Home » The 5 Best and Worst Things About Visiting Walt Disney World During the Holidays

    The 5 Best and Worst Things About Visiting Walt Disney World During the Holidays

    Castle Dream Lights

    There’s no question that Walt Disney World takes on a special look around the holidays. The decorations, treats, and special events draw in plenty of excited guests, but a visit over the holidays isn’t always as magical as you may imagine. If you’re considering a Disney vacation around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years, here are a few bests and worsts to think about so you can plan accordingly.

    The best things…

    1. Special events

    Castle Dream Lights

    Image: Disney

    Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Very Merry Christmas Party are outstanding holiday events that are an annual tradition for many visitors. These separately ticketed events get you into the Magic Kingdom after it’s closed to day guests. The park transforms with holiday festivities that include exclusive characters, special parades, and holiday fireworks. If you’re a fan of Christmas or Halloween, these parties are something you’ll want to try at least once.

    Visit as early as you can for the best experience. At a Halloween party in mid-September we were able to walk on every ride in the park, while events later in the season were packed.

    2. Festive food

    Disney Gingerbread House

    Image: Disney

    Walt Disney World rolls out special food for the holidays both at the parties previously mentioned at the Magic Kingdom and at other parks and resorts throughout the season. If you’re visiting on the actual holiday, you may even have the chance to enjoy a very rare feast. Some restaurants offer Christmas or Thanksgiving meals with special menus just for that day. Plan to book early, however, as these reservations go fast.

    If you can’t get into a holiday meal, all is not lost, as you’ll find festive cookies, cupcakes, and other treats around every corner as the holidays get closer.

    3. Seasonal merchandise

    Mickey's Very Merry MagicBand

    Image: Disney

    Halloween and Christmas both come with a slew of seasonal merchandise. Don’t expect to find much for Thanksgiving, though. Sandwiched between the two, this holiday is easily forgotten on Disney’s marketing calendar. If you go all out decorating for these holidays, you’ll love the special finds available this time of year. While Halloween items are fairly exclusive to this season, keep in mind that there are Christmas stores open year-round at Downtown Disney, Magic Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you miss the Christmas season, you can still find special ornaments even in the middle of summer.

    4. Holiday characters

    Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

    Image: Disney

    Many characters take on a special look around the holidays. Mickey and Minnie don holiday sweaters as Christmas gets closer in many of their meet and greet locations. Though you’ll find more holiday characters at the Magic Kingdom parties than anywhere else, you can find the big five in special attire throughout the season. Many of them, like Santa Goofy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, even appear with special backdrops for the occasion.

    5. Breathtaking Decorations

    Frozen Holiday Wish

    Image: Disney

    Walt Disney World’s holiday decorations are over the top for every occasion, but none more so than Christmas. You’ll find towering trees in every park and many resorts. Garlands, lights, and more have the entire property decked out for the holiday. Cinderella’s Castle is particularly breathtaking around Christmas, as it’s iced just for the season. Last year the Fairy Godmother iced the castle, but for 2014 Elsa has taken over the task. The castle gets iced in a special ceremony each night.

    The Worst things…

    1. Outrageous crowds

    Christmas packed

    The closer you get to a major holiday, the bigger the crowds are. Everyone wants to take advantage of those five big perks mentioned above, so you’ll find packed streets and long lines nearly everywhere you go. If you don’t enjoy rubbing elbows, literally, with strangers, this is not the season for you.

    You can enjoy some holiday flair without the crowds if you celebrate early. Come for Halloween in the middle of September and celebrate Christmas the first week of November for the fun of the festivities without the crowds.

    2. High prices

    Frozen Christmas

    Image: Disney

    Walt Disney World vacations are expensive any time of the year, but this is even truer around the holidays. Resort prices rocket as the parks get busier toward these major events. Even park tickets can be more expensive. Florida residents enjoy a discounted ticket rate most of the year, but from December 18 through January 2, these tickets are invalid, meaning that residents need to splurge on non-resident tickets which are more expensive if you’re visiting for more than one day.

    3. Shorter park hours

    Image: Disney 

    You’d expect park hours to be longer during busy seasons, and for the most part they are. However, the holiday parties create a special consideration many guests don’t think about. If you’re visiting during a season when the Magic Kingdom is hosting the Halloween or Christmas party, the park will close early to regular guests on party nights. Visit over a holiday weekend and that’s almost every night. If you want to see Wishes and you’re not attending a party, you’ll have to make sure you’re at the Magic Kingdom on a day when there’s no party or you may end up missing this classic highlight.

    Disney’s water parks close once a year for cleaning and annual refurbishment and it usually happens over the holiday season when the weather is a bit cooler. If you come around the holidays and want to swim, you should keep in mind that you may not get a choice of water park. While one is always open, it might not be the one you were hoping for.

    4. Limited availability

    There’s a limit on just about everything at Walt Disney World. FastPass+ reservations, dining reservations, party tickets, and hotel reservation can all go fast around the holidays. Don’t be surprised if you can’t find a table at your favorite restaurant or even get a FastPass for your favorite ride.

    Even the theme parks themselves have a limit. The parks can and do reach capacity around the holidays. This means that you could be turned away at the parking plaza. This is something no guest holding a paid ticket expects to run into but it does happen, particularly on days like Christmas at the Magic Kingdom, so be prepared and arrive early if you want to get in.

    5. Unseasonal weather

    If you’re headed down to Florida from a cooler climate, you may thrill to the idea of a warm tropical Christmas. Much of the time it really is nice, but there are some important things to consider. If you’re wearing a Halloween costume appropriate to the Midwest for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party you will probably be sweltering. Don anything heavy, or add details like boots or a wig to your attire and you’ll quickly discover the downside to Florida’s hot humid weather around Halloween.

    While Floridian Christmases are without snow, they’re not completely dry. Unlike the short summer showers that usually pass in an hour, winter rains can last much longer. Though it’s not always wet, when it is it’s often a slow, chilly drizzle that can dampen your whole day.

    There are both ups and downs to a holiday visit so consider all sides carefully before you book your visit. Keep in mind, too, that there’s a sweet spot for holiday visitors willing to celebrate early if you’re smart and know how to book within that magic window.