Christmas Week Crowds? Maybe... or Maybe Not

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

Is it the most wonderful time of the year? Or not? It may not be Thanksgiving yet, but the Disney resorts are already decked out for the holidays. This week, we asked our Parenting Panel: Christmas Crowds: Would you go to a Disney theme park between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day?

Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well share his experiences. Chris writes:

There is nothing like the Christmas season at the Walt Disney World Resort (WDW). Everything is decorated to the max. There is a lot of joy in the air. There are seasonal treats that you can’t get at any other time. In short, it is a wonderful time to visit and it can be a unique visit at that even if you are a frequent visitor to the resort throughout the year. But if the question is if I would ever take my family down to the parks during that week between Christmas and New Year's my answer would have to be a solid no.

Before you scroll past the rest of my comments, thinking that there was a time where I would actually want to avoid WDW, I would like to elaborate a bit to give you a better idea as to my train of thought.

The number one reason that makes me steer clear of the parks during this time is the crowds. It is, by far, the busiest time of the year to go, and you will consistently see crowd levels that bring the Magic Kingdom to its maximum capacity. This does not simply mean that attraction wait times start rising dramatically. It also means that it becomes more and more difficult to shop, enjoy the sites, and even simply maneuver through the parks. It changes a certain dynamic of the park that goes from festively busy to nearly wall-to-wall people. Keep in mind, I do not mind crowds. In fact, I tend to visit during some of the busier times of the summer months, as well. However, I never experienced a capacity-level crowd.

Personally, that is just not my style.

Granted, I have several close friends of mine who went during this time of year and they had a great time. Sure, they battled the crowds and they would probably agree with my assessment above. But they said, with a good plan, you can still enjoy many of the attractions without wasting too much time in line. Their tip to me was to target your activities of the day do not go in with the slightest thought that you will get everything on your wish list done. In essence, it was doable as long as you set your own expectations properly. I think that is what scares some people away – not knowing what to expect. I think I fall into this category.

I’ve always said that a bad day at Disney would beat nearly any other day. I still think that is true. Maybe instead of me saying that I would answer “a solid no” to the question, it would be more accurate for me to say" no, but some day I might be willing to take the chance." I do feel that I would have to prepare myself for something like I have never experienced before, but at the same time, there was a time where I never thought I would want to go to WDW during that time in the first place.

MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry his wife, Diane, 14-year-old Samantha, and twin 11-year-olds, Casey and Alex, live on Long Island, and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:

I have no interest in going on a Disney vacation the week between Christmas and New Year's. Nor will I go during Easter/spring break, or during the February break. These are no-brainers for me and my family. It’s almost as easy as deciding to go in the first place. “Yes. Let’s go!” is usually my immediate response to anyone asking about going to the Walt Disney World Resort. The next two responses are typically “When are we going?” and “How much are we paying?” The first response is always, “Not during a crazy-busy time!”

As far as the latter response, I will always stand by my belief that a Disney vacation is a good deal. It isn’t cheap. But considering everything that I’m getting when I go down there, it’s a bigger bang for my buck than most any other travel destination. And if you pay attention, you can get a great Disney-offered special.

We’ve gotten Disney's Polynesian Resort in August for 40 percent off of the already lower room rate for that time of year. Spending $289 for a night at the Polynesian is a great deal. Similarly, we’ve stayed at Disney's Port Orleans Riverside on a Disney special for around $130 per night, which is also a great deal. However, neither of these deals can ever be had during the week between Christmas and New Year's. Those are premium times, and that commands full-price rates. So the bottom line for me is: I’m not paying full price just to be there during that week. I’d rather go another time and save quite a few bucks, which brings me back to my first response: “When are we going?”

