Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mickey's Christmas Party Continued & The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

In our last post, we promised to explain the quotes used when referencing the need to pay a separate admission for the Very Merry Christmas Party. First, let me state that I attended the event twice in successive years and both times bought tickets for myself and four others like a honest, rule-abiding sucker, uh, I mean loyal Disney fan. I actually spent the earlier part of both of those days at another Disney park and went to the Magic Kingdom solely for the purpose of attending the Very Merry Christmas Party. I dutifully reported to the ticket window to pick up my pre-paid party passes and the requisite wristband. I assumed that the wristband must be worn at all times or I would be beamed right out of the Magic Kingdom only to rematerialize in that limbo-like wasteland that Disney calls the Transportation and Ticket Center. However, during those two visits, I began to notice that there were plenty of people who did not even have wristbands and yet, were not dematerializing before my eyes. Nor were these people being scooped up by the scruff of the neck by some large four-fingered white gloved hands and tossed out of the park gates. So what’s the deal? 

Far be it from me to take money out of the pocket of the Mouse, but if you are a risk taker and don’t mind being asked to leave the park if you are observed not wearing a bracelet, you can most likely experience many of the party events without having to cough up the admission price, which is fairly steep, especially for a family. I don't recommend it, but obviously a lot of people are doing it.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights:

This dazzling display of Christmas lights is located in the Streets of America section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios park (just outside the entrance to the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show.) Millions of holiday lights adorn basically every inch of this section of the park. Entire buildings are blanketed in lights while special displays such as spinning carousels, floating angels, and flying reindeer animate the
night sky. Holiday music, accompanied by a pre-recorded duo of DJs, provides the soundtrack as you stroll through the faux city streets, basking in the glow of millions of watts of Christmas magic. As if this wasn’t enough, every ten minutes or so, the lights are dimmed and the Streets of America come alive as the millions of lights adorning the buildings begin a choreographed dance to some of your favorite holiday hits. It is truly a sight to see. On some nights, there are more than lights dancing in the air, as magical “snow” falls on the Hollywood Studios guests as they stroll the city streets. Air cannons shoot Disney’s soap bubbly snow concoction across the night sky, adding that signature Disney touch.

The Osborne Family Lights display originated at the Arkansas home of philanthropist Jennings Osborne and his family. In 1986, Jennings’ young daughter “Breezy” asked her parents to decorate their home in lights. Osborne responded by crafting a display of 1,000 lights! Over the years, the display
grew into a massive presentation of over three millions lights, drawing crowds from far and wide, and drawing the ire of the Osborne family neighbors. Legal action initiated by those neighbors amazingly reached the United States Supreme Court and in 1995, the Osborne family was ordered to shut the display down permanently.

News of Jennings Osborne, his wondrous Christmas display, and his legal battles to keep his lights shining bright, spread across the country and it wasn’t long before Disney approached Osborne about bringing his display to one of their theme parks. That same year, the Osborne family’s display debuted at the then-named Disney-MGM Studios theme park and was an immediate success. In the intervening years, the display has grown to a whopping five million lights, requiring months of assembly time, and forging another Disney tradition that has become a must see at Christmastime. On a sad note, Jennings Osborne passed away in July 2011, leaving behind a wife, a daughter, and a Christmas tradition that has brought joy to millions throughout the years.  

The Osborne Family spectacle of Dancing Lights is accessible to all at Disney Hollywood Sudios park, with no additional admission or ticketing required. Stroll through and spend as much or as little time there as you wish. Like most things in Disney World, the attraction is bathed in details, many of which go unnoticed during a quick stroll through. Be sure to wander through the “side streets” and take in some of these smaller details like the snowman phone booth and the barbequing toy soldier.
Also keep an eye out for the many “hidden Mickeys” that can be found throughout the streets. Some cast members claim that there are as many as forty hidden within the display. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, whether you enjoy holiday music or not, one thing is certain…the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios should not be missed. 
On a separate note, credit Disney for “keeping Christ in Christmas” by displaying an enormous life-sized nativity scene at Disney Hollywood Studios, tucked away in a corner at the perimeter of the Osborne Lights display. It seems that too often in our society today, the manner in which a person’s religious holidays (from whichever faith they originate) are celebrated is subject to whiny malcontents outside that religion who feel they have a right to impose their will on others. In this climate, it is refreshing to see a large corporate entity like Disney not be terrified of using the words “Merry Christmas” or displaying a nativity scene.

For a sample of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, check our video below this photo at the end of the post... 


