Christmas is our favorite time of year at Walt Disney World, and during the holiday season, there’s a week-long window that we really love. This post discusses why we recommend visiting after Thanksgiving but before the peak weeks of winter break, with a rundown of what makes this time of year special–and different from the busier weeks. (Updated October 13, 2023.)
This is hardly a secret. Long-time readers of the blog might know that our #1 favorite week of the year at Walt Disney World is the one after Thanksgiving. We’ve recommended it countless times over the last decade-plus, and it’s been our go-to for ages. Back when we lived in the Midwest, our annual Christmas trip usually started the Sunday after the holiday. (Even when we were still in school, we used to skip a couple days to make it a long weekend trip!)
I don’t keep track, but if I had to guess at which week of the year we have spent the most minutes in Walt Disney World since 2007, it would be this one. Probably by a pretty wide margin. We absolutely love the week after Thanksgiving. Last year, we actually ‘extended’ our approach and experienced the first two weeks of December, and were pleasantly surprised with both.
The second week (or first full one) of December was noticeably busier last year, but still not even remotely on par with Thanksgiving or what we’re anticipating in the lead-up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It’s also worth noting that no matter how many times we’ve shared this “best kept secret,” it has remained reliably uncrowded.
To be sure, late November into early December is busier now than it was a decade ago. But that’s true of almost all dates of the year. Walt Disney World annual attendance has increased by several millions of people, and park expansion has not kept pace. So crowds are worse, across the board, than they were in 2009 or even 2018!
Accordingly, those of you with time machines in your possession may not even want to bother with this post, and instead dial in any random date in 2002 for lower crowds. Everyone else should continue reading, as the holiday season has roller coaster crowds with both really high highs and low lows!
In fact, our lists of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Weeks to Visit Walt Disney World in 2023 to 2025 contain several weeks in both November 2023 and December 2023. It’s actually pretty wild how the parks go from chaotic to quiet (relatively speaking) almost overnight from one week to the next. Point being, even though the parks are busier now than a decade ago, there are still noticeable differences between the busier and less busy dates within 2023.
Here’s what we love about this timeframe during the holiday season at Walt Disney World, and why you should visit during one of these weeks if you’re already planning a 2023 or 2024 vacation during Christmas-time…
“Complete” Christmas – Even without the Dream Lights and other things that have been lost over the last decade-plus, the holiday season is far and away our favorite time at Walt Disney World. We’ve gone into this at length in a number of other posts, including our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World, so we won’t belabor the point.
When it comes to Christmas, we like a few different windows. The first is the very beginning, before any holiday crowds arrive. The second is after the week of Veterans’ Day, but before Thanksgiving. The problem with both of these is that it’s not completely Christmas during them. Many resorts still aren’t decked out for the holidays, and EPCOT is still “celebrating” Food & Wine Festival. This leaves the two weeks after Thanksgiving as the sweet spot to visit Walt Disney World for a complete Christmas.
Resorts – Last year, I stayed in a newly-refurbished room at All Star Sports, and it was absolutely fantastic. Not just the room, but the experience as a whole. I’m not normally an All Star fan, but I was impressed. I stayed there because it was far and away the cheapest option and I wanted to see how it contrasted to the ‘old days’ when ESPN Wide World of Sports hosted major youth events this time of year.
In every way, my expectations were exceeded. The grounds were looking great, the food court was never overly-crowded, and there were never rowdy groups of kids playing on the football field. Bus service was prompt, pickup times were accurate, and it was only shared on one late night coming back from Magic Kingdom. Despite leaving late, I always made Early Entry with time to spare.
While there, I spoke with a manager who offered interesting insights about resort occupancy and building closures, which confirmed what I suspected based on the low number of people out and about at the hotel. It was a similar story at almost every resort I visited. Admittedly, I deliberately didn’t do Grand Floridian or Wilderness Lodge during their ‘peak’ hours when crowds tend to the worst, but even the popular Crescent Lake resorts were pretty quiet during the days that I visited. As with the parks, this is a far cry from the scene during the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and NYE.
Lower Prices & Better Deals – With lower occupancy than the peak weeks of the holiday season, it should come as no surprise that there are better deals to be had between the peak weeks of the holidays rather than during them. Last year, I managed to score some great rates at All Star Sports–this year, it’s a similar story, with savings of up to 35% off during these travel dates. See All Current Discounts at Walt Disney World for a look at the various special offers.
Not only that, but the resort rack rates and other prices are lower to begin with than during Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s weeks. If you look at the Cheapest Times to Go to Walt Disney World, you’ll see that these two weeks are the best of the holiday season. Still not as low as the true off-season, but pretty close!
