Planning on heading to Walt Disney World for Thanksgiving? You’re not alone. In fact, Thanksgiving, along with other major holidays, is one of the busiest times to go to The Most Magical Place on Earth. If you’re thinking about having a Disney World Thanksgiving, there are some things you’ll want to keep in mind to make sure your Turkey Day trip is one your whole family can be thankful for.
A note about Disney World Thanksgiving 2021: Due to Covid-19, capacity limits are currently in place to support social distancing and a theme park reservation is required for entry. We recommend you book your Disney Park Pass Reservation and advance dining reservations as soon as possible, as we anticipate that slots will start to fill up quickly the closer we get to Thanksgiving.
Although buffet dining has started to return, some restaurants which typically offer buffets may be serving family-style meals instead to prevent the spread of germs. Some regular activities may also be unavailable. Refer to the Disney World website or My Disney Experience app, or speak to a cast member for the most up-to-date information.
Is Thanksgiving a Good Time to Visit Disney World?
First things first. Thanksgiving is one of the most popular times to visit Walt Disney World, but is it a good time for a Disney vacation? Like most things, it depends on your expectations and what you’d like to get out of it.
Is Disney World crowded on Thanksgiving? Absolutely, emphatically yes. Although the Central Florida resort isn’t as busy for Thanksgiving as it is around Christmas and New Year’s, it still gets incredibly packed, particularly on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. There’s a good chance that some parks will reach capacity and that Disney Park Passes will run out for most, if not all, parks.
The key to making the most of your Thanksgiving Disney day is going in with a plan. Figure out what everyone in your group is interested in doing and schedule your day around that. Take advantage of planning tools like the new Disney Genie to keep an eye on wait times.
Since FastPasses are no more, if you know there are attractions that you won’t want to miss and that will likely have ridiculously long lines, consider investing in Disney Genie+ or Individual Attraction Selections to skip the line using the Lightning Lane. Yes, this service does cost money, but at $15 per day per guest for Genie+, it’s a pretty reasonable price to pay for more time with your family not spent in lines.
It Feels More Like Christmas Than Thanksgiving
With the exception of Epcot and at least some of the hotels, by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, Disney World Christmas decorations will have already been up for at least one or two weeks, possibly even longer. This will please some people and others – namely those who like to gripe and moan over the ever-earlier arrival of ornaments and wrapping paper to the shopping aisles – very, very unhappy. Blame it on the Disney Very Merriest After Hours (or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party) at the Magic Kingdom or Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays.
Having said that, in our opinion, the holidays are one of our favorite times to go to Disney World and that’s largely due to the beautiful Christmas decorations everywhere. After all, it’s hard to not have a smile on your face when there are twinkle lights, ornaments, and garland everywhere.
So, if you’re hoping for a vacation filled with pumpkins and special Thanksgiving Disney World events, we are sorry to report that you’re about 25 days too late and definitely out of luck. But, if you’re the kind of family that gets all warm and fuzzy at the sight of Christmas trees in November, then a Disney vacation could make for a memorable Thanksgiving.
It’s Great for a Memorable Disney World Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving is all about food and family. So, what better way to celebrate than with a Disney World Thanksgiving dinner? While almost all restaurants should be open and serving at that time, typically, Thanksgiving dinner at Disney World is specifically available at several restaurants on property with special Thanksgiving dishes and menus on offer. Disney has yet to announce which restaurants will be offering a holiday menu, so keep your eyes open as we get closer to Thanksgiving – possibly around late October or early November – to see what will be available.
Regardless of Thanksgiving menus, there is also a cornucopia of restaurants at Disney World that dish up meals perfect for the holidays. Liberty Tree Tavern at Magic Kingdom is a homerun thanks to its Patriot’s Platter overflowing with turkey, pot roast, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. Barbecue may not be the first meal that comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving, but the comfort food favorites offered at Whispering Canyon Café at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Trail’s End Restaurant at the Fort Wilderness Campground certainly hit the spot.
The Garden Grill Restaurant at Epcot is another winner with Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Harvest Feast. This Disney character dining experience is fun any time of year, but with bottomless helpings of turkey breast, herb and leek stuffing, and creamy mashed potatoes featuring ingredients grown at The Land Pavilion, it’s a kid-friendly way to celebrate Thanksgiving and Earth’s bounty. Or, for those wanting a more grown-up Thanksgiving, consider booking a reservation for Biergarten in the Germany Pavilion. Though there isn’t any turkey on the menu, German classics like sausage, schnitzel, and spätzle are an equally cozy alternative. Plus, German beer and a live Polka band only add to the fun.
Nothing says Thanksgiving like a homecooked meal. So, guests visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios will want to check out the 50’s Prime Time Café, where American favorites like fried chicken, meatloaf, and pot roast are served in a homey setting inspired by the kitchens and dining rooms of yesteryear. Finally, for those steering clear of the theme park crowds, Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ at Disney Springs serves up comforting dishes like country fried steak, fried catfish, and braised short ribs with a healthy helping of Southern hospitality.
Of course, if you can’t score a reservation, there’s one more way to get your Thanksgiving fix: a quintessential turkey leg.
Needless to say, as long as you’re and yours are ok with your turkey coming with a side of Christmas cheer and a whole bunch of quality time in long ride lines, then a Disney Thanksgiving can be a lot of fun. And really… food, family, friends, waiting in lines and fighting the crowds (Black Friday, anyone?)… If that doesn’t sound like Thanksgiving, then we don’t know what does.
