The winter holidays are one of the best times to visit Walt Disney World. The parks and hotels are decked out in fresh decor and there’s no shortage of holiday-themed entertainment. Characters turn up for photos wearing winter garb while some rides get festive overlays (for example, the Jungle Cruise becomes the Jingle Cruise).
But the season also makes for one of the most crowded — and most expensive — times to visit the Disney resort, as Disney engages in variable pricing where tickets cost more on high-demand days. If you’re headed to Disney World this winter, these lesser-known tricks can save money and time.
1. Find the least busy day to visit
Disney trip planning site Touring Plans collected 43 million average wait times for rides over the past 13 years to best predict crowds by day. After rating days on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being the least busy and 10 being the busiest), here are Touring Plans’ crowd predictions for the six days before and after Christmas 2023:
If there’s one best day to visit, it’s Friday, Dec. 22. And in general, the week before Christmas is less busy than the week after.
If you’re staying at a Disney-owned resort, a limited-time dining promotion might sweeten the deal. You’ll receive a Dining Promo Card (for use at most Disney restaurants) when you book a minimum five-night stay, worth up to $1,000.
The card’s value is correlated to the price of your hotel room, so travelers who book rooms in the Deluxe tier of Disney resorts receive $200 per night, while rooms booked at Disney’s lower-cost hotels receive $60 per night.
Depending on the room you book, this promotion could be a deal. For example, NerdWallet found availability at one of Disney’s top-tier hotels, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, for under $500 per night on some nights in December.
While the package requires a minimum five-night stay plus park tickets, receiving a dining gift card ($800 if you book four nights at the Animal Kingdom Lodge) worth about 40% of the overall room cost might be appealing.
The promotion covers stays on most nights through March 5, 2024, including Thanksgiving week and the week before Christmas (arrival dates between Dec. 26 and Jan. 8 aren’t eligible).
3. Order small plates at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
If you’re not staying at a Disney resort long enough to qualify for the dining promo, dine at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays.
Between Nov. 24 and Dec. 30, temporary food stands serve seasonal international dishes in line with the park’s global theme. For example, the Japanese-themed Shi Wasu Holiday Kitchen serves cranberry boba and the L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen serves potato latkes.
Epcot festival dishes are typically smaller than traditional restaurant entrees, but prices are lower. Many food items cost less than $5, and almost all are less than $10.
4. Replace theme park visits with free activities
Rather than buying a theme park ticket, take a free, self-guided tour past the massive and intricate gingerbread houses on display in the lobbies of six Disney-owned hotels. Among the largest displays is at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. According to Disney, the hotel’s pastry team spent 500 hours baking gingerbread and 480 hours decorating the house, which features 10,000 pieces of gingerbread.
Getting to each hotel can be an adventure in itself. Two hotels, Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, are located on the resort’s monorail line, which doesn’t require a ticket to board. Almost all the resorts are also accessible by boat (again, no ticket needed), which can be a scenic and relaxing way to get around.
If you want another free Disney World activity, visit the resort’s entertainment district, Disney Springs. During the holidays, you might want to stroll past the shopping center’s 19 Disney-themed trees or visit Santa Claus.
5. Consider an after-hours party instead of a theme park ticket
Walt Disney World offers two sets of after-hours parties this year (both run a handful of nights throughout the season): Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom Park, and Disney Jollywood Nights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Party ticket prices aren’t cheap, as both start at about $160 (and can cost more than $200 on peak nights). In fact, they often cost more than standard theme park tickets. But for certain travelers, they might be a better deal. That’s because capacity is more limited than during the day, typically resulting in shorter ride wait times (eliminating the need to pay for upcharges like Disney Genie+, which offers paid, express line access).
The parties also offer entertainment you can’t find anywhere else, and — at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party — you get complimentary cookies and cocoa.
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