Celebrating the holidays at Disney can be one of the most intrinsically enchanting experiences of your life. Conversely, if you don’t go into it with eyes wide open, it can also be a very stressful, hectic time to visit. If you were with us this time last year, you might have seen my tips for planning your Disney vacay during the holidays, along with managing your schedule, and how to keep that magic alive when spending Christmas away from home. Today, I want to take a closer look at the basics of enjoying Disney during the holidays, and add in a few tips that may help.
By now, you probably have most of your reservations and activities in place. If you are visiting Walt Disney World, this may have occurred some months ago. If you are making your holiday plans for Disneyland, California, your early mornings or late nights stalking the reservations webpage might only be a week or two behind you. This brings me to my first point. If you don’t have the dining reservation you want yet, don’t be discouraged. People change and cancel reservations all the time, so stay vigilant as there is still a decent chance that you will end up getting what you want. You will need to assume the slightly obsessive role as the persistent browser refresher, but, if it gets you that special reservation you are looking for, then it’s well worth it.
Next up, the weather. It’s easy to make assumptions based on the season as December and January in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World fall in winter. It has to be cold, right? Wrong. As some of you know, I have been in Walt Disney World in early January when it was 39 degrees one day and literally over 100 the next, and no, I’m not ready to let it go yet. Weather is concerningly unpredictable in Florida, so the wearing of layers is the key to everything. Thanks to a combination of mild weather and global warming, winter months in Southern California are starting to feel warmer than ever. Last year, we found ourselves visiting the parks in the winter months in tank tops and sunscreen. Be prepared for anything.
Another topic you may have come across at this time of year is the crowd level, and, from my experience, you could very well be in for the most densely populated Disney days of your life. When it comes to the week of Christmas through the New Year, reconsider those usual plans to escape the parks for a midday swim or break. On more than one occasion, I have seen families, desperate to re-enter the parks to join their traveling buddies, be held back at the gates because the parks are at capacity.
A fun little by-product of the crowds is the time that it will take you to get on each attraction. During these periods, it can be helpful to hone in on the few rides that are important to you and commit to those, even if it takes the day. Another way to approach it is to consider the whole park as your Disney experience. Instead of focusing on the one or two things you did or the negative side of holiday crowds, use this time to enjoy the grounds. Take in a show you wouldn’t have otherwise seen, or use the opportunity to be daring and try out some of the go-at-your-own-pace activities like A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasure of the Seven Seas at Magic Kingdom or Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure at Epcot.
Make a point of enjoying your snack breaks. Quite often, we are so busy rushing between FastPasses and taking advantage of short wait times on the other side of the park that our time to stop and refuel can be seen as a chore. Quick service dining experiences can still be festive and exciting, especially if you are trying something new. Make use of mobile ordering where possible to avoid long lines, and consider sitting a little further away with your food in order to get a spot to rest that is a little out of the way. While people may be fighting for tables close to the restaurant, you can often find shady seating only a few steps away in a different direction.
For a lot of families, there is nothing more magical than the idea of fireworks to celebrate the holidays. What many don’t realize is that sometimes the best view isn’t always smack-bang on Main Street USA. Thousands of people will routinely dedicate the last few hours of their Disney days to camping out for the best fireworks spot. It’s cramped and crowded, and then, at the last minute, someone in front of you throws their 10-year-old on their shoulders and blocks the whole thing. But, with a little forethought and planning, you can easily find more accessible viewing spots without the hassle of staking your claim in the early afternoon. I have seen most of the different fireworks from just about every angle, and in most cases, the unusual ones are the best.
If you are staying on South Harbor Boulevard near Disneyland in Anaheim, many of the hotels have open-air corridors that face directly towards the firework magic and some have an elevated pool area. You may even want to make a booking at somewhere like The Fifth at The Grand Legacy, a rooftop bar/restaurant with a fabulous view of the nighttime shows. In Walt Disney World, several different hotels and resorts allow you a view of the show as well as a sit-down meal. I have enjoyed Epcot fireworks from as far back as the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel. Watching nighttime spectaculars from alternative locations is a great way to spend more of your time enjoying the atmosphere and making memories instead of fighting for your square foot of sidewalk space.
As you can see below, our favorite viewing spot for last year’s Christmas fireworks was in our pajamas from the balcony of our hotel room. Even overlooking the next-door McDonalds, the colors were beautiful and bright with the thundering sounds of each burst vibrating in your chest, reminding you that you’re alive.
Last, but not least, while everyone is trying to get that perfect center-focused shot in front of the castle, try something a little left of center, or right as it may be.
In both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, the best aspects for your castle photo may be in the winding paths around the sides. With Disneyland in particular, while everyone is grabbing that same photo with a hundred guests roaming around the drawbridge in the background, try locating the little alcove to your right where you can take your family selfie or Christmas castle shot with no one in your immediate background except for the ducks of Disney swimming around below.
In all of the hustle and bustle, try to remember that every sight, smell, taste, and sound can contribute to the magic you feel in the parks during the holidays, not just the feeling of flying down a rollercoaster.
Stay safe, enjoy the holidays, and make the most of this magical time of year in the parks of Disney.
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.