On December 31, 2014, Disney World closed its gates at 9:25 am because it had reached capacity (phase A closure). At 10:25 am, the parking lots were full. At 1:45 pm, Disney implemented the phase B closure –
How could I possibly have a Magical Experience amidst this chaos?
The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the BUSIEST week of the entire year, yet my family and I did not wait in a single line. In order to fully embrace the Magical Experience, it requires a combination of decision-making, intense pre-planning, technology-enablement and (of course) parental patience. Let’s take a look at each one.
If you can avoid the busy times at Disney, then by all means choose a week that is less crowded. In my case, I had to choose the busy holiday week due to school commitments (on my kids’ part) and work commitments. The link below shows a predicted attendance chart by week.
We made a decision not to be near Disney on New Year’s Eve – the crowds are simply too big to tolerate, so we spent a great day at Cape Canaveral/NASA. The next big decision to make is where to stay. The key benefit of staying on a Disney property is faster access to the parks. Despite being less than 2 miles away from the entrance to the park, it took us on average 20 minutes to get inside the gate. If you are staying off-property,
it takes 1-2 hours to get inside the gate (traffic, lines to pay for parking, parking, and then the shuttle ride from the parking lot to the actual gate). We never took advantage of the additional park hours offered to Disney Hotel guests – it was simply too early or too late from my young kids. Port Orleans Riverside
offered comfortable accommodations for a party of 5. If you have less than 5, then there are many more options.
Once you know when and where, purchase your park passes. I cannot imagine doing more than one park in a day, so the park hopper to me is a waste of money. The multi-day pass affords some flexibility and some savings. With the park passes purchased, now is the time to make your dining reservations and your fast pass reservations (a combination of planning and decision-making). Fast passes can be reserved 30 days in advance of the park entry, and 60 days in advance if you are staying on a Disney property. My wife and I were up at midnight on T – 60 to book our fast passes. We had to choose the park and the fast passes. We also made a decision to split up our fast passes – although Jasmine is really cute, my 15 year-old son would rather be on
Space Mountain. If you have a range of ages in your party, DO NOT FORCE EVERYONE TO BE TOGETHER. It is ok to split up. With the fast passes reserved, we could then make dining reservations to match which park we would be visiting. Sit-down dining is critical – it allows everyone in your party to take a much needed break without having to wait 1-2 hours to eat. You can often take advantage of character meet and greats during lunch/dinner as well. Note: if you miss a reservation, they now charge your credit card. So ensure you show up for your reservation, or cancel 2 days in advance.
The my-disney-experience is a wonderful application. It tracks all of your fast passes, dining reservations and entertainment. Because we were staying on Disney property, they also included the ‘Magic Band’. The Magic Band is a GPS-enabled wrist band that is your key to the hotel room, linked to your credit card (if you wish) for purchases, linked to your dining plan, linked to all of your reservations, including your fast passes. So, the fast pass reservation that I made 60 days ago now appears on this wrist band with my schedule easily displayed on my i-phone. Because it is GPS enabled, the application also features a map of the park, where I am at the park, and what all the wait times are for each attraction in real time. I could actually see where I was (within a 20 foot radius) and whether I had time to take advantage of an attraction prior to my next fast pass. Despite being limited to 3 fast passes initially, we were easily able to go on 12 attractions on one of the busiest days of the year by utilizing the Magic Band. Some changes could be made via the i-phone, and others via various kiosks in the park.
At some point, your kids will melt down, regardless of age. Or you will melt down. It is part of the Disney experience. My solution was to throw the kids in the shark tank at Epcott (we went snorkeling in the aquarium with the sharks). The other (obvious) recommendation is to keep your kids well-fed and well-hydrated – the days are long and they will likely walk more than they have ever before. Be prepared to carry a backpack to keep everyone comfortable (snacks, water, jackets, etc). And remember to have a Magical Day!