Going to the Walt Disney World Resort on a major holiday like Thanksgiving can make it all the more memorable. But just like you, other people have the same idea. Indeed, major holidays like Thanksgiving Day are some of the busiest times of the year at Walt Disney World.
So, what can you do to make Thanksgiving at Disney World fun and stress-free? My ultimate guide has all the answers and information – from planning to decor, dining, entertainment, and what to expect in terms of crowds.
If you are planning to visit Walt Disney World to celebrate Thanksgiving, keep reading. I’ve got some great tips on making the most of your vacation in the theme parks and beyond.
Is It A Good Idea To Go To Walt Disney World At Thanksgiving?
There is no easy way to say this…
The Walt Disney World parks get very crowded during Thanksgiving.
It is, hands down, one of the busiest weeks to visit the resort. But that doesn’t mean you cannot have a good time during this holiday.
For one, Disney pulls out all the stops when it comes to holiday decor, so Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Epcot are looking their prettiest best.
In my opinion, this factor alone really makes a Disney vacation at Thanksgiving worthwhile. It adds to the holiday spirit and makes WDW a great place to enjoy a traditional holiday meal with friends and family.
What To Expect At Thanksgiving At Walt Disney World
Below are some things to consider when deciding to visit Disney World at Thanksgiving.
Whether you should visit Disney during Thanksgiving week really comes down to your expectations and what you want out of your vacation.
If you are willing to endure the longer wait times due to the Thanksgiving Day crowds, visiting Disney at this time of year can be a really great trip.
If, on the other hand, you want to avoid crowds at all costs, then definitely steer clear of Thanksgiving and other major holidays.
Keep in mind that Disney World (and Central Florida in general) usually see less heavy crowds at Thanksgiving compared to Christmas and New Year’s.
Also, unlike years past, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, the Walt Disney Company has restricted capacity in the theme parks with Disney Park Passes. This means you need a park reservation for the day of your visit.
That’s why I encourage you to book your Disney World (or Disneyland) vacation as soon as possible if you’re planning to visit during a major holiday.
Once you have bought Disney World’s park admission tickets and made resort reservations, take advantage of the new planning tools, the Disney Genie and Genie+ (Fast Passes are no longer available).
The Genie+ planning tool is a paid service that gives you access to Lightning Lanes.
The free version, Disney Genie, can help you make the most of your day based on crowd levels in different parts of the park.
Read more about the Disney Genie and Genie+ here.
The Walt Disney Company puts up holiday decorations in early November (after the Halloween decorations come down).
But let me warn you, the decor on Thanksgiving Day can feel more like Christmas. Seeing Christmas trees up at Thanksgiving does not bother some people, while others are left feeling a little disappointed because they wanted something more Thanksgiving-themed with pumpkins or turkeys.
As long as you are mentally prepared about what to expect, you can be sure the parks will be decked out for the holiday season and Christmas spirit.
It’s hard not to love the ornaments, garlands, and twinkling lights that are everywhere!
The best way to experience Turkey Day is with family and food.
Most restaurants in Disney World are open during Thanksgiving, with some even serving a special Thanksgiving feast.
You will need to check what restaurants have special Thanksgiving menus on offer (more on this below). A dining reservation is highly recommended at all table service restaurants.
Dining in Disney World: Thanksgiving Dinner and More
There are several restaurants at Disney World that have special holiday menus for Thanksgiving. Here are some of my favorites.
Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square at Magic Kingdom
The menu features holiday favorites like roasted turkey breast, mashed potatoes, carved pork roast, stuffing, and traditional sides.
This is an all-you-care-to-eat meal, so you can stuff yourself silly.
Whispering Canyon Café at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
Comfort foods reign supreme at the Whispering Canyon Cafe, a popular Disney World eatery at the Fort Wilderness Lodge.
Around Thanksgiving, they add crowd pullers like sous vide turkey breast to the menu. On the dessert menu are some favorites like strawberry shortcake.
Other great dining options are Pioneer Hall at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and the Trail’s End Restaurant at the Fort Wilderness Campground.
Garden Grill Restaurant at Epcot
You can enjoy a Thanksgiving feast while interacting with lovable Disney characters at the Chip ‘n’ Dale Harvest Feast at the Garden Grill Restaurant in Epcot.
