Disney released the December 2013 operating schedule in the usual location here: http://media.disneywebcontent.com/StaticFiles/DTA-Domestic/pdf/ParkHours/WDW_Operating_Calendar_dec.pdf. As always, this is the “official” schedule that will appear on DisneyWorld.com at some point in the next few weeks. Disney tends to update their disneywebcontent.com address earlier because it’s easier to update a text file than it is to update the hunk of junk that is DisneyWorld.com. Also per usual, the current operating hours are conservative and will be lengthened as we get closer to December. Review December 2012’s schedule here to get an idea about what the final schedule will look like.
The first two weeks in December remain very good with relatively low crowds and the Parks/resorts fully decked out for the holiday season. Interestingly, Peak Season on Disney property begins December 13th, which is a full week earlier than usual. Prices jump around 35% between December 12th and 13th, so keep that in mind when planning your trip. My estimation is that pricing is elevated in conjunction with what will most likely be the “Free Dining Plan” promotion, where guests pay full rack rate in order to receive the Disney Dining Plan at no additional cost, rather than because crowds are expected to be elevated.
While crowds during the first two weeks in December are heavier than past years, they’re still below average to average for the most part. The problem most people run into is the Mickey’s Party schedule. When Magic Kingdom is open longer and offers nighttime entertainment during regular hours, it gets completely slammed due to the number of people that avoid the 9am – 7pm Party days. On Party dates, the other Parks are busier because fewer people are headed to Magic Kingdom. Knowing this, you can certainly work that phenomenon to your advantage by visiting Magic Kingdom on a Party day and then going to the other Parks when Magic Kingdom is open from 8am – 1am.
The Pop Warner Football Championship and Cheer/Dance Championship are minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of things. The Championships are hosted at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex from December 7th through the 14th. A lot of the kids and their families stay on property and receive discounted rates at certain resorts. As far as I know, this year’s resorts are not yet known, but you can guarantee they’ll be at the All-Stars along with two of the Moderate resorts, most likely Caribbean Beach and Coronado Springs. If your dates include Pop Warner, try to at least avoid the All-Stars or you’ll be dealing with several thousand loud, excited 10-year olds in the food court. Pop Warner has less of an impact on crowds at the Parks. The kids tend to be consumed by football and most only hold four-day tickets. And because American kids are clique-y, you tend to run into four or five of them at a time instead of 100.
The Christmas Day Parade taping at Magic Kingdom should be scheduled on December 6th and 7th, with the bulk of taping occurring on the 7th. Magic Kingdom is best avoided on the 7th. You’re dealing with heavier crowds with the long hours of operation coupled with the hassle of Main Street being closed from Park opening through around 5pm. The taping on December 6th tends to be less intrusive as performers are filmed on the Castle stage, mostly in the morning.
December 21st – 31st is the single busiest stretch at Disney World. Expect Magic Kingdom to close to capacity on several dates, even with expanded capacity in New Fantasyland. By touring early or late, you can still have an excellent, albeit expensive, vacation over the holidays. If you have flexibility in your dates, earlier in the month would be less expensive and much less crowded.