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Mike Scopa

The Magic of Christmas at Walt Disney World

Veteran visitors know the holiday season is extra special

Friday, December 5, 2003
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

Ask anyone.

If you ask many people when a good time is to visit Walt Disney World, they'll say, “Anytime!” There are those WDW veterans, however, who claim that nothing compares to a Yuletime visit to Orlando.

In this session, let's look at what WDW has to offer during the Christmas holiday, and perhaps entice you into visiting Mickey and friends during the month of December.

Fewer crowds, lower mercury

Before you even get to the special holiday activities WDW holds for December guests, consider these three important factors, which serve as a draw for that time of year:

Price

The first three weeks of December can offer guests some of the lowest on-site room rates of the year. When you combine these attractive rates with relatively low airline fares, a WDW vacation may not seem so pricey. An economical vacation is a big draw to everyone, and December certainly offers such an opportunity. However, beware that once you get to Christmas Week itself, those rates do an about-face.

Weather

Not everyone cares for hot and sticky weather. Some people avoid Orlando during the summer to avoid sizzling temperatures and the torrential afternoon downpours. The weather in December, on the other hand, can be warm without being overbearing. In fact, Orlando weather in December is pretty inviting for many people who travel from cold weather areas. During early December, Orlando enjoys average temperatures in the mid-70s during the day and mid-50s at night. Of course, there will always be that occasional cold day. For the most part, however, December temperatures and dry weather is very appealing to those who look for comfortable vacation weather.

Crowds

Historically, WDW experiences low attendance during the first three weeks in December. This means shorter queues for attractions and greater availability for restaurants. Guests can thus squeeze more into their day than they would with bigger crowds. This is quite a draw for those who value their time.

These three factors are part of the formula that draws some WDW veterans to Orlando in December. However, the formula also includes the WDW approach to the Christmas holidays.

The Magic (Christmas) Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom undergoes a magical transformation during the Christmas season. Upon entering the Magic Kingdom, guests find a huge Christmas tree in the Town Square and garland and other decorations strewn about Main Street, U.S.A.

Country Bear Jamboree in Frontierland also goes through a transformation, entertaining guests with its annual Christmas show. Those singing bears get all decked out in their holiday trimmings, while a certain someone on the right side wall does his own impersonation of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Of course, the best that the Magic Kingdom has to offer during the Christmas season is Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

This extremely popular special event is held on specific evenings, traditionally from just after Thanksgiving through just before Christmas. This is a separately ticketed event held usually from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., and includes the following special activities:

  • Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade – This special Christmas parade marches down Main Street USA twice nightly.

  • Mickey's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas – This show can be seen at five different times at the Galaxy Palace Theater in Tomorrowland.

  • Celebrate the Season – This festive holiday show takes place three times in the Castle Forecourt Stage.

  • Goofy's Country Dancin' Jamboree – This show replaces Minnie's Country Christmas and offers three performances at the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon in Liberty Square.

  • Snowflake Special Storytelling – This event is new for 2003 and takes place at the Fairytale Garden in Fantasyland. There are five performances nightly.

  • Belle's Enchanted Christmas Story Telling – Belle entertains with some Christmas tales five times nightly at the Fantasyland Pavilion.

  • Lake Howell Holiday Brass – This outfit performs three shows at the Tomorrowland Stage.

  • Wishes – This latest Magic Kingdom nighttime spectacular is also shown on Mickey Very Merry Christmas Party evenings. It is usually shown after the first performance of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade.

But there's more. Besides these shows and events, guests can get their complimentary photos of the evening, taken at the old queue area for Alien Encounter, the queue area at “it's a small world,” the Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square, and just to the side of Aloha Isle in Adventureland.

Guests are also treated to hot cocoa and cookies, offered at or near the Plaza Pavilion, Aloha Isle, and Columbia Harbor House.

