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Disneyland on Thanksgiving? Awesome idea or run far, far away?
As some of you may know, I spent Thanksgiving in Disneyland this year! I have been to Disneyland quite a few times in my life, though never during the holiday season. I assumed it would be busy, but then again, when is it not?
Even when we visited in the off seasons, we still bumped shoulders with people as we made our way through the crowds, and our toes were run over by numerous cement-truck-sized strollers.
How much worse can it be?
Naturally, I turned to Google hoping to find a good blog about what it’s like at Disneyland over the Thanksgiving weekend. Unfortunately, all I came up with were so-called “Disney Expert” websites, (non-afilliated, of course,) telling me to, in their words, “Forget About It.”
Apparently it would be so busy that any attempt at a good time would be a total bust. I turned to forums next, and got equally unhelpful advice. The commenters basically told me to just forfeit the trip because it was going suck anyway. I know nobody likes to wait in lines, but I couldn’t believe the negativity.
Because of my boyfriend’s work schedule, Thanksgiving weekend was the only time we were able to go, and we were determined to make the best of it. Contrary to what some forum commenters believe about holiday-Disneyland-goers, we are not masochistic idiots out to self-destruct. We appreciate any help and useful advice we can get, and that was severely lacking online.
I hope my experience at Disneyland on Thanksgiving is useful for you
This is exactly the kind of post that I looked for prior to my trip, yet I couldn’t find. I am not here to tell you that it’s busy, (because you already know that,) and that you shouldn’t go. Instead, I’m going to tell you about my experience, and what I did to ensure we had the best time possible.
Keep reading to hear all of my best tips for Disneyland on Thanksgiving.
Overlays spice up existing attractions
The holiday season is the best in terms of attractions, as everything is open and running at full capacity. Not to mention, holiday overlays make the usual attractions even more special.
Be sure to check out the three most well-known overlays: The Nightmare Before Christmas in the Haunted Mansion, Jingle Cruise, and holiday It’s a Small World. Personally, It’s a Small World is my favorite since I feel like it is the most transformed for the season. The decorations are integrated beautifully, and special holiday music plays throughout. Unlike some others that only have some wreaths, lights, and fruitcakes scattered around. *cough* Jingle Cruise *cough*
Not every attraction is decorated, (not even close,) but the ones that are are worth seeing.
Holiday themed attractions make special appearances
Several special edition attractions that are specific to the holidays pop up around the middle to end of November.
Olaf’s Snow Fest is an indoor winter wonderland complete with a mini sledding hill and hot cocoa stand. (Pictured above left.)
The fun doesn’t stop inside the parks! There is also an ice skating rink set up in Downtown Disney where you can either show off your gracefulness, or completely embarrass yourself. You decide. (Pictured above right.)
You’ll find cute sweets on every corner
Not that there’s a shortage of snacks other times of year, but the offerings are especially cute and festive this time of year. Just look at those adorable dipped apples! Plenty of holiday themed sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies, and decorative Rice Krispies treats stare at you from every window, wherever snacks are sold. Actually, they appeared even where snacks are not supposed to be sold, like in the Cars themed gift shops on Route 66 filled with Mater plush toys and tire hats.
Keep an eye out for limited edition meals
We arrived at Disneyland on Thanksgiving day, which means we got to eat our Thanksgiving dinner at a Disney restaurant. *Squeals!*
Almost all of the restaurants served a spin on a traditional Thanksgiving menu, which we viewed online beforehand. We settled on Cafe Orleans’ version of turkey and stuffing. It cost $19.99, and it was definitely a “fancy restaurant portion,” if you know what I mean. Though, this was probably a good thing, as I ended up nibbling on a giant Mickey shaped rice krispie treat later in the evening.
I appreciated the fact that there were so many Thanksgiving dinner options to choose from. Each was a little different and unique, but still recognizably Thanksgiving-like.
Decorations are in full swing by Thanksgiving week, so don’t worry about missing out if you can’t visit in the month of December. In addition to the bountiful Christmas trees and lights, there are also plenty more demure decorations hidden in plain sight.
The reindeer pulling Santa in his sleigh in the photo below? I didn’t even notice that while posing for the picture- I was just interested in getting a photo in front of the famous wall. Decorations are perfectly tailored to fit their location, like those giant ornaments found in Bug’s Land.
Can’t forget the characters! They’re dressed up too! Here I am having a very important conversation with Minnie.
Okay, so getting into the part I’m sure everybody is interested in. Just how crowded is it?
The crowds are not created equal on all days
Just to clarify, I visited from Thursday, November 26, to Monday, November 30, 2015, and crowds varied quite a bit.
