It’s the most wonderful time of the year… to visit Disney World!
In the days leading up to Christmas, we explored each park, taking in all of the holiday lights and decor while enjoying our favorite rides and parades. Disney World is always special, but during Christmastime there’s an extra bit of magic in the air.
The last time I’d been to Disney World was in the early 2000s, and so much has changed by way of technology since then. Before your trip, you’ll want to create an account at My Disney Experience. Once you’re logged in, you can link your park tickets to the account, link your MagicBands (I’ll talk more about those in a minute), make dining reservations, and make your FastPass reservations (which I’ll also address later on in this article).
You’ll also want to download this app. It will show you your itinerary for the day (based on your dining reservations and FastPass selections). It also has a built-in park map for each of the parks, with a blue dot showing you exactly where you are in the park. It also has park hours, showtimes, parade start times and routes, and other helpful information, and I used it constantly during our days at Disney World. Plus, you can order your meals directly on the app, and then pick them up from the food counters without waiting in line.
We started our Disney experience at Magic Kingdom, my favorite park. Yes, others have great rides, but Magic Kingdom has the very best in magical Disney atmosphere, especially during the holidays.
Main Street, U.S.A. is decked out in its Christmas finest, in such an adorable way that I wish it was an actual town I could visit!
In honor of the holiday season, we wore these adorable shirts with Mickey and Minnie drawn with holiday lights (or, as Rapunzel described them, “lanterns”)! You can buy our shirts here.
Another key thing you need to buy is a MagicBand. You can get them for about $15 and they’ll make your trip to Disney World that much easier (and enjoyable). If you’re staying on a Disney property, you can use the band to unlock your room as well as charge any in-park purchases back to your room, meaning you can leave your wallet and room key behind.
If you’re not staying on property, it’s still well worth having a MagicBand, since you can link your tickets to your MagicBands and use the bands to enter the park, check into your dining reservations, and use your FastPasses. Each person in your party should have a MagicBand, even the kids, to make your visit as seamless as possible.
And if you’re trying to game the system, don’t bother. The first time you enter the park with your MagicBand, you’ll scan a fingerprint too. Then each time you use your Park Hopper or multi-day tickets, you’ll scan that same finger again along with your MagicBand. You can find all Disney World ticket options here.
(Festive holiday nails optional!)
And, if you love pictures, a MagicBand is a must. There are professional photographers stationed throughout the park. You can ask them to take a picture of you, then they’ll scan your MagicBand and you’ll be on your way! Your pictures will automatically show up in your My Disney Experience account. Then, immediately or within the next 45 days, you can log into your account, choose which photographs you wish to buy, and download them or order prints. Or you can purchase the Memory Maker for $199 whereby you can download an unlimited number of your pictures from your entire visit, not just one day.
This is my favorite picture that we took at Magic Kingdom!
Some of Disney’s professional pictures will have a little bit of magic added, that you won’t be able to see until they show up in your account.
The technology behind the MagicBand is so impressive that there are readers around the park that will know where you are, and will be able to surprise you in fun ways. I’ll show you a few MagicBand surprises throughout this article.
But first, I need to let you in on a secret. If you’re staying on Disney property, you are able to take advantage of the parks’ Extra Magic Hours, which is extra park time either before or after the park’s normal opening hours. Not all parks offer Extra Magic Hours on all days, so be sure to check the schedule before planning your visit.
That’s not the secret, though. The secret is that, if you aren’t staying on property (we weren’t) you can still enter the park early if you have a dining reservation that begins before standard park hours.
We had a breakfast reservation at Be Our Guest Restaurant that was scheduled for 15 minutes prior to Magic Kingdom’s standard opening time. But since there were Extra Magic Hours the morning of our reservation, we were able to be admitted to the park for the entirety of the Extra Magic Hours timeframe, even though we only technically needed an extra 15 minutes. This additional time allowed us to take advantage of a much less busy park, without having to stay on Disney property.
And you don’t have to speak with anyone about it. Instead, since you’ve linked your dining reservation and park tickets to your MagicBand, you just enter the park using the band, and the system will automatically admit you because it’s aware that you have the dining reservation.
Be Our Guest Restaurant is located inside the Beast’s enchanted castle (not to be confused with Cinderella’s Castle, the large, main castle at Magic Kingdom… I say this because I confused the two)!
The dining room is beautiful, and there’s even snow outside the windows! Our breakfast was delicious, if pricey (even by Disney standards). Breakfast and lunch are quick-service (which is done very efficiently) and dinner is more of an affair. Reservations go fast, so make sure to make yours early, here. And don’t fret if you can’t get one right away. Keep checking back to see if one becomes available. That’s how we got our breakfast reservation.
Now here’s what to do at Magic Kingdom.
It’s always fun taking pictures with characters, and they’re experts at staying… well, in character. I have to say, it was a new experience making small talk with a Disney princess!
We got shots with Rapunzel.
But the rides, of course, are the highlight of any Disney World park visit.
Your park admission comes with three FastPass selections per day. You choose which rides you want FastPasses to ahead of time, and sign up for an hour window during which you can skip the line to go on the ride. These three selections must be at the same park, even if you have a Park Hopper ticket.
Once you use those three, you’ll be able to make an additional FastPass selection that day at any of the four Disney parks. Once you use that one, you’ll get another, and so on, until the parks close. So when making your selections, it’s best to choose times in the morning, so that you’ll have more time to use the extra FastPasses throughout the day.
However, there is a downside to the FastPass process if you don’t stay in one of Disney’s hotels. Here’s what I mean: guests who stay on property can make their FastPass selections 60 days out. All other guests can only make theirs 30 days out. Which means that, even though I made my selections right when they became available 30-days out (at 7am Eastern time each day) all of the FastPasses for some of the park’s most popular rides were already taken. I was still able to select some good rides, but guests who stayed on property certainly had the advantage. You can make your FastPass selections here.
Remember this app I was telling you about? Well in addition to a map of each park, it also provides the current wait times for each ride. It’s so handy when trying to determine which ride to go on next.
If you’re an adult, these are the rides you can’t miss at Magic Kingdom:
For the chill rides, there’s Pirates of the Caribbean.
At the end of It’s a Small World, the ride is set up to read your MagicBands, and will give a few lucky riders a special goodbye.
If you’re looking for more thrilling rides, there’s Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.
As well as The Barnstormer.
And for the most thrills, you’ll want to go on Space Mountain.
(Greg’s fabulous picture just makes mine look even worse, ha!)
My favorite ride at Magic Kingdom is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. There are fun things to do while waiting in line, like this:
And this (comparing your diamond to the ones the Dwarfs have found)!
The ride itself is so much fun.
On this ride, as with many other Disney World rides, you won’t see any photos at the end. However, the ride will read your magic band, take pictures and videos, and send them directly to your account, without you even knowing. We were surprised with gems like these:
For a full list of Magic Kingdom rides, click here.
I’m not a big parade person, but the Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade is definitely worth seeing, with colorful floats, dancing, and dozens of popular Disney characters.
With all there is to do at Magic Kingdom, your day will fly by. Just be sure to take some time to relax and enjoy all of the fun Christmas decorations while you’re there!
Disney World is definitely the most magical place on earth, especially over the holidays.
P.S. A big thank you to my Disney-fanatic friends, Amber and Meghan, for all of their advice prior to my visit!
For all of my tips for visiting Disney World, click here.
For all of my Florida travel posts, click here.