Monday, September 29, 2014

The Magic Kingdom at Christmas time? You should be planning already!

You think, maybe, you want to visit The Magic Kingdom around Christmas time? I say DO IT. It is magical and beautiful and charming. But if you haven't begun planning, you'd better get on that. As in today.
We are already at the point where most resort and park restaurants are sold out of dining reservations at any normal meal times.
Are you thinking of visiting The Magic Kingdom on a day where they are having the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party?  If so, you may be interested in these tips I wrote last year after an amazing 6 hours engulfed in the joy and magic of the season (despite that it was not even Thanksgiving yet).

  • The Christmas party requires a special ticket, about $65-$70 per adult. It is less expensive than a full-day park pass but you cannot enter the park until afternoon. 
  • The Christmas party begins at 7:00 p.m., but ticket holders are allowed through the Magic Kingdom gates at 4:00 p.m. - people will begin lining up at least 20 minutes early.     
  • 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, so get the ticket if you want to attend. 
  • Select food service locations throughout the park offer FREE tasty treats like snickerdoodle cookies and hot chocolate.
Here is how we packed a full magical Disney experience into our evening-only Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 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.

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, which 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 "What to bring for a day at Disney World" for more tips!

Prioritize the rides/attractions/characters you must see. With essentially a half day at the park (if you decide to do only the Christmas party ticket like we did), you need to go with the understanding that you may not be able to do it all. If you prioritize the things you must do vs. the things you could miss if you had to, you will not be disappointed. The crowds were low when we did the party, and the shorter lines meant we were able to pretty much see and do everything we could have imagined.

Go straight towards a popular ride. 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! Afterward, we rode 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!

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. 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. This was perfect since we focused on rides instead of character meet and greets.

The castle projection show and fireworks are truly magical. Experiencing the fireworks and projection show right in front of the castle is just breathtaking. Sure, you will be neck-and-neck with massive crowds, but do not miss this! It puts the Christmas right into your heart. (Yep... even in November).

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...). It is an experience absolutely, without a doubt, worth having.

But you'd better get to planning - now.  This year, we may tackle Epcot. With a baby. (Stay tuned!)
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