The Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving at Disney World

The holidays seem to come faster and faster every year. Here we are in October and many people are already thinking about Christmas!

It may come as a surprise to many but there’s actually a holiday between Halloween and Christmas. I know, it’s crazy talk! But Thanksgiving, as it’s come to be known, is a little talked about holiday that has come to represent family and thankfulness.

I’m kidding! Of course, you know what Thanksgiving is! What comes to mind is probably turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce – oh my! But, have you ever thought of spending Thanksgiving at Walk Disney World?

Thanksgiving Day Crowds at Disney World

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year at Disney parks.

Unfortunately, many folks have the same idea; that it’s a holiday so surely no-one will be there. That leads to higher than average crowds.

Big crowds don’t mean you won’t have a good time! I promise!

It just requires a bit more patience and planning.

Tips for Visiting Disney World on Thanksgiving Day

  • Get up and get going early, I mean like rope drop early. Crowds are thinnest during the first 1-2 hours at any Disney park because most guests don’t want to be up early on vacation. It may be painful when the alarm goes off, but you can knock out most rides on your to-do list before lunch.
  • Plan to do more than just rides. They’re great, sure, but there are so many limited time or single day attractions happening on Thanksgiving day! Parades, shows, holiday specials – that you won’t have an opportunity to see again unless you’re back the next year. Check out our Top Picks for Thanksgiving Day.
  • Enjoy a late or Thanksgiving dinner, depending on your plans. If you’d like to see special day-time events book a late dinner. Those interested in night-time events are better off booking for early afternoon. Find out where to eat on Thanksgiving Day!
  • Make good use of your FastPass+ It’s a very busy day for Disney. Once the crowds begin to fill the parks, you’ll likely see hour-long wait times for nearly everything. See the top FastPass picks by park!
  • Have a plan. Yes, I say this about all Disney trips (hence the site name, guys!) But it’s especially important on a day like Thanksgiving. High crowds and a surplus of choices means it will be easy to miss (or forget) what you wanted to do or get irritated that you can’t do anything in a timely manner. Use my Thanksgiving Day Itinerary!

What to Do and See on Thanksgiving Day

Disney offers amazing rides, shows, and entertainment every day of the year. But it gets even better during the holiday season and Thanksgiving day experiences it all. Here are some of the limited time attractions recommended for your Thanksgiving trip to Disney World.

  • Holiday Decorations go up at Disney in early November. Enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells as you tour the parks
  • Thanksgiving Parade of Bands is a super parade combining bands from more than 5 high schools around the United States. The parade takes place in Hollywood Studios and is a stunning showcase of collaboration.
  • International Festival of the Holidays takes place each year in Epcot. You can try traditional holiday dishes from around the world and learn about other cultural celebrations.
  • Candlelight Processional is the nighttime holiday event at Epcot featuring a rotating schedule of celebrities re-telling the traditional story of Christmas. Chita Rivera, of Broadway fame, is slated for Thanksgiving Day.
  • Jingle Bell Jingle Bam is the holiday nighttime spectacle at Hollywood Studios. The magnificent show includes fireworks, lasers, music, and projection mapping technology. A must see presentation.

Where to Eat on Thanksgiving Day

We all know the best part of any trip to Disney is the spectacular food! From snacks to drinks, desserts, and dinner – there’s something you’re bound to love! Thanksgiving is no different! You can find turkey inspired treats at these locations:

  • Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom will be serving lunch and dinner.
  • You can find lunch and dinner in Epcot at Akershus Royal Hall, Biergarten, Coral Reef, Le Cellier Steakhouse,  and the Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Sanna will offer reservations for lunch and dinner.
  • The California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary will serve Dinner
  • Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club Resort will offer Dinner
  • At Disney’s Wilderness Lodge the Whispering Canyon Cafe will be serving a family-style lunch and dinner
  • Trail’s End at Fort Wilderness will have a buffet style lunch and dinner.
  • Slightly off-site you can find Thanksgiving meals at Todd English’s Bluezoo and Garden Grove at the Swan & Dolphin hotels.
  • If you can’t bring yourself to leave the parks and need a festive treat be sure to grab a Turkey Leg

The FastPasses You Need to Get

Fastpasses are more important than ever on busy days at Disney World! The best time of day to schedule your ride reservations is mid-afternoon to early evening. Depending on your park of choice, here’s the Fastpass+ reservations to try and grab

Animal Kingdom

  • Flight of Passage
  • Kilimanjaro Safari
  • Expedition Everest

Magic Kingdom

  • Seven Dwarves Mine Train
  • Peter Pan
  • Space Mountain

Hollywood Studios

  • Slinky Dog Dash
  • Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster
  • Twilight Tower of Terror

Epcot

  • Soarin’
  • Epcot Character Spot
  • Frozen Ever After

Thanksgiving Day 2018 Itinerary*

Extra Magic Morning Hours are at Epcot on Thanksgiving day, from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm. Normally I’m in favor of using EMH, but based on the special event schedules I’m recommending that you stay clear.

I suggest rope dropping either Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom, whichever you have a stronger affinity towards. Fastpasses will be best utilized at Hollywood Studios.

Magic Kingdom

Disney’s Magic Kingdom will be decked out for the holidays and is home to some of the most iconic attractions. Crowds will likely be denser here than Animal Kingdom, as many will be out to see the decorations and classic rides. If this is your choice try rope dropping these rides.

  • Seven Dwarves Mine Train
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Space Mountain
  • Peter Pan

Animal Kingdom

While Animal Kingdom will not have nearly the same degree of holiday-themed decor as Magic Kingdom, there will be some. The crowds will be lesser than Magic Kingdom, which gives you an advantage to rope drop one of the most popular rides on property.

  • Flight of Passage
  • Kilimanjaro Safari
  • Na’vi River Journey

Afternoon

You should be able to fit in 3-5 rides within the first 2 hours at either of these parks. Hop over to Epcot and enjoy lunch from one of the many offerings at the International Festival of holidays.

When you’re finished jump over to Hollywood Studios and use your fastpasses. Time allowing, you should be able to catch a portion of the Thanksgiving Parade of Bands. The parade begins at 2:00 pm, so try to book your fastpasses accordingly.

Evening

The Candlelight Processional at Epcot is one of the highest rated holiday events and my recommendation for nighttime entertainment. Dinner packages are available and highly recommended. Purchase of the Candlelight Processional Package guarantees you a seat to the event.

Reservations for the package are available until 5:30 pm, though they are quickly being booked. If you’re not able to reserve a package that fits your schedule try and book a late night dining reservation at one of the aforementioned locations.

Without the Candlelight Processional package, you will need to be diligent about getting your seat. Pick the performance time that best fits your plans (5:00 pm, 6:45 pm, or 8:15 pm) and arrive at least  30 minutes prior. Enjoy your late night meal after the show. Time permitting you can jump in line for 1-2 rides to round off the night.

*Please note this itinerary recommendation is purely that. I cannot guarantee fastpass+ or dining reservations will be available. 

Ready for Your Disney Thanksgiving?

Schedule a complimentary planning consultation with me today! We’ll find the best choices for your holiday and I’ll create a custom itinerary based on your preferences and available reservations.

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