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by Debra Martin Koma, ALL EARS® Senior Editor
This article appeared in the
December 13, 2005, Issue #325 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
It's December, and you know what that means 'Tis the season to indulge yourself with all the holiday goodies that are in abundance this festive time of year. And what better place to indulge than at Walt Disney World, where there is a veritable smorgasbord of treats? But I'm not talking about only treats of the culinary variety, but treats for all the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and even touch.
I just returned from a whirlwind holiday weekend at the World during which I had the chance to sample some of those treats myself. You know that I like to fill you in on everything that's new in Walt Disney World -- this is a NEWSletter, after all -- but the feature this week bounces back and forth a bit -- part holiday review, part theme park "what's new," thrown in for good measure.
I overheard some folks complaining that they thought the decorations throughout Walt Disney World, and at the Magic Kingdom in particular, weren't as elaborate this year, but to me they seemed as stunning as ever. I mean, I wouldn't call 68,000 poinsettias, 15 miles of garland and 300,000 yards of ribbon and bows draping more than 1,500 Christmas trees resort-wide too shabby. To me, there didn't seem to be a wreath or jingle bell out of place -- I was as enchanted by the outstanding decorations as ever.
Some of the changes I did notice, though, were during the Magic Kingdom's Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. For those who've never attended this special-ticketed evening holiday event, it's a great celebration, with special shows, free cocoa and cookies, and the magic of snow in Florida combined with an extended park opening during which you can ride most of the theme park's rides. Attendance for this event varies according to the day of the week, and, predictably, higher attendance can lead to a less fulfilling experience. I went this year on a Thursday night and crowds were very manageable, but I've heard that Friday night parties are fairly overflowing with celebrants. If you're attending one of the remaining nights of MVMCP, as it's called, be aware that December 16, 18 and 20 are sold out -- crowds may be thicker than you'd expect, but just take a deep breath and enjoy all the festivities.
So, what were the party's changes? Well, it might not seem like much, but one of the most notable changes was that the free cookies this year were actually edible, chewy snickerdoodle-type morsels, as opposed to past years' cardboard (or as one friend called them "roof shingles") cutouts. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade had a few significant changes this year, too -- a number of the floats have been modified, for example, and now the Green Army Men of Toy Story have their own marching band. Goofy's no longer dressed up as Santa -- instead it's Woody in the crane seat, followed on the float by Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, and Bullseye. Goofy's still around, though -- look for him cooking up some trouble in the bake shop. And be sure to watch for the extended Princess segment, with so many princesses and their princes on horseback -- and Cinderella and her coach never looked so beautiful!
Because I was visiting the Magic Kingdom during the filming of the Christmas Parade (I never did get to see Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, only their stand-ins on the stage), the theme park's Christmas tree was located near the Rose Garden, to the right of the castle. (It's since been moved back to its rightful place in Town Square, I hear.) It was a little strange to see it there, but the two icons so close together did make for some lovely photographs. (http://allears.net/tp/holtree_castle.jpg)
Another change is in the holiday Wishes fireworks show -- I didn't see Wishes during the holiday season last year, but I hear that this year's edition is revised to include more music of the season. I was totally impressed, and enjoyed the show even more than the regular Wishes fireworks. The music selections were perfect and the narration by Jiminy Cricket was much less intrusive than it is during the regular show. And the Rose Garden was a great place from which to view the fireworks -- you can see the castle and the images projected on it just fine from that vantage point. Additionally, a holiday-illuminated Tinker Bell flies pretty much right overhead. It was great.
I spent a good deal of this trip in Epcot, and didn't notice much different in the holiday decor this year. I did, however, find plenty of new "stuff," or at least stuff that was new to me.
For the first time this year, I got to really check out Santa's gingerbread house at the American Adventure's Liberty Inn. What a treat. The smell of spicy gingerbread wafts toward you as you approach the structure, which has a window fronting the outdoors, so that you can purchase cookies and beverages like hot cocoa and cider. They even reveal the recipe for building the structure -- it takes a mere 820 pounds of sugar, 1060 eggs, 135 pounds of butter, 470 pounds of flour, and just a few chocolate chips -- 150 pounds' worth! (http://allears.net/tp/ep/li_hol1.jpg)
Scattered around World Showcase were temporary kiosks, apparently to accommodate the anticipated holiday crowds. In addition to a number of "Great Beers of the World" stands, left over from the fall's Food & Wine Festival, there were several "Holiday Cheer" stands offering a variety of fast foods and snacks, such as cheesesteaks and chips, for hungry park-goers unable to get a reservation at one of the restaurants.
