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Thanksgiving Planning for Disney World, SeaWorld & Universal

by Mommy Frog on November 21, 2013 · 12 Comments · in Crowd Calendar & When to Visit

Next week is one of the busiest weeks for all of the Orlando theme parks. It’s no surprise, really, with the kids out of school for at least part of the week, and after all, who wouldn’t want to spend Thanksgiving in the parks? But if you’re planning a trip to SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando or Disney World between November 24-30, you should plan on longer waits on attractions and larger crowds everywhere you go.

Pumpkins at Living with the Land

And 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. The one exception to this is the Land Pavilion at Epcot, where pumpkins, gourds and scarecrows are on display in Living With the Land and the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot.

Here are the Frog Family’s best tips for making this notoriously busy holiday week an enjoyable one.

1. 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). We’re predicting the two busiest days this week will be Thursday and Friday.

On Thanksgiving Day itself, we’ve compiled a few insights to help you choose the best park for your family.

Magic Kingdom® Park

The Upside: Open later than the other parks (until 1 a.m.); there’s the Jingle Cruise (a holiday version of the Jungle Cruise);
plenty of entertainment like parades & castle stage shows; beautiful holiday decorations, Wishes fireworks show; morning Extra Magic Hour.
The Downside: It will be one of the busiest parks, if not the busiest park, in the land.

Elsa and Anna from "Frozen"

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; and Elsa and Anna from “Frozen” are greeting guests in Norway.
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.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios®

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

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.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park

Santa Goofy Mickey and Minnie
The Upside: Great daytime entertainment & shows; special holiday version of afternoon parade (Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade); meet and greets with your favorite characters in their holiday duds.
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).

2. Arrive Early

Welcome Show Opening ceremony at Magic Kingdom

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.

3. Have a plan

Macy's Holiday Parade

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?

SeaWorld Orlando's Sea of Trees


Maybe the holiday sights and sounds are your top priority? Don’t wait until you get inside the park to figure out what everyone wants to do. We always put together a short list of priorities by family member, that way we can best strategize and make sure no one, especially Tad and Lily, are left out.

4. Dine before or after regular mealtimes.

You’ll save time waiting in line for food if you eat during off-peak times. Eat an early breakfast and have an early lunch at 11 a.m. or eat a big breakfast and wait and have a late lunch. Be sure to check out our list of all the restaurants in the Orlando theme parks that will be serving up Thanksgiving dinner and a few places where you can find a turkey leg. If you want an ADR for a sit-down meal, be sure to keep checking in the days leading up to your visit for cancelations.

5. 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.

6. At Disney World, make sure to utilize Fastpass (or Fastpass+ if you’re a resort guest)

Toy Story Midway Mania!

Take advantage of Fastpass during the busiest times, and just know that things may have changed a bit regarding Fastpass since the last time you visited. Most notably, Fastpasses for some of the busiest rides that quickly run out for the day, like Toy Story Midway Mania! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, are running out even faster now that there are more people using Fastpass+. On the day of writing this, for example, within an hour of park opening Fastpass return times are already 6:30-7:30 p.m. with a 45-minute wait time. This will make it much harder for a family arriving at park opening to obtain a Fastpass with a return time that will actually work with their schedule. Guests not staying on property who are set on riding TSMM! with the lowest wait should plan on being at the park ahead of opening and high tail it to TSMM! at park opening.

For those of you resort guests testing Fastpass+ in the parks, be sure and book your selections if you haven’t already. As of this writing, there are FP+ times available for even the most in-demand rides, such as Toy Story Mania!, Space Mountain, Test Track and Soarin’. For you folks using Fastpass+ know that at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot, Disney has implemented a tiered system, and you will only be able to make one selection from the most in-demand attractions and two selections for the remaining attractions.

7. Pack Your Patience

It will be crowded, really, really crowded. Adjust your expectations going in and remember to give thanks for all the fun you’re having in the Orlando theme parks.

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.

Wherever and however you spend your Thanksgiving holiday, be safe and have fun!

Related: Win $250 in the Undercover Tourist Thanksgiving Pinterest Giveaway

Related: Where to Find Thanksgiving Dinner in the Orlando Theme Parks

Related: A Mickey-Inspired Thanksgiving Craft for Your Little Turkeys

Happy Planning,
Mommy Frog

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12 Responses to “Thanksgiving Planning for Disney World, SeaWorld & Universal”

  1. [...] more information on this in the coming weeks or you can get a look at last year’s information here now. There are a ton of other events going on this month, and we list a number of them [...]

  2. [...] Thanksgiving [...]

  3. FrogBlog says:

    Hi everyone!

    Please share if you have any tips for surviving Thanksgiving week at Disney World, SeaWorld or Universal!

    – Mommy Frog

  4. [...] The pastry chefs at Disney’s Hollywood Studios have created what Mommy Frog is calling “the most scrumpt-a-licious cupcakes ever” and they’re themed for the holidays. Yep, even Thanksgiving. [...]

  5. Amy Kennedy says:

    I just want to thank you for all of the helpful advice you share. We are having a family trip to WDW next week and I am so excited. For several in the family, it will be their first trip. Your information and advice have already been invaluable and we haven’t even left our home state. Again, THANK YOU!!

  6. [...] Related: Thanksgiving Survival Guide for Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando [...]

  7. [...] Best Disney World RestaurantsThe “DFB Guide to the Walt Disney World Holidays 2012″ Grand Launch and Discount!News! Temporary Closure in 2013 for Disney World’s California GrillDisney Dining PlanDisney Gift Guide: Cookie Season is Here!Thanksgiving Planning for Disney World, SeaWorld & Universal [...]

  8. katherin3 says:

    Having just left Magic Kingdom I will reiterate it is crowded. Long lines and lots of people. The upside is you can take food and drink and we were prepared. The kids enjoyed it but we are all exhausted.

  9. [...] … or at least a turkey leg at the resort. If you’re visiting the week of Thanksgiving, here is our survival guide (including where to eat). There are a ton of other events going on this month, and we [...]

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