Ideas for celebrating New Year's Eve outside the theme parks at Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World's theme parks certainly know how to host splashy New Year's Eve parties. It would be difficult to top the lavish food, top-notch entertainment and spectacular fireworks. But if your family has younger kids who might not make it until midnight or you're looking for a less crowded celebration, here are some suggestions for other ways to ring in 2015 Disney-style. Most of these do not require advance planning, so you can even decide on Dec. 31 what your family wants to do.
At Downtown Disney, Raglan Road offers live entertainment on two stages, plus dinner and late-night menus inside the restaurant and on the patio. But what makes this especially appealing to families may be the complimentary champagne toast at midnight in Ireland (7 p.m. EST) and again at midnight in Orlando. Obviously those under age 21 won't be partaking, but the celebration itself is fun. My daughter and I have had several enjoyable experiences at Raglan Road and definitely recommend it. Parking in the new parking garage is complimentary, and there is no cover charge for the evening.
Dinner and fireworks viewing at a resort hotel
Although it may be tough at this late date to get a reservation at one of the table-service restaurants at the hotels on the monorail loop - Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian - it is still possible to dine there and then view the fireworks. To do so, you'll need to park at the Transportation and Ticket Center, which costs $17 for the day if you're not staying on property or are an annual passholder, and then take the monorail or a bus to the hotel of your choice. (Because of the heavy holiday crowds, guests who are not staying at the hotels or those who don't have dining reservations will not be allowed to park in those lots.) Guests can eat in the quick-service restaurants at the three hotels and then view the fireworks from various public viewing areas, such as the fourth floor lobby or monorail platform at the Contemporary. Be aware that some hotel viewing areas are restricted to patrons of specific high-end restaurants.
Walt Disney World kids activity centers
If the adults in your group want to experience their own celebrations at Walt Disney World, the children can spend a fun evening in one of the resort's activity centers, which will have extended hours on New Year's Eve. The four locations open at 4:30 p.m. and will have the last pickup at 1:30 a.m. (Children will be able to rest or sleep when they get tired.) I'm told that the centers will not have special activities for the holiday. Still, when my daughter has spent time in the centers, she thoroughly enjoyed all the choices of entertainment. The centers welcome children ages 3 (must be potty-trained) to 12. The cost is $15 per hour per child, with a two-hour minimum. Dinner is included for those who are in the club during the time it is served. At the time of this writing, there still was space available in all four locations, but reservations are recommended. For more details, see the AllEars.Net resource page.
Celebration Town Center
The town of Celebration, located just outside the gates of Walt Disney World, hosts "Now Snowing Nightly" -- a flurry of soap bubbles -- through New Year's Eve, and it's open to the public at no charge. The last "snowfalls" of the season happen on Dec. 31 at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. on Market Street. There's no need to queue up to experience the snow - just step into the street, which is blocked off from traffic. This event does not have a New Year's Eve countdown, but it does offer a last taste of the holiday season with gorgeous decorations, ice skating, "snow flurries," carriage rides and a variety of restaurants for dinner.
For the last several years, DisneyQuest, which houses five floors of video and virtual games at Downtown Disney, has hosted a family friendly event on Dec. 31. Unfortunately, that is not the case this year, and there is no word on whether the party will resume next year. Still, the attraction is a fun place to let pre-teens and teens spend time enjoying electronic gaming fun while parents check out some of the more adult offerings at Downtown Disney.
The Magic Kingdom displays its New Year's Eve fireworks on Dec. 30, as well as Dec. 31. Fantasy in the Sky starts at 11:50 p.m. both days. Although it still will be crowded in the Magic Kingdom on Dec. 30, it definitely will not be as bad as it is on New Year's Eve. This might be a way to see the fireworks early and then enjoy a quieter New Year's Eve. If you are staying at a Disney resort, there also usually are family friendly activities planned for guests.
Happy New Year's Eve, everyone!