Here’s what to expect in December 2018 at Walt Disney World in terms of weather, crowds, special events, and more. Basically, December is all about Christmas. It’s everywhere, with decorations, entertainment, merchandise, food, and more. However, celebrating Christmas isn’t the only good reason to visit during December.
Early December is also a good time to visit thanks to weather that is typically good (albeit cold at times), with relatively low crowds. All bets are off come the week leading up to Christmas through the remainder of December, when Walt Disney World becomes insanely busy, making it one of the worst times of the year to visit unless you know what you’re doing.
If you’ve already read our November at Walt Disney World post, you know some of the upsides of visiting Walt Disney World this time of year. The big difference between November and December in terms of events is that all of the Christmas offerings are in full swing by December, and that weather can be cooler (or downright cold) and the last two weeks of December are insanely busy…
In terms of crowds, one of the worst kept secrets is that the first two weeks of December are two of the slowest of the year. Well, this used to be the case. The “secret” has gotten out, not just thanks to savvy locals and Disney Vacation Members, but also due to Disney itself offering more discounts to lure people and groups down at this time of year.
The result is that the beginning of December is still a good month to visit for low crowds (check out our When To Visit Walt Disney World post for the best and worst months of the year), but it’s not totally dead like it used to be. This is especially true if you happen to be at the same resort or park as the Pop Warner and National Cheer & Dance Championship attendees. This event takes place the first week of December. We’d highly recommend not staying at the All Star Resorts around this time.
This also means our “sweet spot” for the best time to visit in terms of crowds is likely to be December 9-15, 2018. Crowds will technically be lower the week during Pop Warner, but not having to encounter unruly teens is worth the slightly higher crowds. After that, expect Christmas crowds to get progressively heavier.
Due to the timing of Christmas on a Tuesday in 2018, we expect the week before Christmas to be lighter than normal (but still a 9/10 in terms of crowds) and the week between Christmas and New Year’s to be busier than normal. Wednesday through Friday will be especially bad. Of course, New Year’s Eve will be the worst.
Aside from this, expect wait times to be moderate until Christmas week. You will still encounter tons of people at the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and long lines for Candlelight Processional, but otherwise, early December isn’t too bad.
December 2018 park hours are now available, and the schedule has some really early closing times. Park hours in mid-December, particularly at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, were surprisingly limited on some nights (even non-party nights at Magic Kingdom), with Magic Kingdom often closing at 9 p.m. Hours get “better” later in the month, but crowds get significantly worse, too.
One thing that is noteworthy about the hours is that Magic Kingdom closes at 6 p.m. on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party nights. We are told this is to serve as a buffer, so the park is better-able to sweep day guests before the hard ticket event starts. We’ll see how that works, but we suspect many regular guests will be irritated by the short operating day at Magic Kingdom.
Many nights, Animal Kingdom is closing at 8 p.m., which is better than a couple of years ago, but still early when you consider the ongoing popularity (and limited capacity) of Pandora – World of Avatar (read our Ultimate Guide to Pandora – World of Avatar for tips and info).
Once Christmas week hits, all bets are off. These two weeks are two of the busiest of the year. Walt Disney World is a family holiday destination, and this includes Christmas day. For some reason, a lot of people expect any holiday itself to be light in terms of crowds, and think they might be able to “outsmart” other guests by going on the holiday–the holiday itself is packed, too. If you dislike crowds, these two weeks are an awful time for you to visit.
With that said, I have a post discussing the Ins and Outs of Visiting Walt Disney World at New Year’s. This post will actually help you outsmart the crowds, and it applies to both weeks, not just New Year’s (just disregard the New Year’s Eve-specific stuff if you’re visiting during Christmas week).
Weather at Walt Disney World in December is dicey. If you just go by historical averages, it looks like nice weather in the mid-50s to low-70s. The thing is, these are averages. In reality, the weather you experience likely won’t be a historical average. Packing this time of year is difficult, because you might experience weather in the 80s or you might have a cold front with frosty mornings.
The potential for cold weather closes our favorite Walt Disney World water park, Typhoon Lagoon for the winter, and in extreme circumstances, can cause flower beds and topiaries in the parks to be covered with plastic tarps to protect them (we’ve seen it happen!). Pack for a wide range of weather conditions and pay watch the extended forecast before your trip. Check out our Winter Packing Tips for Disney post for more insight on what to take on your trip.
