Around the Disney World in Less than a Month
December 8, 2010 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Last-minute vacation madness: my sister in DC just asked me to plan a vacation to Disney World for my 6-year-old niece during this year's winter holidays. She'd like 3-5 days, either before or after Christmas. Today is already December 8. Is this perfectly doable, or difficult/expensive but worth it, or not recommended? If we go ahead at this late date, what can we do to get the most out of the trip?

Basic info: The trip will be for me, my niece, and my parents / her grandparents. Thinking of Dec. 21-25 or Dec. 26-30. Budget is flexible; my sister is willing to consider options that might be more expensive than what a DW trip might normally cost.

I was thinking of just booking a vacation package from the DW website. Maybe a Premium or a Platinum, if it will help us make up for the lack of advance planning. Is this a good/bad idea? As far as I can tell, the packages give me vouchers for dining, but I need to reserve specific restaurants separately. Will this be possible at this point?

I'm worried that we will not be able to reserve the good stuff and wait in endless lines for 3 days, because we are starting our planning so late. My impression was that people booked at least 6 months or more in advance, and lots of reservations were required for dining/rides/events, especially around Christmas / New Year's Day.

Thanks for any help.
posted by shortfuse to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's very likely that many restaurants and events may be booked or sold out. The only way to know for sure is to figure out which ones you really want to attend and call NOW.

Rides are a matter of just getting there and getting in line. The Fastpass system can make line-standing much more tolerable.

The Christmas season is one of the busiest times of year at WDW. You should definitely do your research with sources like Tour Guide Mike and the Unofficial Guide. I recommend getting the UG book, because it has honest descriptions of all rides and restaurants, but TGM comes highly recommended too.

I would suggest planning which rides and attractions are a top priority for you and your niece, and make a list. There will be so much at the parks you will not be able to see it all. Making a plan ahead of time can help you get to your must-see items during one of the peak times of year.

On the other hand, allow yourself some down-time, too. The parks are beautiful when decorated for the holidays. The Downtown Disney shopping area is a great place to stroll around if you have a few extra hours on a day you won't be visiting the parks.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:13 AM on December 8, 2010

Well, this is the busiest and most crowded 2 weeks that Disney World has in the entire year.

But it should be possible to get a room somewhere. You may want to deal with a Disney authorized travel agent. I've known people who have had a lot of good experiences with Mouse World Travel. They don't charge any extra than what you'd normally pay. They get paid by Disney for booking the trip and I think you could certainly benefit from their expertise, especially on such short notice.

The dining plans aren't always worth it, especially if you have people in your party who aren't hearty eaters. Disney portions are generally pretty big and, like you said, reservations at the best restaurants may already be booked. To make it worth it, you need to be on top of the math and you'll likely end up booking meals that you normally wouldn't just because you want to break even/come out ahead on the plan.

Hope this helps and have fun. :)
posted by inturnaround at 6:17 AM on December 8, 2010

WDW over the Christmas-NY time is mostly a function of waiting. You might not be able to get into many sit down restaurants, but there are other places to wait. Your first week will be somewhat less busy than the second week. If it is at all possible, you should get tickets to the Very Merry Christmas Party.

How mobile are her grandparents? How patient is your niece? Disney World over Christmas is beautiful, but really packed.

Rides have lines or fastpass lines plus regular lines. Most events have a dinner + reserved seating or a wait in line for the event. You can do all of it, as long as you're willing to wait in lines. (Lines of 2 hours for an event are not uncommon.)
posted by jeather at 6:19 AM on December 8, 2010

[On my iPod Touch; sorry for lack of links]

If those two sets of dates are your only choices, I would think the earlier set would be less crowded. Schools break at different times for the holidays, but they're all off the week after Christmas. If you can make it a few days even earlier, you'll be in ever better shape - pre-Christmas WDW is slow, as people went for Thanksgiving or are going for Christmas. If you're stuck with the dates given, expect crowded parks and full restaurants. The Walt Disney World Information Guide ( and the book Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World are my go-to sources for Disney planning. Good luck!
posted by booksherpa at 6:20 AM on December 8, 2010

Disboards, Disboards, Disboards. :)

You are really not likely to get great ADR (advanced dining reservations) at this point, but there are some decent counter service places in the parks, and at the resorts. The resorts themselves might be slim pickings, but you absolutely should stay on site if possible. The parks tend to fill to capacity Christmas week, and will close.

Mouse World Travel and Dreams Unlimited Travel are full of wonderful agents.

Get to the parks at rope drop. Utilize fast passes where available. Do not leave a park midday unless you're okay with possibly not getting back into to that same park.

Definitely do try and get tickets for the Candlelight Processional at EPCOT, if they aren't sold out, and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. And go see the Osbourne Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:31 AM on December 8, 2010

I live in Central FLA. I go to Disney a lot, sometimes I even work for the mouse as a sub-contractor.

Disney at Christmas time is a zoo. It is packed full of people. Also, Disney is always expensive.

That said, if you take it slow and patient, the Disney magic (as it effects a 6yr old) will be just as powerful as ever. You can fast-pass the big rides, and do other things while you wait. Every Disney park has an amazing play-ground. There are no lines at the play grounds. A 6 year old will have a blast on the play-ground, and think they are getting the full Disney experience, and grand-parents can sit and watch, until the fast-pass for the big ride comes due.