On a scale from 1 (“Running free”) to 10 (“Can’t move,”) Thursday was a 10, Friday a 9, Saturday a 9, Sunday an 8, and Monday a 6. (In my opinion.)
I didn’t expect Thanksgiving day to be the worst. I figured people would be at home, but I guess not.
Maybe it’s just that I got used to angling my shoulders to cut through the crowd, but I felt like things slowed down slightly on Friday and Saturday. Maybe the people who wanted to visit came on Thursday, and then went Black Friday shopping on Friday and Saturday?
The crowds visibly thinned by Sunday, and it made getting on rides and navigating the premises much easier. Though the place wasn’t what I would call “uncrowded” by any means. It was still very crowded, but less so.
Monday was lovely. Most people had gone home, or back to school and work, so there were a lot less people around. If possible, visit the week after Thanksgiving. It’ll be great.
Maneuvering around the parks is challenging
On the worst days, it was a task maneuvering our party of two able-bodied adults around the park. There was almost nowhere in the park where we could walk next to each other at a normal pace with nobody pushing up against us. (Except Tom Sawyer’s Island, but does that even count?)
Everywhere we went, we shuffled along single file, trapped behind slow-moving people, and being nudged from behind by people wanting to move faster. This was especially true in more confined areas like Adventureland and Fantasyland. We constantly bumped into people all weekend.
Wait times for popular rides verge on ridiculous, so be strategic
The average wait times for the most popular rides, such as Radiator Springs Racers and Hyperspace Mountain, were well over 90 minutes (minimum) all day. Like, from opening until closing time.
FastPasses for these rides sold out by about 10:00 AM each day. Wait times for aging, but still popular rides, such as Indiana Jones, Soarin’ Over California, (*Update – Current version updated to Soarin’ Around the World) and Haunted Mansion averaged around 45-60 minutes, while less popular rides were at about 30 minutes.
The notoriously slow-moving Peter Pan queue bulked up to 55 minutes within the first 45 minutes of park opening. If that on is on your must-do list, I’d suggest making a break for it at rope-drop.
While not fantastic, it was not horrific. We weren’t trampled, or separated in a mob of disney fans gone wild.
Claim your hotel room early
The trip proved a bit of a last minute decision for us.We booked one month in advance, only to find all of our preferred hotels completely sold out. The hotel we ended up at was not bad at all, though we were lucky to even get that.*
*Update 8/18/16 – The hotel ended up choosing is now rebranded as the Grand Legacy At the Park. We like it enough that we have another stay booked for later this year.
Make dinner reservations as soon as you can
Thankfully, we figured out the online reservation system before it was too late. We snagged reservations for all the restaurants where we wanted to dine. Other guests weren’t so lucky.
The restaurants are so full, they pretty much turn away anybody without a reservation. Plan ahead, decide what you want to eat, and secure your spot early.
Count on waiting, but agree within your party on acceptable wait times before you get in line
For example, say if the wait is less than 30 minutes for a particular ride, you’ll wait, but if it is any longer than that, you’ll get a FastPass or try again later.
Plan your time strategically, rather than just hopping into lines, or skipping things because there is a wait at all. There is already so much friction within the area, avoid any more friction by keeping the lines of communication open among all members of your party. Even the pint-sized members.
Plan routes that involve as little back-and-forth travel as possible
Get a FastPass for a major ride, such as Tower of Terror, and then go enjoy other attractions in the area. In this case, Bug’s Land. After using the FastPass, then move on to the next area. This way you’ll spend more time and energy having fun, and waste less traveling about.
Be aware of parade and show times and plan accordingly
If you’d like to watch, secure your viewing spot early, as the good spots fill up quickly.
If you don’t plan on watching, still make yourself aware of the showtimes. During the show may be a good time to get some rides in, as more people will be watching the show meaning less people in lines.
If you plan on exiting the park, do so during the show, not after. Navigating is much easier when most people are standing still. If not, plan on waiting for at least 30 minutes after the show ends to make your way through Main Street.
For more Disneyland tips, check out this post >> 10 Disneyland Tips & Hacks for a Magical Vacation (Don’t worry, these definitely apply to Disneyland on Thanksgiving too.)
That’s all for today!
I hope this is helpful to anyone who plans on visiting Disneyland on Thanksgiving, or anytime during the holiday season. Tell me what you think in the comments below! And don’t forget, sharing is caring. Share this post!
Till next time. ♥︎
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FTC- This post is not sponsored by any brands mentioned. I purchase all products myself. All opinions are my own. Some links may be affiliated.