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The Holidays at Disney: Planning Your Disney Parks Vacation During the Holiday Season

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It’s approaching that particular time of year when Disney fanatics all over the world are beginning to plan their end-of-year trip to Disney Parks for that festive dose of the holiday season. Some of you may be seasoned pros when it comes to Disney vacations; however, the chaotic nature of the parks around the holidays can quickly turn you back into a beginner. Welcome to your three-part guide to Disney vacation (holiday) planning.

Today we are going to look at a few of the unique aspects of traveling to the parks at this time of year, as well as what to avoid amongst all the hustle and bustle.

‘Tis the season to be jolly and no company does the holidays better than Disney. While Halloween has rolled out in all its glory, two months ahead of the holiday itself, cast members and Imagineers are busy at work behind the scenes preparing for the arrival of Christmas. In the weeks after Halloween, while children and parents alike recover from the sugar coma of trick or treating, Disney workers scurry through their underground tunnels preparing to bust out Christmas. Though decorations might appear overnight, your Disney planning for this time of year doesn’t.

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Let’s have a look through some of the pros and cons of visiting the parks during the holidays. Because I am an inherently optimistic person, albeit also snarky and sarcastic, I am naturally inclined to run through our pro list first.

  • Holiday Parades & Fireworks. Disney loves to celebrate the holidays with a seasonally excitable parade. With energetic music and every character dressed in their festive bests, these parades can be what sets this vacation apart from your other Disney getaways. Fireworks are usually scheduled earlier in the evening due to the earlier sunset of this time of year. This change can be advantageous for those with little ones that generally wouldn’t be able to stay up until the later hours to see them.
  • Decorations. There is arguably never a more beautiful time of year to visit Disney Parks. With a dash of cheery color around every corner, Disney Parks are lit up with millions of sparkling twinkle lights. The Happiest Place on Earth somehow manages to get even happier at this time of year.
  • Specialty Food. What happens when you give your most loved Disney treats a sprinkle of holiday flair? Magic, that’s what happens. The light around you starts to glow, your skin begins to tingle, and your insides experience a rolling wave of warm and fuzzy, not all that different from the feeling you get 60 seconds into a morphine drip at the hospital, but that is a separate article. Prepare to be dazzled with some of the most incredibly delicious food you have ever had at the parks.
  • Attraction Overlays. If you are visiting Disneyland California, get ready to be re-introduced to your favorite rides with holiday overlays on “it’s a small world”, Haunted Mansion and more. If you are destined for Walt Disney World, enjoy the holidays around the world at Epcot’s World Showcase.
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It all sounds pretty spectacular, right? It is; this is my favorite time of year to visit the parks. However, make a few wrong turns with your timing and that enchanting, blissful holiday experience, swimming in all that cheer, can turn into an overcrowded dip into a bowl of people-soup. With parks reaching capacity mid-morning and long wait times for everything from quick service food locations through to the restrooms, navigating the parks can become next to impossible. Let’s look at some of the more difficult aspects of the season you will need to be prepared for:

  • Crowds. Did I mention there will be a lot of people around? That said, thanks to the elongated cheer Disney provides for us from early November until January, there is ample time to enjoy the festivities while avoiding the horrendous two week period around Christmas.
  • Availability. Whenever you are traveling around the holidays, it is always a good idea to book your accommodation as far out from the occasion as possible. If you are using a website like Expedia, book a refundable rate as early as possible, that way you can cancel and re-book if a better price comes along. It also allows you to have your accommodation tucked away securely if the hotel suddenly books up or rates increase. Resorts and restaurants can fill up quickly so make sure you have any reservations you need in place.
  • Change in moral. The holidays are an undeniably stressful time of year for many, so when you add the extra agitators of the parks to a time of year when emotions are already running high, you get a mixed bag of reactions. I find that guests this time of year can be somewhat unpredictable, so prepare yourself for those moments when a lack of patience and a sense of entitlement may come barreling out in those around you.
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While many adults may be able to brave the excess of bodies, attitude and entitlement, consider giving the extra popular weeks before and after Christmas a miss for those with little kids. The environment can turn from calm to hectic very quickly, making it hard for little ones to cope.

The 2018 Holiday Season schedules are available for most Walt Disney World locations now; Disneyland is a lot more tight-lipped about their schedule, only releasing it 30 – 60 days in advance.

Your best bet to experience the excitement of this season at the parks without the accompanied mania is to plan your visit somewhere between mid-November and mid-December, avoiding the week of Thanksgiving. As with just about any time of year, Monday – Thursday will be your quietest days of the week with the exception of any holidays that may fall on those days.

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Now that you know what to get excited for, and what to brace yourself for, start making those plans and reservations ASAP. Next time we are going to look at how to keep the illusions of the holiday season alive for your younger children when staying in a hotel room over those special holidays.

Share some of your holiday season Disney Parks experiences below and help others know what to keep an eye on and prepare for.

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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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