I’m sharing all my tips for visiting Walt Disney during the busy season.
Visiting Disney World During the busy Season
If you’re headed to Walt Disney World during the busy season, you will want to have a game plan! Walt Disney World is busy no matter what time of year you go, but the Christmas season is arguably the busiest. Be prepared for extra crowds, longer wait times and parks that reach capacity. If you’ve planned far enough ahead and have park reservations already in place, you’re off to a great start! If you haven’t made a park reservation yet and are watching spots fill up, there is still hope! I’m going to share a few tips that will help make your visit to the parks at peak season, as enjoyable and stress-free as possible.
What to Do When There Are No Reservations Left at the Park of Your Choice
To visit any of the four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom), you will need to make park reservation in addition to having a valid theme park ticket. You can check to see what parks are available before purchasing tickets, here.
- Step 1: Create a Disney account online or through the My Disney Experience app.
- Step 2: Purchase theme park tickets (get the Park Hopper option added if the park of your choice is out of reservations!)
- Step 3: Make a park reservation for the theme park of your choice or at whatever park has availability.
If there are no spots available for the park of your choice during the week of your visit, your best bet is to purchase a Park Hopper ticket. This is an additional fee that is added to your base ticket. The Park Hopper ticket allows you to visit any other park of your choice after 2:00PM. If there are no park reservations left for Magic Kingdom but there is for Epcot, grab the Epcot reservation.
Start your day at Epcot and leave the park around 1:30 to head to the Magic Kingdom. Important: this is still not a guarantee you will be able to get into Magic Kingdom. When holiday crowds are at their peak, parks have been know to reach capacity. You may want to check with a cast member first to see if the Magic Kingdom has reached capacity and closed the gates. If Magic Kingdom is closed to any additional guests, you may want to head to Animal Kingdom instead. Animal Kingdom is the largest of the four parks and least likely to be at capacity.
Example Game Plan
To summarize, I’ll lay out an example game plan. Let’s assume the day you want to visit the Magic Kingdom, there are no park reservations available. Here are the steps you need to take:
- Step 1: Create a Disney account online or through the My Disney Experience app.
- Step 2: Purchase theme park tickets with the Park Hopper option added on!
- Step 3: Make a park reservation for whatever park is available, for example, Epcot.
- Step 4: Start your day at Epcot, or whatever park you have a reservation at. I recommend being there at “rope drop” which is roughly an hour before the park opens.
- Step 5: Around 1:00 start making your way to the Magic Kingdom. Park Hopper options are supposed to kick in after 2:00PM, but on a busy day, you may want to get there early. You can check with a Cast Member or on the My Disney Experience app to see if the park is already closed and not accepting any more people. If you are at Epcot, you can ride a Disney bus or the monorail over to the Magic Kingdom. The Skyliner does not go to the Magic Kingdom. I recommend the Monorail.
- Step 6: Be prepared to pivot. If the Magic Kingdom is at capacity, hop on a bus and head to the Animal Kingdom. This is the largest of the Disney parks and the least likely to be full during peak crowds.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Day During Peak Season
If you have your tickets and your reservations, here are a few tips you may want to keep in mind when visiting the parks.
Especially during peak season, time will be limited because everything takes longer. I recommend arriving at the park by “rope drop.” This has historically been around an hour before the actual opening time. You will either wait in your car at the gate, or be allowed into the park to wait. In the past, guests could gather just inside the park gate and wait for an actual rope to drop. Then it’s a mad dash back to your favorite ride to get in line! Sometimes this method pays off and you’re rewarded with a shorter line.
Go with a Game Plan
During peak season, lines will be extra long for the most popular rides. I recommend having a list of your must-do attractions and getting them done first. If you are starting the day at Epcot, you may want to head straight to Norway to ride Frozen Ever After. Our family loves this ride and it has the longest wait time in the park.
