Magic Kingdom Update: December 2018

We return to Magic Kingdom again for a post-Christmas visit to check on the current status of several projects and random stuff around the park, including Tron Lightcycle Power Run, Liberty Square Riverboat, Aunt Polly’s, our New Year’s Eve (eve) visit to Magic Kingdom, and more.

Let’s start with the current hot topic, and that’s holiday crowds. Every year, I see tons of posts about the crowds between Christmas and New Year’s on social media. These usually showcase high wait times for shock value. “X has a Y minute wait time right now, can you believe it?! How long would you wait for it?” is a common formula, but a pointless exercise.

It’s not pointless for the accounts posting about wait times, as there’s usually a lot of emphatic engagement, but it does surprise me that people continue to be upset at or surprised about this. No one with basic theme park knowledge is going to wait that long for those attractions (which is literally everyone responding to that type of post), yet people still feel the need to chime in with their disgust.

We’ve gone on record before and said we actually enjoy this time of year at Walt Disney World, which is a sharp departure from the conventional wisdom of those who mock anyone being so “foolish” to visit this time of year.

To the contrary, we think it can be a good time to visit if you’re armed with savvy strategy. Taking advantage of those 7 a.m. morning Extra Magic Hours, doing a midday break, and returning for the late night operating hours and entertainment is a ton of fun.

For this Magic Kingdom update, I ignored all of my own (good) advice and headed to the park over the weekend during the middle of the day. It’s been a while since I’ve done this during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and I was mentally prepared for the absolute worst.

I was pleasantly surprised. My trip began at the Transportation and Ticket Center, after I was done capturing photos for our Epcot Update: December 2018 post. I took the monorail to the TTC, where I was expecting chaos and huge lines. To the contrary, there was a ~5 minute wait for the monorail, and no wait for buses to the Magic Kingdom, which were being offered to keep crowds down (kudos).

I chose the monorail, which ended up not being the greatest idea, as the monorail in front of us had technical problems a couple of times en route to Magic Kingdom. Nevertheless, the delays were relatively short. Once I arrived at Magic Kingdom, there was literally no line at the turnstiles. I didn’t have to go through it, but in looking back at bag check, there were also very short lines there, too. I’ve experienced worse in September.

Inside the park, wait times were high. There’s really no disputing that. Space Mountain was above 2 hours throughout my visit, and other wait times appeared to be as much as double what they’d be on a normal busy day. A couple of queues were spilling out into walkways, so I don’t doubt that waits were high. (I also don’t doubt that anything posting 200+ minutes is inflated.)

What surprised me, and what I haven’t heard many people talking about, was the relative lack of crowds. Walkways were not overly congested, and while it definitely felt busy, there was zero gridlock. Again, I’ve experienced worse in the fall and on normal busy days in Magic Kingdom.

A big part of this is due to crowd control. Magic Kingdom is not known for its crowd control, and we’ve been especially critical of that during hard ticket events and around the Central Plaza in the evenings. However, Magic Kingdom’s crowd control team brought its A-game, and throughout busy areas, there were Cast Members with “Keep Right” signs about every 10 feet. (You all are ‘da real MVPs’.)

Even during the Christmas parade, crowd flow was smooth and not nearly as frustrating as I expected. Although I’m a Walt Disney World fan who likes this time of year, I hate congestion and the feeling of helpless being stuck in a gridlocked crowd. In fact, I almost punted on this update, not wanting to hassle with Magic Kingdom crowds this week.

Yesterday, we again returned to Magic Kingdom for the New Year’s Eve festivities. As we note in our Tips for Surviving New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World post, the Eve of NYE is always significantly less crowded than December 31, but we were once again surprised by just how not bad things were.

For the 9:45 p.m. showing of Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration, we had a better view than we did at the Christmas Parties we attended (save for the midnight runs), and we had a blast on Main Street taking photos and “enjoying” the pop music. (Well, the photo part is true…it still bugs me that they have DJs blasting questionable music in Magic Kingdom, but that’s another story for another day.)

Not wanting to do dinner in Magic Kingdom, we walked over to the Contemporary Resort for Contempo Cafe, which was delicious, as always. Upon returning, there was no wait for bag check or the turnstiles–literally no one in front of us.

Inside the park it was obviously a busy night, but there were more Cast Members working PAC than I’ve ever seen, and by a pretty wide margin. There was a palpable energy in the air, both in guests we encountered (we didn’t observe a single meltdown!) and Cast Members. In particular, the PAC Cast Members were in great spirits, and it seems like guests were feeding off of that positivity.

Fantasy in the Sky was spectacular. The show has been enhanced with some of the lighting effects from Happily Ever After, which is a nice touch. I’ve seen Fantasy in the Sky before, but it has been several years, and I forgot just how wow-inducing that show is.

We avoided the mass exodus immediately after Fantasy in the Sky by ducking into Country Bear Jamboree. Leaving Magic Kingdom ~30 minutes after Fantasy in the Sky ended was smooth sailing–we had a 0 minute wait for the monorail.

Anyway, that’s all a very long-winded way of saying “nice job” to the Magic Kingdom Cast Members on handling heavy crowds thus far this week. I know there’s more “bloggability” in fixating on the asinine wait times, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the New Year’s week experience thus far (knock on wood).

Posted wait times are (predictably) ridiculous, but I don’t care. As someone who is pretty much unwilling to wait in any line over 30 minutes, it makes no difference to me whether a posted wait is 60 minutes or 6 hours. Crowd flow is far more important, and it has been great during what could be a brutal holiday week.

We still have some construction and other miscellaneous updates, so let’s quickly cover those…

As with Epcot, Christmas merchandise is on sale.

There’s a lot of “party exclusive” Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party stuff for 25% or more off. This will all move to the outlets in the next week or so.

It’s one of those rare weeks that Aunt Polly’s is open in Magic Kingdom.

To my surprise, the entire seating area here was full; it’d be cool if there was enough demand to justify permanently keeping it open.

Tomorrowland Terrace is also open.

Well, not in the above photo…it was just getting ready to open for the day when this was taken.

Post-MVMCP, most of the party-exclusive entertainment runs during daily Magic Kingdom operations.

The amount of money you’re “saving” by not buying party tickets is probably more than offset in higher peak season costs and crowds, though.

The Walt Disney World Railroad has suspended operations.

It’ll be interesting to see how long this lasts. Cast Members are saying 18 months, but there’s a reasonable chance that ‘rumor’ is coming from the internet, which is purely speculation.

Now approaching… the TRON coaster construction site from the PeopleMover.

It’s tough to tell from this photo, but the walkway to Fantasyland and the WDW Railroad tracks have already been torn up.

It’ll be interesting to see how quickly visible work progresses. This has been a construction zone for a while, but without many significant visible changes.

More has changed in Tomorrowland since our last update, but I have a lot of thoughts on this and we need to wrap things up here and head out to the parks today, so I’ll save that for what should be an otherwise less-interesting January report.

If you’re going to be in Walt Disney World for New Year’s Eve, be safe and pack your patience. So long as you have reasonable expectations and don’t get yourself into any 300 minute lines, it’s generally an incredibly fun and memorable experience. And if you see us, say hello! 🙂

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!


What do you think about Christmas and New Year’s crowds at Walt Disney World? Are people crazy to go when wait times are so high, or is it worth it for visiting at such an exciting time of year? Thoughts or insights about current construction projects in Magic Kingdom? 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!

25 Responses to “Magic Kingdom Update: December 2018”
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