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Holidays at Walt Disney World

by Cheryl Pendry, PassPorter Feature Columnist

PassPorter board message guide Cheryl Pendry has enjoyed a lot of happy holiday memories at Disney, having spent four Christmases there. Here she shares some of the reasons why she keeps heading back for the festive season year after year...

Christmas is coming and, in Disney terms, that means the biggest celebration of the year, with millions of lights, special parties and a set of holidays from around the world.

All these additional events are what keep us going back to Disney year after year. In fact, our MouseFest trip in late November will see us return for a fourth year of Disney Christmas celebrations in the last seven years. But what is it that's so magical about the World at this time of the year?

Every park and resort has something extra to offer at this time of the year, although it wasn't always that way. For many years, Animal Kingdom had been very much left out of the Christmas celebrations. But a couple of years ago, the daily parade was changed for the holiday season to become Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade, incorporating holiday elements. The idea stuck and this year, the Christmas version is set to run again.

Moving over to Disney-MGM Studios, this is home to one of our favorite Christmas events, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, which runs from November 23 through January 8. This really is a spectacle and one that has to be seen to be believed. In every town and city, we've all seen the houses decked out with hundreds - and sometimes thousands - of lights and decorations. Sometimes it even extends to entire streets. Usually it's started off by one person and the Osborne lights are no different.

Jennings Osborne wanted to put some lights up for his daughter for Christmas and he just added to the display every year, taking over the two houses either side of his. Where this story differs from many others is that his neighbors weren't impressed with the crowds that his annual light show was drawing and took legal action to get it stopped. As with all things related to Disney, there is a happy ending, with the Walt Disney company stepping in and offering the Osborne lights a new home at the MGM Studios.

Since their debut in the mid 1990's, the tradition has continued, with more added each year. Last year saw the debut of the lights in the Streets of America Backlot, moving from their previous position, which saw them start at the beginning of New York Street and spread out over Residential Street (gone to make way for the Extreme Stunt Show). The new design is a lot more compact and, from what we saw last year, that makes the display more eye catching and breath taking than ever. However, I'm the first to admit that it was almost overwhelming at times as well and very difficult to take in all the details. In the past, the little details were easier to spot, as the lights were more spread out.

Whatever you do, don't miss the Osborne lights - they may well give you some ideas and inspiration for how to decorate your house next year. Just don't go upsetting the neighbors with your plans!

Perhaps the biggest holiday celebration is reserved for Epcot, which brings in elements of holidays from around the world. Their events run from November 25 to December 30 this year, with holiday elements everywhere in the World Showcase. Storytellers can be found in each of the countries, explaining how the holidays are celebrated in their homeland. It's a fascinating way to educate yourself about the different cultures of the world, but as with everything else Disney, the education has a great element of fun to it as well.

And there's fun every night at 6:00 with the traditional tree-lighting ceremony at the entrance to World Showcase. You're guaranteed characters and a fun little show as they prepare to light up the tree. The tree isn't the only thing in this area that's lit up at night. The "Lights of Winter", an archway across the World Showcase Plaza, also dazzles every evening and makes for some superb night-time photo opportunities.

But our favorite part of the Holidays Around the World celebration - and the most breathtaking - is the Candlelight Processional. Held nightly, usually three times a night, between November 25 and December 30 at the America Gardens Theater, this is a beautiful re-telling of the Christmas story, weaving in a number of traditional and more modern Christmas carols during the story. The whole thing is brought together by a guest narrator, with the list this year including names such as Rita Moreno, Haley Joel Osment, Cicely Tyson, Eartha Kitt, Harry Hamlin, Marlee Matlin and Steven Curtis Chapman.

The narrator is complemented by an orchestra and a live choir made up of Disney Cast Members, high school choirs and the Voices of Liberty. The result is a show that brings home the story of Christmas in a beautiful and compelling way. Although the Candlelight Processional is free to all Epcot visitors, it's also exceptionally popular, meaning that lines quickly form for each show and not everyone is guaranteed to get a seat.

One way to ensure that you don't have too long a wait and you do get to see the show is by purchasing a Candlelight Processional dining package, which includes preferred seating. In practice, this means that your line will be the first to be let into the theater and you can usually secure some of the best seats in the house, but be warned - even with the package, you will still have to wait in line to get into the theater.

The package isn't cheap, but if you were planning on an evening meal at one of Epcot's table service restaurants, it allows you to pay for your meal in advance, which includes an appetizer, entree, dessert, non-alcoholic beverages and gratuities. Prices start at $30.99 for adults for the Garden Grill and Biergarten, with the San Angel Inn in Mexico, Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco, China's Nine Dragons Restaurant and the UK's Rose and Crown Restaurant priced at $38.99. The most expensive restaurants - Chefs de France, L'Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante in Italy, Canada's Le Cellier, Teppanyaki in Japan and the Coral Reef at the Living Seas will set you back $45.99 each. Prices for children (aged between 3 - 9) at all restaurants are $12.99.

Having seen the Candlelight Processional a number of times and seen other people heading for shows at different times, we prefer to aim for the first show of the night. During it, darkness falls, adding even more magic to the performance. We've also learned that if we hurry out of that first performance and walk briskly, we can usually be at the World Showcase Plaza for the nightly tree lighting ceremony, allowing us to enjoy two festive celebrations in short succession.

If you're taking advantage of the dining package and you have a choice, my advice would always be to go for the show first and then dinner afterwards. We've seen a fair few people having to race through their meals to ensure that they get to the theater in time for the show and Epcot's restaurants are just too good to be rushed!

Building on last year's special Christmas version of IllumiNations, Epcot's night-time spectacular, a similar treat is planned again for this year with a special holiday finale based around "Let There Be Peace on Earth". Having experienced this finale a number of times last year, both in the parks and in our room overlooking Epcot at the Beach Club Villas, I can tell you that there's nothing peaceful about this finale! Featuring earth shaking explosions and fireworks, if you thought "regular" IllumiNations was impressive, you haven't seen anything yet. It's a perfect way to round off a Christmas evening at Epcot.

This is only a part of the festive fun that Disney offers at Christmas. In the next article, we'll be taking a look at what's on offer at the Magic Kingdom and the Disney resorts.

For schedules of events taking place during the upcoming holiday season, check out

Click here for photos and schedules of previous years' celebrations

About the Author: Cheryl and husband Mark live in England and love to travel, particularly to America.

This article appeared in our November 10, 2005 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

Related Links:
More Holidays at Walt Disney World
Discovering the Magic

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Updated 04/16/07 

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