When heading straight to your must-do ride, you will be tempted to stop at the other awesome attractions along the way. Stay focused! Make a B-line strait to your favorite ride and go back to the other things afterward.
Adjust Your Expectations
Make your must-do rides a priority, but be prepared to change your plans. Take a moment and breath. Take it all in! Be present in the moment and careful not to allow yourself to feel panicked. Adjust your expectations to allow extra flexibility. Don’t worry, be happy! Do what you can and release feelings of disappointment over the things you can’t.
Consider paying for Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes
You may be aware of the new Genie+ system. Fast Passes were phased out this past year and the Genie+ system has taken their place. You can access this service through the My Disney Experience mobile app. Genie+ allows you to cut the line and experience drastically shorter wait times for an added fee with certain rides only available with an extra Lightening Lane pass.
Lightning Lane Rides Included with Genie+ include:
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Haunted Mansion
- “it’s a small world”
- Jungle Cruise
- Mad Tea Party
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic
- Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- The Barnstormer
- The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Tomorrowland Speedway
- Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid
- Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival
- Frozen Ever After
- Journey into Imagination with Figment
- Living with the Land
- Mission: SPACE – Green
- Mission: SPACE – Orange
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Spaceship Earth
- Test Track
- The Seas with Nemo & Friends
- Turtle Talk with Crush
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage
- Disney Junior Play & Dance!
- For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
- Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- Muppet*Vision 3D
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™
- Toy Story Mania!
- Celebration of the Festival of the Lion King
- Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
- Feathered Friends in Flight!
- It’s Tough to Be a Bug!
- Kali River Rapids
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Naʻvi River Journey
- The Animation Experience at Conservation Station
Individual Lightning Lane rides include:
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
- Avatar Flight of Passage
What I Would Do
If you have your heart set on riding as many rides as possible during peak hours, you may have to pay for the Genie+ pass. If there are specific rides you REALLY want to do, consider paying for a couple of your favorite must-do rides with a Lightning Lane pass. For example, start your day at Epcot and pay for either the Frozen Ever After or Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure Lightning Lane pass. Both of these rides are fantastic for kids and adults of all ages and arguably the best rides at Epcot.
My Must-Do Recommendations
Everyone has different interests and favorite rides. I always recommend basing your choices on your kids or your family’s personal interests. Here are a few of my favorites at each park:
- Stroll down Main Street and get pictures in front of the castle (ask a cast member to take your picture!)
- Mobile order Dole Whip at Aloha Isle
- Ride Pirates of the Caribbean
- Ride It’s a Small World
- Ride Space Mountain
- Ride Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- Grab a quick service snack at the Friar’s Nook
- Meet a Princess
- Take pictures in front of the purple wall outside Tomorrowland
- Watch fireworks over Cinderella’s castle
Tip: Buy the refillable popcorn bucket at any park! It’s the cheapest and easiest snack to eat all day long, plus it makes a great souvenir.
- Ride Frozen Ever After
- Ride the Seas with Nemo and Friends
- Ride Soarin’
- Ride Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
- My big kids have to do Test Track and Mission Space
- Eat all the things
- Visit Mexico and ride the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros
- Honorable mentions: Spaceship Earth, Journey Into Imagination
- Ride Star Wars Rise of the Resistance
- Ride Star Wars Smugglers Run
- Walk around Galaxy’s Edge
- Ride Slinky Dog Dash
- Walk around Toy Story Land
- My big kids love the Tower and Terror and the Rocking Rollercoaster
- Get pictures in front of the Tree of Life
- Head straight to the back of the park to ride the Kilimanjaro Safari
- Ride Flight of Passage
- Get a Night Blossom drink
- Ride the Na’vi River Journey
- Return to Pandora when it’s dark
- Grab a meal at Flame Tree Barbecue
- My big kids love Expedition Everest
- Catch “It’s Tough to be a Bug”
- Watch “Festival of the Lion King”
- Catch nighttime projections on the Tree of Life