Reny S. writes:
We are planning a trip to WDW in early December. Do you have any good tips for that time of year. We already have our tickets; do you have any ideas of what is the cheapest way to book a hotel? We would like to stay at a moderate or better resort. There are 2 adults, 3 kids (14, 11, 9). Can you add the dining plan without buying a full package? I have never used a TA before. How much do they charge for their service?
Reny. Thanks for your question. I know from emailing back and forth that you’re planning on going right after Thanksgiving week, which is an amazing time, possibly one of the best holiday weeks to go. The crowds should be low and the weather should be close to perfect. Make sure you pack for unexpected highs and lows weather-wise, both jeans and shorts, T-shirts and light sweaters, and a light jacket for night. And bring your bathing suits as well; chances are good that it will be warm enough to swim. Try to get at least one night in the Magic Kingdom; it’s truly impressive. It should be open late at least one night during your stay, but if it’s not, I strongly encourage buying a tickets to the Christmas party, which will allow you to stay until midnight.
The main discount that’s out right now for that period is free dining, but since you’ve already bought park tickets, you’ll want to look at room-only discounts. These should come out in the next few weeks; I’ll post them here and you can also check sites like Mousesavers. You might also try signing up with Disney online. Sometimes they send out “pin codes,” which are discounts specific to you sent to your email. They are often a better deal than general public discounts but can be hard to come by.
With five people in one room, you’re probably going to be most comfortable at a deluxe resort. Some moderates sleep five, but the beds in most mods are only double beds and with two kids sharing a bed, you might want a queen, which you’ll find in the deluxe resorts. Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge are two of the most beautifully themed resorts (both were designed by the same architect). They are both considered to be a lower level of deluxe, therefore they cost less. I’ve never been able to figure out why, as they have some of the nicest pools and the most well-executed themes. Both have bunk bed rooms. Wilderness Lodge in particular is very popular during Christmastime.
If convenience is important, you might want to look into the monorail resorts or one of the Epcot resorts that will allow you to take a boat to Hollywood Studios or Epcot. The Swan and Dolphin hotels both offer discounts for teachers and certain government workers, so if you fall into that category, it’s worth a look. Finally, if you want to stay off site, which will give you a lot more room for your money, I’ve seen some great rates at the Sheridan Vistana and at Gaylord Palms. Both of these resorts have a relationship with the owners of The Dis, so if you’re looking into those resorts, check there first because their rates are very good.
You could also look into renting Disney Vacation Club points which will allow you to stay at a Deluxe resort, give you more space and privacy, and save you money. DVC is a group of resorts that fall under Disney’s timeshares, but don’t let the word “timeshare” scare you: Disney won’t try to sell you anything and you won’t be asked to take part in a presentation. Most DVC resorts are attached to the deluxe resorts, but some, like Saratoga Springs and Old Key West, are free-standing (and also less expensive). My personal favorite DVC resort is at Animal Kingdom Lodge. It’s beautiful. When DVC owners can’t use their points, Disney allows them to rent them out. Here’s a good starting place on renting points. The vast majority of these transactions go very smoothly; both rental boards mentioned in the post I linked to are very safe. You could also check a points broker for discounted last minute rentals. I’m not a huge fan of using a broker for renting points simply because they charge more per point, but for last minute deals, they can be a great bargain.
You can add the dining plan to a resort reservation but you’ll have to add one-day tickets for each member of your party; this technically turns your reservation into a package. Kind of a weird little quirk. You can probably avoid this if you rent DVC points as DVC members aren’t required to do this. Passholders can avoid this requirement as well. Before you do this, make sure you take a look at dining reservation availability online. You can do this at http://disney.com. The website is a little busy, but click on the “parks” section on the top and then the “Walt Disney World” section on the side. When you get there, go back to the top column and click on “where to eat.” and then “make a reservation.” As noted above, Disney is doing their free dining promotion during your visit which can make getting reservations later on a bit difficult since most people will have made them at the 180-day mark. Unless you can get most of the restaurants that interest you, skip the dining plan and pay out of pocket for a couple of sit-down meals.
There are some restaurants that you can get on shorter notice (90 to 60 days out) even during free dining. These include California Grill, Artist Point, Yachtsman Steakhouse, Biergarten and Chefs de France. The first three are two table-service credit restaurants but are well worth the price.
A word about using travel agents. In general, I don’t use travel agents when I travel, but I like to use one when I go to Disney. Disney certified travel agents don’t charge for their services. The good ones will keep up on discounts that apply during your travel dates and call you when they come out and apply them to your trip. They’ll also make your dining reservations and let you know about special events that are going on during your stay. If you’re unsure about using an agency, contact one and get some quotes. You can verify these prices yourself through the Disney website or by calling another agent. I don’t endorse an agency on this site, but if you’d like to know who I use, send me an email. I trust them a lot.
