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Celebrating New Years 2023 at Disney World and Universal Studios

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

A 12-day adventure through Orlando's most popular theme parks, in celebration of the New Year

Celebrating New Years Eve during our private Capture Your Moment photo session at EPCOT, Morocco pavilion.

By Amanda Raquel Dorval

January 16, 2023

Curtis, Darius, and I traveled down to Orlando, Florida for almost two weeks, between December 30 and January 10, to visit Disney World and Universal Studios. This was Curtis' and my 4th trip together to Disney, and our whole family's 2nd time together going to Disney and Universal. In fact, Darius was just 8 to 10 weeks old when we first took him to Disney and Universal at the end of 2019, just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic caused worldwide shutdowns. I made a blog post about our previous trip--including what it was like traveling with an infant while also still recovering from a C-section--which can be found here.

Amtrak Train From NYC to Orlando

When I began planning our 2023 trip to Disney and Universal, I quickly realized that traveling for New Years during the holiday season would add additional costs. As one of my cost-saving measures, I decided that we would travel down to Orlando by Amtrak train (a 23-hour journey), and fly back into NYC at the end of the trip. This tactic ended up saving us about $500. However, now having completed the journey, I will admit that I'm not convinced that these savings ended up being worth the discomfort, stress, and boredom of a 23-hour train ride in coach class.

We boarded the Florida-bound Amtrak Silver Meteor at the newly-built Moynihan train hall at NYC Penn Station in the afternoon on December 29th, and arrived in Orlando the next afternoon on the 30th. From the train station in Orlando, we took an Uber to Disney's Royal Caribbean Beach Resort.

Disney World, December 30, 2022 - January 5, 2023

For the Disney leg of our trip, we stayed at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, a huge, expansive moderate-level resort that has access to the Skyliner for quick traveling to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. We stayed in the Trinidad section of the resort, which was a bit of a walk from the Skyliner and the hotel's main building, Old Port Royal, but our room was newly renovated and quite cozy, with The Little Mermaid-themed décor. Around the resort there were manmade beaches and themed pools, which were a be a big hit with Darius during our chill day at the hotel later on after four busy days walking around the parks. The resort has multiple quick-service food options, bars, and even a fine-dining restaurant called Sebastian's Bistro (a real hidden gem!). One of my favorite meals from our whole trip was a vegan yucca bowl, filled to the brim with delicious pieces of crispy fried yucca, beans, cheese, pico de gallo, and plant-based sausage.

Genie+ and heavy crowds

Since last visiting Disney in 2019, Disney has implemented its new (and controversial) Genie+ system for ride reservations through the Lightning Lane feature. I will say that Genie+ was not my favorite, and I much prefer the former FastPass+ system that allowed everyone to make 3 FastPass ride reservations in advance of their visit, on a complimentary basis. Genie+ is a paid system, which isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. I did not like the dynamic pricing system, because I ended up paying the top-end of the range each day we went to the parks since we were visiting during the New Year holiday. I also don't like that Genie+ can only be purchased the day of one's visit to the parks, which forces you to wake up before 7a.m. when Genie+ opens for purchase, otherwise you run the great risk of not getting the Lightning Lane passes you're looking for. Despite these complaints, I feel that purchasing Genie+ each day we were there was a no-brainer, given how heavy the holiday crowds were. Most of the wait times for the parks' most popular attractions regularly stayed at two to three hours, so Lightning Lanes came in handy big-time, and allowed us to ride the newest attractions--including Remy's Ratatouille Adventure (EPCOT) and Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway (Hollywood Studios)--without having to wait on the queue.

Memory Maker (Disney PhotoPass)

As we have done each time in the past, I invested in Disney's Memory Maker (PhotoPass) service, which allowed us access to unlimited photos taken by Disney's park photographers, including pictures taken on rides. This year, we ended up with well over 100 excellent photos through the Memory Maker add-on, taken at various locations in each of Disney's four parks...well worth the price, in my opinion.

New Years Eve at EPCOT
Curtis and I celebrating New Years Eve 2023 at EPCOT, Mexico Pavilion

For New Years Eve 2023, I wanted our family to spend the day "around the world" at EPCOT, and we were NOT disappointed! It was a long and fabulous day that culminated in fireworks and multiple DJ-hosted, light-strobing dance parties in several of the World Showcase pavilions. Crowds were heavy, but it was a lot of fun walking through each pavilion and seeing the different DJs.

Backtracking a bit, I woke up after the first night super early to ensure that I could snag us a position in the virtual queue for Disney's newest Guardians of the Galaxy-themed coaster, Cosmic Rewind. Luck was on my side that morning, and I was able to get us into the virtual queue as part of Boarding Group 2, with a call-back time of 9:15 a.m.

