Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
Thanksgiving has come and gone and as usual the holiday season is charging right at us full blast. My neighborhood seems fairly well decorated. The shops in town put decorations and lights up weeks ago. The local nursery is well stocked with Christmas wreaths and trees. I guess its time to start shopping and getting our home ready as well.
There are lots of thoughts that begin to overtake families during the holiday season. I’m sure my kids are thinking about piles of new toys under the tree. I know my wife is thinking about Christmas Day in our home; what to serve, who’s coming, making sure the kids get everything they’ve ever wanted, etc. (Hopefully, she’s also thinking about what to get me for a present.)
I think about all of these things as well. But in addition, Christmas always seems to remind me of places. For the last 13 years, Christmas has been about our home and watching the kids tear open presents under the tree. There’s a fire crackling in the fireplace. There’s Christmas Carols on in the background. It’s a visual thing. I can close my eyes and picture it at any given moment. Those moments leave an imprint on your brain.
As a kid, I can remember everyone gathering at my parent’s house for Christmas Eve dinner. The basement is packed with relatives. The smells emanating from the kitchen are that of the traditional Italian Christmas Eve: the Feast of the Seven Fishes. I can also remember the few Christmases that we spent in a rented ski chalet in Vermont. I remember the cold, the snow, and cutting down a tree from the woods and lugging it inside to decorate. I have a clear image of me playing under the tree with my new Weebles camper set on Christmas morning.
Another place that seems to resonate with me when it comes to Christmas is…you’re reading MousePlanet so you may have already guessed…where else—Walt Disney World. That may come as a surprise to some. It certainly did to me. To those of us that live in colder climates, Florida doesn’t exactly scream Christmas. I mean no offense to all of you that live in the Sunshine State. I’m quite sure that your memories of Christmas are just as important to you as mine are to me, despite the sun and palm trees. But I wasn’t sure that Walt Disney World at Christmastime would do it for me.
Granted, the two times I have been to Orlando during the holiday season have not been for the holiday itself. Both times have been in early December. However, it’s those weeks leading up to Christmas Day that are responsible for building up the holiday spirit. Would I find a trip to sunnier climes an interruption to the Christmas spirit? After all, our ride to the airport was cold and wintery. We were wrapped up in the pre-holiday frenzy. When I got off the plane in Orlando, I needed shorts. The holiday frenzy was still apparent there, but would the parks and resorts keep it going and keep it real for me?
The answer, of course, to those of you that have been there around this time of year is a resounding and emphatic Yes! With that said, let’s take a look at my Top 5 Things To Do at Walt Disney World During the Christmas Season.
You do realize that you’re reading an article by the guy who writes a series on collecting Disney Stuff here on MousePlanet? Was it any surprise that buying more Disney Stuff is on my list? One of the times that I visited Walt Disney World during December was by myself. I flew down to join the MousePlanet staff at MouseFest several years ago. When we weren’t hosting or participating in events, I spent a big chunk of time shopping throughout the resort.
I was able to check just about everyone off of my list. Never mind the toys for the kids and the Disney paraphernalia for friends and family back home—I scored big time in places like World Showcase in Epcot. In Italy’s Il Bel Cristallo I was able to get Murano glass ornaments for the folks and Venetian glass jewelry for my wife. In “La Maison du Vin” in the France pavilion there are these wonderful kitchen trays from Provence that my wife and her sister-in-law both love. “Kunstarbeit in Kristall” in Germany was a stop for my wife’s favorite blue crystal. Take a stroll around the 1.2-mile promenade and you can bring back treasures from 11 different countries for everyone on your Christmas list. I guarantee they’ll all be unique gifts that you definitely won’t find back home at the local mall.
Each of Walt Disney World’s four theme parks have an amazing Christmas tree as a holiday focal point. As you would imagine, the folks at holiday services outdo themselves with these wonderful trees. There’s the giant, garland wrapped tree at Disney’s Hollywood Studios sitting atop vintage film cans. Epcot’s tree in World Showcase Plaza is especially beautiful at night with Spaceship Earth glowing in the background. The Magic Kingdom tree is a true classic, strewn with popcorn garland and its base surrounded by wooden soldiers, toys and a classic train. My favorite is the tree at the entrance to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I love the handmade look to all of the animal ornaments and the Disney animals at the base. The Christmas trees at the Disney parks put me in the mood for sure.
The holiday services crew certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to decorating the resort hotels at Walt Disney World, and the lobbies of the Deluxe Resorts are the domains of Disney’s crew of pastry chefs. Whether it’s the giant gingerbread house at Disney’s Grand Floridian, the chocolate and gingerbread carousel at Disney’s Beach Club, or the huge gingerbread tree with chocolate ornaments on display in the Grand Canyon Concourse of Disney’s Contemporary Resort, you will not be disappointed by these delectable works of art. It’s truly something you won’t find anywhere else.
I’ve made no secret here in articles past that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is my least favorite park at Walt Disney World. That notion gets thrown out the window when The Osborne Lights completely blanket the Studios’ Streets of America area each holiday season. Make sure you go early before the lights are turned on. Stake out a good spot somewhere in the center of it all and wait for the countdown. When they “hit the switch” prepare to be in awe. It’s one of the greatest things you’ll ever see.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party will certainly get you in the Christmas mood. The decorations on Main Street are lush and beautiful. The “icicles” known as the Castle Dream Lights illuminating Cinderella Castle are a sight to behold. Don’t forget about the awesome parade with the wooden soldiers and Santa Claus. It’s all as magical as you would imagine. The free hot chocolate and cookies given out throughout the park help as well.
But I had one of my all time favorite Disney moments as the Christmas Party was winding down for the evening. We made our way towards the exit. The ladies went into the Emporium on Main Street U.S.A. to shop. The park was emptying out. My twin boys were out cold in their big Disney stroller clutching onto their Santa Mickey and Santa Goofy stuffed animals. I sat on the curb outside of The Main Street Athletic Club shop near Casey’s Corner and just… let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. The Disney magic snow was falling. The Christmas carols were playing. To paraphrase the Wizard of Oz, I was clearly not in Florida anymore.
The Christmas transformation was complete at that moment. Despite the shorts and the nearby proximity to palm trees, I may as well have been in a small town somewhere on Christmas Eve. The boys were warmly nestled into their stroller. It was “snowing” like mad. The classic carols were ringing in the background. Trust me when I say that a big warm smile came across my face. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. Once again like Christmas morning in our home here in Long Island, or my childhood home in Queens…I can picture the moment in my head, clear as a bell.
So, if you’re heading down to Walt Disney World in the next few weeks…and yes I’m fairly jealous, thank you…seek out these things on my list. See if they resonate with you the way they do with me. Or ignore my list completely and make your own Christmas memories. There are plenty of things that I left off.
No matter what, I’m sure you’ll find out exactly what I found out: that the most magical place on Earth definitely turns into the most “Christmasey” place on Earth each holiday season. It’s found a special place in my Christmas subconscious. How about yours?
Click on the “Discuss this article on MousePad“ link below, let me hear your thoughts and your list, and I’ll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.
(Send an email to Chris Barry)
Chris Barry lives on Long Island in New York with his wife and three kids. He has had a lifelong love of cartoons, comics and animation. Those who know him well say he has truly, "earned his Disney PhD." Chris has been involved with Television Production for 20 years and began his career working with The Muppets at Jim Henson Productions in NYC. Currently teaching TV Production to high school students, Chris has been writing about many different facets of The Walt Disney Company for several years now.