Ringing in 2022 at Walt Disney World? This post covers our tips and tricks for enjoying the New Year’s Eve parties in the parks & hotels and huge fireworks at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, these celebrations make WDW one of the best places to celebrate NYE. (Updated December 29, 2021.)
Since Walt Disney World is also one of the busiest places in the world for New Year’s Eve, we also provide ideas for keeping sane in the crowds (and avoiding them to the greatest extent possible) so you can have fun while not going nuts waiting in line 45 minutes for a restroom.
If you’re visiting Walt Disney World to celebrate the start of 2022 and are looking for ways to avoid the crowds, and for the best experience on New Year’s Eve, this post is here to help you out. We’ve done NYE at WDW multiple times, including last year. Typically, we do Magic Kingdom on December 30 for Fantasy in the Sky and Epcot on December 31, for all of the New Year’s Eve fun. For the most part, we’ve had a blast at Walt Disney World on NYE–you just need appropriate expectations…
The good news is that New Year’s Eve is back in (almost) full force at Walt Disney World, after a subdued celebration last year with no fireworks and early closings at most parks. By contrast, this New Year’s Eve will bring back the special pyro displays and dance parties to ring in 2022 with a bang.
At Epcot, celebrate the night away on December 31 with DJ dance parties around World Showcase in the Italy, Japan, China, and United Kingdom pavilions. Enjoy Harmonious at 6:30 pm before “Cheers to the New Year: A Sparkling Celebration” kicks off its global countdown at 11:54 pm.
Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there will be a high-energy DJ dance party in front of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway on December 31, 2021. You’ll also be able to dance into 2022 with a sizzling countdown moment. (No official word on fireworks or pyro, but if there is any it’ll be very limited.)
At Magic Kingdom, get a headstart on celebrations beginning December 30, when the park presents Disney Enchantment at 6:30 pm, followed by Fantasy in the Sky at 11:50 pm. Both fireworks spectaculars will also perform at the same times on December 31, 2021 so guests can ring in the actual New Year. No official word on dance parties in Magic Kingdom, but our guess is that there will be one in Tomorrowland another on Main Street.
Another thing of which you’ll want to be aware even before heading out to the parks on New Year’s Eve is that Walt Disney World currently requires theme park reservations made via the Disney Park Pass system. These are long gone for December 30-31, 2021 for all parks, so you won’t be visiting if you haven’t already booked a reservation.
If you have booked a reservation, you’re probably already aware of the relatively new Genie+ system. You’ll definitely want to use that on NYE, and someone in your party will need to get up around 6:50 am for optimal use. We know that’s going to be tough on a night when you’re likely staying up until 1 am, but it’ll significantly improve your visit to the parks. See our Guide to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes at Walt Disney World for more info, strategy, etc.
Here’s everything you need to know to navigate New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World…
We won’t bury the lede: crowds between Christmas and New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World are awful. It’s mass hysteria…and everyone has noisemakers! We’ve visited Walt Disney World for New Year’s Eve several times, and while it’s always incredibly busy, it’s also incredibly fun. The crowds are a downside, but additional entertainment to help with crowds (parades, characters, fireworks, shows, etc.) is a big plus.
You will encounter congestion, incredibly long lines (even for restrooms), and other guests suffering meltdowns as they didn’t expect the lines or crowds. In fact, the parks get so busy that sometimes they are closed to new guests at various points in the day via phased closings. On the plus side, Walt Disney World currently is limiting attendance with the Disney Park Pass reservation system, so crowds definitely won’t be as bad as they’ve been in the past.
The point is that no matter what tricks there might be to avoid crowds, it is impossible to avoid them completely unless you lock yourself in your hotel room. Beyond that, no tip, regardless of how good, is as good of a tip as “visit in early September or late January instead.” If avoiding crowds is your paramount concern, you should be avoiding the weeks around the holidays, not reading this guide.
This guide offers best case scenario tips for making the most out of the situation. It’s not written from the perspective of having the most amazing time ever with no crowds–it’s about making lemonade out of lemons.
We cannot reiterate that enough. You may think that all of the tips below are not practical for you to follow, but when it’s ‘eat or be eaten’, you’ll find yourself changing the definition of what’s “practical” for you. (And yes, we did just compare a day during New Year’s week at Walt Disney World to cannibalism.)
With all of that said, there are some things you can do to avoid some of the chaos.
1. Arrive Early, Stay Late – Park operating hours are tied directly to anticipated crowd levels, which Disney is pretty adept at predicting based upon bookings and other factors. If daily operating hours are long, expect heavy crowds.
Despite this, crowds are always lightest in the morning, getting progressively worse until about 1 pm, then tapering down the rest of the day, with crowds again being light the last couple hours each park is open. The earlier a park opens, the less busy it is at opening, and the later a park closes, the less busy it is at closing.