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom

On select nights in November and December, the Magic Kingdom “closes” at 7:00pm. Why the quotes? I’ll explain later. For now, suffice it to say that the early closing time is due to the fact that Disney has found yet another way to separate us from our money. On these select nights, you can purchase admission tickets for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Yes, another admission. Yes, it should be included with the already handsome admission price that you have to pay to play in the Mouse’s backyard. But the fact is, it isn’t. Let’s put that aside for a moment and explore what is special about the party that goes down after the park “closes.” Each item’s heading appears below as billed on Walt Disney World’s website, straight from the Mouse’s four-fingered, white-gloved hand:

The Enchanted Castle Dream Lights on Cinderella Castle:

If you’re a fan of Cinderella Castle, there is probably no other time of year when it looks as majestic and magical as it does at Christmas time after the sun goes down. Adorned with nets of white lights, the castle is illuminated with Disney Christmas magic as it glows at the far end of a decoration-laden Main Street. Words and even pictures like the one seen above, don’t do it justice.  

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, complete with a special appearance by Santa Claus himself:

darthmaz314If you’re a fan of Disney parades, this one can’t be beat. It is filled, as most of the Disney parades are, with all of your favorite Disney characters, most adorned in unique Christmas themed costumes. However, what makes this parade special are the Christmas extras like the marching wooden soldiers, the dancing reindeer and gingerbread men, and of course, the look in the eyes of a child when Santa Claus (not Mickey Mouse) hits the parade route to culminate the festivities. There are two parades during the party, one near the start and one near the close. There are benefits to attending both, but I recommend catching the first parade. If you do and stay to the end of the party hours (midnight), most people will have cleared out, especially those with younger children, and you will find the Magic Kingdom quite empty. This is one of those times that we night owls can reap the benefits of being nocturnal.


An exclusive holiday fireworks extravaganza — Holiday Wishes: Celebrate the Spirit of the Season:

This is the Magic Kingdom fireworks show with a Christmas slant. The fact that it is still called “Wishes” gives you a hint that there is only so much that you can do to make a fireworks show Christmas-themed. Sure there is a holiday soundtrack and some Christmas themed fireworks, but this show is not among the top items that make the party worth attending, in my opinion.

Live entertainment featuring Disney Characters:
darthmaz314Throughout the park, there are various Christmas-themed shows featuring an array of Disney characters. Each show spotlights unique groups of characters so you are not seeing only the big five (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, & Pluto) at all the shows. Also, the shows are all timed so that you could see them all during the party if you chose to do so. However, keep in mind that to do so would eat up a large portion of your time, so this may not be advisable, particularly since you are probably paying a separate admission to be there after the park “closes.” However, these performances are one of the unique aspects of the party as they are specifically created for the event and you cannot see them at any other time, so you may want to soak up as many as you can if you’re a fan of this type of Disney entertainment. Space Mountain is there all the time.

Meet and greet opportunities throughout Magic Kingdom theme park with some of your favorite Disney Characters:
darthmaz314Throughout the park, you will find character greeting locations where guests can take pictures and get autographs from characters decked out in their Christmas best. One of the cuter ideas that Disney has hatched in recent years, especially for really young children (particularly young girls) is the concept of the character dance party. These are what could almost be called “underground” Disney events since it almost seems that they are kept a secret. One such event is “Cosmic Ray’s Jingle Dance and Play” in Tomorrowland, where an elf DJ plays music as holiday-attired characters interact and dance darthmaz314along with the guests. This is definitely worth checking out if you have little girls (or grown ones that love the characters), even if you only stay for a few moments and then move on. Interestingly, I stumbled across one of these dance parties at the Playhouse Disney Theater in Disney Studios as well, although I don’t think this one was necessarily holiday-themed. Since we had a sleeping toddler in a stroller, who was most definitely out of gas, we never made it passed the door. If you stumble across one at the Christmas party or elsewhere in Disney, stop in and check it out.

Complimentary cookies and hot cocoa:

Yes, you read it right…complimentary. When you are paying a second admission, are these cookies really complimentary? In any case, there are stations set up throughout the park where you can claim your free cookies and cocoa. Juice is available for those who are not hot chocolate/cocoa fans.
Many of the most popular Magic Kingdom attractions:

Most of the biggies are open and with the crowds thinned out toward the end of the party, you can do some damage if you are a ride junkie. However, if you spend the party hours only hitting attractions, you can think of it as very expensive Extra-Magic Hours. I would recommend deciding which elements of the party you want to experience before arriving, plan around those and utilize the rest of your time to ride your favorite rides.
A magical snow fall on Main Street, USA:

I am a sucker for Disney magic (or a big “chooch” as we would say here in New York) and there is just something special about a walk down Main Street, all adorned in Christmas regalia, with the illuminated castle in the distance, and a non-accumulating “snow” falling from above, especially when it is 60 degrees and I am in shorts. The “snow” is actually comprised of a soap bubbly substance that is shot from pressurized air cannons perched atop selected buildings to create the effect of a snowy night on Main Street. Corny? Maybe, but like most things that the Mouse does, it works and it creates a special ambience that is signature Disney.

 If you are a Disney nut, you should, and probably already have, attended this party. If you are making a visit for the first time with younger-aged children and will probably not make another for several years and/or most likely never again near the holidays, you should also try to catch this special event. If you are being dragged to Disney and can’t wait until it’s over, you just won’t care enough to want to spend even more money to be in a Disney park, so skip it.

