How to do Christmas at Disney World

Since I am heading to Orlando this weekend, it only feels appropriate to dispense the rest of my advice in planning a visit to Walt Disney World at Christmas. This might sound crazy, but with 6 months to go, now’s as good a time as any to plan for the 2024 holiday season. Take it from me–without proper planning at least six months in advance, your trip to the Happiest Place on Earth can quickly devolve into the Crankiest Time on Earth.

Here are some ways to avoid that.

Skip Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day

Just don’t. The Magic Kingdom is already a nightmare during the busy season, but Christmas Day takes the damn cake. Instead of standing in lines for over an hour, fighting for a spot to see the fireworks, and having no room to breathe, go to one of the less populated parks. Things will be more manageable, and you can always brave your way through the Magic Kingdom another day. We opted for Epcot and Hollywood Studios on Christmas, and not only did we have a blast, but we didn’t spend half the day in line, and I had an awesome spot to watch the Star Wars-themed fireworks show at Hollywood Studios.

holiday storyteller at Epcot
holiday storyteller at Epcot

Spring for a Park Hopper

That extra $50 buys you sanity, flexibility, and freedom. There is no way I could have survived being at the park from morning until night. Thanks to the Park Hopper we came and went as we pleased. Since the Magic Kingdom is the Crowdiest Place on Earth, our strategy was to arrive first thing in the morning (holler for Extra Magic Hours!) and leave around 1:00 p.m. to have lunch elsewhere. From noon until three, a horde shows up to the park and you’ll be glad you left the melee. Plus, it’s nice to flit in and out of the other parks whenever you like.

Christmas at Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Christmas at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

Set up Your Fastpass as Soon as Possible

Do yourself a favor and sign up for My Disney Experience and download the mobile app. Once you purchase tickets, you can link them to your account and set up your Fastpass (among other things like dining, seeing wait times, and handy maps). This guarantees you shorter lines for three rides. You’ll want to set these up for hot-ticket items like Space Mountain, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, HAUNTED MANSION (my jam), Buzz Lightyear, Splash Mountain, etc. So even if the crowds get to a fever pitch, you’ll at least get to do a few things you really wanted.

Do Not Oversleep

Having the time of your life is exhausting, so I don’t blame you for wanting to hit the snooze button repeatedly. DON’T DO THAT. The sooner you get to the park, the sooner you can make a mad dash towards a popular ride you didn’t Fastpass. Get there early enough and your wait can be something like 10 minutes. Also, this makes it easier to leave midday since you accomplished so much before noon. Then pop back for the fireworks and more rides, and you’re all set!

Disney Christmas Day Parade
Disney Christmas Day Parade

Make Your Dining Reservations in Advance

Pretty much ALL the popular Disney restaurants fill up for Christmas months in advance. I had a three-month window, and I was still unable to book Cinderella’s Royal Table, the Garden View Tea Room, or Be Our Guest. REALLY?! WHY I NO EAT IN A CASTLE. I ended up reserving the 50’s Primetime Cafe, Morimoto Asia, and Kona Cafe and it was such a relief knowing we had places to eat outside of counter service. In order to get what I wanted, these arrangements should have been made six months in advance. Isn’t that insane? This is why I’m telling you to think about it now. You better believe seasoned Disney travelers already have a gameplan and will pull the trigger on reservations the minute that window opens.

Holiday Activities in Disney World

Stay at a Disney Resort

Time is of the essence when you’re in the midst of the madness at Christmas, so do yourself a favor and stay at a Disney Resort. The perks are endless. From free transportation to and from the airport, transport to all the other Disney resorts and sites, luggage picked up FOR YOU and dropped off in your room, to the Magic Band, and boarding passes/luggage check-in AT your hotel, it’s such a seamless experience. More importantly, SUCH A TIME SAVER.

Visit Other Disney World Resorts and Disney Springs

At midday when the parks are swollen to max capacity, LEAVE. Hop on the free monorails, shuttles, and ferries, and check out the seasonal displays at the Grand Floridian, Contemporary, etc. For a more adult experience, head over to Disney Springs and have a drink at the pub or a leisurely lunch with cocktails at one of the many restaurants (but make reservations, remember). Then head back to your hotel for a nap before hitting up another theme park.

Disney Springs Christmas Decorations
Disney Springs Christmas Decorations

Final Word

No matter how much you plan, things can always go awry (and they probably will). Right before our Fastpass window was supposed to open for Space Mountain, we received a notification that the ride was shut down for maintenance. I was already feeling stressed from the claustrophobia-inducing crowds, but instead of having a meltdown, we rallied, and Disney ended up giving us preferential treatment once the ride reopened, plus a bonus pass. See? It all works out.

It’s tricky, but try not to stress. Yes, there will be crowds, yes, your view of the fireworks will probably be blocked by a tree, and yes, you’ll be standing in awful lines, but I promise when it’s all said and done, you’ll only think about the good stuff…even if you didn’t get to eat in a castle.

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