Everyone, it seems, wants to give thanks the week of Thanksgiving by spending time in the theme parks. And with the kids out of school for part or all of the week, it makes it easier for parents to plan a trip. But if you’re planning a trip to SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando or Disney World between November 18-25, you should plan on longer waits on attractions and generally larger crowds everywhere you go.
Don’t expect to see window fronts decorated with cornucopias and pilgrims everywhere you turn. As mentioned in our lookahead for November, all of the parks will be decorated for the holidays — just not the Thanksgiving holiday. You will be able to take in Epcot’s Holidays Around the World or SeaWorld’s Sea of Trees.
Here are the Frog Family’s best tips for making this notoriously busy holiday week an enjoyable one. We have so much important information to share, we’ve broken into four easy sections:
At Walt Disney World, Pick Your Park Wisely & Stay There
When the parks are extremely crowded, park hopping is not recommended. You’ll spend more time than normal getting from one park to the next, and if a park reaches capacity you won’t be allowed re-entry (even if you were there earlier in the day). So here are a few insights to help you choose the best park for your family to spend Thanksgiving Day:
The Upside: Open later than the other parks (until 12 a.m.); plenty of entertainment like parades & castle stage shows; beautiful holiday decorations, Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks; morning Extra Magic Hour.
The Downside: The Downside: While it has a neutral recommendation on our crowd calendar (compared to itself that week there are better days to visit), it will still be one of the busiest parks in the land.
The Upside: Epcot has lots of room & can handle large crowds — it is a recommended park on Thanksgiving Day; plenty of places to eat (even without ADRs); IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.
The Downside: Lots & lots of walking; no holiday-specific events since the Candlelight Processional doesn’t begin until Friday, although the Holidays Around the World decorations will already be on display.
The Upside: Plenty of daytime shows & entertainment; Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights; two showings of Fantasmic! at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The Downside: Not much shade; the park gets really congested when there are big crowds.
The Upside: Great daytime entertainment & shows; special holiday version of afternoon parade (Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade).
The Downside: Closes earlier than the other parks, but if you get to the park at opening you will truly be tired by closing at 8 p.m. (if not you could spend the evening at Festival of the Seasons at Downtown Disney).
The MOST important thing to do on a busy day at any of the theme parks is to ARRIVE EARLY! Try to be at the gate at least an hour before the park officially opens. This will ensure you have a few hours of low wait times on rides and fewer crowds. Generally, we recommend you avoid the Disney park with morning Extra Magic Hours — even if you’re staying on resort.
The NEXT most important thing to do is to already have a plan in place. Is your goal to go on as many rides as possible or do you want to take your time and enjoy the atmosphere? Do you want to get a front row viewing spot for the shows and parades or take advantage of the shorter lines at the attractions? Don’t wait until you get inside the park to figure out what everyone wants to do.
Here are Leap’s Top 10 Time-Saving Tips (blog) that are extremely useful for days like Thanksgiving. And don’t forget to use Undercover Tourist’s apps for park maps, accurate wait times and customizable schedules.
Listed below are the restaurants at Disney and Universal that will offer a special Thanksgiving Day meal. The Disney World restaurants require Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs), and most of them are booked. That said, I had Leap take a peek at reservations as of this writing, and there are a few still available here and there (and even more if you don’t want turkey dinner). His advice is to check for cancellations every day until your trip on the Disney dining reservations site.
Hollywood Studios: Hollywood & Vine (lunch, dinner)
Animal Kingdom: Tusker House (lunch, dinner)
Downtown Disney: Planet Hollywood (lunch, dinner)
Disney Resorts: Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (dinner), Cape May Café at Disney’s Beach Club Resort (dinner), Captain’s Grille at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (lunch, dinner), Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (dinner), Citricos at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (dinner), End Zone Food Court at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort (dinner), Flying Fish Cafe at Disney’s Boardwalk Area (dinner), Fresh Mediterranean Market at Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel (lunch, dinner), Garden Grove at Walt Disney World Swan Hotel (dinner), Grand Floridian Cafe at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (lunch, dinner), Il Mulino New York Trattoria at Walt Disney World Swan Hotel (dinner), Kona Café at Disney’s Polynesian Resort (lunch, dinner) Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground (dinner show), Narcoossee’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (dinner), Olivia’s Café at Disney’s Old Key West Resort (lunch, dinner), Sanaa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas (lunch, dinner), Todd English’s bluezoo at Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel (dinner), Trail’s End Restaurant at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground (lunch, dinner), The Turf Club Bar and Grill at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa (lunch, dinner), The Wave … of American Flavors at Disney’s Contemporary Resort (lunch, dinner), Whispering Canyon Cafe at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (lunch, dinner), Yachtsman Steakhouse at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (dinner)
SeaWorld Orlando: Sharks Underwater Grill, Seafire Inn and Voyagers
Universal Resorts: Trattoria del Porto at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (lunch, dinner), Mama Della’s Ristorante at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (dinner), The Kitchen restaurant at Hard Rock Hotel (lunch, dinner), Islands Dining Room at Loews Royal Pacific Resort (lunch, dinner)
…Or Turkey Leg?
The Frog Family always likes to have a back-up plan, so here’s a list of where you can get one of those delicious smoked turkey legs in each of the parks:
Magic Kingdom: the Turkey Leg Cart (Frontierland)
Epcot: Fife & Drum (America Pavilion)
Hollywood Studios: Toluca Turkey Legs (Sunset Boulevard); if Toluca Turkey Legs is closed try Fairfax Fare next door
Animal Kingdom: Trilo-Bites (DinoLand U.S.A.)
SeaWorld Orlando: SeaPort Market near the entrance to Pacific Point Preserve
Universal Studios: Street vendor (New York)
Islands of Adventure: Three Broomsticks (Wizarding World of Harry Potter ), Thunder Falls Terrace in (Jurassic Park)
Get the Picture
Let Disney’s PhotoPass and Universal Orlando photographers make your life easier on a busy day like Thanksgiving. If you’re like me (and most parents I know) you or your spouse is frequently missing from family photos since one of you has to actually take the picture. So unhand your camera, strike a pose with the rest of the crew and say CHEEEEESE! You’ll be so happy to have lots of pictures of the ENTIRE family, and you’ll be much less stressed about capturing that perfect shot.
Of course, you’ll still want to take your own photos. Here’s an easy tip on finding the best photo opportunities: Look for the place where the professionals are taking photos. At Walt Disney World, it’s at the Kodak Picture Spots in each park. They’re identifiable by signs around the parks that read “Kodak Picture Spot” and with blue and white camera symbols on the paper park maps. You can’t go wrong with these locations.
Review Your Safety Plan
Large crowds and small children can make a parent’s anxiety levels skyrocket. Have a family meeting beforehand to review your safety strategies like where to meet in case the group gets separated. On Thanksgiving day, dress everyone in the same bright color and take a picture of your children that morning so you have a recent one with what they’re wearing. Read more on our Theme Park Safety Strategies.
Wherever and however you spend your Thanksgiving holiday, be safe and have fun!