Darius was a bit hesitant during his first time riding the Skyliner.

After a quick ride on the Skyliner from Caribbean Beach Resort to EPCOT, it was awesome to be able to ride Cosmic Rewind as the first activity of the day. Because Darius was not tall enough to ride, Curtis and I had to do a Rider Switch, so unfortunately each of us had to experience the ride alone. Nonetheless, it was definitely a thrilling ride, and (in my opinion) a game-changer for ride experiences at EPCOT.

Me riding the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind coaster

After riding Cosmic Rewind, we went for an early lunch in the Mexico Pavilion (a smart move since lunch crowds became insane a couple hours later). We enjoyed some empanadas, rice, beans, maduros, and margaritas. After lunch, we headed over to Norway so that we could meet Anna and Elsa from Frozen. Darius showed Queen Anna his plush Anna doll, and she was impressed. After meeting Anna and Elsa, we then rode the Frozen Ever After ride, one of my favorites at Disney. With some time to kill after the ride, we walked through the World Showcase, pausing to take some pictures in Italy, Japan, and Morocco.

Capture Your Moment private photo session

I decided to purchase a private photo session with a PhotoPass photographer using the Capture Your Moment service, a new add-on to the Disney experience that was introduced in 2020. Though it was an additional cost on top of the Memory Maker purchase, I thought it was completely worth it. I mean, the pictures below speak for themselves! It was a hectic 20 minutes full of laughs and silly moments (and some moody ones too) with our three-year old. We chose to do our session in the Morocco pavilion, which is probably our favorite pavilion at EPCOT and one which invokes special memories for us (both of us were linguists specializing in languages of the Middle East and North Africa, and we visited Morocco back in 2018 before Darius was born).

We returned to Caribbean Beach Resort after our Capture Your Moment Session so that Darius could take a much-needed nap. Around 6pm, we went back to EPCOT for a dinner reservation at Tutto Italia in the Italian Pavilion. While walking through the park towards the restaurant, we were able to catch glimpses of the Harmonious fireworks show, which had begun that evening at 6:30.

For dinner, Curtis and I shared an eggplant parmigiana appetizer and opted for some yummy pasta dishes, while Darius munched on a pizza. While we were eating dinner, we heard the DJ starting to gear up outside, since Italy was one of the pavilions hosting dance parties that evening in celebration of New Years Eve. The music was honestly really good and there were definitely party vibes.

After dinner, we enjoyed the party music and ambience for about an hour while sitting in the France pavilion, as we waiting to go to our 10:30pm Lightning Lane Reservation for Remy's Ratatouille Adventure. It was nice to go right on, since wait times that day for the ride were consistently three hours or more.

After riding Remy's, we decided to leave the park for the night. We left a little after 11pm, and though we didn't quite make it to New Years at 12am, it was nice to beat the crowds going back to the hotel. Darius needed to get into bed, was certainly a long day for him! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

New Years Day at Magic Kingdom
Curtis and I in front of Cinderella's Castle, Magic Kingdom, on New Years Day 2023.

We spent New Years Day at Magic Kingdom, which was wildly crowded. Because of the large crowds, we had more of a casual day in the park. We met Princess Tiana and Rapunzel, rode the carousel in Fantasyland, watched the Festival of Fantasy parade (a pared-down version compared to its pre-COVID days), and frolicked in front of Cinderella's castle while Darius fought a nap. We had lunch at Be Our Guest restaurant, where we were seated in the Beast's dark and stormy west wing (which put Darius in quite the state of unease). We didn't do many rides here since lines were hours long for many attractions, and there really aren't too many worthwhile rides in Magic Kingdom, anyway (Tron, the newest coaster at Magic Kingdom, won't be opening until April 2023, which will hopefully up the thrill level at this park). Darius and Curtis waited about 35 minutes for Test Track during the afternoon, but Darius got upset when he found out he was too little to be the driver.

For dinner, we had a reservation at Tony's Town Square restaurant, which is one of our favorite restaurants at Disney. They have a super yummy plant-based spaghetti and Impossible meatballs dish, which we both ordered. After dinner, we headed to our 7:40 p.m. Lightning Lane reservation to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train coaster, which Darius was tall enough to ride. This was also the first time Curtis and I have been on this ride, and it was definitely fun! Even though it's a bit of a "starter" coaster for little guys, it still went fast for Darius! He was pretty scared during the ride, but he was brave. We got a picture of us on the ride, but unfortunately my head is blocking Darius in the photo, so we can't see his priceless price.