In other words, if the Magic Kingdom is open until 1 a.m. and Disney’s Hollywood Studios is open until 11 p.m., Magic Kingdom will be less busy between midnight and 1 a.m. than Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be between 10 and 11 p.m. This makes it the best time of year for getting the Park Hopper option when you purchase Disney tickets, as this way you can start at the park open the earliest, and hop to the park open latest.
2. Nap Midday – If the Magic Kingdom is open from 7 a.m. until 1 or 2 a.m. (as it is some days this week with Extra Magic Hours), you probably aren’t going to stay the entire day. However, you shouldn’t choose between arriving early and staying late. You should cut out midday portion, going back to your hotel to take a nap during the busiest and hottest hours of the day.
This is one reason why we recommend Bay Lake Tower for New Year’s Eve if your budget allows, as it’s an easy walk, 10-minute walk between it and the Magic Kingdom, making these naps more convenient. Disney’s Contemporary Resort is also a very good option. You can read what other hotels might be good options in our Walt Disney World Hotel Guide. Regardless of where you stay, keep in mind that phased closings of the Walt Disney World theme parks can impact your ability to reenter–especially if you’re not staying on-site–so be careful.
3. Eat Midday – Like attractions and restrooms, there are long lines at restaurants. This is particularly true during the prime lunch hours. Don’t eat lunch at noon. Eat when restaurants first open or later in the afternoon. The best time of day is going to be around 3 or 4 p.m.
4. Use Genie+ Midday – Since lines are longest midday, it follows that you’ll get the most utility out of Genie+ or Lightning Lanes when the parks are busiest. Make reservations accordingly, and use standby lines to the greatest extent possible earlier in the day.
5. Find “Hidden Gem” Restrooms – You know it says something about your life when you find yourself writing about restrooms at Walt Disney World, but such is my lot. We even have a blog post titled the Top 10 Toilets at Walt Disney World because we are just that thorough. 😉
The point here is that you should avoid the “obvious” ones in hotspots during the most crowded times of the day, when there literally are ~30 minute waits for restrooms. Don’t head to the restroom in plain view in Fantasyland. You’re just asking for trouble. Look at a park map, and locate the restrooms that are off the beaten path, and head to those. On our last visit for New Year’s Eve, we were able to find “options” with minimal waits this way.
I am well aware that this seems like a funny or silly tip, but we’ll see whose laughing when you encounter that first huge line and your bladder can’t last 25 more minutes.
6. Do Unpopular Attractions – One of the big reasons that going to Walt Disney World during busy times of the year doesn’t bother us is probably that some of our favorite attractions aren’t all that popular, so our waits are about the same year-round. If you have awesome taste, you might find the same is true for you.
We have Walt Disney World Itineraries & Touring Plans for every single park that cover the highlights for a perfect day, including a lot of these less popular attractions. These plans balance efficiency with having a great day in the park, so you might need to tweak it a tad for New Year’s Eve.
In the Magic Kingdom, these overlooked gems are: Carousel of Progress, Country Bear Jamboree, Hall of Presidents, and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room for shows. For leisurely rides, try the Walt Disney World Railroad and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover.
In Epcot, Living with the Land, American Adventure, Impressions de France, and Reflections of China are all great, although the last three probably won’t hold a ton of interest for kids.
In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, all of the outdoor stadium-style stage shows (Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular) will avoid crowds, but timing them will be tricky. Same goes for shows at Animal Kingdom, although aside from its headliner attractions, the lines aren’t too unbearable there.
We think that the best park for overlooked gems is the Magic Kingdom, but the best park in general for avoiding New Year’s Eve crowds is Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Epcot is also surprisingly good at absorbing crowds, but its headliners do get obscenely long lines on New Year’s Eve. Disney’s Hollywood Studios doesn’t get as large of New Year’s Eve crowds, but it’s also not particularly good at handling crowds.
Whatever you do, we highly recommend developing a plan of attack (some tips for this can be found in our “When to Visit Walt Disney World” post), having realistic expectations about what you’ll get done, and keeping a positive attitude.
New Year’s Eve Entertainment
For New Year’s Eve, Magic Kingdom and Epcot each have special fireworks shows. The Magic Kingdom also does its New Year’s Eve fireworks show, Fantasy in the Sky, on December 30.
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the normal nighttime entertainment will run, with no special fireworks. Disney’s Hollywood Studios will also celebrate New Year’s Eve with a special dance party beginning on the Center Stage in the middle of the park. This will run until park close, ringing in 2022.
Animal Kingdom will also only run its normal nighttime entertainment, which is essentially just the Tree of Life Winter Awakenings. This is the one park that closes before midnight, so don’t go here if you want to celebrate NYE.
The fireworks shows at Magic Kingdom and Epcot are so intense that some guests might consider wearing sunglasses and earplugs while watching. They’re seriously good–so good that they just might help you overlook those crazy crowds (okay, probably not!). Other New Year’s Eve entertainment is really just offered to draw some people away from Magic Kingdom & Epcot, and provide an alternative.
