This guide to December 2023 at Walt Disney World offers a free crowd calendar, tips for when to visit & avoid, weather, new attraction openings & closures, Christmas info, and more. We cover what’s happening at Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.
Expect more of the same in December 2023, and it continues the 3-month trend beginning in October and continuing in November. Attendance will remain elevated across the board as compared to normal to due it being the heart of holiday season. Christmas draws crowds, and even the less busy days during this season are worse than any other time of year.
With that said, early December 2023 will remain a good time to visit thanks to weather that is typically good (albeit cold at times), with crowds that are normally moderate. It’s also the best month of the year in terms of seasonal events. That basically “just” means Christmas, but Walt Disney World really does the holiday season right. There’s a ton going on at Walt Disney World in December, with festivals at Epcot, Christmas offerings in the other three parks, Disney Springs, resort hotels, and more.
In case it’s not obvious, we’re big fans of Walt Disney World at Christmas. This is reflected in December ranking highly on our 2023 Best & Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World. As discussed there, December also has our favorite week of the year, too! For years, we always made a point of an annual Christmas trip to Walt Disney World, and pretty much took it at the same time every year. As we see it, this is the sweet spot in terms of weather, crowds, special events, and more. We’ll cover that in the sections below.
With that said, one thing we do want to note up front is that although we love early December and the holiday season as a whole, the month has gotten progressively busier in the last several years. It’s a subjectively great time to visit, but there are few–if any–truly “low” crowd level days. However, it’s still possible to beat the crowds by utilizing Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, Early Entry, Extended Evening Hours, and other savvy strategy. We cover the best & worst approach for each park in Best Time-Saving Strategies for Walt Disney World.
Let’s take a look at what is going on at Walt Disney World in December, and how you can make the most of your holiday-time visit…
December Weather at Disney World
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 water parks 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.
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 you’ve been warned! 😉 Check out our Winter Packing Tips for Disney post for more insight on what to take on your trip.
December Special Events at WDW
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. Sure, Halloween is nice and the other seasons have their appeal, but nothing compares to Christmas.
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.
Consequently, I’m going to keep this section short–if you want our comprehensive reviews, tips, tricks, etc., for Christmas, check out our Ultimate Walt Disney World Christmas Guide. That guide covers Christmas entertainment you can expect at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The highlight of the holiday season is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP), a hard ticket event with a ton of dates in December. Even if you don’t attend, the event will still impact your trip because Magic Kingdom opens and closes earlier on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party days.
As explained below, MVMCP causes roller coaster crowd conditions in the park that might seem counterintuitive. One of the best things you can do when planning is working around those events, as that’ll save you more time than anything else.
In addition to this, there are a few events on the ESPN Wide World of Sports December Calendar, of which you should be aware. These are the types of youth events that only really are a draw for parents with kids participating in them, but we’ll also cover them in our December crowd calendar section below.
DECEMBER REFURBISHMENTS & NEW ATTRACTIONS
For December closures, consult our Walt Disney World Refurbishment Calendar. Not much is listed as happening right now, but that’s a bit deceptive. There’s a lot of ongoing construction throughout Walt Disney World, beyond the scope of attraction closures.
The construction project that will have the most noticeable impact on the guest experience is the massive reimagining at the front of Epcot. The front of the park is a sea of construction walls with a giant dirt pit in the middle as a result. On the plus side, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Space 220 Restaurant, Creations Shop, Club Cool, Connections Cafe, and Harmonious all already having debuted in the last year.
Walt Disney World’s blockbuster addition last year was Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. It’s unclear whether it’ll have its Cosmic Rewind Holiday Remix overlay again for Christmas 2023. That wasn’t very good, and we won’t be disappointed if it was a one and done.
Another alternative is buying line-skipping access via the Individual Lightning Lanes. Those posts explain each option, their pros & cons, and everything else you need to know. Suffice to say, do not just show up to EPCOT expecting to join the standby line–as there isn’t one.
Then there’s the next big addition to Walt Disney World: TRON Lightcycle Run. Walt Disney World has already revealed that this will debut in April 2023, which means it’ll be several months old by November. It might even drop its virtual queue by the holiday season.
Beyond that, there are several attractions that have not yet opened and likely won’t until later in Fall 2023. This includes Moana’s Journey of Water at Epcot, which is likely to open in the second half of the year according to Disney. (Judging by the current pace of work and the fact that it’s a water walk-through, it debuting in late summer is possible.) Other smaller scale additions are likely later in 2023. We expect all of these to be open by Thanksgiving at the latest.
December 2023 Crowd Calendar for Disney World
We don’t have a color-coded December crowd calendar for Walt Disney World at the top of this section because it wouldn’t tell the full story of attendance trends. If you spend the ~5 minutes reading this section from beginning to end, you’ll be far better prepared to avoid the worst of December crowds (depending upon when within the month you visit).
Crowd calendars are less reliable due to how Walt Disney World manipulates attendance patterns, staffing, closures, and ride capacity. Since Disney doesn’t release official attendance numbers, crowd calendars use school schedules, airport traffic statistics, hotel pricing & occupancy, etc., as proxies for crowds. This approach worked and made crowd calendars reliable for years.
This is doubly true for this December, as the reopening and capacity restrictions have thrown another monkey wrench into things. We can still forecast general trends, but that’s about it. With all of that in mind, here are our crowd calendar predictions for the best and worst weeks at Walt Disney World in December…
The beginning of December is our #1 week of the entire year to visit Walt Disney World. On the crowd calendar, this will be the week for the lowest crowds of December, and is unquestionably the best week of December to visit.
Keep in mind that “lowest” is a relative term. The holiday season as a whole is busier than spring, summer, or fall. Christmas is a popular time of year in the parks–and for good reason–if you want to visit during this time of year, you can avoid crowds to a degree, but not entirely.
