New Years Eve – Theme Park or Resort Hotel?

Friday, December 21, 2012

A new year is practically upon us.  School is out for holiday breaks across the country.  This means families will be flocking to Walt Disney World for the week between Christmas and New Years.  It’s the busiest week of the year at the most popular vacation destination in the country.  I’ve visited Disney World a few times during this week and stayed beyond New Years Day to experience the holiday season.  One of the days I couldn’t wait for was New Years Eve.  I thought what better place to be than at Disney World to ring in a brand new year. 

Our family’s first New Year’s Eve at Disney World was spent at EPCOT.  We thought that seemed like a great choice since it was the park that would absorb crowds the best.  We had a rental car so we decided to drive to the park before it opened.  Our first indication of crowd levels was waiting for us at the tram pick-up lane.  A huge line was already formed to catch a tram to the front gate.  There was no semblance to the line.  It was just a huge blob and mass of people.  Guests were extremely frustrated, especially those who were waiting patiently and still not able to board the next tram. 

We eventually made it to the front gate where another huge line awaited.  After a 20 minute wait to spin the turnstile we were in the park.  We had a plan to get Fastpasses and hit a few attractions before the crowds were insane.  Our plan was to spend the entire day in the park.  We had made reservations to attend a special New Years Eve party inside the World Showplace Pavilion later in the evening.  The building between the Canada and UK pavilions.  But, during the day we had kind of planned to take it easy and enjoy the park’s atmosphere and less popular attractions. 

What I didn’t anticipate was how crowded the park would actually become.  I figured with its wide pathways and various large park sections EPCOT would be able to handle the crowds.  Sadly, I was wrong.  By mid to late afternoon the park was so crowded moving 20 feet along the World Showcase pathway seemed to take 10 minutes.  Bumping into people was common-place.  Noise levels were off the charts since Disney was handing out noise-makers and hats to celebrate the New Year.  After we realized how difficult it was to move we decided to settle near the World Showplace pavilion where our special party would take place starting at 7:00PM.  I was so glad we booked this party simply to get away from the crowds.  We’d finally have some space, food, music, and fun inside the pavilion. 

This evening there would be two Illuminations presentations.  The first one was regular Illuminations with the popular Walter Cronkite Holiday tag.  The second Illuminations also included a special New Years tag with a huge fireworks extravaganza with each pavilion holding their own fireworks show.  We literally walked in and out of the World Showplace pavilion to enjoy the shows.  The heavy crowds made it difficult to see everything, but I was just thankful for the space between the crowds and our party. 

After the evening concluded I thought about how difficult the evening would have been without booking the special New Years Eve party.  I told my wife on our way back to our resort we should probably never do a theme park on New Years Eve again.  The crowds were so heavy I found walking along the pathways to be somewhat dangerous.  Our 6 year old daughter had to hold on to us so she would not get lost or meld into the rest of the crowd. 

When someone asks me about New Years Eve at Disney World my suggestion has since been to enjoy the holiday back at your resort hotel.  You’ll have a more enjoyable evening avoiding the madness of the theme parks.  Book a nice evening dinner at a deluxe resort hotel table service restaurant and visit one of the many great bars or lounges to enjoy a specialty drink or two.  Also consider watching one of the firework spectaculars from outside the theme parks like over at the Polynesian Resort or the Top of the World lounge at the Contemporary Resort.  In addition, many of the resort hotels will have an activities line-up for their New Years Eve celebration.  Visit your resort concierge desk for a schedule of events.    

I’m certainly not trying to alarm anyone from visiting the theme parks on New Years Eve.  Just be ready to deal with crowds, noise, and guests who think they have the right of way when walking or shuffling at you.  Have a plan for the day or evening, and possibly try to include a special event to get away from the insane crowds.  My advice?  Skip the parks and take advantage of the many offerings at the resort hotels and save the theme parks for New Years Day.  It’s much more enjoyable and ringing in the New Year won’t seem as stressful. 

From all of us at Studios Central we wish you and your family a warm & happy holiday season! 

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About this column

Aaron DelPrince looks at the various activities you and your family can experience at Walt Disney World


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