Can Christmas be fun at WDW for first-timers?

Or, how we dealt with huge crowds satisfactorily and my DH and I are still speaking to each other!

I began researching our Dec. 2017 trip in Jan. 2017. I initially bought the big Touring Plans WDW book and then discovered all of the wonderful, generous people who find time to be on the TP Discussion Forum. Thanks to you all from the bottom of my heart, as it wouldn’t have been nearly as good a trip without your patient advice to my questions. So, as a payback of sorts, I’m now going to go through my own family’s experiences in the hopes of helping other first-timers who will be going to WDW at Christmas in the future.

Overall Plan: Since I am still teaching high school, our only choices were Christmas or summer. As neither my DH nor I can take heat with humidity, it was a no-brainer. So, this is what I planned: Dec. 22 was MVMCP. Dec. 23-27 for EPCOT, MK, and AK with 5-day park-hoppers. No HS, as it didn’t have enough to interest us at this time. Followed Touring Plans 12-month planner for basics like getting tickets in May from The Official Ticket Center. Planned and re-planned as the months progressed. Husband thought I was nuts (but of course he thanked me when, at Epcot for our first full day, he realized how much he was now benefitting!).

FIRST NIGHT: We flew out from California on Dec. 21 and stayed the first night at the Marriott Fairfield Inn, close to WDW (it was about $80 for the night and included breakfast the next morning). Took Lyft to our hotel, but the driver didn’t know exactly how to get there. Spoke little English, too, a pattern that became all too familiar with Lyft over the next 6 days. Late for our dinner reservation after our delayed flight, we literally threw our bags onto a hotel cart that the hotel manager then put into their locked storeroom. We then hopped a Lyft to Disney Springs for our 7 pm Raglan Road reservations. Again, we had another Lyft driver who had no clue where to go initially, went 20 miles an hour, and wanted to just keep going up one of the raised parking garages at Disney Springs! We finally just said stop and hopped out. But WOW!!! Disney Springs is so amazing – all the shops and places to eat in such a gorgeous environment. Perked us right up! Finally made it to Raglan Road only 5 min. late for our reserved table and had a great time with the fantastic live music and dancing. Food was pretty decent, and I thoroughly enjoyed my Guinness! *Tip for that restaurant: Consider just eating at the bar, which doesn’t take reservations, has pretty fast turnover of seats, and has a super view of the dancers. Our server, Jenny, turned out to have grown up not 5 miles from our home in Northern California! Talk about a small world……and walking around Disney Springs at night in beautiful weather after our dinner was just a blast.

Friday, Dec. 22
Again took Lyft to transfer to Swan Hotel, and had a fantastic driver (you may be questioning our sanity with choosing Lyft again, but my husband had one of those discount deals for the rest of Dec. so each trip was really cheap. And we really did have some great drivers, too). LOVE, LOVE the Swan!!! We spent 5 nights there and the hotel itself is just gorgeous. We were in a 2-Queen with Balcony room, because our oldest son, 28 yrs. old, was going to be staying with us (since we were hardly in the room, it actually worked out just fine). He drove out from Tampa where he’s going to college – he’d never been to WDW so this was our treat to him as well as to us.

One odd experience with the Swan: Initially, last summer, I had booked a King room as it was just going to be my husband and me. I entered all hotel info. into MyDisneyExperience, and it dutifully reported one room reserved. When our son from Tampa then said he wanted to join us (and we couldn’t afford another room), I switched our reservation to a 2-Queen room and changed the reservation info. on MDE. It then reported we had 3 rooms reserved! This was just before the hurricane hit, so I couldn’t contact the Swan for several weeks afterward. When I finally was able to talk with someone around the end of September, she reassured me that it was really just one room. I was so worried I called again in October (always recording who I talked with!) and got the same reassurance. And they were right – we were charged for just one room, but no one could explain why MDE kept saying it was 3. Weird.

Spent most of Friday just wandering around Swan and Dolphin hotels, finding out where the best gym was for son (Dolphin) and the best large lap pool for me (Swan). LOVED the 24-hour cafeteria with decent food and fun ocean decor, Picabu, at the Dolphin. The 2 hotels are so close to each other, it’s no bother to drop by one on your way to the other.

Also, I have to sing the praises of these two hotels in that they are a very short, delightful walk away from Epcot. You just cruise around the Boardwalk and you’re very close to the International Gateway entrance. Since we were going to Epcot for 2 of our 5 days, it was extremely convenient!

