Travel Journal #6: Our Thanksgiving Trip to Disney World

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Back in the summer of 2021, when we were getting our vaccinations but really weren’t sure what travel was going to look like later that year, we started talking about re-booking the San Diego trip we had originally planned to take in 2020. We eventually did book and later take that San Diego trip in October 2021. But I wasn’t convinced until we were actually getting on the airplane that it was actually going to happen.

Enter my back-up plan: if we weren’t sure California would happen in Fall 2021, surely we would at least be good driving down to the Disney World!

Which is how we ended up taking a short trip to Disney World over Thanksgiving Break.

No, it’s not an ideal time to go. But since we are always working around school breaks, this was only time it was going to fit into our calendar. Was it crowded? Yes! But did we have a great time? Also yes!

Where We Stayed at Disney World

We stayed at Disney’s Old Key West Resort. It was our first time there, and you can find a full guide and review of Old Key West here.

It was a good resort with a nice laid back vibe. But I didn’t love how spread out it is (although it was fine for us since we had our car) nor how far away it felt from Disney parks. In summary, I wouldn’t rush to stay back here, but I also wouldn’t count it out either.

Thanksgiving Crowds at Disney World

Okay, let’s get the big question out the way first. How crowded was Disney World during Thanksgiving?


But at the same time, we found it mostly manageable.

We were there Sunday through Tuesday before Thanksgiving, so it was definitely going to get more crowded as the week went on. There were a few times when we felt the weight of the crowds and the crowding definitely caused some long lines and some frustrations with Genie Plus. We also skipped a lot of the bigger rides that we have done before, because we knew the lines were just going to be untenable for us.

But overall, we didn’t find that the crowds drastically took away from our enjoyment.

That being said, I don’t think I’d do a Thanksgiving Week Disney World trip again if I had a choice to go some other time. But with being strategic about rides and mobile ordering and getting to the parks early when we could, we still had a great time and got to do a lot!

Day 1: Epcot

Our first morning was a bit of a…situation. The buses at our resort were not running like they should have been and there were TENSE crowds waiting at the Hospitality House (the lobby building at Old Key West). Eventually we walked to a different bus stop and got on a bus and made it to Epcot.

But with the later start than we expected, we weren’t able to do as much during Early Entry (a time when resort guests can get into the parks 30 minutes early).

We hit Frozen Ever After first and had to wait about 25 minutes. And by the time we got off, it was time to head to our Virtual Boarding Group for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure (note: they aren’t currently doing Virtual Queues anymore) because somehow we had ended up with BOARDING GROUP 1. Which is great, but also a bit of a pain when you want to get other rides done during the first hour of park opening.

This ended up being one of my favorite parts of the day though because Y’ALL. World Showcase first thing in the morning is EMPTY. It was SO lovely and relaxing to walk through and enjoy and take pictures.

We rode Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure (waited about 20 minutes at 10:40 in the morning), then thought about doing Spaceship Earth but realized we were too hungry.

We had lunch at Sunshine Seasons in The Land Pavilion. The food was….sufficient. But I did have a little chocolate 50th anniversary cake that I loved!

After lunch we hit up Living With the Land (20 minute wait), which I had somehow never been on but LOVED. Then we did Journey into Imagination (10 minute wait) and Nemo (5 minute wait…even though it was posted 20!). Then Spaceship Earth (10 minute wait even though it was posted at 20!).

Y’all, I have made no bones about the fact that Epcot is my least favorite park. But one great thing about it is that there are always some rides with low waits because everyone else is either at the headliner rides (like Test Track and Frozen) or wondering through World Showcase. Honestly, it was a crowded day and we didn’t once really feel like we needed to have Genie+.

After getting through those rides, it was time to wonder through World Showcase. We got ice cream in France (I tried the Croque Glace and did not love it. Next time I would get just regular ice cream), relaxed in the Fez House in Morocco (one of my favorite spots!), and saw the drummers in Japan. We also ducked into the new Beauty and the Beast Sing Along in France to get out of some rain, and we found it pretty disappointing. Fine for getting out of the rain, but not something to make a point to go to.

Our kiddo also got REALLY into finding all the Kidcot stations and collecting the cards. We had never done this before and it was a great way to keep her moving through the countries and have her focused on something that kept her from getting bored!

