During the holidays, as you step through the entrance portal and set eyes upon Disneyland’s Main Street or stroll through the Magic Kingdom in Disney World, you could swear Christmas was invented at the Disney parks.
At Disneyland, a 60-foot-tall tree dripping in ornaments greets you. Wreaths and garlands are draped along shops and lampposts. Scattered poinsettias add splashes of color. At the end of the street, a snowcapped castle beckons, crystal icicles dangling from its towers, shimmering with 126,000 LED lights.
At Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the 40 Christmas trees scattered about are just the beginning. There also are 147 wreaths and nearly a mile of garlands. The centerpiece is Cinderella Castle, its towers and turrets draped in shimmering blue lights that make it appear to be carved from ice.
The holiday spirit is woven into the parks' very fabric, from the food and entertainment to parades and music to the characters dressed appropriately for the season.
The season has become one of the most popular times to visit the Magic Kingdom, if not a tradition for many families.
If you’re planning your first winter holiday trip to Disneyland or Disney World, or you haven't been in a while, these 11 tips will help you avoid mistakes that could lead to a nightmare before Christmas.
1. Don't sleep in
If you arrive three hours after the parks open, you’ve already lost half the day in Disney time.
With an early start and the right approach, you can hit four to five attractions before crowds become overwhelming.
But if you stroll in at noon, you'll be lucky to average one E-ticket ride per hour (or fewer with multiple churro stops). If you have a 3-year-old, your entire day is going to be shot after a few circuits on It’s a Small World.
Solution: Arrive with a plan at least 30 minutes before opening. Make your way briskly but politely toward your first ride. Remain focused on your goals. There will be plenty of time to relax and admire the seasonal sights when lines hit an hour and longer.
2. Do stay on property to conserve cash
Fantasy doesn't come cheaply, but the perks of staying at a Disney hotel are, in most cases, well worth it.
With 25 properties in Florida and only three in California, Disney resort hotel benefits are far superior at Disney World. First is the public transportation (including the Monorail and Skyliner), which at times doubles as a ride. Disney World resort guests can schedule FastPasses further in advance, which could be the difference between riding Space Mountain in a prime afternoon spot or being left with a late-night cruise on It's a Small World.
But the most convenient perk is the Magic Band issued to guests staying on property. Use the band to access your room, enter the park, use FastPasses and charge purchases to your room. While it seemingly tracks your every move, what doesn't nowadays?
Solution: Disney World resorts range from "value" to "deluxe," based on location and amenities. As you compare prices, don't discount what your time is worth. Flexibility can also save money, as rates can fluctuate based on demand.
3. Do buy a Maxpass a Disneyland
As much as everyone hates throwing even more money at the entertainment conglomerate, Disneyland’s $15 Maxpass is a time saver and, for those who use its Photopass function, a good deal.
Through Maxpass, guests can digitally fetch FastPasses from their smartphones. These have become essential, as Disney reportedly reserves a good share of ride capacity for FastPass holders.
Maxpass also functions as a PhotoPass. It allows holders to download an unlimited number of photos, whether snapped on a photo-equipped ride (Space Mountain, for example) or by one of the many Disney photographers stationed around the park.
Solution: Buy a Maxpass through the Disneyland app as soon as you enter the park. If the number in your party makes it prohibitively expensive (only Maxpass holders can get FastPasses), purchase one MaxPass for the PhotoPass benefits.
4. Do NOT start a diet before your trip
Long gone are the days of tasteless theme-park burgers accompanied by limp fries, a combination that urged guests to skip a meal or two.
Disney has considerably upped its food game. You’ll find pork ribs, roasted chicken and any number of vegetarian dishes. The real killers are the desserts and baked goods that go far beyond the basic churro, especially for the holidays. Display cases hold eggnog latte cheesecake, Santa hat macarons and cupcakes decorated like gifts. Note how it takes a village of gingerbread Mickeys to raise calorie counts.
Solution: Relax, you’re on vacation. Besides, you’ll be putting in 10,000 steps easy traipsing about the park.
5. Don't order food at the counter like a sucker
A mistake that screams “Disney rookie” is waiting in line to order a counter service meal. That line is for shmoes. Don’t be a schmo.
Solution: Order on your smartphone via the Disneyland or Disney World's My Disney Experience apps. Mobile ordering allows you to choose each item, make the usual alterations and request the time you’d like it. You’ll be texted when it’s ready and pick it up at the Non-Schmo Window. (It’s actually the pick-up window, but you knew that.)
6. Do bring the right clothes
While the winter weather in Florida is temperate, with highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s, it's not unusual for a cold front to dip south, and it can get chilly in December in southern California, as well – delivering a chill that will have you rethinking your decision to rely on shorts and tank tops.
Solution: Pay attention to the forecast as you pack, and bring layers. Bring a backpack to store unneeded outerwear or you’ll be that person with the sweater tied around your waist. No one wants to be that person.
7. Don't skip the nightly lighting of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom
As crowds jam the viewing area, attraction wait times decrease. But if you haven’t seen the show at Disney World, featuring characters from "Frozen," it's worth missing a ride or two.
Solution: Find a spot in front of the castle at least 30 minutes before the show is to begin (earlier if a large crowd has already gathered). The show is cute, but the lighting really puts you in the spirit.
8. Do NOT be this person at the parade. Just don't
With the parade or fireworks just minutes away, you slip under the rope, kids in tow, and try to act as casually as one can while pulling off a jerk move.
Solution: Resist the temptation even if you see an open spot that may or may not accommodate your family. Everyone who sees that takes an immediate dislike to you. If a cast member spots it he or she will ask, in a practiced and polite tone that underlines Disney disapproval, that you vacate the space. People will be silently applauding your departure because cutting in line turns Disneyland and Disney World into the Judgiest Places on Earth.
9. Do slow down and enjoy the details
Disneyland and Disney World are known for the little touches that immerse you in the story. It gets even better during the holidays. Yet you rush from attraction to attraction, cramming in as much fun as you possibly can.
Solution: If you have 30 minutes until your next Fastpass is active, resist the urge to go shopping or grab another churro. Take a seat on the nearest bench. Look around. Soak it in. Search for things you may have missed, from the ornaments on the lamppost.
OK, now go get another churro.
10. Don't go on Christmas Day
Christmas may well be the family-est time of the year, and what better way to spend time together than at the Magic Kingdom or Disneyland? Sure beats sitting around eating ham while making forced conversation with the brother-in-law you never liked.
That’s why Christmas is one of the parks' busiest days. (New Year’s Day is similar). It’s not uncommon for park officials to close the entry gates until crowds subside.
Solution: Don’t go on Christmas unless vast amounts of people in limited spaces bring you joy.
11. Don't wait more than 5 minutes for It’s a Small World
What was a heralded World’s Fair ride in 1964 today comes off as an extended window display with a soundtrack that finds a vacancy in your brain and moves in, futon and all.
Solution: Turn to your little ones and say in a voice tinged with heartbreak, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry, the ride is closed and we’re going to keep moving as your still-developing brain struggles to reckon that statement with clear evidence of people boarding boats.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Disneyland, Disney World Magic Kingdom Christmas: Avoid these mistakes