Crowds & Wait Times – As measured by average wait times, Thanksgiving week was one of the 5 busiest weeks of last year, behind only Presidents’ Day, Spring Break’s peak week, and the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. The week-to-week drop is pretty pronounced, with crowds plummeting on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and staying there for the entirety of the next week.
The week following Thanksgiving averaged a 34 minute wait time (2/10 on the crowd calendar), as compared to 49 minutes during the week of Thanksgiving (10/10 on the crowd calendar). That 15 minute difference may seem insignificant, but it’s actually huge–and really adds up over the course of a day.
The following week was busier than early December, averaging a 40 minute wait and 5/10 crowd level. That’s still quite busy as compared to September or May, but very manageable for the holiday season. It’s also skewed by Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party dates–you could do significantly better by simply choosing the Best Days of the Week to Visit Each Park at Walt Disney World.
If you’re planning a Walt Disney World trip for 2023 or 2024, you obviously cannot count on those exact numbers holding up. However, that’s pretty consistent with what we’ve seen in normal years for the last decade or so. Typically, crowds fall off a cliff the Sunday after Thanksgiving, plateau for a week or so, and then gradually rise in the lead-up to Christmas.
Our expectation is actually slightly lower crowd levels for the second week of December 2023, and about the same numbers for the week immediately after Thanksgiving. The basis for this is that wait times have been down year-over-year at Walt Disney World due to “revenge travel” exhausting itself. Still, it’s hard to see early December improving that much. It was already really good last year, and is a popular time for annual visitors.
Regardless of what else happens, all bets are off once winter breaks start. The period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve being one of the worst weeks of the year, and things not really letting up until schools go back into session and Marathon Weekend concludes.
Dining Availability – We were able to eat everywhere we wanted (with the important caveat that most of the places we prefer aren’t the most highly-coveted Advance Dining Reservations), and often found same-day ADRs or availability via walk-up waitlist. This included literally no wait for Nomad Lounge and Steakhouse 71, as well as finding same-day ADRs for countless restaurants (and even Fantasmic and Candlelight Processional dining packages).
Given that we both prefer more spontaneity, this sure beats visiting during the peak holiday weeks. Guests doing trips then had to be up early to make ADRs 60+ days in advance, and some likely still didn’t get everything they wanted. Waits for Mobile Order and Walk-Up Waitlist are also much worse when it’s busier.
Genie+ Pricing & Availability – We bought Genie+ on several separate days for research. If this were our first and only experience with Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, we’d probably wonder what all of the fuss is about. Genie+ was also “only” $16 after tax every single day of my stay, which was nice (and reflective of the decreased demand).
Suffice to say, our experiences were (and are) a stark contrast to the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, when Lightning Lane availability was or will be much more limited due to increased “competition” resulting from more people buying the paid FastPass service. Worse crowds only compound that, with higher wait times and more congestion in between Lightning Lane return times.
Weather – One thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that I was not “built” for Florida heat and humidity. To be sure, we had traveled to Walt Disney World in every month and week of the year previously, so we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Nevertheless, many of our transplant friends reassured us that it’s not so bad and you get used to it. That never happened for us, and we found ourselves spending far too much time indoors 8 months of the year.
While some people visit Florida for the endless summer sunshine and warm temperatures, that’s definitely not the case for us. Our ‘sweet spot’ for Florida weather is from around November until February. I will take having to wear a coat over sweating through my shirt any day of the week. You can always add layers, but there are only so many you can subtract before security says, “sir, you can’t take off your shirt here and this Miss Piggy fountain is not a water play area.” (Buzzkills.)
While it’s not always perfect, we’ve found that 90% of the time, the weather in late November and early December is at least temperate. As much as I love late August and September for low crowds, I’ll happily deal with slightly elevated attendance for significantly better weather. It’s an easy trade off for us.
Outfits – I am not what you’d call a stylish man in any traditional sense of the term. GQ will not be ringing me anytime soon, asking where I get my moisture wicking polos, quick-drying shorts, or bucket hats. In the summer, my outfit rotation is pretty simple and limited. Unlike Sarah, who always looks good no matter the season or weather, I look like a doofus who just emerged from the sauna during Florida’s three seasons of summer.
However, approximately 75% of my wardrobe is sweaters and flannel shirts. It’s gotten to the point that I’ve been “banned” from buying more blue plaid, as ‘that looks like a half-dozen shirts you already own and can’t wear 10 months of the year.’ It should go without saying, but those are not the optimal outfits for Florida.