During our late-November/early-December trip a few years ago, I packed all shorts and polos and we unexpectedly had lows in the 30s and highs in the 50s. As a result, I had to purchase new outfits from The Emporium, which wasn’t exactly cheap…and I was still cold! In fairness, this was an unseasonable cold front that hadn’t been experienced in years, but how many times have you heard on the weather forecast, “we are getting the worst [insert type of bad weather] this week in years!” You’ve been warned! 😉
If you can plan carefully and don’t mind potentially cold weather, December is a great time to visit. Not just because of weather and Christmas, but because of the great ambiance. Let’s take a look at what else goes on at Walt Disney World in December, and how you can make the most of your visit…
I’ll admit that I’m biased when it comes to December. For me, nothing else that Walt Disney World does in terms of seasonal offerings compares to the Christmas season. Walt Disney World does a lot for the holiday season, and comprehensively looking at each of these things is beyond the scope of this post.
Suffice to say, it’s a great time to visit if you want to get in the Christmas spirit. If you want our comprehensive reviews, tips, tricks, etc., for Christmas, check out our Ultimate Walt Disney World Christmas Guide.
That guide covers Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Guide and the other Christmas entertainment you can expect around the resort hotels, Disney Springs, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Speaking of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we’d expect another strong showing for it with the return of its ‘Flurry of Fun’ holiday offerings, which will take place November 8, 2018 through January 6, 2019. This includes Sunset Season’s Greetings, a projection show on the Hollywood Tower Hotel featuring laser effects, snow, and more.
Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! will also return, as will the decorations around Echo Lake, and Minnie’s Holiday Dine. (Note that the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights has been permanently retired due to construction for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.)
Suffice to say, there’s a ton to do specifically for Christmas, so you’ll want to read that post to get an idea of what to expect (or why you should plan a Christmas vacation to Walt Disney World).
Now, another note about Pop Warner. (If you are a well behaved attendee of this event, I’d recommend skipping the sentences that follow.) This is a football and cheer championship event held at the ESPN Wild World of Sports every December.
It can be very unpleasant. No, not the event itself, but the attendees. Now, I realize I am painting with a very broad brush here. Think of it this way: have you ever voluntarily hung around a bunch of adolescent football players? What about cheerleaders? If you answered no to both questions, there’s probably a reason you haven’t…right?
Well, as the saying goes, kids will be kids, and these kids are in large masses with minimal adult supervision. Expect rough-housing boys, under-dressed girls, and general rambunctious behavior. To make things worse, the parents who chaperone these events can be obnoxious themselves and doing minimal actual “chaperoning.” Just about anyone who has been in line behind one of these groups or stayed adjacent to their hotel rooms can confirm this.
If you are an attendee of these events and feel this is an unfair description of you, individually, it very well might be. Again, this is a generalization. Not every single individual in the group is going to be like this.
Discounts continue during parts of December. Generally speaking, the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion tends to be offered for some dates in December. It’s also likely that a room-only discount will be offered for December travel dates. Our Walt Disney World Discount Comparisons post covers the differences between the different promotional offers.
If you’re booking a room-only discount, you can decide for yourself which hotel might be best by reading our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews. To save money on airfare, we recommend ITA Software to search for the best prices. We have more tips for traveling frugally that might be worth reading if you’re trying to do Disney on a Dime.
Overall, December is a great month to visit Walt Disney World if you can work around all of the caveats mentioned above. This is one of those months with so many exceptions that they almost swallow the rule. It is true that the bad times (in terms of crowds and weather) can be really bad, but the upside if you can plan around groups and the last two weeks, and you’re willing to roll the dice on weather, is so great that it’s tough to consider December a “bad” month. Our secret to visiting this time of year is starting your trip the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and ending it prior to Pop Warner starting. This is one of our favorite weeks of the year to go, and if you can manage to visit then, not only do you get all of the Christmas offerings, but low crowds, and a greater likelihood of good weather. Just don’t go around spreading that ‘secret’ too much, as it may not stay a great time to visit if you do! 😉
If you’re planning a Walt Disney World vacation and need to know about more than just the month of December, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
Do you like Walt Disney World in December? Are you a fan of the holiday offerings at Walt Disney World? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts on these questions, or anything else, in the comments!