Other Things to Do for Thanksgiving at Disney World Besides Eat
If you’re heading to Orlando for Turkey Day, a Disney World Thanksgiving dinner is basically a foregone conclusion. But other than stuffing yourselves silly, there are plenty of other things to do at Disney World that are perfect for Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately, Disney doesn’t offer any special events or celebrations specifically for Thanksgiving. However, if you get creative and possibly consider spending the day outside the parks, you’ll find an abundance of activities that suit the spirit of Thanksgiving.
Salute Our Country’s Founding
For some people, Thanksgiving isn’t just a day spent with family, friends, and plenty of good food; it’s also an opportunity to celebrate our nation’s history. If you like your turkey with a side of patriotism, be sure to check out the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom and The American Adventure at Epcot. While Hall of Presidents views America’s past through the lens of its leaders, The American Adventure traverses the country’s founding from the time the pilgrims set foot at Plymouth Rock. With stirring music and thoughtful narration, both are excellent reminders of the United States’ humble beginnings.
Learn How Thanksgiving Is Celebrated Around the World
Thanksgiving may be a decidedly American holiday, but there are actually more than 15 countries around the globe that also have celebrations similar to Thanksgiving – and you’ll find five of them represented at Epcot’s World Showcase. So, for a Thanksgiving that’s as educational as it is delicious, take some time to learn how other harvest or gratitude holidays are celebrated worldwide.
As you make your way around the World Showcase promenade, stop and talk to the cast members that call each country home and ask them about their traditions like Mid-Autumn Festival in China, Oktoberfest and Erntedankfest (meaning “thanks for the harvest festival”) in Germany, Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan, the Harvest Festival in the United Kingdom, and Canadian Thanksgiving in Canada.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
I don’t know about your family, but for those in the Midwest, many Thanksgiving festivities take place outside. While you won’t be able to bag a buck or get in some touch football with the rest of your crew, there are other great ways to spend time enjoying Mother Nature with the people you love, and many of them involve Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground. Saddle up for trail riding or a wagon ride, work on your aim at the Fort Wilderness Archery Experience, or hop on a Segway for the Wilderness Back Trail Adventure. Then, for the perfect conclusion to your Disney Thanksgiving get your s’mores on at Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long.
Watch Some Thanksgiving Day Football
For many people, Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without football. Thankfully, you don’t have to miss out on the big game to celebrate Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World. The ESPN Club at Disney’s BoardWalk entertainment complex touts almost 100 televisions screens – there are even screens in the bathrooms, so you’ll never miss a touchdown. Another great sports bar at Disney World is Rix Sports Bar & Grill at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. With 31 TVs and global-inspired takes on classic bar food, it’s a great place to kick back and cheer on your team.
Kick Off the Holiday Season (and Your Christmas Shopping)
Oftentimes, Thanksgiving feels like the perfect bookend to autumn, but it also marks the beginning of the winter holiday season. As we mentioned earlier, Christmas is in full swing at Disney by the time Turkey Day rolls around. Rather than avoiding all things festive, lean into the merriment and start the season off with a bang. Check out the Christmas Tree Stroll and get some of your gift shopping done at Disney Springs or go to Magic Kingdom’s Very Merriest After Hours or Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays (starting Black Friday) for some holly jolly entertainment.
Tips for Making the Most of Disney World Thanksgiving 2021
Before you book your vacation, read on for our tips on making your Thanksgiving at Disney World as magical as it is memorable.
Make your reservations early.
Thanksgiving Disney World vacations are incredibly popular. As a result, reservations tend to book up quickly. Get a head start on the rest of the masses by reserving your theme park passes and Thanksgiving dinner as soon as you know where you want to go – or risk being left out in the (metaphorical) cold.
Take advantage of Lightning Lanes.
Thanksgiving crowds at Walt Disney World are no joke. If you don’t want to spend most of your Turkey Day standing in line, consider using one of Disney World’s new (paid) skip-the-line options. While Disney Genie+ and Individual Attraction Selections do cost money, we think they’re a worthwhile tradeoff for reclaiming your precious family time.
But still, be prepared to wait.
Not all rides are included with Disney Genie+ or Individual Attraction Selections, so even if you do decide to pony up the cash, there’s a good chance that you’ll still need to do a fair bit of waiting. Rather than sitting in silence or playing on your cellphones, turn ride lines into family time with the help of the Play Disney Parks app or other fun options like Heads Up.
Think about skipping out on the parks.
Rather eschew the crowds altogether? We don’t blame you. The best way to avoid the masses is to stay out of the theme parks. Fortunately, things to do outside the Disney World theme parks are bountiful. Best of all, not only will you end up having a much more relaxing holiday, but you’ll also get a chance to experience all the other wonderful attractions Disney has to offer while spending plenty of time hanging out with your family and friends.
Well all you turkey lovers, that concludes our guide to celebrating Thanksgiving at Disney World. While it doesn’t quite compare to the Christmas festivities, there are still more than enough opportunities for quality family time, delicious food, and tons of fun.
Not ready to miss out on the Disney theme parks? Outsmart the crowds with our 1-day plans for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Trying to save some cash for all those impending Christmas gifts? Make it happen with our discount Disney World tickets.
Have you spent Thanksgiving at Walt Disney World? Which restaurants offer the best Thanksgiving dinner? Are there any activity ideas you think we missed? Let us know in the comments!
Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.