If it feels like the airports and roads are busier this holiday season, they are. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reports screening over 2.9 million passengers on the Sunday following Thanksgiving.
That’s a new nationwide record for the agency – the busiest day ever for air travel. The previous record was set in June.
Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort are also historically at their busiest during the holidays, particularly in the weeks immediately surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.
Thrill Data, a website that reports on theme park attendance worldwide, projects that the week between December 25 and 31 will show average ride wait times of 60 minutes at Walt Disney World. Wait times are one of Thrill Data’s main metrics to measure how busy a park is on a given day.
Wait times get longer during the holidays, but are the crowds really that bad?
Set Expectations Before Travel
Kimberly Fidler, Vice President of Marketing for Get Away Today, recalls crowded holiday visits to the Disney theme parks. These trips were manageable, thanks to having the right mindset. She says, “It is busy, but with proper planning, it is totally manageable. Set expectations and let your family know it will be busy.”
Preparing for crowds offsets disappointment when encountering long lines and throngs of other guests during the vacation.
Setting the right expectations goes beyond being prepared to run into crowds. Due to the long lines, a day may pass without experiencing every ride or attraction. Sarah Gilliland, travel editor and writer at On The Road With Sarah, shares her expertise on what a family can reasonably expect with a holiday visit to the Disney parks.
She stresses that Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort are “incredibly busy” this time of year, adding, “There is just no way around it. Definitely understand that to have a great time, you’ll need to manage expectations. Unless you are willing to spend more on your vacation during this time of year, you may not be able to accomplish everything you want.”
Spending more to accomplish more is another expectation to manage before travel. Gilliland points out staying at Disney-owned hotels, priced at a premium, affords families more time in the parks, such as extended morning and evening hours. Services like Genie+, which allows guests to skip the regular standby line, can also help include more in a day, but families must prepare to budget that into their vacation.
Avoid Peak Crowds
While Disney’s theme parks are busier during the holiday season, there are still a few ways to dodge the worst of the crowds. Strategies to find more elbow room include having flexible travel dates and flexible hours when in the parks.
As for dates, look outside of the weeks immediately surrounding the major holidays. Miles with McConkey founder Scott McConkey recommends travelers go during the start of the holiday season, like November or early December.
He adds, “You still experience all the Christmas decorations and parties before the most significant crowd-level spikes occur in late December.” If late December is the only time frame that works, experts added other tips and tricks to navigate those crowds.
No matter when you visit Disney, taking advantage of early mornings and late nights makes the most of a day in the parks. Maximizing time in the parks includes purchasing tickets for after-hour events on select evenings at Walt Disney World, like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom.
Monica Fish, founder of Planner at Heart, suggests looking into on-property Disney hotels that include added perks like bonus evening hours at the parks. While these are exclusive to higher-priced resorts, lower holiday crowds are an advantage. Fish recommends, “Save the most popular rides for those three hours when the park is closed to everyone else. We walked right on to Frozen Ever After [at EPCOT], which typically has a wait time of two or more hours.”
A holiday visit to the Disney theme parks will look different than a typical vacation at a time when crowds are lighter. A December trip is not the time when a family goes on every single ride and meets every single character. Experts advise families to come up with their top few must-dos and prioritize them to avoid disappointment.
Theme park journalist Megan duBois urges families to, “write down one thing everyone wants to do on the trip and make those things happen first. Everything after that is a bonus.” Picking a favorite ride and heading there the moment the park opens prioritizes the ride, and the wait time will be at its shortest for the day first thing in the morning.
Walt Disney World and Disneyland offer popular holiday entertainment that many families turn into annual traditions. One example is the Candlelight Processional at EPCOT, a nightly show featuring celebrity guest narrators. For this, duBois recommends visitors, “get in line for standby seating at least an hour before showtime for less popular narrators and two hours for more popular narrators like Neil Patrick Harris.” duBois also mentions that EPCOT offers dining packages that include dinner reservations plus guaranteed seating for a show that evening to bypass the line.
This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.