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9 On Your Side Roadtrip: Doing Disney at Christmas

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Walt Disney World has been making headlines for the record crowds and park closures. Our photojournalist Brad Christian recently headed to Orlando. He has some ideas for avoiding a Disney disaster over the holidays in this 9 On Your Side Roadtrip.

My wife and I recently had the opportunity to head down to the most magical place on earth to take in the Christmas festivities of Orlando. Seaworld, Universal Studios, and Walt Disney World all offer special Christmas events and attractions. However – Walt Disney World is most notable in their annual park transformation.

Over the years I had caught documentaries on cable networks featuring the warehouses full of Christmas decorations for the theme parks. So for the past few years I had an interest in seeing all the holiday splendor in person. My wife and I recently found out that we are having a baby in May of 2014. We knew that it would be several years before we could take a large family vacation with our expanding family, so we planned a ‘baby-moon’ for the first weekend in December.

As you can imagine we are on a tight budget. We used hotwire.com to book our hotel outside the park, and we used Google Flights to search the most reasonable flight from Greenville to Orlando. There are many huge benefits to staying at a Disney hotel. Free transportation to the parks, early entry into the parks, access to the new Fastpass Plus system, and several other benefits are available for people staying on-site. However, I could not pass up the ‘hotwire’ rate of $60 a night for a highly recommended suite hotel near the Downtown Disney entertainment district.

The highly discounted hotels weren’t the only plus of going to Orlando outside the peak seasons of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. We experienced the opposite of the four hour lines that were reported after Christmas. Many rides had no wait, and major attractions had plenty of fast passes available. In the Magic Kingdom Park the holiday themed ‘Jingle Cruise’ (Jungle Cruise) had one of the highest wait times at 55 minutes. My wife and I were able to pick up fast passes for that and jump on the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ ride that had no wait. By the time we finished our sail with Jack Sparrow and visited ‘The Enchanted Tiki Room’ it was our fastpass return time for the ‘Jingle Cruise.’ The fastpass took the wait down to just minutes.

The same scenario of short wait times and fast passes played itself out over and over again. This allowed us to complete Magic Kingdom right around 7pm when the park closed. During select nights in December, the Magic Kingdom has shorter hours because at 7pm the park closes for ‘Mickey’s Magical Christmas Party’. This separately ticketed events runs from 7 until at least midnight. We really couldn’t complain about the park closing because we didn’t miss out on anything, but the Christmas fireworks and Main Street Electrical Parade. The $60+ admission for the Christmas party was a little outside of our budget.

The next day of our trip we did Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and EPCOT. We did this using a park hopper ticket. Short lines allowed us to take in many more attractions than what we could do in a normal day. However, there is enough to do in every park to easily fill up a four day vacation. Looking back we should have focused on doing ‘Animal Kingdom’ in the morning and then spending the remainder of the day at ‘EPCOT.’ Every park offers special holiday events, but trying to fit them all in probably didn’t allow for as many rest breaks as we needed.

Overall, we did make a lot of memories. Disney creates unforgettable moments. We will both remember walking up on Whoopi Goldberg reading the Christmas story live as part of the Candlelight Processional in ‘EPCOT’, or the indoor street party that is ‘Festival of the Lion King’ in ‘Animal Kingdom’. That weekend was also well documented because they filmed the Christmas Day Parade that weekend. Being a video guy it was fun to see behind the scenes of a major network television event.

I am sure it is difficult to schedule when children are in school, but if you can time out your Disney trip to avoid the peak Christmas days you will be grateful. Orlando does prove that Christmas trees and palm trees go nicely together. The 85 degree weather wasn’t too shabby either!

Do you have any Disney tips or questions? Share below in the comments.

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