Tips for Thanksgiving at Disney World

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Many of readers who are visiting Walt Disney World for Thanksgiving 2016 have asked about dining options for the holiday, among other things. In this post, we thought we’d answer that frequently asked question, along with tips regarding Thanksgiving week crowds at Walt Disney World, what entertainment and merchandise is available for the holiday, and more. (If you’re just looking for general info about the month, from weather to crowds to promotions, read our November 2016 at Walt Disney World post instead.)

First, for those of you who proclaim “TURKEY BEFORE TREE” as a matter of principle, we have some bad news. Like the seasonal section of Target, Walt Disney World basically transitions from Halloween to Christmas without so much as an inflatable turkey to acknowledge Thanksgiving. Although Thanksgiving undoubtedly holds significance for many families, outside of Butterball and the NFL, it isn’t exactly a lucrative holiday for most businesses. Disney included.

Perhaps this is because no one has proposed an epic fireworks show with a turkey flying around Cinderella Castle, Tinker Bell-style (start the Change.org petition now!). On the plus side, Walt Disney World does offer some special menus for Turkey Day, and between a nice family meal and a relaxed day with your loved ones, that’s probably about the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving, anyway.

With that said, let’s take a look at the best dining options, crowds, entertainment, and other things to consider when it comes to Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World…

Dining

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Per Walt Disney World’s website, “this Thanksgiving, 28 Walt Disney World dining locations look forward to welcoming you, your friends and family for sumptuous meals that are sensational experiences all their own. Whether you’re craving traditional turkey or exotic international cuisines, on Thursday, November 24, take time out from the theme park fun for holiday dining with a side of magic.”

If you’re having determining which restaurants at Walt Disney World have Thanksgiving menus, don’t feel bad. Nowhere (at least nowhere obvious) does Disney disclose which 28 restaurants offer a special Thanksgiving menu. Perhaps Disney has mistaken this holiday for Easter, and wants guests to go on a veritable Easter Egg hunt in search of participating restaurants?

Nevertheless, we’ve done some additional sleuthing, and have determined that the 28 restaurants offering Thanksgiving 2016 menus at Walt Disney World are (probably) the restaurants listed here. None of these indicate what the Thanksgiving menu will offer (normally, that would be the topic of a Disney Parks Blog post, but I can’t find anything on the topic for this year).

Unfortunately, if you’ve waited this long, your options are pretty limited, with only around 10 table service restaurants having availability at the time of this post if you fiddle with times. Of those, our recommendation for a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner would be Hollywood Brown Derby or Boatwright’s Dining Hall. Garden Grove at the Swan & Dolphin might be another wildcard possibility. (We should’ve posted this about 155 days ago. Sorry…)

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If you want a different spin on Thanksgiving, we recommend Biergarten. While Germany does not celebrate Thanksgiving (for reasons I hope are obvious), Oktoberfest is basically Germany’s take on Thanksgiving, except with everyone–and not just Drunk Uncle–imbibing. Seriously, Biergarten has a wonderful atmosphere that works incredibly well with Thanksgiving, it’s a family-friendly restaurant, and even if you go alone or as a couple, you will find yourself part of large adopted family by the end of the meal.

In case you’re planning early for Thanksgiving 2017, our dinner recommendations would be Liberty Tree Tavern (if only they’d bring back the colonial characters!), Trail’s End Restaurant, Whispering Canyon Cafe, or Garden Grove for traditional family meals, or California Grill for fine dining. Without knowing exact menus, it’s tough to make precise recommendations, but we think those offer the best mix of holiday-appropriate menus and ambiance.

In the here and now, if you’re not able to score an ADR at one of the restaurants listed above, we think Sunshine Seasons at Epcot and Columbia Harbour House at Magic Kingdom (particularly upstairs) are good counter service options, as is this little gem…in any park… 😉

Entertainment

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As mentioned above, there is no Thanksgiving-specific entertainment in any of the Walt Disney World parks or resorts. However, Christmas is in full swing by Thanksgiving in Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and many of the resorts by Thanksgiving.

On the day after Thanksgiving, Epcot’s Holidays Around the World festivities start. Consequently, we’re going to deter to our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World for recommendations of seasonal (read: Christmas) entertainment on Thanksgiving.

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As a bit of a corollary to that, we recommend potentially slowing down, maybe relaxing in a resort with your family, enjoying some family time. Particularly at the Disney Vacation Club resorts, you can find great, under-utilized community rooms, where you can watch television, play board games, etc. I can’t speak to how ‘crowded’ these rooms get on Thanksgiving, but I often take my laptop down to these rooms on regular Walt Disney World trips, and I’m typically the only one in the room.

Beyond that, if you want a “Distinctly Patriotic” Thanksgiving (it’s an American holiday, so this is the best we’ve got), we recommend doing Hall of Presidents, American Adventure, The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History, and DINOSAUR! (What is more patriotic than capturing a dinosaur?!)

Crowds

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There’s a persistent misconception that Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Super Bowl are among the least busy days of the year because “everyone stays at home with their family” (or in the case of the Super Bowl, substitute ‘beer’ for ‘family’). This is about as false as false gets.

Thanksgiving week is one of the busiest weeks of the year at Walt Disney World, and although there is arguably a slight decline on Thanksgiving itself, it is still a 9/10 in terms of crowds. We cover crowd level expectations in our When to Visit Walt Disney World post. Thanksgiving Day crowds are particularly bad at Magic Kingdom and Epcot–as those are the park most locals doing a trip with their families will choose–and better at both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

With that said, the week after Thanksgiving (starting on Sunday, November 27, 2016) is one of the least busy weeks of the holiday season, and one of our favorite weeks of the year to visit Walt Disney World. We cover this (along with our other 2 favorite weeks of the year) in our Best and Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World post. The upside of heading to Walt Disney World after Thanksgiving is that you’ll also hit the parks during the peak of the Christmas season, with decorations up at all hotels and Epcot’s entertainment having started.

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Not exactly a ton of useful advice, but at least now you know that there is not a whole lot going on at Walt Disney World for Thanksgiving.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

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Your Thoughts

Have you done Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World? Any restaurant recommendations? Any other tips? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!

7 Responses to “Tips for Thanksgiving at Disney World”
  1. Cynthia November 1, 2016
  2. C K S October 31, 2016
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