I have no interest in being there during peak travel times. We’ve been to WDW during the first week in December for a long weekend and experienced all the glory and pageantry of the holidays for far less money and with far fewer crowds. It’s completely worth it to see what the Disney parks and resorts do for the holiday season. It’s wonderfully magical, and you should make it a point to see it. But, trust me, you don’t have to be there Christmas week shoulder to shoulder with everybody else. Go earlier in December for a quick weekend and you’ll see all the same things the people crammed into the parks during the holiday week see, if not more.

Plus, from a New Yorker’s point of view, I need the cold weather for it to be Christmas. It’s just what I know. You may not have grown up that way, but my fireplace, a sweater, and maybe some snow on Christmas makes it real for me. Warm weather, shorts, and air-conditioning don’t spell Christmas cheer to me.

So, my personal advice is: Save money. Avoid the crowds and head down there in early December to see the Disney holiday amazement. Every Disney fan should see it, at least once, but you might as well get a good deal and make it stress free. Don’t you think?

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!


  1. By WhoDey1982

    I have been lucky to live near both Disneyland and Disney World. This means I have experienced both during "busy" and "slow" times of the year. I have to say, I would NOT visit Disneyland the week of Christmas through New Years Eve. You have max capacity crowds, long lines, it is elbow to elbow people, and you can't really "enjoy" too much. There are times where it can take you nearly and hour to walk from the area around the Haunted Mansion to Main Street. This isn't much fun at all. The parks can and typically do reach capacity during this two week stretch which means extremely long lines for every attraction. Also, you run the risk of not being able to get in to Disneyland if you don't want to go when the parks open. With kids, this makes for a lot of stress. Not only do you have to deal with huge crowds; you also have to really focus on keeps your kids with you. While you should do this anyway, it is much more difficult when you have 60,000 people in such a limited area.

    As far as Disney World goes, I think a lot of people are only considering the Magic Kingdom. Outside of cost (hotel cost and the lack of dining promotions make it more expensive during this time!), you can really still enjoy Disney World during Christmas. When things got really busy around the Christmas season, all parks were definitely impacted. The Magic Kingdom really felt it the most. At the other parks, only the E-Ticket rides really seemed to get bad. If you plan it right, you can hit these right away and then spend the rest of your time enjoying your day doing other stuff. Also, with things like Extra Magic Hours to enjoy, you should be able to get to almost everything. One thing we learned living in Florida is; no matter how busy the other parks are, you can ALWAYS enjoy EPCOT. The lines for most rides (outside of Soarin' and Test Track) are short year round. You can stroll through World Showcase at your own pace. Finally, it is so large, even with crowds, it never really feels "full." Even during Food & Wine, EPCOT doesn't feel "full".

    So, if money wasn't something I needed to consider, I WOULD visit Disney World during the week of Christmas. I WOULD NOT visit Disneyland during this time.

  2. By StevePCGuy

    Quote Originally Posted by MousePlanet AutoPoster View Post
    Christmas Week Crowds? Maybe... or Maybe Not by Adrienne Krock

    The Parenting Panel members shares their opinions about traveling to Disney theme parks between Christmas and New Year's.

    Read it here!

    With "Catching Fire" due out this week, one can actually draw comparisons between the Hunger Games and a visit to Disneyland between Christmas and New Years. We live 8 miles away from the park "as the pixie flies", but it's 12 miles via streets and the 57 freeway.

    -Strategy plays a key role: What are your objectives? In the Hunger Games, jumping headlong into the fray is a strategy that can get you "killed" in a hurry. You have to pick your target carefully, trying to avoid the rest of the pack. This usually means a strategic strike in the park: Arriving for rope drop, hitting 2 or 3 key rides or attractions immediately, then sitting back while the crowds smash themselves into oblivion.

    -The Holiday Factor: Interestingly, I find that the parks are more crowded during this week than during the summer, but it's more bearable because there is the "holiday factor": People are nicer to each other during the holidays. Maybe it's because it's not so hot. Perhaps people feel that Santa is watching. Whatever the reason, I find myself enjoying the holiday season. There are fewer "Grinches" in the crowd.

