How to Approach a Christmas Week Visit to Walt Disney World

Christmas decorations adorn Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World's Resort

So, you’ve decided to spend this week at Walt Disney World. I certainly admire your ambition. Christmas week is historically the busiest tourism period for Central Florida, and the arrival of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has added some extra oomph in 2019. You’re gonna need a plan, my friends. Here’s a guide on how to approach a Christmas week visit to Walt Disney World.

Brace for the Worst

Okay, here’s the wonderful news. You’re vacationing at Walt Disney World. You’re spending the holidays at the Most Magical Place on Earth!

Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of other people are doing the same thing. Crowds during Christmas week are so extensive that parks could “sell out.” On specific dates like December 25th and December 26th, Disney will stop admissions once a certain number of guests have entered Magic Kingdom and other parks.

Previously, I’d suggest that guests go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, less-trafficked parks. Then, Imagineers constructed Pandora – The World of Avatar and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Now, these two gates are extremely crowded as well.

Evening at Galaxy's Edge in Walt Disney World

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At the moment, the only park where you could find fewer guests is at Epcot. Then again, this place is currently undergoing massive renovations to overhaul the look and style of the park. So, Epcot comes with other issues.

I’ve reviewed data at some predictive sites, ones that estimate park congestion at Walt Disney World. They suggest that all the parks will be mobbed throughout Christmas week. Specifically, the data shows that Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios will operate near capacity throughout the holiday period.

When you want to avoid a crowd, your best bet is Epcot, as expected. Interestingly, Animal Kingdom has some projections that it might be less crowded than the big two. I presume the expectation is that Galaxy’s Edge will siphon a fraction of traffic away from Pandora. So, keep that information in the back of your mind.

In order of crowds, Magic Kingdom will have the largest ones, followed by Hollywood Studios. Then, Animal Kingdom should be crowded on most days, but it possibly won’t be as mobbed as the first two parks.

Meanwhile, Epcot is the place to go when everything else looks bleak. As Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members, you know that the World Showcase and Disney’s Boardwalk behind it make for phenomenal hangout areas. Use them when you’re feeling less than festive. But…

Appreciate the Season

No matter how stressed you get while standing in more extensive lines than usual, please remember the obvious. You’re spending time at Walt Disney World during the most festive holiday season of the year. All the rest of us would happily trade places with you.

I was lucky enough to visit the parks and resorts at the start of the holiday season. While I didn’t get to experience everything, I watched many of the decorations and unique structures go up.

I mean it sincerely when I say that Disney has outdone itself with the holiday lighting this year. Yes, I, like the rest of you, still miss The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, but that gingerbread cabin at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge has a legitimate WOW! Factor.

Then, Disney has sprinkled in a few surprises. Some of them are a part of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the ticketed event that ends before Christmas week begins. In past years, the parades and nighttime presentations from the party have become free for all during Christmas.

Mickey and Minnie at Disney's Christmas Parade

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Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade will delight your party with its colorful lights and charming renditions of classic holiday songs. Similarly, Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks will provide a seasonal take on the nighttime presentations that DVC members know by heart by now.

Specific Rides to Explore

You’ll want to enjoy all of these live events, but I’m going to point out two possible attractions, too. Space Mountain and Tomorrowland Speedway have had holiday overlays for the parties. Both are worthwhile, but Tomorrowland Speedway’s is particularly noteworthy due to the holiday lights on the tracks.

If Disney operates this overlay during Christmas week, you absolutely must ride this attraction (something I wouldn’t ordinarily say). Similarly, Jingle Cruise remains impressive as a dynamic change-of-pace from regular Jungle Cruise rides.

However you choose to proceed, do something that I forget to do sometimes. Take a look around and appreciate how much pride and effort cast members take in decorating the Walt Disney World campus.

Sometimes, when I’m rushing to my next FastPass or Advanced Dining Reservation, I don’t take the time to look up, and that’s my shortcoming. I’d encourage you to learn from my mistakes while you’re waiting in long lines. Rather than focusing on the negative of the crowds, gaze at the wonders which Disney has placed in your line of sight.

Maintain Flexibility

Speaking of which, I always stress flexibility during a Disney visit, but it’s doubly true at this time of the year. No matter how much you want to do something, please don’t get locked into a single strategy. Stubbornness can lead to misery, and you want the holidays to be festive and joyous, right?

