Ringing in 2017 at Walt Disney World? This post covers our tips and tricks for enjoying the festivities and great fireworks shows that justify the parks as one of the top places in the world for New Year’s. Since Walt Disney World is also one of the busiest places in the world for New Year’s Eve, we provide ideas for keeping sane in the crowds (and avoiding them to the greatest extent possible) so you can have fun while not going nuts waiting in line 45 minutes for a restroom.
If you’re already in Walt Disney World and are looking for ways to avoid the crowds, and for the best experience on New Year’s Eve, this post is here to help you out. If you’ve wanted to visit for the holidays but have always been afraid of the crowds you’d encounter, this post might just present a game plan that makes the visit more appealing. (While we talk about New Year’s Eve a lot in this post, the ‘avoiding crowds’ sections apply equally to the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s.)
We’ve visited Walt Disney World for New Year’s Eve, and while it was incredibly busy, it also was incredibly fun, and something we’ll definitely do again. While the crowds are a downside, additional entertainment to help with crowds (parades, characters, fireworks, shows, etc.) are a plus-side.
Here are some tips for making the most out of a New Year’s Eve (or Christmas to New Year’s) visit to Walt Disney World based upon our experiences…
The heading is a bit of a misnomer, and we don’t want to sugarcoat this and make it seem like holiday crowds are hyped up to be worse than they are. Crowds between Christmas and New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World are awful. It’s mass insanity.
You will encounter congestion, incredibly long lines (even for restrooms), and other guests suffering meltdowns as they didn’t expect the lines or crowds. (No joke about the last one–we really have heard from a number of people about holiday crowds, and several have commented that they assumed the parks wouldn’t be busy because people would want to spend time at home with their families.) In fact, the parks get so busy that sometimes they are closed to new guests at various points in the day via phased closings.
The point is that no matter what tricks there might be to avoid crowds, it is impossible to avoid them completely unless you lock yourself in your hotel room. Beyond that, no tip, regardless of how good, is as good of a tip as “visit in October or late January instead.” If avoiding crowds is your paramount concern, you should be avoiding the weeks around the holidays, not reading this guide.
This guide offers best case scenario tips for making the most out of the situation. It’s not written from the perspective of having the most amazing time ever with no crowds–it’s about making lemonade out of lemons. We cannot reiterate that enough. You may think that all of the tips below are not practical for you to follow, but when it’s ‘eat or be eaten’, you’ll find yourself changing the definition of what’s “practical” for you. (And yes, we did just compare a day during New Year’s week at Walt Disney World to cannibalism.)
With all of that said, there are some things you can do to avoid some of the chaos.
1. Arrive Early, Stay Late – Park operating hours are tied directly to anticipated crowd levels, which Disney is pretty adept at predicting based upon bookings and other factors. If daily operating hours are long, expect heavy crowds. Despite this, crowds are always lightest in the morning, getting progressively worse until about 1 pm, then tapering down the rest of the day, with crowds again being light the last couple hours each park is open. The earlier a park opens, the less busy it is at opening, and the later a park closes, the less busy it is at closing. In other words, if the Magic Kingdom is open until 1 a.m. and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is open until 11 p.m., Magic Kingdom will be less busy between midnight and 1 a.m. than Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be between 10 and 11 p.m. This makes it the best time of year for getting the Park Hopper option when you purchase Disney tickets, as this way you can start at the park open the earliest, and hop to the park open latest.
2. Nap Midday – If the Magic Kingdom is open from 7 a.m. until 1 or 2 a.m. (as it is some days this week with Extra Magic Hours), you probably aren’t going to stay the entire day. However, you shouldn’t choose between arriving early and staying late. You should cut out midday portion, going back to your hotel to take a nap during the busiest and hottest hours of the day. If you need “inspiration” for this, check out the two photos above. The first was taken at 3:11 a.m. on December 30 as we left the park for the night, and the second was taken at 6:48 a.m. on December 30 as we were some of the first to arrive for the next morning. Suffice to say, we got a lot done both days by staying out late, sleeping for a bit, getting up early and doing some more, and then going back to sleep more during the middle of the day.
