Who's visiting theme parks for this holiday season?

December 22, 2019, 1:23 PM · Congratulations, theme park fans! You have made it through 2019. Now it's time for the busiest weeks of the year at the Orlando and Southern California theme parks.

It's Christmas week!

The Christmas and New Year's holidays usually deliver enough incentive for fans to crowd the parks over the next two weeks, but a few parks are gilding the lily this year by actually debuting new attractions, too. We were just out at Six Flags Magic Mountain yesterday for the beginning of previews for West Coast Racers. And at Disneyland on Friday for the new version of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue (which is the best Star Tours yet, IMHO.)

But the big present under the tree for theme park fans this December surely is Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which opened earlier this month at Disney's Hollywood Studios. My pick for the world's best theme park ride opens officially after the holidays at Disneyland (on January 17, 2020, to be precise), but cast member previews there have begun, raising the possibility of soft opens during the holiday season. (All but the very top level, $1000-plus, annual passes are blocked out at Disneyland during the Christmas-to-New Year's period, meaning that Disney could pull off a soft opening without eliciting a rush of annual passholders to overwhelm the park. And the extra capacity from adding a new ride to the park would help ease the crowding for fans who have paid top dollar to visit during these weeks, too.)

Of course, a stacked line-up of holiday shows are also playing to entertain fans looking to get as much holiday spirit as they can during this time of year. We've got a four-hour playlist of holiday-themed shows and attraction ride-through videos that we recorded at Universal, Disney, Knott's and Six Flags for you to enjoy if you can't make it to the parks this week... or if you're just looking for more theme park holiday enjoyment while you are waiting in their inescapable lines this week.

That brings me to our question: Are you visiting any parks for the holidays this year? I love theme parks at Christmas not just for the holiday shows, decorations, and food, but also for the cooler temperatures that make visiting the parks such a pleasure at this time of year. (Please note that this comment does not apply in Australia. Stay cool down there, friends!)

But I understand the frustration that many people feel about the crowds. It's possible to have just as much fun on a slammed-packed day as on one where the park is deserted, but you have to be willing to to accept that you must experience park differently to have that kind of fun. It's not about bagging a high ride count. Instead, look to discover the "extras" — the details and experiences that people often miss when empty queues pull them to rush from ride to ride, or that just aren't available during slower seasons.

I also get this can be an expensive time of year to visit, too. High demand jacks up airfares and hotel rates, not to mention some ticket prices. So there is no "right" answer to this question. Travel when and where you want! But I am curious to get a head count of who's at the parks or on their way.

Here's where I have been this holiday season, if you'd like to read my cross-country holiday trip reports:

So Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year to all... and I hope to see many of you in the parks, either soon or sometime in 2020!

Replies (4)

December 23, 2019 at 8:59 AM

Never done it in my family...It’s funny though because you see the people who do actually venture into a theme park during Christmas all saying how much they love it...

I mean theme parks all decorated with holiday themes is already a very special thing...I can imagine being there on Christmas Day, despite the absurd amount of people, as being a little extra special...

Maybe one year we’ll give the Florida Parks a go...

December 23, 2019 at 10:16 AM

We were just at Six Flags Great Adventure last night for their Holiday in the Park event. If you don't mind the colder temperatures while riding outdoors, it's a great opportunity to experience popular rides with minimal lines. Yesterday, virtually every major coaster was walk-on for the entire day even in the more coveted front seats (though I'm not sure how much more coveted they are since front row guests are blasted with icy winds).

We always try to make the rounds of all of the local parks and their winter festivals (Kings Dominion is the newest kid on the block in its second year of WinterFest). The lights and seasonal shows are also fun, but I'm typically going this time of the year for what amounts to ERT.

I don't think you could pay me to visit a destination park during this time of year. The crowds are just suffocating, and there's little fun to be had unless you're idea of fun is standing shoulder to shoulder with 50k strangers and waiting hours to ride even the most mediocre attractions. Sorry, just not my cup of tea despite how pretty and festive the parks may be during the holidays. We'll wait a few weeks, and enjoy WDW with much shorter lines at the end of January.

December 23, 2019 at 11:18 AM

Being empty nesters, my wife and I visit the Disney parks in Florida (at this point in our lives, Universal is a little too rowdy for her) in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas so we can enjoy the holiday decorations, the cooler weather, and the slightly reduced crowds. But as soon as school lets out and especially once the after-Christmas visitors start arriving, we're out of there, It's just too packed to have the relaxed fun that we're seeking.

December 23, 2019 at 11:42 AM

I’m lucky enough to be a Florida resident living an hour away from the parks. We have an anual pass to Universal and we go the weekend after Thanksgiving. It’s always slow. They had the new Christmas tree scavenger hunt this year which
was very fun and free. And as a bonus I finally got to eat at Green Eggs and Ham! I never ate from the original menu, but the green eggs a ham tots were really good. We had a great time this year!

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