My family has vacationed at Disney during Christmas week every year from 2009 to 2018. I say that because anytime I mention “Christmas week at Disney,” it’s almost immediately met with “are you aware of how crowded it is?” Yes. Yes I am. I’m also aware of how expensive it is. But it’s also one of the most magical times of the year…so before I spoil the rest of this list, let’s get into the “Naughty and Nice” of Christmas week at Disney (for 2021).
The Naughty: The Crowds
Yes, it’s insanely crowded at Disney during Christmas week. If we learned one thing this year, it’s that even with capacity limits, Disney parks still get very, very crowded—and Christmas week will be no different. By midday, popular ride wait times will eclipse two hours—I’ve even seen some rides go as high as 240-270 minutes!
My personal tip for visiting the parks during Christmas week is to arrive early, get in as much as possible; leave by 1 or 2pm; and if your travel habits allow, return in the evening. I’ve noticed that even at Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day (during normal times), it didn’t get overwhelmingly crowded until 11am. This may be due to families enjoying breakfast together, opening gifts, or simply because the traffic getting into the parking lot is that bad. Regardless, visiting Disney during Christmas week will require a little extra planning and maybe waking up a little earlier for a few days during your trip—something most Disney fans are used to by now.
The Nice: There’s so much more to do than just the parks
Yes, the parks are crowded during Christmas week, but fortunately for you, there’s so much more to do at and around Disney during Christmas week. Every Deluxe resort, and some of the Moderate resorts, are all beautifully decorated during the holiday season. Beach Club, Contemporary, BoardWalk, and Grand Floridian all feature gorgeous gingerbread displays, and all the other Deluxe resorts have towering Christmas trees decorated based on their theme. My personal favorite is Wilderness Lodge. The lobby feels like you just stepped into a ski lodge in the Pacific Northwest. I like to tour the lobby, then sit in front of the multi-story fireplace and relax for a bit.
If you’re willing to go off-site, I’d recommend Gaylord Palms. This year, Gaylord Palms will feature a brand-new, multi-sensory marquee experience, Mission: Save Christmas featuring Elf. You should also check out the light display at Give Kids the World. Not only is it awe-inspiring, but proceeds go toward an amazing cause.
The Naughty: It’s Expensive
The only thing worse than the crowds during Christmas week is the price tag. Vacationing at Walt Disney World is expensive; vacationing at Walt Disney World during Christmas week—peak travel season—is “take out a mortgage on my house” expensive. And it gets worse…this year, Christmas and New Year’s Day both fall on a weekend. That means that it’ll be even more expensive to fly. Although I will say, many airlines have been dropping prices recently with all the uncertainty around travel. It’ll be tough to find a good price this close to the holiday, but if your airline offers the perk of matching lower prices or credits for price drops, then I’d recommend checking in on a daily basis to see if the price has gone down.
The Nice: You can stay off-site
The biggest question for Disney fans right now is: “what’s the point of staying on-site?” It’s definitely a valid question, especially during Christmas week, when resort prices are absurdly expensive. In past years, one of the biggest reasons to stay on-site was due to capacity closures at the parks. Parks would have to reach a Phase 4 capacity, which is pretty rare, for on-site guests to be turned away. Certain off-site guests, on the other hand, were turned away if a park hit Phase 1. For context, Magic Kingdom often hit a Phase 2 or 3 closure during Christmas week.
Thanks to the park reservation system, off-site guests no longer have to worry about being turned away due to parks hitting capacity. You can simply book a park reservation, then head to the park at a time that fits your itinerary and travel habits. This also comes in handy with crowds. On a day like New Year’s Eve, when you want to spend as little time as possible battling the crowds, guests can make a reservation for one of the parks, then go when they feel comfortable—assuming you’re not trying to stake out a spot for the fireworks.
The Naughty: The weather
Say it with me: layers. Even if the night before you leave, the weather forecast is calling for “sunny and 80 degrees,” you bring layers.
Floridians may roll their eyes at this one, but the weather in December can definitely be “naughty.” During our first Christmas trip, I pictured palm trees, sunshine, and relaxing days at the pool; so I packed for palm trees, sunshine, and relaxing days at the pool. Upon arriving, it was 70 degrees and sunny. By night, a cold front rolled in and the temperature didn’t go above 50 degrees for the rest of the trip. At night, it plummeted into the 30s. There’s also been years when it was 80 for most of the trip, then suddenly it dropped overnight. In fact I remember standing outside during “Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM” and actually feeling the cold front blow in mid-show.
It all depends on where you’re visiting from, but I’d recommend packing plenty of layers and “for every season.” Everything from shorts and t-shirts, to hoodies, sweatshirts, and even winter hats and gloves.
The Nice: When you do get a pool day
It could get pretty chilly sometimes, but when you do get a pool day, it makes it all worth it. Being from the northeast, we generally don’t see consistent pool days until mid-to-late June, and sometimes early July; so when in Florida, we like to take advantage of every beautiful day. In past years, I recommended scheduling your FastPass+ selections for early in the day or later in the evening—so if it is a pool day, you don’t mind hanging back at the resort. Now with Genie+, I’d recommend going to the park early and getting in as much as possible, then enjoying the afternoon by the pool if the weather is nice enough.
The Naughty: Getting a dining reservation
By now, if you’re traveling during Christmas week, you should have your dining reservations all scheduled. If you don’t, well then, I have some bad news for you. It’s hard enough to get a reservation at some of Disney’s top restaurants during a normal trip. During Christmas week? Even if you login the moment your ADR window opens, the chances of getting a reservation at a restaurant like California Grill or Homecomin’ is slim. And if you do manage to secure a dining reservation, you often have to re-jigger your itinerary a bit or eat during off-peak times.
The Nice: The amount of food options during the holidays
Maybe you didn’t get that coveted reservation at Topolino’s Terrace. Yeah, it stinks, but lucky for you, there are so many options for food throughout the parks and resorts. Disney’s quick service restaurants have come a long, long way, especially at Disney Springs (tip: avoid Disney Springs during the weekend!). You can easily spend an entire day eating at Epcot’s Holidays International Festival of the Holidays, and Hollywood Studios has quietly become one of the better parks for snacks, especially during the holidays.
So there you have it, my naughty and nice of Christmas week at Walt Disney World. I will close by saying that while there are many reasons to avoid the parks during the week of Christmas, it should be on every Disney fan’s bucket list. Despite the insane crowds, inconsistent weather (that led to a ton of stress while packing), and crazy prices, I wouldn’t trade my memories my family made during our Christmas trips for anything in the world. It truly is the most magical time of the year, at the most magical place on earth.