This is one reason why we recommend Bay Lake Tower for New Year’s Eve if your budget allows, as it’s an easy walk, 10-minute walk between it and the Magic Kingdom, making these naps more convenient. Disney’s Contemporary Resort is also a very good option. You can read what other hotels might be good options in our Walt Disney World Hotel Guide. Regardless of where you stay, keep in mind that phased closings of the Walt Disney World theme parks can impact your ability to reenter–especially if you’re not staying on-site–so be careful.
3. Eat Midday – Like attractions and restrooms, there are long lines at restaurants. This is particularly true during the prime lunch hours. Don’t eat lunch at noon. Eat when restaurants first open or later in the afternoon. The best time of day is going to be around 3 or 4 p.m.
4. Use FastPass+ Midday – Visiting Walt Disney World during the holidays requires an advanced degree in theme park touring, so if you’re asking, “what’s a FastPass+,” you may need to read our full Disney’s MyMagic+ FAQ, which contains a lot of info on them. Since lines are longest midday, it follows that you’ll get the most utility out of those FastPasses when the parks are busiest. Schedule your FastPass+ for the middle of the day.
5. Find “Hidden Gem” Restrooms – You know it says something about your life when you find yourself writing about restrooms at Walt Disney World, but such is my lot. No, I’m not going to break down the “best and worst flushers” in Walt Disney World (although I will say that my favorite quiet location is behind the Imagination pavilion at Epcot).
The point here is that you should avoid the “obvious” ones in hotspots during the most crowded times of the day, when there literally are ~30 minute waits for restrooms. Don’t head to the restroom in plain view in Fantasyland. You’re just asking for trouble. Look at a park map, and locate the restrooms that are off the beaten path, and head to those. On our last visit for New Year’s Eve, we were able to find “options” with minimal waits this way.
I am well aware that this seems like a funny or silly tip, but we’ll see whose laughing when you encounter that first huge line and your bladder can’t last 25 more minutes.
6. Do Unpopular Attractions – One of the big reasons that going to Walt Disney World during busy times of the year doesn’t bother us is probably that some of our favorite attractions aren’t all that popular, so our waits are about the same year-round. If you have awesome taste, you might find the same is true for you.
In the Magic Kingdom, these overlooked gems are: Carousel of Progress, Country Bear Jamboree, Hall of Presidents, and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room for shows. For leisurely rides, try the Walt Disney World Railroad and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover. We have a 1-Day Magic Kingdom Ideal Plan that covers the highlights for a perfect day in the park, including a lot of these less popular attractions. This itinerary is less about commando efficiency and more about having a great day in the park, so you might need to tweak it a tad for New Year’s Eve.
In Epcot, Living with the Land, American Adventure, Impressions de France, and Reflections of China are all great, although the last three probably won’t hold a ton of interest for kids.
In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, all of the outdoor stadium-style stage shows (Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular) will avoid crowds, but timing them will be tricky. Same goes for shows at Animal Kingdom, although aside from its headliner attractions, the lines aren’t too unbearable there.
We think that the best park for overlooked gems is the Magic Kingdom, but the best park in general for avoiding New Year’s Eve crowds is Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Whatever you do, we highly recommend developing a plan of attack (some tips for this can be found in our “When to Visit Walt Disney World” post), having realistic expectations about what you’ll get done, and keeping a positive attitude.
New Year’s Eve Entertainment
For New Year’s Eve, Magic Kingdom and Epcot each have special fireworks shows. The Magic Kingdom also does its New Year’s Eve fireworks show, Fantasy in the Sky, on December 30. On both of these nights, it also shows Holiday Wishes before the New Year’s Eve fireworks, so don’t leave after the earlier version! Epcot also shows Illuminations twice on New Year’s Eve, with the earlier showing only having the holiday “Peace on Earth” finale, and the second showing being the New Year’s Eve version. The Peace on Earth finale is good, but not as good as the New Year’s Eve finale.
These fireworks shows are so intense that some guests might consider wearing sunglasses and earplugs while watching. They’re seriously good–so good that they just might help you overlook those crazy crowds (okay, probably not!). Other New Year’s Eve entertainment around Walt Disney World might be good (we’ve never done any of it), but it’s really just offered to draw some people away from the busy parks and provide an alternative.
