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A Survivor's Guide to Disney World's Magic Kingdom on New Year's Eve
Nobody throws a party like Disney World, and New Year's Eve is the biggest party of the year.
While it's a grand celebration, don't expect a typical Disney day on December 31. Here are a few tips to enjoy the end of the year in the most magical place on earth.
• It's a small world after all, and on New Year's Eve, it seems like the whole world comes to visit Mickey Mouse. It's one of the busiest days of the year at the Magic Kingdom, and the park usually reaches full capacity of 100,000 guests within a few hours. Get there early, no later than an hour after the park opens, if you want to be assured entry.
• It's going to be a loooong day, if you get to the park when it opens and stay through the midnight fireworks extravaganza, so pace yourself. My family was there for 17 hours. It really is like running a marathon. You will hit a wall and think you can't move another step, and then adrenaline will kick in and you'll get a second wind. The streets are so crowded, it's hard to move at times. Plan to walk slow and come armed with patience. Now is not the day to try to take everything in and hit all the major rides and attractions. It's simply not possible. Come back later in the week when the crowds start to dwindle. Check out the variety of Base Pass options when purchasing your tickets. You can pick multiple days at the Magic Kingdom. If you're going New Year's Eve, be sure to add at least one more day there so you can come back and hit all the rides you missed.
• Lines can be agonizingly long, between two and three hours. Fast Passes, which assign a time frame to come back to specific rides to bypass the majority of the line, are available for some rides, but run out very quickly. If you want to give the Fast Pass strategy a try, designate a Fast Pass runner in your group and send that person to get the pass for the most-desired ride immediately upon entering the park. Take note: There's a limit to how many passes a person can have at one time.
• Hit the shows and rides that can accommodate large numbers of people at one time. Those lines will move faster. Plus, a lot of the shows are longer than the rides and have seating that will give you a chance to rest your tired feet! Here are some suggestions:
*Country Bear Jamboree
* The Hall of Presidents
* Tomorrow Land People Mover - this ride provides a fabulous view of Cinderella's Castle at night
*Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
* Carousel of Progress
* Liberty Square Riverboat
* Mickey's PhilharMagic
• If you plan on souvenir shopping, today's the day to do it while passing the time until the end-of- year festivities.
• Don't worry, not all rides will be packed all day. We got a pleasant surprise when Pirates of the Caribbean cleared out at around 11 p.m. and we only had to wait about 10 minutes when lines had exceeded two hours all day. There are mobile apps available to keep up-to-the-minute on ride wait times.
• There are parades and stage shows, including one in front of Cinderella's Castle, at varying times throughout the day. Use apps to check out parade times and routes. Line up at least an hour in advance for a decent viewing spot. The locations where the parades start and end are typically less crowded. Be sure to stand and sit with your full body facing forward, your group lined side by side, or someone will sneak in front of you at the last minute. Guard your space or lose it!
Wish upon a star, and you might get a kiss...
• Take high protein snacks to keep up your energy throughout the day. Good choices are raw almonds and other unsalted nuts, string cheese (if you've got a way to keep it cool), protein bars and individual packets of peanut butter that you can eat with an apple or crackers.
• Take your meals too, if possible. Food is pricey at the Magic Kingdom, and waits at restaurants are particularly long on this day. Coolers and backpacks are allowed in the park - security searches these when you enter - and if they're too much to carry, you can rent a locker for around $9.
• A locker rental may well be worth it to store coats, scarves, hats, gloves, etc. Temperatures vary widely in Orlando this time of year. During my family's 10-day trip, highs ranged from the high 70s to low 40s, and dropped by as much as 25 degrees at night. Dress in layers so you can peel off and add as needed, and store what you can't carry in a locker. It's not a bad idea to carry a blanket and store it for extra warmth while waiting on the night-time parade and fireworks extravaganza. (We happened to have two people with arthritis who needed scooters to get around, and the baskets served as handy carriers for our accessories!)
• Wear your most comfortable shoes. There's always a lot of walking involved with any trip to Disney, but on New Year's Eve, the park is so packed there's hardly any place to sit if you're not on a ride or in a show. Be prepared for many hours of standing. Consider wearing shoe inserts and/or bunion cushions for maximum comfort.
• To avoid spending a ton on items like glow in the dark necklaces and noise makers, bring your own. Glow sticks can be purchased at discount retail stores much cheaper than what they sell for at Disney. And take advantage of the freebies: Disney provides plastic top hats and kazoos several hours before midnight. If you're sensitive to noise and the sound of thousands of kazoos being blown for hours on end sounds like a nightmare, bring ear plugs!
Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom
A Party Like No Other
Don't get discouraged by all the preparation required to make New Year's Eve at the Magic Kingdom as enjoyable as possible. It really is worth it. The Christmas decorations are still in place and are lovely. Cinderella's Castle sparkles as though covered in diamonds, or pixie dust - this is Disney after all! The Main Street Electrical Parade is fabulous, but merely the appetizer to the two fireworks shows and "The Magic, The Memories and You," a mind-blowing spectacle at the castle.
The countdown to midnight and accompanying Fantasy in the Sky fireworks show is the most amazing you'll ever see. The numbers counting down to midnight..10, 9, 8, 7... are written in the sky with fireworks. (You have to see it to believe it!) The spirit is festive and rated G and everyone we encountered, from cast members to tourists, was in a cheerful mood.
If you're hankering for a midnight snack after the big show, the friendly cast members hand out free hot cocoa and cookies. It's like the biggest spectacle on earth with 100,000 of your closest friends. It really is a small world after all.
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© 2012 Crystal Tatum