Where do the bravest travelers go during Thanksgiving week? Antarctica? The Amazon? Nope, they fight their way through the crowds of Disney World. My friend frequent Travelogged contributor Jill Martin Wrenn (whom you may remember from her posts on Milan and Lake Maggiore, Birmingham, England, and the Georgia Aquarium) went to Disney World this past Thanksgiving with her husband and their three children under the age of five. Here Jill shares her advice on how to have a fantastic time in Disney World despite the crowds.
Despite our fears of massive crowds, my family and I decided to take a trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando over Thanksgiving, a peak travel period. I had visited the theme parks many times before, but never during late November. It was more crowded than I had ever seen it, which is saying a lot — Disney parks always seems to be busy.
But we found that with a little bit of extra planning, a trip to Disney World during a high traffic time can still be a fun and memorable holiday. We honed in on one theme park: Magic Kingdom, which we thought would hold the most appeal for our kids, ages five, three and one. There were no leisurely mornings: we followed the advice we read in The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids, and arrived when the park opened.
We tried to avoid the temptation to linger on Main Street, taking pictures of Cinderella Castle, and instead walked quickly (or as quickly as it’s possible to walk with a five-year-old and a double stroller) to Fantasyland. There, we rode on Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and Peter Pan’s Flight — rides that fill up quickly, and are slightly less crowded in the morning.
We procured Fastpasses for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which allowed us to reserve places in line that we could return to later in the morning.
Using the Lines Disney World Wait Times App, we monitored crowds at other rides. We found that 3G service was patchy in the park, but were able to access Wi-Fi about once every half hour, which is about how often we needed to refresh the information on my iPhone.
As the park got more crowded in the late morning, we visited attractions off the beaten track, like the Walt Disney World Railroad, which takes you on a slow ride around the perimeter of the park.
We also saw some live action shows, like Dream-Along With Mickey, performed outside Cinderella Castle, and Captain Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Tutorial, by Pirates of the Caribbean. We hadn’t planned to see them: we stumbled on both shows, en route to other attractions.
Both were highlights of the visit for our kids — especially when my three-year-old son got onstage with the Johnny Depp lookalike playing Jack Sparrow. These shows happen several times a day, so getting decent viewing spots wasn’t a problem.
We stayed off the resort property, in a two bedroom, two bathroom suite at Staybridge Suites Lake Buena Vista, which is about five miles away from the Magic Kingdom. Using a AAA discount, we got an appealing rate for a lot of space. While I was concerned that staying outside of the Disney transportation system would require an epic journey to the parks, I found that leaving the resort at the end of a long day was relaxing. The trip from the hotel to the theme park took about an hour.
Though we considered visiting Animal Kingdom after our two days in Magic Kingdom, we decided to give in to exhaustion and leave it for the next trip, which we will probably take soon. The kids are already asking when we can go back.