We aren’t even going to bother covering these various offerings. If you’re braving the crowds for a visit during the holiday week, you shouldn’t even consider wasting your time with anything besides the fireworks on New Year’s Eve…unless you really just hate awesome fireworks shows.
If you’ll be visiting for both December 30 and New Year’s Eve, watch the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasy in the Sky fireworks on December 30. This is a no brainer. The Magic Kingdom will still be busy, but not as busy as it will be on New Year’s Eve, plus, seeing the fireworks on December 30 frees you up to watch at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Epcot on New Year’s Eve. If you’re only visiting for New Year’s Eve, our pick is still with Fantasy in the Sky, as we think it’s the best show, and worth dealing with the Magic Kingdom crowds.
Between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the choice for New Year’s Eve is easy. In addition to the fireworks, there will be special shows and DJs in Epcot (both Future World and World Showcase–the silent DJ in Japan has become really popular, but you’ll need to lineup for headphones), and additional bar-booths throughout the park to help celebrate the New Year prior to the fireworks shows. Likewise, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will have booths up that will sell “specialty food and drinks”, which basically is Disneyspeak for overpriced alcohol with glow-cubes and cupcakes.
The reason that this is now a no-brainer (it didn’t used to be) is because Disney’s Hollywood Studios is running its normal Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks for New Year’s Eve 2017. This is the first time they’re doing this, so it’s unclear whether there will be a countdown at the end, but it won’t be the live band performing during the show, as it has been in the past. It should be slightly less crowded than Epcot (but still crowded), though.
Epcot’s World Showcase can hold a lot of people, but it still manages to fill up, and becomes difficult to navigate. In theory, Epcot is great…in reality, it’s crowded and that many drunk guests with noisemakers become really grating after about hour 4 of standing elbow to elbow with them. Read our Best IllumiNations Viewing Locations post for more insight into picking a spot for the Epcot fireworks.
Plan to get to wherever you’re going to watch these fireworks shows at least two hours in advance. Possibly more. In the Magic Kingdom, we saw people saving prime locations for the shows in the early afternoon. This is just a bit excessive, but it should give you an idea of how popular the shows are. You definitely will not be able to stroll up to a good location 15 minutes (or even an hour) before the fireworks start.
This is especially true in the Magic Kingdom, which is more crowded than Epcot, which is more crowded than Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We have a blog post detailing our favorite viewing spots for Magic Kingdom fireworks, and this holds true for the Fantasy in the Sky New Year’s Eve fireworks.
One thing worth noting in that list of viewing locations is the spots outside the park. These are busier than normal, but they’re still great alternatives. Again, Bay Lake Tower warrants mentioning here, as the Top of the World Lounge is a fantastic, relatively uncrowded spot for fireworks. I captured the photo above on New Year’s Eve from there. This doesn’t do you much good if you’re already at Walt Disney World and aren’t staying at Bay Lake Tower on Disney Vacation Club points (it’s only open to guests staying there on December 30 and New Year’s Eve).
However, if you are booking a trip for next year, it’s a great reason to give Bay Lake Tower serious thought. The other locations, like the Ticket & Transportation Center and beach of the Polynesian Resort are good alternatives if you’re not staying at Bay Lake Tower and want a less crowded vantage.
Like with attractions, developing a plan for the fireworks before New Year’s Eve is a good idea. Having things to do while you wait will make the experience much more bearable!
All of our warnings aside, you can have a lot of fun spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s at Walt Disney World, and it definitely is one of the best places to be for New Year’s Eve. It’s all about developing a game plan and rolling with the punches. Not everything will go according to plan, and it can be a frustrating experience if you let the crowds get to you.
However, if you go into the trip with the right attitude and just want to have fun (remember: you’re likely having more fun than folks back at home, no matter what happens!), you probably will. The fireworks and the other supplementary entertainment make a New Year’s visit to Walt Disney World a lot of fun, even if you do have to deal with the crowds!
It’s also worth remembering that almost all Christmas entertainment still runs between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (some runs even further into January), so check out our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World for more planning tips with regard to which holiday entertainment you might want to see on New Year’s Eve. For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.
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Have you ever visited Walt Disney World for New Year’s Eve? Would you ever do it? Have any additional tips for making the most out of the experience, or regarding which fireworks shows to see? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments!