For my family, our Disney vacation doesn’t truly begin until we go to Magic Kingdom. There’s just something about entering the park, turning onto Main Street, and getting our first look at Cinderella Castle. It doesn’t get old — no matter how many times we’ve done it.
Magic Kingdom becomes even more magical during the holiday season. Main Street is lined with Mickey-shaped wreaths, Cinderella Castle is adorned with icicle-style lights, and there are plenty of activities and entertainment during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and throughout Christmas week
To ensure an enjoyable experience, Disney closes its parks in phases as it reaches capacity, restricting admission to more and more guests with each phase. On-site guests are at the biggest advantage, as a park would have to reach a Phase 4 closure in order for all guests to be turned away; off-site guests holding a one-day, single-park ticket are at the biggest disadvantage, as they will be the first to be turned away. Disney rarely ever hits a Phase 4 closure, even at Magic Kingdom.
As the most-popular park, in one of the most-in-demand vacation destinations in the world, during the most crowded time of the year, Magic Kingdom gets pretty crowded during Christmas week. Because Magic Kingdom is the smallest of the four parks, it doesn’t absorb crowds quite as well as Epcot or Animal Kingdom. As a result, it may appear more crowded than it actually is, as there will be many congested areas in and around the park, and higher-than-usual wait times for popular rides and attractions.
Magic Kingdom will see the highest crowds on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Surprisingly, it usually gets pretty crowded on December 27th or 28th as well. I believe this is because a lot of guests check in on for their New Year’s trip, and many runners will make it the first park they go to.
Holiday Activities and Entertainment
Jingle Cruise – The beloved Jungle Cruise gets a massive holiday makeover with tons of kitschy decorations and pun-filled holiday-themed jokes during the holiday season. Since 2013, Jungle Cruise has been re-themed for the holidays, getting a new storyline, new decor, and even a few new jokes. The homesick skippers have decorated the boathouse with whatever they can find to get them through the holidays. The boats have been re-named and a special holiday broadcast can be heard over the radio.
While most activities and entertainment are exclusive to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Magic Kingdom extends much of its entertainment through the week of Christmas. This entertainment includes:
A Frozen Holiday Wish – Anna and Elsa lead a celebration on the Castle Forecourt stage (at the front of Cinderella Castle) nightly during the holiday season (and during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party). Featuring special appearances by Kristoff and Olaf, this merry-and-bright seasonal show culminates with Queen Elsa using her special powers to transform Cinderella Castle into a glimmering ice palace for the holidays.
Holiday Wishes — As of now, Holiday Wishes is scheduled to run throughout the week of Christmas. The holiday version of the now-defunct Wishes fireworks normally shows during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Up until last year, the show extended into normal park hours during Christmas week, however, the show was replaced by Happily Ever After last year.
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade – The parade, which headlines Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, will replace the Festival of Fantasy Parade during afternoons throughout the Christmas week. The show will take place most afternoons at 12:00pm and/or 3:30pm, starting December 22nd.
Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration — The holiday show takes place on the Forecourt Stage in front of Cinderella Castle. As part of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, it features plenty of Disney and holiday-themed music, dancing, and more.
Don’t Miss It
I may be a bit biased, but I consider Holiday Wishes a can’t-miss show at Magic Kingdom — and all of Walt Disney World, for that matter. Not only is it a unique spin on the beloved Wishes Fireworks Spectacular, but it’s an opportunity to see the holiday version of the now-defunct fireworks show. It certainly provides a bit of nostalgia for the Disney purist.
You can only see Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or during Christmas week. It’s not shown any other time. The parade takes the place of the Festival of the Fantasy Parade during Christmas week. While the Festival of the Fantasy is a fantastic show, there’s just something about Once Upon a Christmastime coming down Main Street that will really bring out your holiday spirit. We love seeing the parade on Christmas Day. Santa is the grand finale, which provides a little extra magic to the day.
Check It Out
Jingle Cruise is definitely a fun spin on the usual Jungle Cruise ride. The holiday makeover is a fun addition to the park and will certainly get you into the holiday spirit. Outside of the decorations and puns, the makeover doesn’t stray too far from the everyday ride, so I’m hesitant to label it as a “Don’t Miss It.” If time permits or you’re able to get a FastPass+, then I’d definitely recommend it, but you shouldn’t be heartbroken if you miss it.