Oh, and we also had to go on the Grand Fiesta Tour in Mexico (5 minute wait, but posted at 20).

For dinner we got some pizza at the pizza window in Italy and, while my kiddo loved it, I did not think it was very good. And then we also got some fish and chips from the UK, which I thought were great!

After dinner we did Soarin’, which was posted as a 40 minute wait, but we only waited about 15 minutes because they were looking for a party of three (hello! us!) to fill in some space. Then we did Living with the Land again with no wait, and it was even better at night because they had it decorated for Christmas! This is seriously my new favorite Epcot ride….so peaceful!

Then, after doing Journey into Imagination one more time (no wait!) we got some ice cream and found a spot to watch HarmoniUS for the first time. And y’all. It was a situation.

We thought we had a picked a great spot because we were standing behind a flower bed, meaning no one would be standing directly in front of us. But it didn’t work out this way.

First of all, our view wasn’t as great as we thought it would be. And second of all, people kept standing on the ledge of the other side of this flower bed and a cast member kept having to tell them to get down (that poor cast member!) and it was a pretty distracting situation.

So our fireworks experience wasn’t the best. This is DEFINITELY a show where you want to be as close to the front to see as you can, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again one day in a better viewing situation.

Day 2: Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom

We learned our bus lesson from Day 1 and made sure to leave in plenty of time to avoid any issues getting to Hollywood Studios. And we were so glad we did because we were able to be in the first group to ride Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway that morning. Which, by the way, is a such and adorable and fun ride.

Here’s the thing to know about getting there early to rope drop: You still have to wait. We waited for about an hour at Mickey & Minnie’s, which sounds like a pain. But that means when you get OFF the ride the park will still have just opened and you can hop in a super short line for another ride quickly! Plus, the wait wasn’t too bad. We were in one place and so we just sat on the ground, our kiddo read, and we just chilled. It felt more like sitting down and relaxing than actually waiting.

After Runaway Railway, we rode Alien Swirling Saucers twice (5 minute wait) and grabbed breakfast at Woody’s Lunchbox. Then we headed to Rosie’s All American Cafe (while stopping to admire the Christmas decorations) for a few more breakfast holiday treats and to see how the Rock n’ Roller Coaster wait was (single ride was longer than stand-by, so it was a no-go.)

We had gotten Genie+ for this day, so our first Lightning Lane was for Toy Story Mania at 10:30, where we waited about 10 minutes.

Then is started raining. Like SO MUCH. And since it was about lunch time, we had mobile ordered food at Docking Bay 7, which turned out to be a good call because there were A LOT of people waiting to get into the restaurant and at the very beginning they were only letting in people whose mobile orders were ready. So we were able to get our food and get a table easily before the crowds descended. The food was fine. Nothing amazing, but a good option for dining.

After lunch it was still raining. So we headed to the Frozen show (which is must-do for us) because they have a covered waiting area (and then of course the inside theater). Besides Runaway Railway, this was my favorite thing because a) the show is hilarious b) we had one of the same royal historians from our last pre-2020 trip, which for some reason almost made me cry and c) they had sign-language interpreters out who did an incredible job and were amazing to watch!

By the time we got out of the show, the sun was back out and it was time to park hop.

To get to Animal Kingdom we decided to take our first ride on the Skyliner (which was so peaceful!) to check out the Riviera Resort a bit. Then we took a bus from Riviera to Animal Kingdom.

First stop in Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest. We both tried to do single rider, but time ran out for me to get on before we had to head to our Na’vi River Journey Lightning Lane (basically no wait).

Then we had Individual Lightning Lanes for Flight of Passage (we had purchased them that morning). Since our kiddo didn’t want to go on it, we went separately. My wait took about 5 minutes because they needed a single rider. But Gerrit’s took a little longer…probably closer to 20+ minutes for him to get in the pre-show.

After Flight of Passage we had dinner at Nomad Lounge. Because of the crowds I was worried we wouldn’t be able to get on the walk-up list, but we joined it through the app easily. When we got called, I just asked to wait a little longer for an outside table and then we got to sit on that beautiful deck and have some outstanding food.

(Seriously though, why is the food at Animal Kingdom so much better than every other park?)

