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The Ultimate Guide to New Year's Eve at Disney Parks

Walt Disney World fireworks

So, you want to celebrate New Year’s Eve at a theme park.

We can’t blame you. Most of the Disney Parks tend to go all out for the last holiday of the year, with festive firework displays, themed dance parties, unique dishes and limited-time merchandise for the rush of guests that choose to ring in the New Year in front of the castle. This year, Disney has a few new tricks up their sleeves, from Disneyland’s private Skyline Lounge to the gourmet New Year’s Eve buffet you’ll find at World Showcase in EPCOT.

Ready to brave the crazy crowds and make some memories? Here are a few recommendations to get you started.

General tips

Disneyland crowds

Image: Chris Alcoran, Flickr (license)

First, let’s go over a few life-saving tips. No matter where you choose to count down to the start of 2018, you’ll want to come prepared for the drawbacks of visiting a Disney park during the holidays: massive crowds, long lines and limited dining options.

Tip #1: Dress for the weather. It doesn’t matter whether you’re celebrating in the Magic Kingdom or Disney California Adventure; if you’re going to be at a theme park from morning until midnight, you’ll need layers, sturdy shoes (socks, Band-Aids and insoles are a must) and something to keep you warm when the evening turns cool. Traveling in a group and don’t want to carry everyone’s jackets and hats around all day? Invest in a $7 locker or two, but be aware that it may not be worth fighting through the crowds to access it later in the day. (And, if you don’t know what to pack, check out our handy-dandy theme park survival kit.)

Tip #2: Prepare to wait… for everything. Peak summer weekends may attract hordes of tourists, but they have nothing on the insane crowds that turn out for the holiday season. Waiting in line – for attractions, meet-and-greets, shows, fireworks, concessions, souvenirs and bathrooms – is easily going to take up 80-90% of your day, and it’s almost a full guarantee that you won’t get to see, do, eat or buy everything you want. Bring a cell phone charger, snacks, good company and a healthy dose of patience.

Tip #3: Make dining reservations. Yes, you can go the budget-friendly route and bring your own food into the park, but keep in mind these three benefits of reserved dining: 1) the ability to try seasonal specials (which are often only available at certain restaurants); 2) the ability to bypass long food lines (you don’t know true pain until you’ve waited 45 minutes for a churro); and 3) the ability to put your feet up without jostling for a bench, quick service table or a spot on the sidewalk (especially if you’re with a large group). And for those worried about breaking the bank, try for one of the lower-tier sit-down spots like the Carnation Cafe. You don’t need to splurge on Blue Bayou Bouillabaisse to get some value out of your reservation.

Tip #4: Arrive early and stay late. If you’re not the kind of person who’s accustomed to a typical 17-hour day at Disney, well, we have bad news for you. Expect everything to fill up more quickly than usual, from parking lots to the parks themselves. Disneyland, for instance, has been known to hit capacity before noon. When it comes to the end of your night, you’re better off killing a few hours on Main Street, U.S.A. than rushing to nab the first surge-priced Uber or Lyft on Harbor Boulevard (or Monorail car or ferry boat, as the case may be).

It should also go without saying that you should have your tickets purchased, printed and ready to go before you set foot on a Disney property. Ditch the park hopper option this time around, as New Year’s Eve is one of the rare occasions when you just can’t count on a park remaining open to new parkgoers throughout the day. The fewer lines you have to wait in, the better – especially during the holiday rush.

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