1. Stay at a hotel that offers free shuttle service to the parks.
Parking at Disney World can be a beast. Bypass the hassle by choosing a hotel with complimentary shuttle service to and from the parks, like the Waldorf Astoria Orlando or the Hilton Bonnet Creek Orlando. Resorts off the Disney World monorail, which offers round-trip service to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, are another option. If you do end up driving, Susan Pazera of the Disney Parks Moms Panel recommends taking a photo of your parking spot to help you find it later.
2. Avoid the Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
If you’re itching to see the Christmas Day parade in person, experience it during the (less crowded) days leading up to Christmas, advises Jeff Silsbee, director of guest services at Waldorf Astoria Orlando. (The actual televised parade is filmed around the second weekend of November.) Similarly, the New Year’s Eve fireworks show can be seen on the 30th, says Silsbee. He recommends the less crowded Epcot and Hollywood Studios for New Year’s Eve festivities.
3. Save money on ticketing.
Disney parks aren’t cheap, but there may be a workaround for those willing to sacrifice daylight. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a specially ticketed after-hours event that happens eight times in December. “While there is an admission cost, it is drastically less than the normal ticket [Editor's note: it's $79 vs. $105] and most of the attractions are still running in addition to special shows, character meetings, parades, fireworks and other enhancements that do not occur during normal operation,” Silsbee explains.
4. Get the My Disney Experience mobile app.
Load this app to manage tickets and make dining and ride reservations from your phone. You’ll also be able to see up-to-the-minute wait times for attractions and shows.
5. Make ride reservations using FastPass+.
FastPass+ is a free service included with park admission that allows each guest to reserve access to three attractions, shows or character greetings per park per day. You can make reservations up to 30 days in advance (or 60 days, for those staying at a Walt Disney World resort). Once the initial three reservations have been redeemed, additional selections for the same day can be made at in-park kiosks, one at a time. To bypass lines at the time of reservation, tap your ticket or MagicBand at the FastPass+ entrance.
6. Make dining reservations well in advance.
Disney restaurants fill up quickly regardless of season so most will be fully committed over the holidays, says Silsbee. Fortunately, you can make reservations up to 180 days in advance if you’re staying off property—earlier if you’re staying at a Disney World resort. Need a last-minute solution? Day-of cancelations are rare, but Pazera has had luck using My Disney Experience to find last-minute openings. “I’ve been able to make same-day reservations for five people at Be Our Guest Restaurant because someone had canceled,” she says.
7. Take a photo of your kids each morning.
Crowds pose a safety risk when traveling with kids. Pazera recommends taking a photo of your kids in the morning before heading to the park. That way, security will know exactly who to look for if your child becomes separated from the family. Designate a meeting spot as well, and remind kids to ask a Cast Member for help if they become lost.
8. Get into the park early with breakfast reservations.
Pazera recommends making an 8 a.m. reservation somewhere like The Crystal Palace, a restaurant on Magic Kingdom’s Main Street. The park doesn’t officially open until 9 a.m. but you can head over to your favorite ride after breakfast. “As soon as park opens, you’re already there,” says Pazera.
9. Do the ride you don’t have a FastPass+ reservation for first.
There are some restrictions to reservations that require a workaround. For example, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park, according to Pazera, FastPass+ access is only for the Tower of Terror or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, but not both. “We get there early [when lines are still short] and do the ride we don’t have a pass for first,” says Pazera.
10. Pack a lunch.
Guests are welcome to bring their own food and snacks into Disney World, with a few exceptions (no glass containers, for example). Small coolers are allowed and locker rentals are available. Pazera’s family takes the ferry to Tom Sawyer Island around lunchtime when they’re visiting Magic Kingdom. The scenic spot offers picnic tables and a reprieve from crowds.
11. Don’t overdo it.
“Understand Disney will be a little busier, so plan to stay longer or focus on accomplishing the must-do attractions,” says Silsbee. Schedule down time, and possibly an afternoon nap at the hotel, into your day. Pazera likes to take a break at the pavilions at Epcot’s World Showcase. “There’s a kids area where they can sit and color, learn about the country’s culture, and get a “passport” sticker,” she says. “It’s educational and parents get down time and air-conditioning.”
12. Watch the parades from off-the-beaten-path locales.
You don’t need to stand on Main Street to get a great view of Mickey‘s Once Upon a Christmas parade. Pazera’s family snags a more comfortable spot (read: less crowded) in Frontierland, where the parade begins. Once the parade makes its way to other parts of the park, they do the rides in Frontierland and exit the park once crowds have dissipated.
13. Continue celebrating back at the hotel.
Disney doesn’t have a corner on holiday magic. Nearby resorts offer excellent views of the theme parks, making it possible to watch the whimsical fireworks from the comfort of one’s room. At the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, carolers serenade guests in the lobby, and Mrs. Claus will personally read a bedtime story to your kids. For New Year’s Eve, the hotel has its own private fireworks show, in addition to what’s visible from Magic Kingdom.