After dinner we did end up buying Individual Lighting Lanes for Expedition Everest because I still wanted to do it and it was worth the $7 to me to not wait in any line whatsoever.

Then it was time to head out. We wandered through Pandora a bit (because it’s so pretty at night) and watched the Tree of Life projections and then headed back to the resort for some rest after a VERY long but very good day. My only regret was really that we didn’t have a whole day to spend in Animal Kingdom, because it is seriously my favorite and something is lost when you don’t get to experience morning there too. (Plus, our limited time means we didn’t get to go on the Safari either!)

Day 3: Magic Kingdom

On our last day we headed to Magic Kingdom early in the morning. So early that it was dark and we stopped at the McDonald’s on property for breakfast because nothing else was going to be open for awhile.

And here comes the part of every Disney trip where I cry a little bit. Standing in line to get into Magic Kingdom I felt tired and I felt very frustrated by Genie+ and I was feeling the crowds a little, so I shed a few tears.

But once I got that out of my system, I felt so much better and we went on to have the most magical morning!

It was so crowded, but somehow we managed to do 10 rides in the first 4 hours we were in the park. Which is a lot even on a non-crowded day! I’ll chalk it up to knowing what rides to hit first, not getting in line for something like Seven Dwarves Mine Train, and a little bit of luck.

The quick run down:

  • Winnie the Pooh (5 minute wait)
  • Tea Cups (walk on)
  • Dumbo (10 minute wait)
  • Big Thunder Mountain (10 minute wait)
  • Haunted Mansion (walk on!)
  • It’s a Small World (10 minute wait)
  • Tea Cups (again! 5 minute wait)
  • Carousel of Progress (walk on)
  • People Mover (10 minute wait)
  • Peter Pan (5 minute wait with a Lightning Lane)

My favorite moment from the morning was taking our kiddo on Big Thunder Mountain for her first time and she loved it!

We also got Cheshire Cat Tails from Cheshire Cafe. The restaurant hadn’t been showing as open in the app, but when we walked by we noticed that it was!

For lunch we had burgers at Cosmic Ray’s. The burgers were…theme park burgers. But I will say those fries are a great pick-me-up after a morning in the park.

After lunch we left Magic Kingdom and resort hopped a bit. We headed to the Contemporary to poke around in the some gift shops and see the new lobby. We went to the Polynesian just because we love it so much. And we went to the Grand Floridian to the see the gingerbread house, which was very impressive, but I thought the gingerbread we got tasted like cardboard.

Then we went back to the resort and rested because we still had a big night ahead of us. OH! And we also made sure to book Lightning Lanes this whole time using the 2 hour rule (meaning you can book your next Lightning Lane 2 hours after your last booking). (Confused about how Genie+ works? Our Genie Plus Guide is here!)

By the time we went back to Magic Kingdom, we had a bunch of Lightning Lanes stacked up. We did Pirates of the Caribbean with a 5 minute Lightning Lane wait, Carousel of Progress again (I’m so proud of my kiddo for asking for this) while Gerrit rode Space Mountain with an Individual Lightning Lane.

Then we had dinner at Pinocchio Village Haus, which was very crowded and chaotic, especially because my mobile order completely spazzed and multiple cast members had to help me figure out what was going on and find my food.

After dinner we rode the Magic Carpets with a Lightning Lane (5 minute wait) and then Jungle Cruise with a Lightning Lane (20 minute wait).

Then it was time for fireworks.

Listen y’all. I LOVED Happily Ever After so much, and after hearing some reviews and watching some videos I was fully prepared to not like Enchantment. But I LOVED it.

Yes, it is such a different show from Happily Ever After, but it still felt magical and I got a little teary in a few places.

After fireworks Gerrit and our kiddo headed back to the resort and I stayed for Mickey’s Very Merriest After Hours. You can find my full review of Very Merriest After Hours here, but in summary it was fun, it was cold, I loved the shows, and I definitely would have had more fun with my family but I was not paying $200 per ticket for them to be there.

After a late night it was time to head home the next morning so we could be home for Thanksgiving.

It was a whirlwind trip, but we had a great time, and we got to see so much 50th anniversary stuff, Christmas decorations, and other general Disney magical-ness! Will I book another Thanksgiving week trip if I can avoid it? Probably not. But if it’s the only time that works on the calendar in the future, I know we will still have a magical time!