Similar to when they’d “flip the switch” for the Osborne Lights at Hollywood Studios, Elsa “freezing” the castle during the Frozen Holiday Wish is a great way to kick off the evening and provides a backstory behind the bedazzled castle. Introduced during Frozen’s boom in popularity, the show is a fun addition if you can see it, but not worth changing your plans over.
Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration is a “cute” show, as my mother would put it. It’s cheesy in the best possible way, but it also features many characters you don’t normally see in and around the parks. Normally shown during the Very Merry Christmas Party, the show runs throughout Christmas week. I’d definitely check it out if time permits.
I’m against telling anyone to skip anything, seeing as everyone is different. Maybe you’re a Frozen fanatic and the highlight of your day will be when Elsa lights up the castle, or you simply can’t wait to go on Jingle Cruise since it’s your favorite ride.
What I will say is that Christmas is the most unique time that you can visit Walt Disney World. Unlike Halloween or the weeks leading up to Christmas week, you don’t need a special event ticket to partake in the holiday fun. Most of the entertainment is included with your park admission! With that said, I’d skip the normal, everyday attractions in favor of some holiday-themed ones. If you have to make a choice between riding Seven Dwarfs Mine Train for the umpteenth time or seeing Holiday Wishes, then I’d skip Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. My mentality is and will always be: you can look at a photo of Cinderella Castle and not know whether it was taken in May or September, but only during Christmas is it illuminated in icicle lights. In other words — take advantage of the uniqueness of the season.
The Ideal Day
I’ll caveat this by saying that everyone is different. How you tour or prefer to vacation, whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, your existing FastPass+ selections and Advanced Dining Reservations, the age of your family, and what type of rides you go on can and will affect how you plan your day. Do not change your day according to my “ideal” day, but do feel free to use it as an example.
I thought outlining Christmas Day would be the best example. Whenever we tell fellow Disney fans that we go to Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day, they all react with the same stunned look, as though we’d just been through some life-altering experience. We’re constantly met with questions: “how?”… “why would you put yourself through that?”…”doesn’t everything have a 5-hour wait?”
It’s true. Magic Kingdom gets insanely crowded, but with the right plan, you can see and do almost everything.
On Christmas Day, we have a FP+ for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Jingle Cruise, and Thunder Mountain. We have a dinner ADR at Narcoossee’s at 8:30pm, with hopes of catching the fireworks as we east dessert. In a vacuum, we don’t rush back to Fantasyland to ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and we save rides like Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh for later in the evening, after many young families have left the park.
We’re not morning people. We believe vacations are for waking up later than usual and relaxing, but we all know that a Disney vacation is far from relaxing. Once a trip, we’ll wake up way earlier than we’d prefer: on Christmas Day. This year, Magic Kingdom will open at 7 am to the public, with a morning Extra Magic Hour from 6 am-7 am. Can you feel me cringing from here?
The parks don’t seem to get overly crowded until 10 or 11 am; I’m not sure why. I’d assume that many off-site guests hit traffic on the way into Magic Kingdom, and many on-site guests spend their morning opening gifts or grabbing breakfast. This presents those brave enough to wake up early with a small window to pack in as many rides and attractions as possible before the wait times grow to enormous lengths.
We’ll push to arrive as close to 6 am as possible this year. Many guests will rush back to Fantasyland, but we’ll go directly to Tomorrowland instead. Space Mountain usually has a 20-30 minute wait. My sister and I will jump on there, then meet up with our parents and go on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. We’ll usually hop on the PeopleMover after and take a relaxing ride around Tomorrowland, then grab a coffee at the Joffrey’s to wake ourselves up a bit — the Starbucks will have a line down Main Street within the first 10 minutes of rope drop.
By now it’s around 7:15-7:30 am. The park is open to the public and the first wave of people are heading down Main Street. Many will duck into line at Starbucks for their first cup of coffee; others will go to Fantasyland with dreams of getting on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in under an hour. Again, this is your opportunity to go against the grain and get in some of the less-popular attractions. We usually like to stop for a few photos in front of the castle before heading to Adventureland.
