Christmas week, New Year’s Eve and Day, Spring Break — each of these holiday days or events pack thousands of extra guests into the Orlando theme parks. If you have scheduled your Orlando vacation for one of these time periods, be prepared for delays, and even closures.

What do these big crowds mean to you? During Christmas week 2011, the Magic Kingdom park in Disney World actually closed due to capacity several times–leaving plenty of vacationers on the wrong side of the admission gates. Make sure you are on the right side of the fence–and that you can actually see and do some of the rides your favorite park has to offer–by using these tips:

1. Show up early. No matter what park you are heading to, get there before the park opens, even if it means getting up extra early. You’ll be one of the first into the park; and you’ll probably ride more attractions during your first hour than you will the rest of the day.

2. Make reservations: If you have any interest in dining in a regular, table service restaurant, you’ll need to make reservations well in advance. Otherwise, you will not get a seat. If you are planning on using one of the walk-up, fast food locations that are scattered throughout all of the theme parks, plan on waiting in line for a bit–or dine at “off” times to beat the crowds.

3. Go VIP: If you are going to one of Universal’s parks, spring for the VIP, front of the line pass option; you’ll be assured a seat on the most popular rides, though you’ll have to pay for the privilege.

4. Stay late: If early mornings aren’t your thing, or you are traveling without kids (and don’t want to encounter many of them), sleep in and head to the theme parks late–very late. Show up at 9 or 10pm on a night your chosen park is open late; you’ll have a few hours of low crowds–which will continue to thin out as the hours go by.