We aren’t even going to bother covering these various offerings. If you’re braving the crowds for a visit during the holiday week, you shouldn’t even consider wasting your time with anything besides the fireworks on New Year’s Eve…unless you really just hate awesome fireworks shows.
If you’ll be visiting for both December 30 and New Year’s Eve, watch the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasy in the Sky fireworks on December 30. This is a no brainer. The Magic Kingdom will still be busy, but not as busy as it will be on New Year’s Eve.
Plus, seeing the fireworks on December 30 frees you up to watch at Epcot on New Year’s Eve. If you’re only visiting for New Year’s Eve, our pick is still with Fantasy in the Sky, as we think it’s the best show, and worth dealing with the Magic Kingdom crowds.
Between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the choice for New Year’s Eve is easy. We love Epcot on New Year’s Eve.
In addition to the fireworks, there will be special shows and DJs in Epcot (both Future World and World Showcase–the Silent DJ Dance Party has become really popular, so be ready to lineup for headphones), and additional bar-booths throughout the park to help celebrate the New Year prior to the fireworks shows.
The reason that this is now a no-brainer (it didn’t used to be) is because Disney’s Hollywood Studios is running its normal projections shows for New Year’s Eve and isn’t doing anything special–aside from the dance party. (Sunset Season’s Greetings will also still be running for New Year’s Eve.) It should be slightly less crowded than Epcot (but still crowded), though.
Epcot’s World Showcase can hold a lot of people, but it still manages to fill up, and becomes difficult to navigate. In theory, Epcot is great…in reality, it’s crowded and that many drunk guests with noisemakers becomes grating after about hour 4 of standing elbow to elbow with them.
Ultimately, we still like Epcot, particularly if you just plan on arriving in the late afternoon, watching the New Year’s fireworks, and bouncing. Read our Best Epcot Fireworks Viewing Locations post for more insight into picking a spot for the Epcot fireworks.
Plan to get to wherever you’re going to watch these fireworks shows at least two hours in advance. Possibly more. In Magic Kingdom, we saw people saving prime locations for the shows in the early afternoon. This is just a bit excessive, but it should give you an idea of how popular the shows are. You definitely will not be able to stroll up to a good location 15 minutes (or even an hour) before the fireworks start.
This is especially true in the Magic Kingdom, which is more crowded than Epcot, which is more crowded than Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We have a blog post detailing our favorite viewing spots for Magic Kingdom fireworks, and this holds true for the Fantasy in the Sky New Year’s Eve fireworks.
For many people, leaving is the worst part of the New Year’s Eve experience. We don’t mean the thought of heading home from the Florida sunshine to dreary, cold weather.
In this case, we’re referring to leaving the park. After the fireworks, there is a mass exodus, as everyone heads for the exit, all at once. Don’t be part of this herd. Because so many people are leaving all at once, you are going to wait for a while for a bus, monorail, or boat–would you rather wait outside the park in a sea of humanity, or inside while doing rides?
All of the parks are open for an hour or two after the fireworks. Take that time to let the crowds die down outside, and enjoy lower crowds inside the park.
Speaking of going outside the parks, there are also great alternatives for fireworks viewing. Again, Bay Lake Tower warrants mentioning here, as the Top of the World Lounge is a fantastic, relatively uncrowded spot for fireworks. I captured the photo above on New Year’s Eve from there. This doesn’t do you much good if you’re already at Walt Disney World and aren’t staying at Bay Lake Tower on Disney Vacation Club points (it’s only open to guests staying there on December 30 and New Year’s Eve).
However, if you are booking a trip for next year, it’s a great reason to give Bay Lake Tower serious thought. The other locations, like the Ticket & Transportation Center and beach of the Polynesian Resort are good alternatives if you’re not staying at Bay Lake Tower and want a less crowded vantage.
All of our warnings aside, you can have a lot of fun spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s at Walt Disney World, and it definitely is one of the best places to be for New Year’s Eve. It’s all about developing a game plan and rolling with the punches. Not everything will go according to plan, and it can be a frustrating experience if you let the crowds get to you.
However, if you go into the trip with the right attitude and just want to have fun (remember: you’re likely having more fun than folks back at home, no matter what happens!), you probably will. The fireworks and the other supplementary entertainment make a New Year’s visit to Walt Disney World a lot of fun, even if you do have to deal with the crowds!
It’s also worth remembering that almost all Christmas entertainment still runs between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (some runs even further into January), so check out our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World for more planning tips with regard to which holiday entertainment you might want to see on New Year’s Eve. For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.
Have you ever visited Walt Disney World for New Year’s Eve? Would you ever do it? Have any additional tips for making the most out of the experience, or regarding which fireworks shows to see? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments!