Here’s what to expect in December 2019 at Walt Disney World in terms of weather, crowds, holiday events, and more. Basically, it’s all about Christmas and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (Updated December 1, 2019.)
Let’s start with Star Wars Land. While Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run has been open for several months, the flagship attraction–Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance–does not debut until December 5, 2019. The bad news is that there will be no Annual Passholder previews, and even soft openings appear increasingly unlikely.
First, most of the earlier openings and later closings will be occurring at parks other than Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is likely to make the other parks (namely Epcot and Animal Kingdom) look more attractive to draw crowds away from DHS. It’s a fairly savvy move, especially with guests who are blissfully unaware that a blockbuster Star Wars ride is debuting at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While that park has added new offerings the last couple of years, its capacity still lags behind every other Walt Disney World park.
Many Star Wars fans undoubtedly are waiting for their first visits to Galaxy’s Edge until the entire land is open. This is borne out by the lower crowds when the land debuted, and high hotel occupancy numbers for December. Between that and the simple reality that Christmas is the most popular holiday at Walt Disney World, we are anticipating heavy crowds this holiday season.
Early December is a good time to visit thanks to weather that is typically good (albeit cold at times), with relatively low crowds. That will remain true for this year, especially before December 5, 2019. Even after that date, the only park that will potentially see a large surge is Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, in particular, should remain at their normal levels early in the month. Epcot is a slightly different story, and more difficult to predict. While it’s already a veritable construction zone, the new Epcot Forever fireworks and Walt Disney Imagineering Presents the Epcot Experience could be strong drivers of attendance. Epcot has already seen higher than normal crowds this fall, even as other parks have slumped.
All around Walt Disney World, crowds will begin to pick up the second week of December. All bets are off come the end of the third week, and the week of Christmas through the remainder of December. This last week and a half is 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.
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.
To recap and elaborate a bit on 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.
Final December 2019 park hours are not yet available, but a few notes on that front. First, we would not expect Extra, Extra Magic Hours to be extended. Second, we would expect current park hours to be extended for select dates, with early mornings and late closings at Disney’s Hollywood Studios due to the debut of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
The most likely scenario is super early openings (6 or 7 am) the weekend of December 5-8, 2019. We could also see more evening Extra Magic Hours, or just later regular closing times at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We don’t expect an extension of park hours at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or Animal Kingdom–but hopefully we’re surprised on that front! (Note: all of this only applies if Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance meets its official grand opening date.)
Another thing that’s 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.
Last year, Animal Kingdom closed nightly 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, expect crowds that are off the charts. 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.
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. 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.
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.
The attendees can make certain resorts and areas of the park unpleasant if you’re in their midst. 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, questionably outfit choices, and general rambunctious behavior. To compound matters, there tends to be insufficient or irresponsible 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.
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 2020 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 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! 😉
Do you like Walt Disney World in December? Are you a fan of the holiday offerings at Walt Disney World? 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!