So what’s with the “quotes” above? Do you have to spend more hard earned dollars on another admission to catch the events at this party? Check back for the next post, featuring the answer to this question and a review of one of the other best elements of Christmas time in Disney, the Osborne (no, not Ozzy – although that would be great) Family Spectacle of Lights at Disney Studios.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

When Should I Go to Disney World?

Let’s say you’re contemplating a trip to Walt Disney World in 2012 and you're wondering what time of year would best for your visit. Based on my experience, the answer is simple. Plan your trip in mid to late November, preferably the week prior to Thanksgiving. Here are some reasons why:

The weather outside is anything but frightful!

November is a spectacular time of year to visit Disney World. Daytime temperatures teeter between mid-70’s to low 80’s during the day, with cool and comfortable upper 60’s to low 70’s in the evening. Absolutely perfect Disney weather. While these daytime temps may not send you to a water park, panting and seeking relief with your tongue slung over your back, one thing that you will certainly not miss at this time of year is the oppressive Orlando summer humidity. Daytime park-hopping is that much more enjoyable when you are not schlepping through parks cloaked in a blanket of relative humidity, with the tens of thousands of fellow guests radiating that much more heat into the surrounding air. Those who profess that it is absolutely necessary to leave the parks at the height of the afternoon to retreat to their resort pool for a break, may find that this is absolutely NOT necessary. Why spend so much money on park passes to spend useless hours sitting by a pool? Many people can do that without going on vacation and spending thousands of dollars.

Where in “the World” are all the people?darthmaz314
The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving yield some of the smallest Disney World crowds of the entire year. That is not the case for the actual week of Thanksgiving, which is one of the busier weeks of Disney World’s operating calendar. Smaller crowds translates into a much more enjoyable time, as well as the best bang for your buck at Disney World. Many attractions that would absolutely necessitate using a FASTPASS will have manageable wait times and in some instances, no waiting at all, depending on the time of day. This allows you to save your FASTPASSES for those new marquee attractions that have unreasonable wait times or for which all the FASTPASSES have been distributed by two hours after the park’s opening.

 It is amazing what can be accomplished in Disney parks when the crowds are thin. Those who attend Disney in the summer months when crowds are at their peak may not believe that they can ride some attractions repeatedly if they wish during times of the year like the pre-Thanksgiving week. Imagine disembarking your minetrain car on Thunder Mountain railroad, then sprinting to the exit so you can sprint back up the ramps again to board a car for another ride through the canyons. The amazing part is that you don’t need a shave by the time you board the train for that second ride! If you normally skip parades hoping to take advantage of popular rides and attractions while thousands line up to watch a parade, you may find that you have time to experience your favorite attractions and still catch those parades. If your normal Disney diet consist of seven nights of half-chewed burgers and fries eaten in between FASTPASS windows, you may find that you now have the time (although maybe not the funds) to sit down and be served at one of Disney’s table service restaurants. Have you ever been to Downtown Disney? You may find some time to squeeze in a visit because you’re accomplishing more in the parks when you are not spending half of your day staring at the back of someone’s head on a 90 minute line.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…at Disney

darthmaz314Nobody celebrates Christmas like Disney. By mid-November all of the Disney Christmas festivities are in full swing so a visit just before Thanksgiving kicks off your Christmas season in way that few other traditions can. Each park in Disney celebrates the holiday season in a different way. Of course there is certainly no shortage of Christmas decorations and theming throughout all the parks. However, there are a few marquee Christmas treats not to be missed. Our next post will focus on one that truly makes Disney at Christmas time a special event.
While the week before Thanksgiving sounds like a great time to make a trip to Walt Disney World, if you have school-aged children, you will understand why the crowds tend to be thin at this time of year. Kids are in school. There is a reason why Thanksgiving week is one of the most highly attended times of the Disney World year. Most people who plan to travel to Disney at this time of year will be going on Thanksgiving week, when their kids will only be missing three days of school, not the week prior which would require their kids to miss a full school week. Also, foreign tourists who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving will not shy away from traveling to the States that week because they are not missing out on family gatherings back home. They probably think that no Americans go to Disney on the week of one of their biggest family holidays!

One word of advice regarding the timing of your visit in mid-November concerns the very popular Walt Disney World Food and Wine Festival. If you are seeking smaller crowds, plan you trip after this festival ends, as it tends to draw big crowds to Disney, particularly to Epcot, the park which hosts the event each year. My first trip to Disney during the pre-Thanksgiving week, we encountered miniscule crowds. The next year, Disney extended the Food and Wine Festival through the first four days of my trip and I was wondering where all the people had come from.

Check back for the next post, featuring a review of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom. This is a marquee special event during the Christmas season at Disney, which you can experience during a pre-Thanksgiving week trip…