Looking to visit Walt Disney World for Thanksgiving? It is where dreams come true, particularly because you won’t have to cook, clean up, or entertain the relatives. That has always been my family’s thinking. In fact, we spend Thanksgiving at Disney World every year. But what we didn’t know originally is that this particular season and holiday is truly a unique time to visit with pros, cons, and some surprises. If you too are planning to visit the Mouse for Turkey Day, here’s What You Don’t Know About Thanksgiving at Disney World.
Special Holiday Menus
Let’s just start with the Thanksgiving meal, shall we? Of course, planning where to eat your turkey is integral to a Thanksgiving visit at Disney World. But what I didn’t know during my first visit is that some, not all, Disney World restaurants offer a special Thanksgiving menu on Thanksgiving day. Also, if you want a nice Thanksgiving meal at one of these restaurants, you need to make an advanced dining reservation.
Now if you’re looking for the quintessential Thanksgiving meal destination, it’s the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Tree Tavern. Quintessential because it offers Thanksgiving-style fare year round.
If Liberty Tree Tavern has no availability, Disney has announced a number of restaurants also offering a special meal for the day. Note: This list is Disney World’s current list of restaurants serving a Thanksgiving menu. This may change or be added to as the holiday approaches. At Epcot, the Aksershus Royal Banquet Hall, Biergarten Restaurant, Coral Reef Restaurant, Le Cellier Steakhouse, and Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room are offering Thanksgiving meals for both lunch and dinner.
Disney’s Beach Club Resort’s Cape May Cafe is offering just dinner, as well as the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill. However, Wilderness Lodge’s Whispering Canyon Cafe and Animal Kingdom’s Lodge’s Sanaa are providing both lunch and dinner. For another option, Fort Wilderness’ Trail’s End Restaurant and the Yacht Club Resort’s Ale & Compass are not only offering dinner, but also brunch!
If there is simply no availability at any of these restaurants, or you’re on a budget, know that all of the resort food courts always offer some sort of a Thanksgiving meal too.
Don’t Expect a Restaurant’s Standard Menu
Sometimes, the restaurants offering Thanksgiving meals don’t offer their regular menus or only a few select items of their standard fare. I wish this information was better publicized by Disney, because I’ve personally made this mistake years ago at Le Cellier Steakhouse at Epcot’s Canada pavilion. We were expecting to have the choice between traditional turkey and fixins and the restaurant’s signature steak to please all palates in my group. I was so wrong. Our favorite items weren’t available, and there were some disappointed faces at our table.
Don’t Expect a Thanksgiving Fuss
Thanksgiving at Disney World looks and feels more like Christmas than Thanksgiving. Any reference to the actual holiday will be few and far between. I know that some guests have visiting over Thanksgiving expecting a special parade or decorations, only to be disappointed.
Yes, at Disney World the Christmas season begins the day after Halloween. So guests visiting over Thanksgiving will find Christmas in full blast at the parks and resorts. If you’re in the camp which says Christmas is celebrated earlier and earlier every year, you’re not wrong. But the best advice I can offer is embrace it! Instead of turkeys, Pilgrims, and pumpkins, go enjoy the dozens of Christmas trees, special nighttime entertainment, and life-size gingerbread displays at the Deluxe Resorts. Even though Disney may shun Thanksgiving, their Christmas offerings are worth a visit alone.
Crowd-Free Black Friday Shopping
One of my favorite things at Disney World during the Thanksgiving holiday is Black Friday Shopping at Disney Springs. This has only been offered for a few years now, but each year has topped the last. Last year the event stretched into the weekend with special merchandise released each day.
Typically on Black Friday Disney Springs opens at 8:00 AM. Guests receive special pamphlets upon arrival detailing the different sales and discounts being offered. Although not every location participates, the vast majority do including the World of Disney Store. There’s often special food and drink items available for the event as well.
In addition to shopping, I love Black Friday at Disney Springs as it has historically been crowd-free the first two hours. Where else can you say you went Black Friday shopping and never waited in line! If there are crowds and lines, they’re often for the special, limited-edition merchandise released on this day. But if that’s not your thing, you may find Disney Springs all to yourself for a time. My only advice? Be prepared to up your spending budget!
Plan Around the Crowds
It’s basically a rule that holidays equal crowds at a Disney Park. But in my experience, Christmas and Thanksgiving aren’t on the same level at all. If you have to choose between the two, pick Thanksgiving. The crowds are relatively doable at Thanksgiving, while Christmas is madness.
My family’s tradition is to rope-drop Magic Kingdom on Thanksgiving morning. Most attractions are either a walk-on or have relatively short waits the first hour and a half of the day. Once the wait times start to soar, we retreat to the resorts to continue our crowd-free holiday by checking out the different Christmas trees and gingerbread displays.
It Can Get Cold
Yes, Florida is hot. But it’s not hot all the time. A fall day in Florida offers a wide range of temperatures. It can in the eighties during the day, but a sweatshirt and even a coat at night may be needed. Basically, you may experience several seasons in a single day so pack smart and wear layers. If not, you may find yourself buying sixty-dollar sweatshirts at the Emporium for each member of the family.
Have you ever visited Walt Disney World over Thanksgiving? What is your favorite restaurant to visit for your Thanksgiving meal? Have you ever been Black Friday shopping at Disney Springs?
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