In Adventureland, Pirates of the Caribbean has a 15-minute wait posted, but there’s no one in line and we’re on a boat in around 5 minutes. Around 8 am we decide to grab breakfast. In past years we’d go to Be Our Guest, but that tends to cut into our morning. Instead, we’ll grab a quick bite to eat at Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square.
We have an 8:35 am FP+ selection for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. There’s around a 100-minute standby wait by the time we get there at 8:45 am. We’re on and off in around 20 minutes. Now it’s a little after 9 am and the park is starting to feel a bit crowded. The area near “it’s a small world” is congested with guests. I check the My Disney Experience app and many of the popular rides have a 90-minute wait. I nudge my sister and show her the wait time for Space Mountain: 110 minutes. We smile and high-five, as waking up early feels like a win.
We have a 9:40 am FP+ for Jingle Cruise. After that, we go to our 10:45 am FP+ for Thunder Mountain. Jungle Cruise is a cult favorite and can easily put up a 40-60 minute wait on a normal day; throw a holiday makeover on it during one of the most crowded days of the year and it’s bound to have a 60-90 minute wait. Thunder Mountain will have between an 80 and 100-minute wait by the time we ride at 10:45 am.
Ideally, we’d swap the Thunder Mountain and Jingle Cruise FP+. We like to line up for the parade around 11-11:15 am in Frontierland, right outside of the Country Bear Jamboree. It’s a lot easier to get to that area from Adventureland than from Thunder Mountain, but beggars can’t be choosers.
We’ll line up in Frontierland around 11:15 am to watch the parade. The parade originates in Frontierland at 12 pm, so we’ll be the first to see it. Main Street is way too crowded, and being the first to see it gives us some time to get around or jump on one more ride before the crowds disperse. After the parade passes around 12:20 pm, we’ll grab a Dole Whip and slowly work our way to the exits. It’s been a long but productive morning. It’s time to head back to the resort for a nap!
We’ll nap or relax in the afternoon, then head back to the Magic Kingdom area that evening. If we had an earlier ADR, we’d probably head back to the park to watch the fireworks, then get in the family-friendly rides that were way too crowded earlier. Fortunately, we have seven days ahead of us and at least two more days in Magic Kingdom.
Tips and Tricks
Arrive early. Take or leave this advice. We’re not morning people, but we make the “sacrifice” of going early. It’s the best way to get in a few rides and attractions before the masses arrive.
Stay late. Again, it’s all going to depend on how you vacation. Disney will often add late-night Extra Magic Hours. On top of this, many one-day guests and younger families head toward the exit after the fireworks, leaving rides like Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan with a much lower wait time than earlier.
Line up for parades around 1-1.5 hours in advance and avoid Main Street. Our favorite spot to watch the parade is from Frontierland, where the parade originates.
Use stores and the park’s layout to your advantage when walking around. The Emporium store spans the length of Main Street and is a great way to bypass the crowds. Enter the store in Town Square and exit at Casey’s Corner during parades or when Main Street is crowded. Disney will often open backstage areas as well, to alleviate crowds.
Take a break in the afternoon. The park gets the most crowded from 10 am until the fireworks. You don’t have to go all the way back to your resort, either. You can take a monorail tour around the Magic Kingdom area and check out the decorations, then find a quiet spot to sit for a while.
Go against the grain. When everyone runs toward Fantasyland, start your day at Tomorrowland or Adventureland.
Line up for the fireworks around one hour in advance. Holiday Wishes is currently scheduled for Christmas week. It doesn’t feature as many projections, like Happily Ever After, and is viewable throughout the park. If Main Street or the Hub is too crowded, try someplace behind the castle.
Pete Pirone is a 32-year-old writer who loves Walt Disney World. He grew up going to Disney. His family has celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and even attended a wedding at Disney World.
Pete and the rest of the Pirone clan have celebrated every Christmas from 2009-2018 at Disney. Having spent years traveling during the most crowded time of the year, Pete uses his knowledge to develop tips and tricks for tacking the crowds and creating an efficient trip itinerary—no matter when you go!
When he's not writing, Pete is cooking and trying out new restaurants. He's a huge foodie and can often be found dining and eating his way around Walt Disney World.
Pete also hates writing in the third person...