'Tis The Season For Holiday Crowds At Disney Parks - How Crowded Is It?

by Fred Hazelton, contributing writer

It is Christmas Eve and the Disney parks are preparing for one of the most festive weeks of the year. Cast members are full of good cheer and guests are soaking up as much of the Christmas spirit as they can stuff in their stockings. It is also the most crowded week of the year. Not "one of the most crowded," not "very busy," not even "super-duper crowded." The period between December 24 and January 1 is the single most crowded week of the year—and second place is not even close. Christmastime on the Touringplans.com "1 to 10" crowd calendar needs an extra notch on its dial like a Spinal Tap speaker that goes to 11. Just how busy is it?

Wait times on New Year's Eve are the highest of the year. Chart by touringplans.com.

Wait times at the attractions are off the charts. Attractions that peak at 100 minutes on a busy day during the year can peak at 220 minutes or more on December 28th. When we look at the most extreme wait times we have ever recorded at Disney attractions, 90 percent of them occur between December 27 and January 1.

New Year's Eve is the peak within the peak. On New Year's Eve, the Magic Kingdom will reach capacity and wait times will show 200 minutes or more at most of the headline attractions. Heck, we have waited as much as 20 minutes to use the bathroom on New Year's Eve. Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios may reach capacity too.

A wait time board at Epcot on New Year's Eve 2014 shows a four-hour wait for Soarin'. Photo by Alan Dalinka.

So are you ready for the good news? There is some. In our opinion, Disney park operations really shine during the peak holiday season. Ride capacities are maximized, transportation vehicles run at peak efficiency, and cast members are placed all throughout the parks to keep things moving. It is amazing how Disney is able to handle a hundred thousand guests and present them all with a memorable holiday vacation. There is something special about experiencing the Carousel of Progress with a packed theatre singing along with the animatronics—you can't do that in September. Yes, it is so crowded you can walk down Main Street, USA without seeing your feet. But cheer up, it's Christmas!

A few of our favorite Touringplans.com Holiday Touring Tips will help you over the next week at the parks:

  • Park Hours are extended, use them. Get to the park super early too, at least 90 minutes before scheduled opening.
  • If you are there for a week try to get in as much touring as you can before December 27. Surprisingly, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are not as packed as December 27 through January 1.
  • If you have young kids or don't plan to stay up late on New Year's Eve you can tour freely if you arrive early on January 1st while other families recover from the night before.
  • Extreme wait times are often inflated. A posted 220 minute wait is more likely 150 minutes or less—small consolation, I know.
  • Be patient, be prepared, be flexible

While touring Disneyland on Christmas Day one year I asked a family ahead of me why in the world they chose to visit the parks during the busiest time of the year. The father answered simply, "It is the only time when I am off work and the kids are not in school. If we are going to do Disney, this is the week." The fact is, this is the busiest time of year for a reason. If this is the week you have chosen to visit the Disney parks, follow your touring plan and make the best of it.