This is a family style, buffet dining experience with bottomless helpings of turkey, green bean casserole, stuffing, and delicious creamy mashed potatoes. The ingredients are sourced from The Land Pavilion, which the restaurant overlooks.
Biergarten in the Germany Pavilion at Epcot
If you’re on a romantic trip to Orlando during the Thanksgiving holidays, one of the best places to go for a Thanksgiving meal is the Biergarten in Epcot’s Germany Pavilion.
There may not be any turkey on offer, but there are plenty of choices for meat lovers including schnitzel, sausage, and spätzle, plus German beer and a live band.
50’s Prime Time Café at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Featuring American home-cooked favorites like meatloaf, fried chicken, and pot roast, served in a warm and inviting setting that evokes nostalgia, this is a great place to go for Thanksgiving dinner with the whole family.
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
Dessert lovers should check out the various eateries at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa that offer pumpkin and cinnamon spiced pie, cheesecake, bundt cake, cupcakes, and more fall-flavored treats.
Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ at Disney Springs
If you want to avoid the Thanksgiving Day crowds in the theme parks, head over to Disney Springs for some heartwarming Southern Hospitality and comfort foods like braised short ribs, fried catfish, and country fried steak at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’.
Minnie’s Seasonal Dining at Hollywood & Vine at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Got little ones in tow?
Don’t miss this chance to let them eat, play, and laugh with their favorite Disney friends at a fun and interactive Thanksgiving dinner at one of the most popular restaurants in the Walt Disney World parks, Hollywood & Vine, hosted by none other than the inimitable Minnie Mouse.
Disney Thanksgiving Entertainment
If you are in Disney World in late November, a Thanksgiving dinner is a no-brainer. But there are many other ways to experience Thanksgiving.
Some of the other things happening are listed below. This list is by no means exhaustive. There’s a whole lot to do during the holidays that includes family time.
Here are some ideas that lend themselves to celebrating the Thanksgiving spirit at Disney World.
Take a dive into the country’s history
Thanksgiving is a great time to celebrate the foundation of America and teach your kids (in a fun way) about our nation’s history.
As part of the festivities, head over to the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom and The American Adventure at Epcot. Both are excellent experiences that remind you of the nation’s beginnings.
Celebrate Thanksgiving around the world
You might think Thanksgiving is an American holiday, but in reality, more than a dozen other countries around the world have similar celebrations.
Head over to the World Showcase in Epcot and see how gratitude and harvest holidays are celebrated around the globe, including China, Germany, Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays – Candlelight Processional
Also at the World Showcase in the Epcot theme park is the Candlelight Processional, the story of Christmas told by a celebrity narrator (this event may be temporarily unavailable in 2021).
Take a break from the theme parks
The weather is great in Orlando around Thanksgiving week.
Why not take the opportunity to explore the great outdoors and see more of Disney World than just the Magic Kingdom theme park and the other parks.
I love to take my family trail riding on Thanksgiving Day or practicing archery at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground. In fact, this is one of our favorite places to spend Thanksgiving at Disney World.
They even have a Chip ‘n’ Dale Campfire Sing-A-Long to get you into the spirit of the holidays.
Other things to do outdoors include watching a Movie Under the Stars (available at various Disney World Resort hotels).
Port Orleans Riverside and Fort Wilderness both offer romantic carriage rides, a lovely way to spend Thanksgiving Day with loved ones.
Kick back and cheer your team
If you’re one of those folks who feel it isn’t really Thanksgiving without football, head over to the ESPN Club at Disney’s BoardWalk. Sports fans love the ambience and the 100+ screens here.
Not into sports all that much? Also at Disney’s BoardWalk is the Trattoria Al Forno that offers Italian cuisine in an elegant yet family-friendly setting.
Another option is the Rix Sports Bar and Grill at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, a sports bar with dozens of TV screens and some finger-licking good bar food.
I also love the Three Bridges Bar at the same resort for its idyllic open-air setting and Spanish-American cuisine. All great options to get dinner!
Kick-off your Christmas shopping
Turkey Day marks the start of the holiday season around the country, and Disney World is no exception.