Friday night, Dec. 22 - MVMCP
MVMCP – It was so fun! Our son was not coming with us (gym time for him), so my DH and I set off about 3:30 pm on a Disney bus, and we were in MK by 4 pm. The WDW buses for us were always satisfactory, which we weren’t expecting. based on previous comments. I knew that there could be issues, but we didn’t come back with the mobs right after fireworks, so maybe that’s why I can say that we had no problems. They pick up right outside the Swan’s front entrance, and there was a pretty accurate monitor mounted on the wall by the pick-up spot that always told us when the next bus was coming (we never waited more than 10 minutes). Got to MK, short bag-check line, short MagicBand check-in (had to get our fingerprint in the system, very easy), and we were on our way! (I had bought our MagicBands last spring from Disney online - highly recommend getting them far in advance so they’re registered on MDE and already linked to all of your reservations and FastPasses before you arrive at WDW). We’ve been to DL many times, but Magic Kingdom at WDW just felt bigger in every way. WOW! Loved the Christmas decorations, but the rides were crowded for sure. To be expected, no?!? We had read about the to-be-expected Christmas crowds, and I think this is one of those “Attitude is Everything” situations where you just have to lower your expectations and decide what’s most important to do. Kept longingly walking past 7DMT and PPF, but we just refused to spend too much time in lines, ever, so they were a no-go. Did “Jingle Cruise”, loved it. Our DL favorites, Haunted Mansion and Pirates, were definitely a bit different than these at MK, but they were still just so much fun!

Parade: One of my “must-do’s” for the party. We initially thought about Main Street with the snow, but we found ourselves about 30 min. prior to the parade in Liberty Square. Street was roped off, and there was this perfect angle to the rope (on the Liberty Tree Tavern side of the street) where all 5’1” of me could stand with the most perfect view of the parade coming toward us. It’s just north of the entrance to the Liberty Tree Tavern. There was only one other small party already staked out along the rope here, with plenty of room for several more groups. Highly recommend this spot! And you’ll read later how we got our snow, after all. This is how close to the parade we were:

Walked to Tomorrowland to find a bite to eat and found a surprisingly short line to get some really tender chicken at Cosmic Rays. I know it’s not considered a good place to eat by some, but we thought the chicken dinner was quite good. Or maybe we were just so hungry we didn’t notice!

Garden Dessert Party: Absolutely worth every penny for the two of us. I don’t know if I could ever see the Castle Fireworks show now without it! Again, I had a wonderful view with no one in front of me. We did things a little differently, though, and resisted spending eating time before the show and went directly to the Garden area. The fireworks surpass ANY hometown July 4 fireworks show I’ve ever seen!!! Loved the music and beautiful castle projection show as well as the fireworks finale.

Afterward, we then made a beeline directly up to the dessert area (after first getting the ok from Cast Members), gathered a plateful of goodies and several sparkling cider glasses, and had a delightful munch on the terrace at a front-row table with the most perfect view of the castle and garden grounds. Just mesmerizing!

We are not normally late-night people, so I had assumed in my planning we’d be dragging our feet back to the buses by this point with the rest of the crowds. The adrenalin must have kicked in (and coming from Calif. didn’t hurt because it’s 3 hours behind Florida) so we then had a wonderful late evening exploring Fantasyland with no crowds. Other people were certainly there (7DMT still had too long a line, darn it) but it was just wonderful to just soak up the atmosphere. Went on PPF and LOVED the pre-ride queue experience! I hadn’t known what to expect and going through the Darling’s home was a pleasant surprise. We even jumped on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh with no wait at all. Walked down to Tomorrowland to get my “must-do” photo op with Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps (again, no line!), then started to leave down Main Street just as the later parade was approaching. We were able to navigate Main Street pretty easily and got our snowy parade after all! Bus back to the hotel was quick and uneventful – perfect end to our first WDW experience!

I’ll post the rest in a few days!


Yay! Great report- thanks! I am looking forward to your next post!

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Enjoying the report; looking forward to the next installment.

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Really enjoying this so far - fab photos!

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Um, I am not a great photographer but I compensate by taking a million and finding a few decent ones…but thanks so much! I feel like I’m “walking among giants” by posting, but it’s so much fun to relive the fun memories.


We love a trip report here!

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Saturday, Dec. 23: EPCOT
My perfect Touring Plans schedule kind of went out the window right away. Didn’t get at the Int’l Gateway until right at 9 am, so no early run to FEA. However, since we knew we’d have a second day here, it was a really pleasant morning. We had a FP for Soarin’ at 9:45 am which we used as our first ride in Epcot. We then hopped into a pretty short line for Living with the Land and thoroughly enjoyed it. Seemed like classic Walt Disney here (his original visions for EPCOT), and they had even dressed the gardens for the holidays! Gotta love a Sandy Snowman!

We just walked around the entire Future World, getting our sea legs so to speak, and then gradually made our way around the lake toward our 12:00 Candlelight lunch at the Biergarten. Along the way, we rode the Gran Fiesta Tour and just loved it! Am I easy to please? Actually, I’m quite picky, but what I’m describing is the result of many, many hours spent pouring over the Touring Plans book and reading hundreds of posts on this TP Discussion Forum about rides, and I had my list in hand (yes, laminated!) of what we would enjoy doing. So could I just waltz right by Test Track? Yup! (I know, it’s probably your favorite, but there you go).

Biergarten deserves every possible accolade anyone’s ever given it. I think our son may have decided to get a Resident Annual Pass because of this restaurant that day! The quality and choices of food were just amazing. This was going to be our main meal of the day, so we felt quite okay with going back for seconds! The musicians performed several times during our lengthy lunch, and it was really entertaining.

