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Disneyland Article
Disney During The Holidays How To Navigate The Parks Like A Pro

Author:Laura Begley Bloom
Dateline:December 28, 2015
Posted:January 10, 2016
Disneyland Monorail
Disneyland Monorail
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On Christmas day this year, Disneyland in California and the Magic Kingdom at Disney World in Florida hit maximum capacity and closed - forcing the parks to turn away unlucky Mouseketeers and signaling the arrival of peak season.

It's not a rarity for the parks to close temporarily due to overcrowding: it can happen during extremely popular times. And it's not just closing you need to worry about. During this season, you'll encounter crazy long lines for everything, even the bathrooms. This all underscores the importance of knowing how to navigate Disney like an insider - especially during this busy season, which extends through New Year's weekend. According to a website, which tracks capacity levels throughout the year, the crowds will be the worst from December 28 to 31.

But it's worth it to experience the elaborate firework displays, the over-the-top decorations, the Christmas celebrations (Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is offered for free this week), the special treats, and more.

Here's what you need to know:

Be Aware of Crowd Control

As the various parks near capacity, Disney goes into phases of closing. This involves restricting entrance to guests with multi-day tickets, those staying at the Disney Resorts, annual pass holders, returning visitors, people with a restaurant reservation in the park, and so on. So if you want a better chance of getting in, make sure you're among these groups.

Usually, the closures don't last all day. As guests leave, more are allowed to enter. Make sure you buy a park-hopper ticket, so that you have the option of going to a less crowded park.

If you're at Disney World, be aware: the Magic Kingdom can accommodate 100,000 people, but it's the most popular and typically the first to close. And once it does, the other parks are usually not far behind (though Epcot closes less frequently than Disney's Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios). And don't think that it can't happen at Disney's two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon: they have also been known to reach capacity.

There aren't as many park options at Disneyland, so when the main park closes, you're probably talking about a visit to Disney California Adventure.

Arrive Early

It goes without saying that you need to arrive as early as possible at this time of the year - a good rule of thumb is to be there at least 20 minutes before the park doors open. Lines to get in - and lines for the various rides and attractions - are shortest the first couple hours of the day. You can find the hours for Disney World here and the hours for Disneyland here.

According to a website , the crowds will start to mushroom at 10 a.m. and become "epic" by noon, and if you have your heart set on a visit to the Magic Kingdom, you can pretty much bet that you won't be able to get in between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Another tip: lines will get shorter later in the day, so if you're not a morning person, you might want to wait until after dark.

A lot of people head back to the hotel during the day to take a break. The only thing is that you risk not being allowed back in, should the parks close due to overcrowding.

Take Advantage of Extra Magic Hours

Lucky you if you're staying at a Disney Resort: hotel guests are offered Extra Magic Hours, meaning you can usually arrive at the park an hour before the official opening time and also stay late. Don't let this perk go to waste.

Make a Plan

Don't head into the parks without a plan of attack. Sketch out your itinerary and make sure you hit the top rides you want to experience early in the day or make a FastPass+ reservation for them later on. This will help you avoid lines that can last up to three hours.

Budget Your FastPass+ Reservations

Disney Parks Mom's Panel member Anna shares her top piece of advice for a holiday visit: save those FastPass+ reservations for later in the day, when lines are longer. "You will have the option to make FastPass+ "reservations' in advance of your arrival, but don't make them for first thing in the morning," she says. "Make FastPass reservations for the must-do attractions, then when you arrive in the morning, go to the attractions you really want to do but didn't book FastPasses for."

Plan Your Meals Wisely

As we mentioned above, when the Disney parks start to close because of overcrowding, guests with restaurant reservations get preference. So for that reason alone, it's a good idea to have a reservation. The other benefit: less time waiting in line. But if you didn't plan in advance, eat at off-peak times. Disney Mom's Panel member Anna advises: "Do lunch at eleven in the morning or dinner at four in the afternoon or nine in the evening. Lines can be long at quick service locations, and tables can be impossible to get at table service restaurants, so you'll want to beat the crowds."

Another smart hack to avoid spending time in line: bring snacks and a refillable water bottle.

Skip the Character Breakfasts

Sure, you want to eat pancakes with Mickey and Minnie, but this is the time when you need to be getting in line to enter the park. Instead, reserve a character lunch or dinner. Or book the latest character "brunch" that you can find and go to the park for a few hours beforehand.

Get the Least Crowded Fireworks View

The fireworks at this time of the year are memorable. People start to camp out for the most popular fireworks viewing spots up to two hours in advance. Avoid the masses and head to a secret viewing spot. For Disney World, a website recommends heading to the Ticket & Transportation Center or the beach of the Polynesian Resort. At Disneyland, favorite unexpected spots include the exit platform for the Disneyland Monorail, the upper level terrace at Innoventions, Rivers of America, the "it's a small world" mall in Fantasyland. Lastly, if you can time it to be on the Storybook Land Canal Boats in Fantasyland, you'll really score an amazing view.

Attractions Referenced

Disneyland Monorail


It's A Small World

Storybook Land Canal Boats

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