In animal kingdom, the petting zoo is amazing, and no lines ever. Same thing as the play grounds. You can find things like this in ever park.

If you go to Disney at Christmas time, and expect to go from big ride to big ride, you are going to want to blow your mind out. You are not going to get reservations for the luau dinner at the polynesian hotel. You are going to wait forever to ride the Tower of Terror. But, it can be done right at Christmas.

Also, as to it being expensive, I would suggest staying off-site and renting a car. You can get a hotel cheap enough that renting the car will work. Then eat off site, and do one day in another park. All the other parks are at least slightly cheaper. One day in SeaWorld would make any 6 year old happy, for example.

The trip is totally do-able, as long as you accept what you can get.
posted by Flood at 7:04 AM on December 8, 2010

We've been to Disney World with our kids twice. The first time, I researched plans for months, went on, read everything I could, got cheaper tickets at AAA, got a special deal in the mail for Pop Century Hotel, etc. Everything cost about $1500 or so. A few years later we went back on a spur of the moment trip, called Disney's 1-800 number Wednesday to book for Friday, got the same hotel, everything cost about $1500. (We did go for one less day the second time, though.) So, you can drive yourself crazy planning and worrying or just call and say, "We have this many people, need this many days of tickets at this level hotel, here is my credit card number" and everything will be there when you get there. See what they say before you start worrying about looking for deals, etc.

Both times, we went in October, so YMMV in December. (I would imagine you'd find fewer deals at the busy Christmastime anyway, so I'd say you may as well get a package.) My sister thought the meal plan was great - we didn't get one, so I don't know any details, but if we go back, she has recommended it enough times that we'd get one.
posted by artychoke at 8:59 AM on December 8, 2010

If it is at all possible, you should get tickets to the Very Merry Christmas Party.

Be aware that many of the rides and eateries in the parks may be closed during this event.

My wife and I went to the Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom thinking it would be like normal hours, only with more characters. We were disappointed to discover that many of the rides were closed.

However, it could be great fun for your niece if she really enjoys the characters and wants to fill up a character autograph book.
posted by Fleebnork at 10:19 AM on December 8, 2010

Be aware that many of the rides and eateries in the parks may be closed during this event.

Not that many. Plus, your ticket gets you in 3 hours before the event starts, and everything is open.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:26 AM on December 8, 2010

I wouldn't recommend the Premium or Platinum dining packages unless you want to eat a lot, and spend a lot of time in restaurants. The dining plans don't get you reservations, they just let you pay a flat rate which includes a certain number of meals, and they can be good value for money but it depends which one you get and where you want to eat. The one I have used is the Table Service plan, which gives you one quick service meal, one table service meal, and one snack per day, and that was more than enough food to leave all the adults in my party completely stuffed and with enough snack credits left to take a pound of fudge home. You are probably not going to get ADRs for the more popular restaurants, but you might be able to get a cancellation, especially if you eat at times outside the lunch/dinner rush, and there are plenty of nice counter-service places that don't need a reservation.

If you stay on-site, you can get admission to certain parks an hour early and stay three hours late, which could help with the crowds - otherwise, you should avoid the days when resort guests get in early, because they will have taken a bunch of Fastpasses in that morning hour and make it harder to get them for the popular rides.
posted by penguinliz at 11:17 AM on December 8, 2010

MY wifes parents tried getting reservations for next this week and were told everything is sold out so you might be out of luck. This was 3 months ago.
posted by majortom1981 at 11:19 AM on December 8, 2010

A few years ago I had to do a work project at Disney, the week between Christmas and New Year's. I wasn't there to visit the parks, but I noticed that on at least several days, the parks actually closed because they were at capacity. I mean, they wouldn't admit any more people, not that the parks were closed to everyone.

Maybe FastPass makes waiting more bearable. But now that I have a little kid, I can imagine what it would have been like to be in the park on those days ... lines to get a drink or something to eat. Lines for the bathroom. Lines for every single ride and attraction. Huge crowds watching the parades, huge crowds at the swimming pools ..

A Disney vacation is not inexpensive no matter how you do it. Personally I would not go at the busiest time of the year. I do not enjoy waiting in long lines. And, it would not just be my unhappy kid kvetching who I would have to listen to .. there will be thousands of them.
posted by Kangaroo at 11:25 AM on December 8, 2010

Whenever you decide to go, I can't recommend the Unofficial Guide to WDW enough. But, yeah, you might want to consider alternate timing.
posted by threeturtles at 11:25 AM on December 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your comments and advice. I relayed the pros and cons I found here to my sister, mostly to paint her the picture that we could do the trip and it may be enjoyable for my niece but we would not be getting as much out of it as we would if planned sooner/better. She then mentioned the rather crucial detail that my niece actually doesn't like Mickey Mouse so much (!) but is very much getting into Harry Potter. So, we've gone and booked a shorter and simpler trip to Universal Orlando instead, for the new HP theme park bit.

So no DW this winter, but I still appreciate all the replies here - I was feeling very stressed about the whole thing and this thread helped me feel much less so.
posted by shortfuse at 3:12 PM on December 12, 2010

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