If you’re visiting Walt Disney World for Thanksgiving 2020 and are looking for last-minute restaurant ideas, avoiding holiday crowds, etc., we’ve got you covered. Here we answer frequently asked questions, info, and tips for avoiding Thanksgiving week crowds. (Updated October 27, 2020.)
For starters, if you just want general info about the month, from weather to crowds to promotions, read our November 2020 at Walt Disney World post instead of this one. It’s more generalized and covers everything happening during November, rather than just specialized info for Thanksgiving and the holiday week, itself.
Second, for those of you who proclaim “TURKEY BEFORE TREE” as a matter of principle, we have some bad news. Like the seasonal section of Target, Walt Disney World basically transitions from Halloween to Christmas without so much as an inflatable turkey to acknowledge Thanksgiving. Although Thanksgiving undoubtedly holds significance for many families, outside of Butterball and the NFL, it isn’t exactly a lucrative holiday for most businesses. Disney included.
Perhaps this is because no one has proposed an epic fireworks show with a turkey flying around Cinderella Castle, Tinker Bell-style (start the Change.org petition now!). On the plus side, Walt Disney World does offer some special menus for Turkey Day, and between a nice family meal and a relaxed day with your loved ones, that’s probably about the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving, anyway.
With that said, let’s take a look at the best dining options, crowds, entertainment, and other things to consider when it comes to Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World…
At present, Walt Disney World’s website does not seem to indicate which or how many restaurants will serve special Thanksgiving menus. Last year, over two dozen different restaurants offered special menus, and that was indicated on DisneyWorld.com several months in advance. Normally, that would be the topic of a Disney Parks Blog post, but nothing so far this year–perhaps by early November 2020?
The one update we have seen is that Walt Disney World added some vague info to the official page for Whispering Canyon Cafe: “Indulge in one of the most beloved American traditions with a Thanksgiving meal at Whispering Canyon! Come on November 26, 2020, treat your tastes—along with family and friends—to a cornucopia of food!”
Even absent that bulletin, Whispering Canyon Cafe is one of our top picks for the holidays. Our most recent Whispering Canyon Cafe Review covers new skillets & shenanigans, which make for a fun Thanksgiving feast. Then there’s Wilderness Lodge: Walt Disney World’s Best Place at Christmas. Combine dinner there with a day in Magic Kingdom and you have a recipe for the perfect Thanksgiving!
Aside from that, our top dinner recommendation would be Liberty Tree Tavern (if only they’d bring back the colonial characters!), followed by Trail’s End Restaurant (takeaway is currently available) or California Grill for fine dining. It’s tough to make precise recommendations, but we think those offer the best mix of holiday-appropriate menus and ambiance.
If you want a different spin on Thanksgiving, we recommend Biergarten. While Germany does not celebrate Thanksgiving (for reasons I hope are obvious), Oktoberfest is basically Germany’s take on Thanksgiving, except with everyone–and not just Drunk Uncle–imbibing. Seriously, Biergarten has a wonderful atmosphere that works incredibly well with Thanksgiving, it’s a family-friendly restaurant, and even if you go alone or as a couple, you will find yourself part of large adopted family by the end of the meal.
If you’re trying for a last-minute ADR and none of those are available, our recommended alternatives would be Grand Floridian Cafe or Geyser Point at Wilderness Lodge, albeit usually without special menus.
On the counter service front, Roaring Fork is another nice choice at Wilderness Lodge. Along those lines, we think Sunshine Seasons at Epcot is a good counter service option, as is this little gem…in any park… 😉
For a different, more laid back style of Thanksgiving, consider Olivia’s Cafe. For something really different, consider Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Kidani Village.
As mentioned above, there is no Thanksgiving-specific entertainment in any of the Walt Disney World parks or resorts. However, Christmas is in full swing by Thanksgiving in Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and many of the resorts by Thanksgiving.
On the day after Thanksgiving, Epcot’s Holidays Around the World festivities start. Consequently, we’re going to deter to our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World for recommendations of seasonal (read: Christmas) entertainment on Thanksgiving.
As a bit of a corollary to that, we recommend potentially slowing down, maybe relaxing in a resort with your family, enjoying some family time. Particularly at the Disney Vacation Club resorts, you can find great, under-utilized community rooms, where you can watch television, play board games, etc. I can’t speak to how ‘crowded’ these rooms get on Thanksgiving, but I often take my laptop down to these rooms on regular Walt Disney World trips, and I’m typically the only one in the room.
Beyond that, if you want a “Distinctly Patriotic” Thanksgiving (it’s an American holiday, so this is the best we’ve got), we recommend doing Hall of Presidents, American Adventure, MuppetVision 3D, Country Bear Jamboree, and DINOSAUR! (What is more patriotic than capturing a dinosaur?!)
There’s a persistent misconception that Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Super Bowl are among the least busy days of the year because “everyone stays at home with their family” (or in the case of the Super Bowl, substitute ‘beer’ for ‘family’). This is about as false as false gets.
Thanksgiving week is one of the busiest weeks of the year at Walt Disney World, and although there is arguably a slight decline on Thanksgiving itself, it is still a 9/10 in terms of crowds. We cover crowd level expectations in our When to Visit Walt Disney World post. Thanksgiving Day crowds are particularly bad at Magic Kingdom and Epcot–as those are the park most locals doing a trip with their families will choose–and better at both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
With that said, the week after Thanksgiving (starting on Sunday) is one of the least busy weeks of the holiday season, and one of our favorite weeks of the year to visit Walt Disney World. We cover this (along with our other 2 favorite weeks of the year) in our Best and Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World post. The upside of heading to Walt Disney World after Thanksgiving is that you’ll also hit the parks during the peak of the Christmas season, with decorations up at all hotels and Epcot’s entertainment having started.
Not exactly a ton of useful advice, but at least now you know that there is not a whole lot going on at Walt Disney World for Thanksgiving. Planning a Walt Disney World trip? For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Have you done Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World? Any restaurant recommendations? Any other tips to avoid crowds or experience the best aspects of the holiday in the parks? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!