We left Biergarten and spent time in several Pavilions while walking back to Future World for our 3:00 FP for Spaceship Earth. What a quirky, fun ride! My husband at this point bailed and went back to our hotel for a nap. He was quite happy with the decision about staying at the Swan for a number of reasons (three of our five nights were free because of our Marriott points) but his naps were probably the best reason of all!

My son and I saw the wonderful but dated movies at the Canada and China pavilions, and we found our way back to the Rose & Crown Pub for a 5:15 reservation – we just shared an appetizer and my much beloved Guinness once again, and about this time, DH joined us for the Candlelight Processional line. Got decent seats meaning no trees were in front of us, thanks to (planning once again pays off!) my having gotten the CP tickets with our Biergarten reservation. This musical event has a full orchestra and several choirs, and the music was outstanding. My son and I are huge Warehouse 13 and Avatar fans, so we particularly enjoyed CCH Pounder’s performance reading as well.

After that, my husband went back to the Rose & Crown for HIS Guinness with our son, and I decided to stake out an excellent spot on the bridge (exact middle, actually) between the United Kingdom and France. Thanks to TP and several folks on the forum for the bridge advice! I didn’t mind standing there, as it was just gorgeous evening weather. The sunset view from the bridge near France:

Illuminations was supposed to start at 9:30 pm that night, and I was on the bridge about 8:45 pm. Soon afterward, other families started to stake out spots here as well. Illuminations was so cool! We all really enjoyed it, and the bridge location was so perfect, not just to watch but also for a quick exit from the park at the Int’l Gateway. Highly recommend this spot! Then it was back to the hotel as the next morning was going to be our attempt at rope-dropping MK, which would open at 7 am that day. Set the alarm for 5 am, joy!

Sunday, Dec. 24: MK
When I was initially making ADR’s at 180 days out, MK was set to open at 9 am that day. I initially failed to get a PPO-ADR for BOG (gotta love these abbreviations!), but I persevered, and after about a week of intense checking, I finally got my 8:15am res. for BOG. I was set, right? We could just sleep more that morning, then casually get to MK about 7:45 am, be out of BOG by 8:40 or so, and be on 7DMT before the rest of the crowd. And then my plans crumbled in early December when WDW announced the new 7am park opening for the entire holiday week. Bummer! So, cancelled my now-useless ADR and planned on rope-dropping with the other bleary-eyed early birds.

DH was a “no” for the attempt at getting to MK so early that morning, but my son and I were game, so off the two of us went at 6 am! Took Lyft to the TTC, and we were about 10th in line there about 6:15 am, so we were feeling pretty good! It seemed a bit awkward with the CM’s at this bag-check not seeming to know which line to open, but oh well. Got to the entrance to MK and there were maybe 100 people in front of us, tops, so I was getting excited. I can rope-drop! This turned out to be a bit presumptuous on my part, as I would just fold from extreme tiredness by the afternoon, but the morning was awesome, I have to admit. Initially, the seemingly large crowd just melted onto Main Street, with a bunch peeling off for Space Mountain right away. So far, so good. The rest of us all had one goal: 7DMT. And it was so great to just cruise through that ride’s entrance line at full speed, knowing full well what it would look like just 90 min. later! (Not for the first time on this trip would I ask myself why people think waiting in a line for 120+ min. is worth it!) Even though it seemed like a bunch of people were ahead of us in line, we never stopped moving until we got into the ride’s car. And what a sweet ride! I never did get a FP for it, so I knew it would be our only time; we thoroughly enjoyed it. The two of us headed over to PPF for another no-wait ride. (DS became a little kid for a bit and actually admitted he really loved it!). All were a breeze! Stopped for a bite to eat, then met up with DH for our 9 am FP for BTMR, followed by our 10:30 FP For Haunted Mansion. Did Pirates and had a light lunch at Pecos Bills. Pretty good food! Had a 12:00 FP for Buzz Lightyear, so made our way to Tomorrowland, with an unplanned stop for the Muppets doing their “Great Moments” hilarity in Liberty Square. After Buzz, we were all fading fast, so we went back to the hotel to nap.

I had made Christmas Eve dinner reservations for Citricos, and what a fabulous dinner experience it was! (An awesome Lyft driver had gotten us there without any help from us – yay!). What’s not to love about the Grand Floridian at Christmas?!? It was so gorgeous, and seeing Mickey and Minnie in Victorian costume was a delightful surprise. The restaurant was a very nice dining experience, with excellent service and delicious food. I highly recommend it for a special dinner out. Again, we really lucked out with beautiful weather, and after dinner we casually walked the grounds just as the electrical water pageant was starting on the lake. A perfect evening in every way.

Final installment of the remaining 2 ½ days – hopefully, within the next week!


We were at Citricos the night before! It was such a lovely place to unwind after our monsterously long flights. It sounds like you guys had as much fun as we did! :slight_smile:

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Biergarten was my 11 year old’s favourite restaurant of the trip. Fabulous photos!

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