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Mike Scopa

2004 Holiday Happenings at Walt Disney World

A quick spin around the World's upcoming festivities

Friday, May 7, 2004
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

Now that we've seen the last of Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom park for 2004 along with the closure of another successful Epcot Food & Wine Festival, it's time for the Walt Disney World Resort to offer guests some holiday cheer.

In this article, let's look at the holiday happenings around the Walt Disney World Resort and offer some ideas and tips on how to best enjoy this special time of year with Mickey and friends.

Magic Kingdom

Guests entering Magic Kingdom first see the huge Christmas tree in the Town square. Beyond the tree awaits a gleaming Main Street, U.S.A., decorated to the hilt with wreaths and garland. During this time of year, Main Street and its festive surroundings make a particularly strong impression for first-time visitors.

Every year, those lovable bears at the Country Bear Jamboree put on a special Christmas show with their best holiday outfits, and offer guests their own rendition of some classic holiday songs. This is an exceptional attraction for children at Christmas time.

No one should ever visit Magic Kingdom during the Christmas season without taking in at least one serving of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP). This event is held about a dozen times each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and offers guests the most festive six hours of holiday cheer anyone could ever imagine. Because Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is a hard-ticket event, only those who purchase a special event ticket separate from their regular park admission can attend. On the day of the party, Magic Kingdom closes promptly at 6 p.m. and then reopens at 7 p.m. for party guests. The party hours are usually 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The following are my tips for getting the most out of MVMCP so that you enjoy all the activities without feeling rushed. This plan also is designed to avoid the heaviest crowd conditions during the party.

Lighted watch: The first tip is to suggest that you or someone in your party wear a watch with a lighted dial so it can be easily read in lowlight conditions. You will need to keep constant watch of the time during the party.

Promptness: The party begins at 7 p.m. so be prompt and be sure to be inside the park as close to 7 p.m. as possible. You can be in the park before 7 but you must have your MVMCP ticket or receive your wrist band by 7 p.m.

Souvenir photos: During the party guests are given complimentary cookies, hot cocoa, and photos. My suggestion is to at least take care of the photos early on to avoid the long lines that will begin to form around 8 p.m. My guess for 2004 is that photos will be taken at The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square, on the side of Aloha Isle in Adventureland, possibly in the Timekeeper foyer in Tomorrowland, and perhaps somewhere near “it's a small world” in Fantasyland. Be sure and check the special MVMCP map for the exact locations. The complimentary hot cocoa and cookies are usually found at or near the Plaza Pavilion, Aloha Isle, and Columbia Harbor House.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas show: After you've had your picture taken head over to the Galaxy Palace Theater in Tomorrowland. This theater usually is the location for Mickey's 'Twas the Night before Christmas show. You want to be sure and see one of the early shows. This may be the most popular show during the party and it's not unusual to see standing room only by the second performance of the evening. This show is performed several times.

Tomorrowland: While in Tomorrowland, consider taking in some of your favorite attractions, but also keep track of the time. If you are mindful of the time and the party schedules, you should be able to enjoy both the party and attractions. There is usually a very talented band that entertains guests in Tomorrowland at the temporary stage constructed just beyond the Astro-orbiter.

Fantasyland during the early parade: Note when the first of the two Very Merry Christmas Parades takes place. During the first run of the parade, plan on taking in some Fantasyland attractions. The idea here is that most families with young children watch the early parade. This shortens the Fantasyland attraction queues and offer you a chance to get in some valuable attraction time. Queues tend to shorten up 15 minutes before the start of the parade. It's unlikely that any attractions will be offering Fastpass during the party.

Timing: As you make your way counter-clockwise around Magic Kingdom from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland and towards Liberty Square you want to continue to keep your eye on the time. You want to be sure you do not miss the special showing of Wishes, the nighttime fireworks spectacular. Be sure and position yourself in front of the castle but well in front of the Main Street greeter board to see this nighttime spectacular.

Frontierland: After you have enjoy Wishes (promise to stay for the finale), head for Adventureland and try to get in some of your favorite attractions, then eventually make your way to Frontierland. Again, watch the time because you want to be ready for the second running of the Christmas parade. At this time, you will move clockwise around the theme park. You can also do Frontierland first, then make your way over to Adventureland and cut through the area just beyond Aloha Isle. This brings you to the heart of Frontierland, with the Shootin' Arcade on your left.

Second parade: The Christmas parade begins from behind Splash Mountain, so you position yourself somewhere in Frontierland. If you plan on videotaping or taking pictures of this parade, consider standing along the side of Frontierland opposite the water and the Frontierland Boardwalk. Sometimes the buildings offer lighting during the nighttime parades. You want to have the lighting behind you instead of facing you.

Celebrate the Season show: The Celebrate the Season show in front of the Castle is very good and the performers are outstanding. You might save this as your last MVMCP event of the night. It will be a very late performance but that may also mean less of a crowd. The show's finale also is an appropriate cap to the night's party.

Other activities: There are other activities that usually take place during MVMCP, including Storytelling at the Fairytale Garden in Fantasyland as well as Belle's Enchanted Story Telling at the Fantasyland Pavilion. These events are best for young children.

Finally, keep your eyes open for special characters such as dancing Christmas trees, life-sized Gingerbread men, and those amazing marching toy soldiers.

Epcot

Every year during the holiday season, Epcot's World Showcase holds a “Holidays around the World” celebration. Guests are welcomed at each of the World Showcase pavilions with traditional holiday greetings from the represented country. This year's celebration runs from November 26 thru December 30.