The week after Thanksgiving that straddles November and December used to be relatively uncrowded, one of Walt Disney World’s “best kept secrets.” Thanks to a mix of crowd calendars pointing guests towards those dates, savvy locals, Disney Vacation Members, and also due to Disney itself offering more discounts to lure people and groups down at this time of year, it’s not quite as incredible as it once was.
Our expectation is that this week (November 26 to December 2, 2023) ends up in the 6/10 range, which is far better than the 10/10 crowds of Thanksgiving and even what’s typical for mid-December, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. For the last two years, this week has had crowd levels around 4/10.
All around Walt Disney World, crowds will begin to pick up the second week (December 3-9, 2023). However, that should not be as pronounced this year as in the last several. Our expectation is that this week will be in the 7/10 range most days.
Normally, the second week crowd surge is driven by Pop Warner, a youth sport event that draws tens of thousands of guests to Walt Disney World. However, it has been moved to Universal Orlando for 2023 (and for all future years). This is a huge win for everyone else, as Pop Warner spiked attendance levels. Expect some participants to still visit Walt Disney World, but not enough to impact crowd levels in a meaningful way. Consequently, we’re anticipating crowds that are “only” in the 7/10 range.
The third week (December 10-16, 2023) still isn’t terrible on the crowd calendar because of the way Christmas falls at the end of the following week. Expect moderate to high crowd levels.
Still worse than the two weeks before it, but not bonkers. However, if you have the choice to visit any of the first three weeks of December, definitely choose one of the first two. Crowds will likely be in the 8.5/10 range.
All bets are off beginning the full week before Christmas. With this holiday and New Year’s both falling on Mondays in 2023, it’s a bit more difficult to predict how bad that week will be, but our expectation is that heavy holiday crowds will start about halfway through the week before Christmas. However, it’s possible that December 15, 2023 is the start of peak 10/10 crowd levels, and attendance doesn’t let up between then and early January 2024.
Starting no later than December 21, 2023, every single day should see peak attendance and high numbers on the crowd calendar–you’re looking at a solid string of 10/10 dates. The last 10 days of December 2023 will be the busiest stretch of the year at Walt Disney World. This is one of the worst times of the year to visit unless you know what you’re doing.
This includes both Christmas Eve and 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, the evening of Christmas Eve tends to drop off as compared to the rest of the busy week and Christmas morning typically starts out a bit slower–but this is relative to the rest of the week, not in absolute terms. It’s still very busy!
Despite all of these dates being 10/10 on the crowd calendar, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is typically the busier of the two weeks, with wait times that are about 20% higher. They’re both 10/10 because Christmas is still one of the 10 worst weeks of the year, it’s just around #7 as compared to New Year’s, which is often #1 or #2.
Due to the Disney Park Pass reservation system, individual parks and days of the week are not as relevant as they were in the past. It used to be the case that weekends would be busier due to locals and others taking holiday season getaways. In the last couple of years, that has ceased to be the case–and day of the week trends have become less relevant (and more unpredictable).
With that said, there are two parks with their own quirks. First, Epcot will be significantly more busy on weekends, especially when Florida colleges like UCF have away football games. Epcot’s attendance will be lightest on weekdays before 4 pm, with heavier crowds after work as locals turn out to graze at the festival booths. Epcot will also be busier on days when fan-favorite celebrities are narrating Candlelight Processional.
On Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party nights, Magic Kingdom closes to regular ticket holders at 6 pm. Consequently, the park is less busy during the day time hours on dates when MVMCP is held, and more busy on non-party days. This might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s because the party is separately-ticketed.
Thus far, Magic Kingdom crowd levels have been 10/10 most non-party days, whereas crowd levels have been 3/10 to 4/10 on party days. That amounts to an average wait time differential of about 15-20 minutes per ride, which adds up over the course of the day to the point that you can accomplish more in the party-shortened days when Magic Kingdom closes at 6 pm.
Once again, we strongly recommend doing Magic Kingdom during the days shortened by MVMCP, and then hop to another park by ~4 pm. Even with 4/10 or 5/10 crowd levels, you’ll still come out ahead by avoiding Saturdays, Mondays, and other non-party days. (So long as you’re fine skipping fireworks or evening in Magic Kingdom–but you can always Park Hop over on a different evening!)
Finally, Disney Springs, resorts, restaurants, and bars at Walt Disney World all are busier during the Christmas season. This is due to a mix of holiday dinners and locals wanting to enjoy the free Christmas decorations and entertainment. Be sure to make ADRs for any fine dining outside the parks, and be aware that you’ll encounter heavier crowds in Disney Springs.
This should all underscore why we don’t really care for traditional color-coded or numerical Walt Disney World crowd calendars. None of the above trends could be adequately conveyed by a simple graphic, and it’d be easy to become frustrated if we simply had an December 2023 crowd calendar starting with a bunch of 7/10 or 8/10 days and then two straight weeks of 10/10 days. Hopefully this provides more nuance to how Walt Disney World attendance and wait time trends are–and are not–predictable via crowd calendars.
December Discounts & Pricing
Price-wise, December is all over the place. In general, resort rack rates and ticket pricing tracks crowd levels–meaning that it’s cheaper at the beginning of the month and gets progressively more expensive closer to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. That last week is the single most expensive of the year.
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. Obviously, none of this does you any good if you’re planning on visiting in a few weeks and have already booked your trip, but it should be useful for those of you considering a December visit to Walt Disney World.
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 crowds aren’t as chaotic, and there’s 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! 😉
Do you like Walt Disney World in December? Are you a fan of the holiday offerings at Walt Disney World? Will you be visiting for Christmas 2023? Hopeful that more of the normal guest experience is brought back for this holiday season? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!