I don’t know if you listen to Disney podcasts, but you can find a ton of great information about Christmas happenings at Disney World on these podcasts. You don’t need an MP3 player to listen; they’ll work on many phones and on your computer. Here are some you might like:
- The DisUnplugged, one of my favorite podcasts., recently did a Christmas in July series which discussed various park activities during the holiday season. If you go back to their December archives, you’ll find some information about Universal Christmas events as well.
- WDWMagic is Lou Mongello’s podcast. Lou is basically Mr. Disney. I don’t know if there’s any one Disney fan who can top his knowledge. Go back to Lou’s November/December archives for some really detailed Christmas information. He has a couple of pieces up about Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party that I really enjoyed. Not only is Lou one of the nicest fans in the Disney community, his podcast is completely G-rated, so you can listen with little ears and not have to worry. If you find yourself enjoying the podcast, keep in mind that Lou usually has a monthly meet-up where he meets fans.
- Finally, check out WDWToday. Their show is hosted by five well-informed, enthusiastic Disney fans, one of whom happens to be Len Testa, author of the Unofficial Guide. You can search their December archives for their Christmas shows, which are normally done by subject (around 20-30 minutes long). WDWToday is also having a series of fan meet-ups while you’re in Disney World. You can check their site for dates if that interests you.
Here’s a list of holiday highlights:
The nightly lighting of Cinderella Castle right after the fireworks. This takes place before the Magic Kingdom closes for the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and is a must-do.
The Candlelight Processional tells the story of Jesus’ birth. Celebrity narrators are joined by local choirs. It takes place at Epcot several times a night during the holiday season. If you purchase a Candlelight Processional Dinner package you will get priority seating. Otherwise, get in line at least an hour before the show begins, earlier if it’s a popular celebrity leading the processional.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party takes place in the Magic Kingdom several nights a week with snow on Main Street and special parades and shows. For me, it’s a must-do. Crowds are usually manageable, but avoid weekend nights, which tend to draw larger crowds. The party officially begins at 7:00 but you can enter the park as early as 4:00 with your ticket. This is a separate ticketed event. Tickets can be purchased for a slight discount online from Disney.com; otherwise, buy them at the park on the day of the party. Some dates sell out ahead of time.
The Osborne Family Holiday Lights in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I went to law school in Arkansas, where Jennings Osborne is kind of a local legend. He’s a big jolly guy who, among other things, does a lot of work for charitable causes. He also likes Christmas. In fact, he likes Christmas so much that his extravagantly decorated house became a local tourist attraction. Later, he bought the houses on either side of him and decorated those too. Unfortunately, his neighbors in his very tony suburb didn’t appreciate all the traffic and they got an injunction to make him stop. Fortunately for us, Disney offered to take his entire collection and decorate a portion of Hollywood Studios. The result is a spectacular display of Christmas lights and holiday music. The lights go up at sundown, usually around 6:00 every night. Crowds thin after about 30 minutes, so if you’d like to experience this attraction in a more peaceful setting, come at that time. The lights stay on until after the park closes.
You might want to go resort hopping while you’re visiting Disney World. It’s totally free and you don’t have to be a guest to visit the resorts, which are beautifully decorated for the holidays. Favorites include the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge and the life-sized gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian.
A couple of warnings:
Disney tapes its annual Christmas parade the first weekend in December. Expect the Magic Kingdom to be difficult to get into on Friday and Saturday. Sunday is a rain day, so there may be taping that day as well. While it can be difficult to get in and out of the parks, the rest of the park should be manageable. The large Christmas tree in Town Square is usually in another part of the park until after the parade finishes taping.
If you want to watch the taping of the parade, you can sign up online closer to Christmas. There is no cost to view the parade. Even if you’re not signed up, you can watch the parade, but the best spaces are reserved for those holding tickets.
Christmas parties during your stay means that the Magic Kingdom closes earlier. If you have an ADR in the park during the party but do not have a ticket for the party, you will lose your ADR. If you’ve pre-paid, as you will with Cinderella’s Royal Table, you will still be required to pay even though you can’t get into the park.
Pop Warner, a sporting event for cheerleading and football, begins December 4th. If you’re taking Magical Express out that day, expect lines at MCO. The kids usually stay in one of the values and a moderate, but those resorts haven’t been announced yet. A lot of non-Pop Warner guests prefer to avoid those resorts that week because the kids are a bit rambunctious.