When you’re in a park and feeling a bit claustrophobic, remember that Walt Disney World is more than just rides and attractions. You’ll find plenty to do beyond Space Mountain and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. For example, I previously mentioned the World Showcase. When’s the last time you watched the acrobats at the China pavilion or the drummers at the Japan pavilion? Have you ever ordered drinks at AbracadaBar?

For that matter, have you ridden the Disney Skyliner yet? Let’s explore that line of thinking for a moment. The Skyliner does more than take you to Hollywood Studios and Epcot. It also stops at Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, and Disney’s Art of Animation/Pop Century Resorts. When’s the last time you visited those three places? And I’m sure you’ve never been to the Riviera since it just opened last week.

Aerial View of Disney's Skyliner Gondolas

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Take the opportunity to explore the resorts during your vacation. You’ll discover amazing amenities and cast members brimming with holiday cheer. You’ll also get to examine the holiday decorations at the resorts. And you can decide whether the Riviera Resort is a place where you’d like to buy a contract at some point!

Visit the Monorail Resorts, Too!

Similarly, a monorail resort tour is a must. All three DVC properties on the monorail have decorated mightily for the holidays. You can get your picture taken on the fourth floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort as you stand by a Gingerbread stand.

Then, you can order some decadent baked goodies at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Sit down and appreciate the towering tree in the lobby while you snack on your treats. Afterward, walk upstairs and visit the new bar and lounge, Enchanted Rose. It’ll become a staple of your DVC stays at this resort.

Life-size Gingerbread House at Disney

Finally, visit Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort for some relaxed island vibes. The decorations here aren’t as overt as at the other two resorts, but I quite like that about them. Once you’re done, you should consider heading back to Magic Kingdom and taking a boat to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. That gingerbread cabin is definitely worth a look, and the tree in the lobby is as majestic as ever.

To a larger point, spending more time at the various Disney resorts should help you relax and maintain the holiday spirit throughout your vacation.

What to Do about Rise of the Resistance

I just wrote a guide to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance a few weeks ago, but it’s already got some outdated information. The popularity of this attraction has surprised park officials so much that Disney has changed the line queue system three times already.

Rise of the Resistance Ride at Disney World

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At first, guests would arrive at Disney’s Hollywood Studios several hours before the park officially opened. Cast members relaxed the standard admission rules and allowed guests to enter the park as early as 6:30 a.m. The strategy definitely rewarded the most devoted Star Wars fans, the ones who willingly sacrificed sleep to experience the attraction.

Disney also employed a new digital boarding pass system. Even before they “officially” entered the park, guests could sign up for a spot in the line queue for Rise of the Resistance. In fact, the boarding passes for the entire day often sold out before the park’s published opening time of 9 a.m.

Regular guests complained about the unfairness intrinsic in that system. So, Disney has changed the policy yet again. The Christmas week rule for Rise of the Resistance should remain in place through the end of the calendar year 2019. And it’s this.

Grabbing a Boarding Pass This Week

The digital boarding pass system for Rise of the Resistance won’t open until the park does. The official Disney site lists a 7 a.m. opening for Hollywood Studios on December 23rd–25th and then 6 a.m. from December 26th–31st. Then, it switches back to 7 a.m. on January 1st–4th.

You’ll want to arrive at Hollywood Studios at least 30 minutes before the park opens. You’ll go through the security check and possibly even get your admission scanned during this timeframe. Then, a few minutes before the park opens, load the My Disney Experience app on a couple of phones.

Using this tactic, your party will have multiple chances to book a digital boarding pass. Keep refreshing on both phones until a boarding pass becomes available and then grab it!

In recent days, boarding passes haven’t sold out until about 30–45 minutes after park opening. However, during Christmas week, you’ll probably need to get lucky in the first 20 minutes. On the plus side, Disney offers backup boarding passes, which place you on the waiting list. Since a lot of guests will escape the crowded parks, pick up one if you can’t get a regular boarding pass. You never know. You might get lucky!

As you can see, you’ll need to jump through a lot of hoops to ride Rise of the Resistance. As such, it may not be worth the effort during Christmas week. As a DVC member, you’ll be back soon. Avoiding the chaos of Galaxy’s Edge makes some sense.

Then again, diehard Star Wars and Disney fans will want to ride the best attraction that the company’s ever done as soon as possible. If that’s you, you’ll jump through any hoop to experience the best thing on Batuu.

Whatever you decide, I sincerely hope that you have the best vacation of your life at Walt Disney World this week. The holidays are always a special time, but they’re that much better when you’re comfortably wrapped in the Disney Bubble.

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