There’s nothing like Christmas at Disney and Universal! The theme parks deck every hall with festive decorations and seasonal offerings. It’s no wonder why so many people take advantage of the fun and magic of the season and visit during the holidays. This also makes it the busiest time of the year to visit the parks, so the holiday magic you envisioned could quickly be overshadowed by unmet expectations, interruptions, and planning failures. Check out these tips and tricks to ensure your family has a magical holiday vacation that will be a positive memory for years to come.
The right mindset about what your holiday theme park trip will be like is crucial to vacation planning success. Go into your vacation knowing that it’ll be busy, the lines will be long, and it will take longer than you expect to accomplish your must-do attractions in the parks. Allot more time than you initially expect to find a spot for parades and fireworks, and allow extra time to travel between theme parks (Disney recommends accounting for 1.5 hours of travel when using Disney transportation).
Before your trip, sit down with your family to discuss your priorities regarding attractions and activities. Does your family want to jump from thrill ride to thrill ride all day? Are you itching to get a family photo in matching Christmas PJs in front of the castle? Do you have young kids who can barely contain their excitement to meet Mickey? Do you want to prioritize taking a midday break at the resort? Discuss these things before you leave so everyone’s on the same page.
There are many ways to save time at Disney and Universal, and you’ll want to take advantage of them when visiting during the holidays. First, get familiar with mobile food ordering — it’s one of the easiest (and free) ways to save time at the parks. Plan to have meals at off-peak times to avoid crowds and increase your chances of snagging that hard-to-get reservation. You’ll also want to budget for Genie+ at Disney and Express Passes at Universal. These services allow you to skip the standby lines and considerably cut down your wait times for rides. You will absolutely want to use these services during the holiday season to avoid spending multiple hours in lines for popular attractions. Pro tip: If you stay at a Premier level Universal hotel (which we highly recommend) you’ll get free Unlimited Express Passes for each night of your stay. You can also plan to ride attractions during parades and fireworks to avoid crowds.
You’ll get more done in the parks when you stay on property. Disney Resort guests can begin riding select attractions at any Disney park 30 minutes early every day. Universal Resort guests can enter Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure up to one hour early each day to ride select attractions.
Know Your Transportation Options
From the Disney Skyliner to shuttle boats between Portofino Bay and Universal Studios, there are numerous ways to get around Disney and Universal as a resort guest. Make sure you know what options are available at your selected resort so you know how to get to where you’re going in the most efficient way. You’ll want to pick your transportation option based on where you’re going and what you want to do there. For instance, the Disney Skyliner is a fun, relaxing way to travel between resorts like Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, and Disney’s Riviera Resort to EPCOT. If you’re looking to rope drop Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, you may want to consider scheduling a Minnie Van to get to the park as quickly as possible. Then, utilize the Skyliner for another trip, like returning to your resort after a long day at Epcot or Hollywood Studios.
Pack the Right Wardrobe
The weather is beautiful in the fall and winter at all the theme parks. In Florida, expect daytime highs in the mid-70s and low 80s with low humidity and generally dry weather. There could be one or two rainy days, so don’t forget ponchos and rain gear. There could also be an occasional cold snap, where temperatures dip into the 50s and 60s. Note: Florida’s cooler temperatures are a “wet cold.” Sixty degrees in Florida will feel colder than 60 degrees in Illinois! The biggest mistake we see people make in this area is that they assume it will be warm for their entire trip and are surprised when there are a few chilly days. When this happens, you may spend a small fortune on sweatshirts for the entire family to stay warm at the parks. Better safe than sorry: Pack a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, and a few long-sleeved tops in addition to your shorts and Mickey ears.
Know the Offerings
There is so much happening at the theme parks during the holiday season! Do your research and know what events are available so you can experience as much as you can. Christmas at Disney in 2023 includes two separately ticketed, limited-capacity events: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom and Jollywood Nights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. These events are held on select nights in November and December and offer festive entertainment, atmosphere, and short attraction wait times. It’s not too late to add these events to your 2023 holiday vacation, but act now! Tickets are going quickly; multiple events have already sold out for the season. Contact Just Add Magic Travel to order your tickets! Other Christmas events include EPCOT’s Festival of the Holidays, ¡Viva Navidad! at Disneyland, Grinchmas™ at Islands of Adventure, and the Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s at Universal Studios.
Take Advantage of Extra Fun at the Resorts
Every resort at both Disney and Universal is exquisitely decorated with festive decor, Christmas trees, and seasonal food and drinks. Some resorts feature life-size gingerbread displays of Cinderella Castle, a full-scale gingerbread house, a working gingerbread carousel, and even a baby giraffe. You can also enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides through Port Orleans Riverside and Fort Wilderness Campground. Many campers decorate their campsites with Christmas lights, too!
Schedule Relaxation Time
Taking a day or two to relax at your resort is a great way to re-energize your group. It helps negate overstimulation, stress, and tiredness throughout your vacation. There are plenty of activities for you to stay busy at a Disney or Universal resort, from pools, splash pads, paddle boats, horseback riding, fishing, tennis, live entertainment, outdoor movies, and more. This can be a great time to resort hop to see all the festive decor and sample seasonal treats!
Pick the Right Time To Go
If you want to visit the theme parks for the holidays, you can avoid the busiest crowds by visiting during these times:
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Owner of Just Add Magic Travel