It’s an offshoot of weather, but one of the things I like about this time of year at Walt Disney World is that I don’t have to dress in utilitarian clothing that looks like I’m about to go fishing. I can bust out my formidable sweater collection or vast array of blue plaid shirts. In the grand scheme of things, it’s minor, but it’s nice to have photos of us where we both look presentable and have fun outfits.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – For years, we’ve done the first Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in early August and the first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in early November. While I can go from 0 to 60 when it comes to getting into the holiday spirit, the same isn’t true of everyone else.
Not only is the weather (usually) better for the December parties, but the energy is almost always better. Way more guests are dressed in ugly Christmas sweaters, fair isle onesies, holiday Spirit Jerseys, and so forth. Just as the MNSSHP is better in October, so too is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party closer to Christmas. The event itself is identical, and yet, better.
It’s tough to explain how, but if you’ve done the first night of MVMCP and also one of the December dates, you know. (We have also been rained out way too many times at the first MVMCP in the past, and that would’ve happened again had we attended this year. Knock on wood, but that hasn’t happened to us in ages during the December dates of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.)
Disney Jollywood Nights – It’s a very similar story with the brand new for Christmas 2023 party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Disney Jollywood Nights is a holiday hard ticket event offering a more refined holiday vibe, sights of sparkling décor, sounds of modern beats over classic holiday songs, tastes of craft cocktails and decadent dishes. It’s nostalgic and it’s glitz and glam galore.
To that point, 1950s holiday attire is recommended for this seasonal soirée and a big part of the event will be the glamorous vibe and atmosphere. Obviously, you could assemble an outfit with layers that would work for potentially hot or cold weather in mid-November. Or you could go later in the month or early December 2023 when temperatures are likely to be cooler.
Another wildcard here is that, since it’s the first year of Disney Jollywood Nights, it might take a few nights of the event before things are running smoothly. As such, I’d probably rather attend in late November than one of the first couple of parties. There are also 4 events in quick succession over the course of late November and early December, and it’s possible that those dates won’t sell out and could thus be less crowded. (Possible does not mean probable–we’re expecting all dates to sell out!)
Candlelight Processional – I’m a sucker for Candlelight Processional at EPCOT. The pageantry of it all, beautiful music, and effort put into the spectacle by so many skilled and passionate Cast Members. Suffice to say, Candlelight Processional is something special. From the choir to the orchestra to the conductor to the ASL interpreter, I love watching these talented performers give it their all. It’s a great tradition–one started by Walt Disney at Disneyland and imported to EPCOT much later–and something I hope never ends.
I’m not particularly ‘big’ on celebrities, so the narrator matters less to me. (If anything, I favor some of the less popular ones as they draw smaller crowds of their fans.) With that said, there are some I enjoy more than others. I don’t want to ‘name names’ and disparage anyone (or alienate their fans), but I’m not particularly keen on the narrators who frequently appear during this window. Perhaps it’s just my perception, but it seems like Walt Disney World books the best narrators in mid-to-late December.
The upside to this is low crowds for Candlelight Processional. I managed to snag seats twice with no dining package and no wait in line. Sure, I was towards the back, but I’ve seen it enough that I’m perfectly satisfied with only an okay view. Not having to buy a dining package (not to mention the stress of trying to score ADRs) or wait in a long line is a more than fair tradeoff, from my perspective.
Ultimately, it should be easy to see why this is our favorite week (or weeks?) of the year at Walt Disney World. Even though wait times for certain headliners are still high, the lower congestion levels as compared to Thanksgiving week makes a huge difference in terms of overall comfort level–and the better weather also helps! Last year, the only time and place we ever saw crowding was in the hub and Main Street during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, but that’s about par for the course.
If you’re currently planning a trip, our recommendation would be to make November 26, 2023 your first day in the parks, leaving by December 2, 2023. That’ll almost certainly be the sweet spot for the best of crowds, wait times, weather, seasonal spirit, and so forth. With that said, if we had to choose a next-best set of dates from a qualitative perspective, it’d be difficult to decide between December 3-9, 2023 and November 12-17, 2023. The big tradeoffs would be slightly higher crowds vs. complete Christmas and potentially better weather.
It’s a similar story for next year. While it’s premature to set any dates in stone as a lot can change between now and then, I’m inclined to pencil in December 1-7, 2024 as my first choice and December 8-14, 2024 as my second choice. I’m less confident about that second week, as it’s closer to Christmas than the same timeframe this year or in 2023. Regardless, some potential travel dates to consider for your future trips to Walt Disney World!
If you’ve done Walt Disney World post-Thanksgiving, what was your experience? If you’ve visited this same week in prior years, how do you think this year compares? Thoughts about anything else covered here? If you’re a frequent visitor during this timeframe, what’s your take on crowds, wait times, seasonal spirit, weather, etc? Agree or disagree with our assessment of these two weeks as the best time during the holiday season? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!