World Showcase also offers its holiday Christmas storytellers, who delight the guests with their own special holiday tale. Guests are entertained by China's Monkey King, United Kingdom's Father Christmas, Italy's La Befana, and others. These very talented cast members offer guests both young an old a special taste of the fine art of storytelling.

Epcot's Showcase Plaza holds daily Christmas shows starring Mickey Mouse and his famous friends. Check your showtime card for scheduled performances.

A special lighting ceremony takes place at dusk that you should not miss. This ceremony is called Mickey's Tree Lighting Treat, and occurs at 6 p.m. at the World Showcase Plaza Tree Stage

Lights of winter is one of the unheralded treasures of Epcot's holiday celebration. It involves what I call the magnificent “Christmas trestle,” which connects Future World with World Showcase. This amazing structure is home to an amazing assortment of lights that dance in synchronization to majestic Christmas music that can be heard near the Epcot fountains. The best way to enjoy this marvel is to position yourself so that you are about 50 feet in front of the Epcot fountains and facing World Showcase. You might find yourself so moved by the music and lights that you may be entering a Disney Zone. Trust me.

The gem for Epcot however is the Candlelight Processional, which is held three times nightly, from just after Thanksgiving through late December. This amazing presentation includes guest narrators who tell the Christmas Story in between Christmas carols sung by an amazing chorus accompanied by a full orchestra. Narrators for 2004 include Rita Moreno, Jim Caviezel, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Gary Sinise.

It is best to sign up for a Candlelight Processional dinner package. This package guarantees you a good seat for the performance. The package includes dinner at a selected World Showcase restaurant of your choice, selected at booking time.

During this year's festivities, Epcot is adding a special Holiday-themed finale to Illuminations: Reflections of Earth that, according to what I've heard, will be narrated by Walter Cronkite. The overall theme is “let there be peace on Earth,” with as many extra shells as used during the Fourth of July finale.

Disney-MGM Studios

Last year was a dark year for MGM during the holiday season. Construction of the new action stunt show meant the dismantling of Residential Street, home to the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights. It was the first time since 1995 that this Little Rock, Arkansas attraction was not a part of MGM's holiday happenings. Fortunately, they are back for 2004.

The lights began going up in the early fall. Practically all of the lights have been placed within the Streets of America. WDW is claiming that this year the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights will be the biggest and brightest yet.

As I recall, when Jennings Osborne first started putting lights up back in 1986, it was in a residential setting of his 22,000 square-foot home. How well this display of lights is received by the guests in an urban setting is the big question.

The lights are turned on November 24 thru January 2.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

There are a few noteworthy happenings in Disney's Animal Kingdom park for 2004.

The theme park hosts Santa Goofy's Wild Wonderland, special holiday entertaining, and some very special Disney Character trees.

2004 marks the first year that Disney's Animal kingdom offers some holiday festivities, in the form of Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade. The parade will most likely take place in mid-afternoon along the same route as the popular Mickey Jammin' Jungle Parade.

Resort Festivities

It's always fun to go resort hopping at WDW during the holidays to marvel at the amazing decorations.

Resorts that should be on your list include Grand Floridian Resort, Wilderness Lodge, and the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

These resorts house huge lobbies that serve as perfect homes for some very large Christmas trees. Also, the Grand Floridian lobby is home to a pretty big gingerbread house. The Polynesian Resort usually displays Santa's workshop, gingerbread style. You can see there's a gingerbread theme here.

I haven't heard for sure, but I expect that guests will be able to enjoy a 30-minute sleigh ride between the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness (for about $30 per carriage).

Many of the deluxe resorts, especially Boardwalk, will be filled with the sound of carolers.

The Town of Celebration experiences snow on Market Street every night accompanied by strolling holiday carolers.

Stores and Tours

Beginning November 26, Downtown Disney kicks off its Festival of the Seasons celebration. During this time the Disney Marketplace gets holiday wrappings decorations, lighted holiday displays, and strolling carolers.

I'm not sure if the shops will display animated windows for 2004, but it's worth a look.

Finally, if you are looking for something different, there's the Yuletide Fantasy Tour. This three-to-four-hour tour takes guests on a journey that shows how Walt Disney World plans and goes about decorating for the holidays. The tour includes a visit to the Walt Disney World ribbon-making machine, which makes customized ribbons for the resort. Price for this tour is about $60 per guest.

A Surreal Vacation

A vacation to the Walt Disney World Resort during the holiday season makes for a surreal experience. For the veteran WDW visitor who has never been to Orlando in December, it's like being there for the first time all over again. Many who have experienced the holiday happenings at Walt Disney World have remarked on their initial visit that they would have never guessed that they would be surrounded by such a festive atmosphere.

A trip to WDW during this time of year makes such an impression upon any guest that for a long time they will remember the magic!

Next Time

Is there anything better than visiting the Walt Disney World Resort during the holidays? Just one—visiting the Walt Disney World Resort during the holidays on Mousefest week. What seemed as if it was months away is now right around the corner. Mousefest 2004 is approaching fast and just before the big event, we'll take a look at this annual get-together for those who have a passion for all things Disney.


Have you ever been to Walt Disney World during the holidays? Is it as magical as Mike described? Send him your thoughts, questions, or comments here.


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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MousePlanet® is not associated in any official way with the Walt Disney Company, its subsidiaries, or its affiliates. The official Disney site is available at www.disney.com. This MousePlanet Web site provides independent news articles, commentary, editorials, reviews, and guides primarily about the theme park resorts of the Walt Disney Co. All information on this site is subject to change. Please call destinations in advance to confirm the most up-to-date information.