Needless to say, guests are treated to a bounty of festive holiday happenings during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

If you are fortunate enough to attend, don't forget to look for Scrooge McDuck, toy soldiers, reindeer, gingerbread men, and dancing Christmas trees—they make special appearances during the event.

Epcot

Epcot's World Showcase offers an international celebration of the holiday spirit that they affectionately call “Holidays Around the World.” As you go from country to country, you are welcomed with the holiday greeting that is traditional with each country.

Epcot has its holiday Christmas storytellers, such as China's The Money King, the United Kingdom's Father Christmas, and Italy's La Befana. Each storyteller delivers an enchanted holiday tale for guests.

At the Showcase Plaza, there are daily Christmas shows with Mickey and friends, including a couple of talented reindeer.

But by far the most popular holiday attraction at Epcot is the Candlelight Processional, held three times nightly, from just after Thanksgiving through late December. This presentation includes the telling of the Christmas story by a celebrity guest narrator, as well as a full chorus, bell ringers, and an orchestra. Some of this year's narrators include Ben Vereen, David Ogden Stiers, Sandi Patti, and Robby Benson.

Guests can sign up for a Candlelight Processional dinner package, which guarantees a seat for the performance. The package includes dinner at a selected World Showcase restaurant.

Disney-MGM Studios

For many years, the Disney-MGM Studios was home to the wonderful Osborne Spectacle of Lights, which lit up the Backlot Tour, New York Street, and Residential Street areas with many colorful holiday lights.

Unfortunately, this popular Little Rock, Arkansas attraction is not being offered this year. The theme park is building a new stunt show attraction in the Residential Street area of the Backlot Tour, taking up the room that the Osborne Lights used. Also, the New York Street portion of the park is being revamped with what is being called Big City Street, representing famous portions of San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Hopefully the Osborne family lights will return in 2004.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

This theme park is decorated for the holidays, but there is nothing significantly added for guests during December. This may be due to the nature of the theme park and the fact that its winter operating hours are shorter than the other three theme parks.

Christmas at the Resorts

Of course, the resorts are decorated to the hilt for the Christmas holidays. Some of the more popular resorts to visit for holiday décor sightseeing include the Grand Floridian Resort, Wilderness Lodge, and the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Decorations usually include a bigger-than-life Christmas tree in the lobby, and in the Grand Floridian, a gingerbread house.

Speaking of gingerbread, guests at Disney's Beach Club Resort can see a gingerbread carousel that's probably more fit to be consumed than ridden.

The Polynesian Resort usually displays Santa's workshop, gingerbread style… you can see there's a gingerbread theme here.

For about $30, guests can also enjoy a 30-minute sleigh ride between the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness.

Santa, windows and window dressing

Not to be overlooked is the Disney Marketplace—Downtown Disney and Disney West Side. Here, guests can find Santa Claus to ask for that special gift. Guests can also visit the many animated windows that tell the story of Mickey's Christmas Carol.

Finally, if you really want to know all about how Walt Disney World plans and goes about decorating for the holidays, you may want to take the Yuletide Fantasy Tour. This three- to four-hour tour shows guests what goes into the planning and holiday-decorating operations for the resort. Guests are also shown the Walt Disney World ribbon-making machine, which makes customized ribbons for the resort. When I last checked, this tour charged about $60 per guest.

A different kind of WDW vacation

As you can see, a visit to the WDW resort in early December is very different from a visit during any other time of the year. In many cases, the attractions that are the big drawing cards during the year take a back seat to the special holiday festivities awaiting guests.

If you ever get an opportunity to visit the WDW resort in December, you may find yourself saying the same thing that most people say on their initial holiday visit: “Why haven't I done this before?”

Next time

As you are read this article, yours truly is “slaving away” at Mousefest. Next time I will bring you a recap of my impressions of this event.

Class dismissed.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.

Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.

Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.

Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

You can contact Mike here.

OTHER LINKS

Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, “The Trip Planner” for more travel planning information.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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