Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party: how we packed it all into a magical 6 hours @disneyparks

What happens when you mix the joy and wonder of Walt Disney World with the beauty of Christmas?  

Last year, we enjoyed a quick day trip to the Magic Kingdom prior to our visit with Florida family. We purchased a day ticket, took advantage of resort guest Extra Magic Hours, and hit the park before the sun was fully up. We enjoyed 11 hours of strategic running back and forth to see and do everything. The park closed at 7:00 so the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party could begin.

For nearly an entire year, I wondered what we missed.

Last week, we were passing through Florida once again to visit family. We decided to skip the day tickets and purchase only the Very Merry Christmas Party ticket...
  • The Christmas party requires a special ticket, about $62-$67 per adult, with the exception of Friday, December 20th ($71). It is less expensive than a full-day park pass. 
  • The Christmas party begins at 7:00 p.m., but ticket holders are allowed through the Magic Kingdom gates at 4:00 p.m.    
  • Only Christmas party ticket holders can enjoy the special holiday parade, shows, castle projection show, and fireworks on party nights. Disney Cast members line the pathways at various points throughout the park, checking for the party wristbands. I wondered last year if we could have stayed, but the cast is really good about checking. I think trying to sneak through the party would end rather quickly - so get the ticket if you want to attend. 
  • Free snickerdoodle cookies, hot chocolate, and apple juice! Select food service locations throughout the park offer these tasty treats. Munch on as many as you want, all night long. 
  • There is no Fast Pass use for the party. However, we never waited for more than 25 minutes for anything. It was incredible!
Somehow, we managed to pack a full day into our six-hour party visit! We actually had more than one hour of fun left before park closing, but we were worn out. Here is how we packed a full magical Disney experience into our evening-only ticket:

Choose a less popular day. In the past, the December weekend party nights have been sold out and jam-packed. We intentionally chose the Friday before Thanksgiving week, and it was a very good choice. Florida schools were still in session until the following Wednesday, and we only had to take Amelia out of school for one day. Hey... it's Disney. No judging!

Rest in the early afternoon before you go, and eat a good meal around 3:00. We had two hours of quiet time in the hotel room for the afternoon. Books, television, and staying still. We also ate a full dinner at 3:00 (we parked in the Magic Kingdom lot and rode the Monorail to the Grand Floridian). This allowed us to only snack in the park and not have to spend a lot of time with a full meal. Don't forget, you can bring drinks and snacks into the park! See my "What to bring for a day at Disney World" post for more tips!

Arrive at the Magic Kingdom gates by 3:45. There will be a line to get in. Christmas party guests are not allowed in until 4:00 p.m., so people begin to line up early.

Prioritize the rides/attractions you must see. We made sure that our daughter knew we were at the park for a shorter time than last year, and made sure that we knew exactly which rides were "musts" and which we could put as tier two, in case we did not make it. We also had her choose between a bunch of character interactions and rides, as we were not sure she could do both. Now that she is older, she is all about the rides! **However, we saw many character lines including Merida, Gaston, and Tigger/Pooh, and none of these had more than about 14 people waiting at any given time - so you could still do some of these for sure.**

Go straight towards a popular ride. Last year, the Little Mermaid ride was brand new and had hour-long lines for most of the day. So we cruised through Main Street, snapped a photo of the holiday decor and (of course) the castle, and made the trek to Ariel's Grotto. 10-minute line around 4:00 p.m., even though day pass guests were still in the park. Score!

Afterwards, my husband got his LeFou's Brew at Gaston's Pub (he waited for this all year), drank it up, and we hit It's a Small World (no line) and The Haunted Mansion (about a 20-minute line), and Splash Mountain (no more than a 15-minute line).

If a ride line is too long prior to 7:00 p.m., try some other nearby rides first and then come back. After Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain Railroad had a 40-minute line. We decided to try our luck at the Jingle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean first, and then try Thunder Mountain afterwards. Jingle Cruise and Pirates each had lines under 15 minutes. It was a Christmas miracle! After those, some guests were beginning to head toward the parade route, and day pass guests were leaving. Thunder Mountain? Reduced to just a 10-minute line! Amelia and Daddy rode it TWICE. It is my favorite ride, and I was so jealous. Pregnant mama not allowed this time... sigh. So I enjoyed some park snacks.

Ride while others are watching the show. We made a choice between the castle holiday show and the parade. Since I was pregnant and worn out, I selected a parade route spot and saved a tiny bit of ground for Amelia and her Daddy. I could hear and enjoy the show music while they dashed over to the Teacups and Dumbo. Since probably 75% of the park guests were at the show or along the parade route, there were no lines whatsoever for Dumbo or the Teacups! They told me how beautiful the Flying Dumbo ride is at night... definitely an experience worth having.

Do not miss the holiday parade. The Christmas parade is so much fun! All the characters ride festive holiday floats while dressed in their red and green cheerful attire. Many of the floats even have scents! Never before have I seen a parade and smelled the gingerbread as the bakery shop rolled by... or the hot chocolate... we loved the scented parade! And, of course, Amelia got her chance to see and wave at all the characters - including the princesses! She would jump for joy when one looked right at her and gave a wave. This filled in that character need for her, since we skipped the meet and greets this time.

The castle projection show and fireworks are truly magical. In all of my visits to the Magic Kingdom, I do not think I have ever experienced the fireworks from the castle. We always hit the ground running very early and expended our energy by night. We have seen the fireworks from the front gate area and from a resort boat, but experiencing them right in front of the castle is just breathtaking. Especially with the projection elements both before and during the fireworks. Sure, you will be neck-and-neck with massive crowds, but do not miss this! It puts the Christmas right into your heart.

We thought about enjoying a couple more rides before leaving, but we were all out of energy.  We munched one more cookie and sipped a final hot chocolate, then meandered slowly through the Main Street crowd and grasped at the "snow" falling from the sky.

Before you exit, turn around and LOOK. Take a second to stop and look back. Take in the view of snow falling on the decorated Main Street, with the castle in glorious ice lights and changing colors. Look at the smiles and joy (while simultaneously ignoring the completely worn down children who may be crying or passed out...).

I cannot wait to go back again once our son joins our family, so we can see it all over again through his eyes.  
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