while you are busily shopping and feeling flustered. Disney is expensive, which means setting your spending budget ahead of time can help curb those impulse buys you don’t really need to take home. Get everyone in on the discussion and prepare ahead of time to save everyone taking home every cute item they find — trust me, there are a lot of them.

Photo by ergonofis on Unsplash

Three Things to Take:

You might be sure that you’ve already packed the apparent things like sunscreen and good shoes, but there are a few additional items that might be worth throwing in for good measure.

Zip-Lock bags
Not only do these come in handy for those water rides that run the risk of drenching your phone, but they also help when you need to store snacks on the go. Think about it; you’re running late for that attraction return time, but the kids don’t want to give up their churros. Pack those into a zip-lock bag, stuff them into the backpack, and you will be glad you can pull them out later on for a pick-me-up while waiting for the parade. The bonus on this one is that they are light as a feather and take up almost zero space.

Swimwear
Sure, it’s technically winter, however, sometimes the tropical weather has other plans in mind, and those warm days can leave you needing a cooler change. After a long day in the parks, I love going for a swim after dark. The pools are warm, and they give your muscles a nice break from being on your feet. I also find they are a great way to break the tension between the kids if they feel overwhelmed or frustrated. Swimming is a great way to regulate your body and mind, making it perfect for relaxing and resetting before bed.

Masks that are comfortable and fun
No matter how you look at it, masks are an essential part of traveling in the current climate, so fighting it won’t help anyone. Take the time to choose some colorful, fun options for your vacation that are comfortable and easy to wear. I saw some reindeer face ones the other day that were so cute and would make for lovely photos in indoor areas as well. Keep in mind; not all masks are created equal, with some designs a lot more comfortable and breathable than others. It’s worth finding one that doesn’t make you feel awful, as, in a stressful situation, something strapped to your face can feel like the last straw.

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Three Things While You Are There

It’s easy to think that once you get there, everything will feel better, but really, that’s a mistake you only make once. Staying calm amid all the holiday chaos and full-capacity crowds is more challenging now than ever, so here are three tips to keep your plans and headspace on track.

Pack light
It can be done more easily than you may think. Some of you will say they prefer just to go hands-free; admittedly, I am not at that level yet, but I can advocate for a the-less-the-better approach. The more stuff you carry, the more frustrating it can be trying to zig-zag around the park to take advantage of crowd flow. Those light layers; tie them around waists. Souvenirs; leave them till later. Drink bottles and zip bags; take one collapsible one, and keep that in a smaller bag with any food items you might prefer to carry. Even a carabiner clip on belt loops can be a great way to store a hat or something else small and light that you don’t want to carry.

Can’t avoid a wardrobe change? If you are staying in one of the resorts, nominate one person in the afternoon to go back with all of the shopping in hand to drop off and collect jackets or warm layers for the night head. There is usually someone in the group that could stand a break from the madness, so it might work out well for everyone.

Don’t wait too long to refuel
With long lines, you might find less time to stop and take breaks to eat or drink. When we are desperate to fit everything in, we can often push little ones and seniors past their limits, which doesn’t end well for anyone. Make sure to take breaks before you need to so no one moves past the point of no return.

Make the most of fireworks and parade time.
One of my favorite tricks during the holidays is to use the time when everyone else is flocking to a parade or fireworks to cross off some of those attractions that usually have longer wait times. If you are attending Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade during Disney Very Merriest After Hours event and don’t have little ones in tow, try hitting the attractions in the first parade time slot and then seeing the second show after many of the others have already left for the evening.

If you aren’t attending the event but are visiting more than once, get a feel for the crowds when it comes time to commit to a viewing position for Disney Enchantment. If you can’t get a good spot, leave it for another time and get in line for something you would love to do at night. My absolute favorite moment is perfectly timing a Splash Mountain ride in Disneyland right as the fireworks are exploding over the night sky in front of the drop. Now that is magical.

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

Three Things to Accept

Getting your head straight is more important than anything. You can have all the organization in the world, but if your mind isn’t calm, nothing else will feel that way either. Here are a few things I like to do to keep myself in check before each holiday trip.

Accept that it won’t be perfect.
No matter what you do, everything won’t go according to plan. The bus will be late, someone will lose their MagicBand, the popcorn will be dropped, or your favorite attraction might break down. One way or another, something unexpected will happen, and accepting that in advance will help you cope with it when it occurs.

Remember that you create the magic and generate holiday spirit.
No matter what happens, you have the option to spit the dummy (have a tantrum) or make light of it, and your family, especially the little ones, will pick up on your vibe either way. The perfection of your vacation isn’t what makes it festive and special; it’s the memories you make, sometimes doing the most unexpected things. Some of my most treasured vacation moments have all been rooted in a sudden change of plans due to weather or some other factor beyond my control. The rain that led me to discover my favorite little book store in London, a snowstorm that made us stop at a bed and breakfast in Vermont where we met the most amazing people. Even a canceled conference in the U.S. one year led me to spend a few weeks unexpectedly in Thailand for one of the most incredible trips of my life.

Keeping a chill attitude can make the difference between feeling constantly disappointed or seeing where the twists and turns can take you that you never otherwise would have experienced.

Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash


Some things will be left undone.
We over plan. It’s true; our plans are almost always bigger than the time we have available, which means you can bet your Disney dollar that you will leave with something still outstanding on your to-do list. I call this the Disney Addendum. Our Disney journey isn’t limited to each vacation but a lifetime of excursions and memories, some in the parks and many from home, that all add up to something extraordinary. With each thing we label as “next time,” we continue that story indefinitely, as when you think about it, what a sad day it would be if you walked away feeling like you had done it all and there was nothing left to see.

I hope something in there helps you keep calm on your December vacation. If you have some tips of your own, add them below. And just before I go, for a few that made comments last week…

It’s beginning to look a lot like… Christmas. There, I said it. But at the same time, there are several other holidays around this time of year too. Some of which I am familiar with, others not so much. In any case, I don’t like leaving people out of the cheer just because they aren’t on board with what I celebrate as Christmas. It’s not political correctness for me; it’s just inclusiveness because that is how I prefer to approach it. So all month, I will be wishing you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and all the other best wishes for the season in the form of Happy Holidays.

I wish you all smooth, calm travel for the weeks ahead.