One of the most frustrating aspects of planning a Disney World vacation is trying to figure out what “special” events might be going on during your stay. There are a variety of events throughout the year that can have a substantial impact on a Disney resort stay or a day at the theme parks, many of which really have no formal announcement. The great majority of Disney guests have no idea what’s going on at the Disney Parks on any given day. Ask most people who are going in May or June if they’ve ever heard of Star Wars Weekends and most will say no. Ask someone planning a vacation in the first two weeks of December how Pop Warner crowds affect resort choices and be prepared for blank stares. ESPN the Weekend? Walt Disney World Marathon? High School Cheer Championships? Unlikely. Even the more popular and well publicized events are generally unknown. There are thousands of people who visit during Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival, return at a different time of the year, and ask where all of the food and drink stands went. Don’t even get me started on the number of people who think “Disney World” is one big theme park. This isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault. Disney World is simply more complicated than just about anyone realizes, which is why there are so many 1,000 pages travel books for sale at Borders and hundreds and hundreds of “blogs” devoted to covering everything Disney.
We have one pesky event coming up that is particularly difficult to plan around. It’s the taping of the Christmas Parade that’s telecast on ABC on Christmas Day. This year, the taping will occur for at least part of the day on December 2nd, 3rd, and 4th and could go into the 5th as well if the weather on the 4th is bad. The main parade with the floats and balloons is filmed on Saturday December 4th up until about 4pm. Saturday at the Magic Kingdom would already be busy without the Parade taping because of the Main Street Electrical Parade scheduled in the evening and extended hours. If your goal is to see the attractions at the Magic Kingdom as easily as possible, you definitely want to avoid December 4th. Much of Main Street will be roped off and other walkways around the Park will be inaccessible. If it’s raining or cloudy on the 4th, the same can be said for December 5th because it’s used as a backup day if anything goes wrong. Main Street will be packed with people who have received special Parade taping tickets. Because guests with regular tickets entering the Magic Kingdom are walked behind Tony’s Town Square and into Tomorrowland, Tomorrowland also tends to be busy throughout the morning and afternoon. If you do end up going to the Magic Kingdom on December 4th, your best bet is trying to get over to Adventureland and Frontierland as quickly as possible because those areas aren’t as busy as Tomorrowland or Main Street. Also consider hitching a ride on the Walt Disney World Railroad that takes guests to Frontierland because it’s the easiest way to move around the Park during the taping. When the taping ends, usually around 4pm, lines to the attractions will get much longer because just about everyone who was watching the Parade will begin getting in line. As far as planning to visit the Magic Kingdom on the 4th to see the taping is concerned, keep in mind that it’s not a “fluid” event. There is a lot of starting and stopping and it can get repetitious to the point of being boring. Disney does not run the Parade straight through. They tape segments and piece them together after the fact. If you’re not there specifically with Parade viewing tickets, you’re free to roam the Park as you wish and you can check in with the Parade taping as you see fit. Once the taping is closed down in the early evening, Main Street will be reopened and it will be like the taping never happened. That is, other than the huge crowds.
On Thursday December 2nd and Friday December 3rd, Disney will be taping musical performances in front of Cinderella Castle. These are smaller productions and Main Street will not be roped off. Nonetheless, Disney does “own” a lot of celebrities in the music industry and there will be several big names performing. The event will draw a moderate number of people in the morning, but neither December 2nd nor 3rd will be anywhere near as crazy as Saturday. Taping begins around 7:30am and they are usually finished around lunch. As usual, we want to avoid Thursday December 2nd because of the morning Extra Magic Hour that will increase crowds moderately and the early 7pm close for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is nothing special. Of Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Friday December 3rd remains the best day to plan to visit the Magic Kingdom. If Saturday has clear weather, you may consider returning on Sunday because Disney won’t be doing much Parade taping, if they need to do any at all. Because weather is always iffy, it’s best not to plan Sunday as your big Magic Kingdom day because it’s entirely possible that it will be used for Parade taping.
Tuesday November 30th would be an even better day to visit the Magic Kingdom because it’s well after the Thanksgiving crowds have dissipated, there aren’t any worries about the Parade taping, and the 7pm close will cause many Disney vacationers to look elsewhere. If you can get to the Magic Kingdom on the 30th, I would recommend heading in that direction and planning other Parks over the Parade taping weekend. Wednesday December 1st will be more crowded than November 30th because of the slightly longer hours and rare Main Street Electrical Parade, but it’s your best opportunity during that week to see the evening Parade and crowds will be below average due to the low overall crowd level. Tuesday December 7th is also a strongly recommended day to visit the Magic Kingdom if your schedule allows.
All in all, I recommend avoiding the Magic Kingdom on Saturday December 4th unless you want to see how the Parade is filmed. Keep in mind that they don’t run the Parade straight through and it’s not uncommon for them to spend an hour trying to get the angles right on just one float or just one short section of the Parade. If the weather on December 4th is fantastic, December 5th will be a good day to visit the Magic Kingdom because they won’t be filming the Parade. If weather on the 4th is particularly bad, we’ll want to avoid December 5th as well. Usually, they get enough shots in on the first day that there is little that needs to be shot on the second day. Over that weekend, Friday December 3rd is the best day to plan to visit the Magic Kingdom. If you can get to the Magic Kingdom conveniently on November 30th, December 1st, or December 7th, you’ll want to plan to visit on one of those days as well.
The Parade isn’t necessarily anything to be too concerned about and the fact that you know it’s happening puts you way ahead of 90% of Disney vacationers who will have no idea what’s going on.