If you are in Orlando at this time of year, why not take the opportunity to pick up some unique gifts for loved ones? Christmas shopping is in full swing all over the resort, but Disney Springs and the International Festival of the Holidays at Epcot are particularly great places to shop.
Tips on Making the Most of Your Visit to Walt Disney World on Thanksgiving Day
To make your Walt Disney World vacation at Thanksgiving as magical as possible, here are some tips.
Make early reservations
Disney World vacations at Thanksgiving are incredibly popular. Parks reach capacity in the blink of an eye and things tend to get booked up quickly.
I suggest you buy your park admission tickets, make park reservations, book your resort hotel, and make advance dining reservations as soon as possible, to avoid disappointment, particularly if you are aiming for Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday during Thanksgiving week.
Plan your day
If you are spending Thanksgiving at Disney, be prepared for it to be crowded.
If you want to go on as many rides as possible, given the extra crowds, it’s probably a good idea to sign up for Disney Genie+. This paid service will give you access to Lightning Lanes.
You might also need to shell out some extra bucks for Individual Attraction Selections if you really want to get on the most popular rides.
On the other hand, you could simply skip the busy attractions and wander the park, take a picture with a grand Christmas tree, and enjoy the holiday sights and sounds during Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World.
Dine outside of regular mealtimes
If you are planning to enjoy some seasonal dining or special dining experiences during the Thanksgiving holiday at Disney, it’s a foregone conclusion that you’ll need advance dining reservations.
Can’t get the time you want at your favorite table service restaurant in Disney World? One game plan is to make a reservation before or after regular mealtimes, which are the most popular.
Eating at off-peak times, such as a late breakfast or early dinner can help you snag that turkey leg you’ve been craving at your favorite restaurant.
Make a safety plan
The huge crowds at the four theme parks during Thanksgiving at Disney World can send anxiety levels skyrocketing, especially for families with small children.
Plan ahead about what to do if someone gets separated from the group. We’ve even gone as far as wearing matching, bright t-shirts to make it easy to spot each other in the crowds.
Take a picture of your kids before heading out in the morning so you’ll have a recent photo in the clothes they are wearing.
Stay at a Disney Resort hotel
Some folks like to stay offsite at Orlando hotels, but the one time I highly recommend staying onsite at a Disney property is during the holidays.
You can truly maximize your vacation and immerse yourself in the yuletide spirit by staying at the heart of all the festivities.
Enjoy your resort
A vacation in Walt Disney World does not have to be all about the theme parks. Consider slowing down a bit to truly enjoy Thanksgiving at Disney.
The Disney Resort hotels are great places to spend quality time with your family, just relaxing or having some fun in the sun poolside.
This strategy also means you can get rested well on the busiest days during Thanksgiving week and hit the parks on not-so-busy days later during your vacation.
Don’t miss the festivities at Animal Kingdom
Magic Kingdom is undoubtedly the most popular theme park in Walt Disney World, perhaps because it has the most attractions.
However, a great way to spend Thanksgiving Day is to go to Animal Kingdom where there is a Santa Claus festive flotilla, a Chip n Dale flotilla, and a Donald’s Dino Bash flotilla on the Discovery River.
Plus, there are colorful groups of drummers entertaining guests, and the theme park is decked out in whimsical nature-themed holiday decor all of November and December.
Discover the Christmas spirit in Disney Springs
We love doing the Christmas Tree Stroll in the entertainment district of Walt Disney World.
It is generally a great place to hang out with lots of holiday-themed activities, seasonal comfort foods, holiday shopping, and even the occasional flurry of snow in the evenings to add an extra touch of magic to your vacation.
Watch out for special events
There are pop-up character meet and greets and new character cavalcades around the Disney World parks every year, especially in Magic Kingdom.
Each park has unique offerings so be on the lookout for what’s going on! Check the My Disney Experience app and stay tuned for any changes in music, which is a good sign that something’s up.
This is also a good opportunity to rest those tired feet and refuel.
Try some new cuisines
Thanksgiving at Disney is the perfect opportunity to try something unusual and tasty from the Holiday Kitchens at the International Festival of the Holidays at Epcot.
Thanksgiving At Disney World: Final Thoughts
Have you been to Walt Disney World at Thanksgiving? Do you have any more tips for our readers? Which are your favorite restaurants during Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World? Let me know in the comments below!