If you ask me, Disney is always a good idea – but it is especially magical around the holidays. Recently, I had a reader ask if I had any tips for spending Thanksgiving at Disney, so I thought I’d share them here!
Disneyland or WDW for Thanksgiving?
You can’t go wrong choosing Disneyland or Walt Disney World for a Thanksgiving vacation. The weather is perfect, there is plenty of great food on offer, and Disneyland even has a special Thanksgiving parade each year to celebrate the holiday which often features the National Thanksgiving Turkey. But overall, Walt Disney World has slightly more to offer the holiday traveler.
One thing to note is that Thanksgiving week can be one of the busiest times of the year at both parks. The week before tends to be considerably slower, and the week after is (traditionally) one of the least busy times of year, but for a lot of families those won’t be viable options because their trip must be timed with when the kids are off school and the parents are off work.
One benefit to this time of year is that you’re avoiding the rainy season and the risk of hurricanes, so you’ll experience less ride and pool closures than at other times of year. Plus another advantage of coming during a busier time is that the hours are extended. The whole week of Thanksgiving, for instance, the Magic Kingdom stays open until at least midnight, which is great if you are travelling with older kids.
Getting into the Spirit
For the most part, the parks are decorated with a general fall theme – nothing too over-the-top Thanksgiving, except for at the Land Pavilion in Epcot which will have pumpkins, gourds and scarecrows on display.
Keep in mind that families are coming from all over the world to visit Disney and that Halloween and Christmas are two of the most profitable holidays for any company, so Disney tends to transition straight from Halloween to Christmas both because it’s better for them as a company and because it keeps the majority of it’s guests happy. (The best part about this is that you get to kind of experience both holidays at once!)
Disney Thanksgiving Dinner
Many of the Disney World restaurants serve a complete traditional holiday meal for Thanksgiving, with turkey and all the fixings. (In the past, some restaurants even had colonial characters at the meals, but Disney seems to have phased that out.) You can see which WDW restaurants are currently offering Thanksgiving meals here and which Disneyland restaurants are offering Thanksgiving meals here.
Keep in mind that some of these restaurants require reservations and some book up six months in advance! If you don’t get the reservation you want, you can keep trying – I’ve had a lot of luck calling on the day I want the reservation because people cancel the day before to avoid no-show penalties. You may also have the best luck trying to find reservations outside of typical dining times.
Of course, if you’re just craving turkey, you can grab Disney’s famous smoked turkey leg at any of these locations:
- Magic Kingdom Park – Prince Eric Village Market in Fantasyland, Turkey Leg Cart in Frontierland, and Liberty Square Market
- Epcot – Fife and Drum Tavern in World Showcase’s American Adventure
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park – Yak & Yeti Quality Beverages (found just to the right of Yak & Yeti Local Food Cafes Quick Service)
- Disney Springs – The Smokehouse at House of Blues (this one is a little different than others served in the parks, but it is really good!)
- Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park – Arctic Expeditions
- Poultry Palace
- Hot Foods near Central Plaza
- Hot Foods at Hollywood Land
- Ship to Shore Marketplace
- Edelweiss Snacks
PLUS keep your eyes out for special Thanksgiving desserts. In the past, they have offered Mickey Pilgrim Cupcakes and this year there is rumour of a Turkey Sundae at Disney Springs and a Turkey Cupcake at Animal Kingdom.
FastPass+ for Thanksgiving
If you do come during the busy Thanksgiving week, there’s even more value than usual in taking advantage of the FastPass+ (WDW) or MaxPass (Disneyland) systems. FastPass is Disney’s way of spreading around the crowds and allowing guests to experience a shorter line at a handful of attractions each day of their visit.
Depending on whether you visit Disneyland or WDW, the FastPass system works a little bit different in each – here are some helpful guides that go into way more detail than I could here: Walt Disney World FastPass+ or Disneyland MaxPass.
Do not – I repeat – do not show up at Disney on Thanksgiving without even attempting to make some FastPass+ reservations.
Do yourself a favor and also be sure to download the MyDisneyExperience App so you can keep an eye on wait times for different rides, spot character meet and greets (some pop up throughout the day while others are available all day long), and even order food from some of the quick service restaurants.
Also… I hope it would go without saying, but I think having an attitude of gratitude is the most important at these busy times of year: You’re at the happiest place on Earth with your family. That’s incredible and something that so many people do not have the opportunity to do. Don’t let one Scrooge McDuck or a long line spoil your day. Look for an opportunity to give thanks and maybe make someone else’s day a bit brighter.
Here’s a little peak at the 2016 Disneyland Thanksgiving parade featuring Courage the Turkey and highlighting Disneyland’s “Give a Day, Get a Day” initiative for it’s 200 Thanksgiving volunteers who helped prepare over 20,000 bags of food for those in need:
PS – if you’re planning a Disneyland vacation, I want to share an awesome resource with you that I use when booking my Disneyland vacation.
Get Away Today is a family-oriented travel agency that offers the ONLY refundable Disneyland tickets and they are often having amazing sales or deals.
You can book your park tickets, hotels (Disney and off-property), transportation and more activities to fill up your vacation through them – and it doesn’t cost you anything extra. (You actually usually end up saving a ton more than if you were to try to book all of these things on your own.) They are fully accredited by Disney and often offer cheaper park tickets than you can purchase directly from Disney.