    -Expectations: It's OK to have a list, but you must be able to change your battle plan, based upon current conditions. Katniss Everdeen had a plan when the Games started, but it changed and evolved due to conditions. That's how you survive. If your favorite ride goes down or has a huge line, be able to switch gears and find something else to enjoy. As passholders, that's a credo we live by.

    So, would we go during the peak period? Yes, we would. And we do. Go in for a bit of cheer, then get out before the any Grinches can spoil your time.

  3. By mkelm44

    While I admit that Disney makes the holiday season impressive (as they do most everything) with the Osborne Family Lights, Candlelight Processional, and more, I agree with the panelists to steer clear of Disney during the Christmas-New Years week. I think that if you're a local with an annual pass and you are just there to see the holiday season stuff but not necessarily to ride rides or see shows, then by all means, but if you're not a local who is trying to get the most out of your trip, then go the week after New Years or two weeks before Christmas. You won't have the stress of the crowds, of the waits, and of everything else and will be able to see most of the holiday stuff (I think they start taking down the Lights, etc somewhere around Jan 4 or 5 usually).

    But at the end of the day it's a simple cost-benefit analysis. Pros: See Disney Holiday shows/displays. Cons: Greater Expense, Longer to get on rides and into shows, More Crowds. By my calculus at least, the Costs outweigh the benefits.

    I almost never tell people to not go to Disney, but if someone tells me they are going to Disney Christmas week, I tell them go another time, and if they can only take a trip that week, then go somewhere else. Take a cruise on the Disney Magic, go visit an island in the caribbean, or my favorite, go skiing in Vermont, but don't go to Disney.

  4. By Angie2009

    I am smiling remembering a visit during max capacity crowd times, we were leaving DCA to head over to DL and a CM was announcing that DL was nearing capacity so we should stay in DCA. I went up and asked what we should do if we really wanted to see fireworks (or something like that in DL) and she had a very conflicted look on her face- so I just smiled and said, "should we run?" and she laughed. We made it over.

    I also remember waiting in the freezing drizzle and scrunched packed lines for a hamburger at the spaceport an incredibly long time and thinking I'd never go at busy times again. And trying to find somewhere to eat that was warm...

  5. By Niwel

    I tell people who want to go to DLR during the holidays to go outside and slam their hand in their car will be less painful than dealing with the crowds at the park that week.

  6. By davidgra

    Our family would never, never, never go to either Disney resort during the week between Christmas and New Year's. We do, however, go during the Christmas season to both resorts. Our favorite time to visit WDW is during the first two weeks of December, and our favorite time to visit DL is right after New Year's. You get holiday decorations during those times, but with MUCH smaller crowds.

    As DVC members, we love that early December and all of January are "low" season, in terms of points per night, also. It's easy to get reservations at the resort we want, yet everything is as festive as can be.

    We did have some friends who took their family during Christmas week a couple of years ago; they said it "wasn't bad," but when we quizzed them about their experiences, we found that they only managed to ride about three rides a day, and they had to stake out spots for parades and fireworks up to three hours in advance. In addition, they couldn't get any dining reservations. For those of us who are used to traveling in the off-season, that sounds pretty bad...

  7. By *Nala*

    We went to WDW last year Dec 20-26 and would do it again! Our strategy was to hit Magic Kingdom early in the week and avoid it on Christmas Eve and Christmas. We also avoided Extra Magic Hours parks as those seemed to be more crowded. We went to Animal Kingdom on Christmas Eve and Epcot Christmas Day. It was crowded, but not ridiculous (and actually seemed better than crowded days at Disneyland since there is just so much more space.) One caveat is our kids weren't tall enough for most of the E-ticket rides so we weren't stressing about getting to the most popular rides, and we used Fastpasses for smaller attractions. I am pretty sure however that we wouldn't be brave enough to attempt Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day.

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