Please welcome my good friend and fellow podcaster Bob Angelo. Bob is a travel agent with Pixie Vacations, a huge Disney fan, and, as you can see here, pretty funny. I hope this post amuses you and helps you if you're planning on spending New Year Eve at Walt Disney World.
Many past guests (and even some first timers) to Walt Disney World have the dream of spending New Year's Eve at one of the Disney parks and ringing in the new year with Mickey and Minnie. Despite being a local to the parks and a Disney annual passholder for a number of years, I never had this dream. Sure, I've had fleeting moments where I thought it could be fun, and then I remember I'd forgotten to take my medication that morning and the voices in my head that make me do crazy impulsive things were starting to return.
This year, however, my mother-in-law, is celebrating a major milestone birthday on December 31st, (and because I genuinely like my mother-in-law, and she still likes me, I'm not going to tell you exactly what that milestone is) and she wanted to do something "exciting" and "different" to celebrate. I'm not quite sure what came over me, but before I knew it, I heard myself saying "Well, why don't we go to Disney World for your birthday and ring it in with style?" If you're going to be one of the people braving Disney World on New Year's Eve this year (or you're thinking of going in the future) here's some things you need to know before you go.
First, only the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios will stay open for midnight fireworks and festivities. I don't think I need to explain why Animal Kingdom doesn't shoot off fireworks, but just in case, it's because it really upsets the animals (yes, Virginia, they're really real, and I'm so tired of hearing people on the safari attraction say otherwise -but I digress!), and no one wants to deal with ticked off lions and tigers and...rhinos.
Fireworks at Hollywood Studios are sort of a big deal, because the park only shoots them off only twice year now, on July 4th and December 31st. Similar to what they do for the 4th of July, the Magic Kingdom will show its New Year's Eve fireworks on both December 30th and 31st, so you could catch them a day early there, and then spend New Year's Eve at a different park. Epcot will present a special version of its fireworks show, Illuminations, twice -once earlier in the evening, and once later to coincide with the actual countdown.
Second, it will be crowded. Very crowded. New Year's Eve is among one of the most crowded, if not THE most crowded day at the parks. I've heard people joke (half seriously) "You can fall down and not ever touch the ground, such are the crowds." Expect to be shoulder to shoulder and long waits for everything from attractions to restrooms. This is not the time for you to plan your first ever visit to the parks. A good touring plan is a must, and even then, keep your expectations reasonable. Try to hit your "must do attractions", and get to the parks early, to maximize the amount of time you have before the parks really start to fill up.
Third, heavy crowds means park closures. Walt Disney World is unique in that it shuts down its parks in stages. Here's how those stages work:
Stage 1: In this first phase the parking lot is closed and you will only be admitted using Disney transportation.
Stage 2: The ticket windows are closed (including automatic Ticket Vending Machines) so in this phase, if you don’t already have a ticket for that park, you will not get in. Guests who are re-entering the same park on the same day will be admitted, as will Disney resort guests, annual passholders, and guests already holding park hoppers.
Stage 3: Only those who are Disney resort guests or Annual Passholders will be admitted.
Stage 4: The park is closed to all incoming guests. There is no incoming transportation of any kind.
What does this mean for you? If you are staying offsite, plan on getting to a park early. Even if you have an annual pass, that's not going to matter if you are staying offsite and the parking lot to the park you want to get to is closed, after all. Having a dining reservation isn't going to help you either: If the park is closed, you still will not be allowed to enter. Lastly, many resort guests believe that staying onsite guarantees them entrance to whatever park they choose. That would be wrong. If staying onsite, and a park reaches a Stage 4 closure, you will given admission into a park, just not necessarily one of your choosing.
It's a good bet that the Magic Kingdom is going to close to capacity first, and close early. In years past, Stage 4 closure has happened around 10:30-11:00 a.m., so plan ahead. The park will likely open up later in the afternoon/early evening as crowds lessen a bit, but if the Magic Kingdom is your must do park to ring in the new year, then you want to make sure you are inside those gates early, and stay all day.
Remember that if you arrive at a park and then choose to leave, it's not a guarantee that you will get back in. If Hollywood Studios or Epcot were to close, I would expect them both to happen later in the afternoon/evening, if at all. All reports indicate that guests have been able to get into Hollywood Studios even at 5 or 6 p.m. with no problems, and Epcot, due to its size, has not closed, though World Showcase can be a log jam of people, with people grabbing spots to watch the fireworks 3-5 hours in advance. Animal Kingdom won't close to capacity, but it won't be open past 8 p.m., either.
Celebrating a major holiday at one of the Disney parks can be exciting, and create happy memories to last a lifetime. You just have to remember to have realistic expectations about what you will be able to accomplish that day, and bring your patience. Regardless of which park you decide to ring in 2012 in, just keep repeating this mantra - "I am here for the experience, not the attractions."
Have you spent New Year's Eve at Disney before, or will you be this year? Share your stories with us in the comments!