New in World Showcase, though not exactly holiday-related, is the updated exhibit in the Norway Pavilion's Stave Church. Called Vikings: Conquerors of the Sea, the exhibit features several display cases with authentic weapons and replicas of Viking ships, as well as life-sized mannequins of important Norwegian figures: Erik the Red, King Olaf II, and Rognvald, a Viking raider known for invading and setting up a colony in France. (http://allears.net/tp/ep/vik3.jpg )
Also new to me this trip was the renovated Club Cool (formerly Ice Station Cool). This incarnation of the giant Coca-Cola advertisement is brighter, airier and a lot hipper than its frigid, sticky-floored predecessor. Never fear, you can still cool off with a complimentary cup of Beverly or Mezzo Mix, and all the previous flavors, but now you're bombarded with the sounds of pulsing Top 40 tunes as you browse through the expanded line of Coke merchandise. You can also now buy American Coke products, such as Frozen Coke or Fanta Blue Raspberry, or bottles of Coke, Cherry Coke, Coca-Cola Zero, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Sprite Remix, Mr. Pibb and Dasani water. You can even Build Your Own Cup for an extra $4.00 -- with your choice of Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Stitch, or Princess, hats and feet. Or customize your bottle with a special shrink-wrap wrapper for an extra 50 cents. (http://allears.net/tp/wander/cc69.jpg)
As for the beloved Epcot seasonal standbys, the Holiday Storytellers, the Candlelight Processional, and holiday IllumiNations, rest easy that they are still as special as ever.
Last year, Disney experimented in the Mexico pavilion, replacing its Three Kings storytellers with a single character who told the story of Las Posadas. Though I found the change to be acceptable, apparently the public at large did not -- Los Tres Reyes Magos have returned. (By the way, if you're in Mexico looking for the Margarita Stand next to the Cantina, you'll discover that it's not there. Don't panic. It's moved across the walkway to its own separate location, ostensibly, according to a Cast Member, to make more room for a shop. In any case, the frozen margaritas are still there -- Regular, as well as Kiwi, Mango, Strawberry, or the Fiesta combination of all three. Whew.)
Elsewhere throughout World Showcase, the storytellers remain largely unchanged -- Pere Noel in France, the Daruma doll seller in Japan, Father Christmas in the United Kingdom, Santa Claus in Canada Also returning this year are the cultural representatives at the American Adventure who discuss the traditions and customs of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. This year, however, they are stationed outside the rotunda, adjacent to the Artisans Circle, a much better venue for both speaker and audience. If you get the chance, try to catch the Kwanzaa storyteller -- I learned quite a lot about this cultural celebration from this presentation.
As for the revered Candlelight Processional, what more can you say about this stirring reading of the Christmas story with choir and orchestral accompaniment? OK, so Haley Joel Osment, the young actor who narrated the performance I saw this trip, was less than inspirational, with his competent, but unanimated reading. (In fact, as the woman standing next to me noted, "They could have had just anybody read it.") Well, they can't all be Jim Caviezel or Marlee Matlin. That's not to detract from the stellar performances of the Voices of Liberty and the other musicians who sang and played. I just don't know how you can watch this show, especially the rousing conclusion of the Hallelujah Chorus, without feeling uplifted.
The special IllumiNations holiday ending, an additional five minutes of red, green and multi-colored pyrotechnics synchronized to "Let There Be Peace on Earth," remains one of my very favorite things in all the World. While the song is playing and voices are sending greetings in a variety of languages, fireworks explode overhead "in perfect harmony" with the music. It's breathtaking, in my opinion. And, as it did last year, the show concludes with projections of multilingual holiday messages on Spaceship Earth.
Over at the Disney-MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom, the holiday traditions appear to be unchanged from last year. The Studios' Osborne Family's Spectacle of Lights returned to its home in the Streets of America, while the Jolly Holly Days Parade is back as well. Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade made its annual transition to the Jingle Jungle Parade back in November and will continue through January, too.
Taking a quick stroll around the Epcot area resorts, I found that the BoardWalk made a dramatic change to its usual holiday lobby display -- although it still features Santa on a roller coaster in a separate case, the main display is the entirely edible Santa's Toy Workshop, with 1856 gingerbread pieces, 194 pounds of royal icing, 520 pounds of chocolate, and the hidden "Fab Five" of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy. (http://allears.net/tp/wander/cc122.jpg )
Not to be outdone, however, the Beach Club once again features a full-sized edible carousel, replete with candy canes and Mickey cookies. (http://allears.net/acc/bc_hol1.jpg ) The Yacht Club next door takes a more demure approach -- its lobby features a model train and village, not edible perhaps, but still a treat for the eyes. (http://allears.net/acc/yc_hol1.jpg ) Even the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin are decked out for the season, with the Dolphin featuring its own gingerbread-themed model railroad village in the lower lobby. (While you're at the Dolphin, by the way, stop by the newly remodeled Dolphin Fountain -- the former soda fountain decor has been replaced a sleek, teak-accented look. The menu's only changed somewhat, and they now have a separate ice cream take-out window, but this place still offers some of the best burgers and ice cream on or near Disney property.)
So if you're headed to Walt Disney World in the next few weeks, you'll find that all the holiday magic you were hoping for is there. And if, like me, you're stuck at home far from the madding WDW crowds, you at least now have a little bit better of an idea of what you'll be missing.
Don't despair - there's always next year!
Related Links and Photos:
Holiday Happenings at Walt Disney World: http://allears.net/tp/holiday.htm
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party: http://allears.net/tp/hol_mk.htm
Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights: http://allears.net/tp/h_osb.htm
Epcot Storytellers: http://allears.net/tp/hol_epcstory.htm
Candlelight Processional: http://allears.net/tp/h_cpfaq.htm
Holiday Photo Gallery: http://allears.net/tp/hol_phot.htm
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.