Old is New Again:
Walt Disney World
Debra Martin Koma
ALL EARS® Senior Editor
article appeared in the
December 14, 2004, Issue #273 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
I've been to WDW in December at least a half dozen times over the last 10 years - it's almost a holiday tradition. One of the things that is so comforting, and makes this so enjoyable, is that year after year Disney's special holiday events and decorations are basically the same.
It's comforting to know that theme parks are going to be dressed up to the hilt with garlands and other decorations, Christmas music will play in the background, the magnificently decorated trees will greet me when I enter. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling to know I'll see the toy soldiers and reindeer march in Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade, that the Lights of Winter Arch will greet me as I walk from Future World to World Showcase in Epcot, that resorts will each have their own unique gingerbread village and appropriately themed decorations. These things don't seem to change.
But every now and then, Disney shakes things up - takes away something, adds something, maybe even dares to tweak an old favorite or two. This year is one of those years - there have been several additions to the old tried and true, tweaks that have enhanced the holiday season at WDW, mostly for the better. I just returned from a long weekend (just, as in Monday afternoon!) and tried to cover as many of the new things, as well as my old favorites, as I possibly could. For those of you heading to WDW in the next few weeks to celebrate the holidays, here is a smattering of what you'll find:
Probably the newest, or at least the most eagerly anticipated, change is the return of the Osborne Family's Spectacle of Lights in the Disney-MGM Studios. In the past, this collection of 5 million twinkling lights, which came to Disney via Arkansas businessman Jennings Osborne, was strung along the Studios' Residential Street area. Last year, however, the lights were dark, due to renovations in that part of the park that were making way for next year's new Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show attraction.
This year, the lights are back in all their glory, but instead of being strung on the homey facades of years gone by, they illuminate the new Streets of America area of the theme park. If you can imagine city buildings on which nearly every square inch is covered with strand after strand of lights, you have an idea of what the new Osborne Lights look like. ALL EARS® Editor Deb Wills' initial reaction to the new display was one of disappointment -- she says she preferred the old Osborne Lights better. But I have to disagree (respectfully, because she IS my boss) with her -- I think the lights look better than ever in their new location. As I wandered the area last Friday, I could almost imagine myself walking around a smaller city like Pittsburgh (my hometown), seeing twinkling apartments and storefronts decorated so festively for the season. And the city square, with nearly 100 blue and white angels hovering overhead, bathing onlookers in a cool blue glow, was very impressive. According to the "fun facts" placards placed around the square, this new display took 18 electricians 14 weeks to erect, uses 800,000 watts of electricity, and has 50,000 lights on the 70-foot tall tree! Want to see for yourself if newer is better? The Osborne Family Spectacle Lights will be there until January 2.
Epcot Storytellers are back again in the country pavilions of World Showcase, but this year there are a few familiar faces missing. Gone are the Three Kings in Mexico and St. Nicholas in Germany -- they've been replaced by more generic storytellers, who speak about the holiday customs in those countries. I caught the storyteller in Mexico, who illustrated the celebration of Las Posadas with help from children in the audience. After dressing them with headgear to represent Joseph and Mary, the storyteller, with the aid of another Mexico pavilion cast member, leads the children from door to door looking for shelter (las posadas in Spanish). As the storyteller explained, when they finally find a place that will take them, there is a big celebration, including a colorful, nine-pointed piñata. The children didn't get to take a whack at the storyteller's piñata, but he did give them candy (Nerds, if I'm not mistaken) all the same. The children seemed to enjoy it, and in speaking to the cast members after the performance, it seems that was the whole reason for the change. Likewise in the Germany pavilion, the storyteller involves children in the audience, enlisting their help in decorating a Christmas tree and listening to carols, while explaining the origins of those customs. Also in Germany is a living Nutcracker, with whom you can pose for photos. An addition to the storytellers around the world are cultural representatives in the American Adventure rotunda who discuss the traditions and customs of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
I don't think there's much that Disney would dare to change about its extremely popular and very beloved Candlelight Processional, but an astute friend of mine who's seen the show performed dozens of times, noticed one thing that was different this year - a new song, "Gesu Bambino," added after "Angels from the Realms of Glory." The song "Let There Be Peace on Earth" was not performed, and I discovered the reason later (see below). As someone who has only seen the Candlelight Processional three or four times, I have to admit that I didn't notice the difference in the music - it was as awesome as ever - and I found actress Marlee Matlin's performance, done in American Sign Language, to be both moving and inspirational.
When I heard there was a new twist on IllumiNations -- the addition of a special holiday ending -- I was a bit ambivalent. IllumiNations is, after all, one of my very favorite things at Walt Disney World -- don't mess with it! I needn't have worried. After the regular showing of this pyrotechnics and laser extravaganza, they've added even MORE fireworks, synchronized to a rendition of, you guessed it, "Let There Be Peace on Earth." In fact, it appears to be the same version of song that was used in an earlier incarnation of IllumiNations. While the song is playing and fireworks are exploding at a rapid rate overhead, blue and white doves are projected on the IllumiNations globe -- it's really quite an amazing ending to what was already a magnificent way to end the night at Epcot. After the smoke from the fireworks clears, lasers write holiday messages in a multitude of languages on Spaceship Earth. Changes like these are definitely for the better.
Think you know Animal Kingdom's Jammin' Jungle Parade? Then you haven't seen the holiday incarnation -- Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade, complete with snow. The catchy music is basically the same, but all of the floats are draped with garland and tinsel, bows and brightly wrapped packages -- even the stiltwalkers carry candy cane sticks, and the vacationers chosen to ride in the floats are decked out in holiday attire. My personal favorites were the animal float remade with antlers and jingle bells and a big red nose to look like Rudolph, and Santa Goofy's float, complete with a red brick chimney and his bright red longjohns flying behind them. Similarly, the parade over in Disney-MGM Studios has gotten a makeover - the Stars and Motor Cars Parade has become a Hollywood Holly-Day Parade, with the themed cars and matching characters decked out in their holiday best, even Genie, on the Aladdin car, is wearing a bright red stocking cap.
Most of these holiday specials will be around through the end of the year, so you still have time to see for yourself if that old saying, "Everything Old is New Again," rings true this year during Walt Disney World's holiday celebrations.
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.