- Jared/ Flickr
- INSIDER interviewed two former Disney World employees about their experiences during one of the most crowded times to visit: the December holidays.
- Christmas week is especially crowded, but New Year’s Eve is the most hectic – the parks usually hit capacity early on.
- Disney employees get extra guest passes and other seasonal perks during this time of year.
December has to be one of the most magical times of year to visit Disney parks. From the magic of Christmas to the non-stop parties on New Year’s Eve, the winter holidays are consistently one of the most popular times to go to Disney World.
But what is it really like to work at Disney World and Disneyland during the holidays? In a word: hectic.
INSIDER spoke with two former Disney cast members – Heather Sliwinski, who worked as an Epcot greeter in 2008, and Mike Jacobs, who played Goofy for 20 years at Disney World – about their experiences working the long shifts during the holiday season.
Disney in December is one of the most crowded times of year to visit.
- Glenn Brunette/ Flickr
“Christmas time is great if you really get into the holiday spirit,” Mike Jacobs told INSIDER. “The guests seem very happy, and even though it’s insanely crowded, most people take it in stride. The disadvantages are dealing with guests that don’t take it in stride. They get expectations from the commercials they see and when they find out that you can’t walk down Main Street hand in hand with Mickey Mouse, they get a little testy.”
His advice for holiday rush vacationers? “Don’t expect to get everything done. Plan ahead and decide on your must-see attractions, and only do those.”
New Year’s Eve is especially hectic, and cast members close the entrance gates as early as 10 a.m.
- Anthony Quintano/ Flickr
“New Year’s Eve is by far the busiest holiday,” Heather Sliwinski told INSIDER. “You have to get there pretty much when the park opens if you want a chance at getting in (and staying in) the park for the fireworks. When I worked at Walt Disney World, the Magic Kingdom closed at capacity by 10 am, and at Epcot we were closed by noon and had to implement a one-in, one-out system […] There’s no way to be prepared for it until you see it. Hoards of people are waiting at the turnstiles, begging and pleading to let them in, but [when I worked there], the turnstiles locked and there was literally nothing we could do and no way of knowing when we would be able to open back up.”
Disney employees really get into the holiday spirit.
- Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World
Surprisingly, Disney employees seem to love working at the parks during the holidays, despite the hectic crowds, and they even get swept up in the Disney Christmas magic themselves.
“I think my favorite memory was the first year the Christmas decorations went up the day after Halloween,” Jacobs said. “I remember I left the park that night and all the Halloween decorations were up, and the very next morning the place had completely transformed into Christmas. It was a little surreal.”
The magical decorations and holiday foods are cast members’ favorite Christmas highlights.
- Anna Fox/ Flickr
“The entrance music loop was so festive, and being around the park when it’s decorated for the holidays is the best time to be there,” Sliwinski said.
For Jacobs, one of his favorite parts of Disney during the holidays was the special foods and snacks around the parks. “The park looks amazing, of course, and there’s lots of things you can do that aren’t available during the rest of the year. Plus, pumpkin fudge at the Confectionary. Yum!”
There are lots of holiday perks for Disney employees.
- Eekster/ Wikimedia Commons
Even though Disney cast members work long hours during the holiday season, they say the Disney company does take care of them.
“Disney treats their cast members very well – we got additional family and friends park passes for the holidays, extra discounts on merchandise and food,” Sliwinski said. “I was able to have my parents come visit before Christmas because they provided extra guest tickets. It was really nice!”
Employees advise Disney fans to stay away after December 15.
- Sam Howzit/ Flickr
Visiting during the holiday season is great, but try to do it before Christmas week.
“The best time to do Christmas at the parks is the second week in December,” Jacobs said. “Not many people are around, but all of the Christmas stuff is still there.”
If you do want to brave the Disney Parks during Christmas week or New Year’s Eve, Sliwinski gives this piece of advice:
“Get to the parks and wait in line before rope drop and be prepared to stay all day,” she said. “Also, if you don’t want to brave the crowd on New Year’s Eve, the parks tend to do the same New Year’s Eve fireworks a few days beforehand, too, if you’re willing to stay up late.”
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