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A Very Disney Christmas

Christmas carols, silver bells, reindeer… it’s that time of year again! Oh, wait, no it’s not. But as Disney’s summer deals come to a close and discounts are released for the fall and winter, it is time to start thinking about spending your holidays at the happiest place on Earth.

Disney is bursting with magic any day of the week, but around Christmastime, the park really shines. To start with, everything is completely decorated and decked out in holiday cheer. Buildings in the parks are strung with wreaths and lights, and hotels even offer unique yuletide displays.

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(Above: Main Street, USA; Below: Toy train set in the Yacht Club)

Several attractions throughout the park also take on a holiday theme during this time of year, including the very appropriate “Jingle Cruise,” where the skipper’s typical puns are adapted for the yuletide crowd. These holiday variations on classic attractions are definitely fun, but it’s the additional Christmas events that make visiting between late November and early January worthwhile.

One of the more little-known holiday events is the nightly lighting of Cinderella’s Castle. Around dusk, the voice of Cinderella’s godmother can be heard throughout Magic Kingdom as she transforms the castle into a vision of shimmering Christmas lights. It’s a fun little show to catch if you’re around, and you’ll get some really great pictures of one of Disney’s most famous landmarks.

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You’ll also want to check out some of Epcot’s special offerings, including the Candlelight Processional and Holidays Around the World. The former features a special celebrity guest each night, so that might be something to consider when booking. I just missed the time window for those two events, but I was able to see the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, and it’s without a doubt one of the coolest things that Disney has to offer.

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The Streets of America in Hollywood Studios are decorated with more lights than you can possibly imagine, and they all move and flash to popular Christmas songs. My family actually went one night when it was raining (pictured above) and so crowds were minimal and the puddles on the streets reflected all the lights. We almost skipped it because of the weather, but I’m so glad we didn’t—it was nothing short of magical, and I 100% recommend it.

 

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Favorite Shows

One of the best things about Disney World is the wide array of spectacular shows, fireworks displays, and parades held held throughout the parks. Each of them is themed differently and offers a unique experience. Here are my top five favorites:

5. Fantasmic!

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This classic Hollywood Studios water show stars Sorcerer Mickey and takes audiences on a journey through iconic Disney animated films. Following the narrative of a dream sequence, characters like Simba, Pocahontas, Ursula, Jafar, and Maleficent all make appearances as Mickey tries break the nightmare. The show ultimately culminates with a fireworks celebration and a journey on the Steamboat Willie River Boat. It’s not the best that Disney has to offer, but everyone should see it at least once.

4. Main Street Electrical Parade

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I’m not the biggest fan of parades, but this one is worth it; held after dusk in Magic Kingdom, the Main Street Electrical Parade features enormous glow-in-the-dark floats that travel around the park. Some of the stories represented are Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Cinderella. The beauty of this parade is breathtaking, and it’s a great way to cap off your night in Magic Kingdom.

3. Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

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This holiday extravaganza can be found in Hollywood Studios during Christmas time. The Streets of America are draped in millions of sparkling lights that flash to various Christmas songs. The sheer magnitude of this show is unbelievable, and it’s really something that everyone should experience at least once. The details on each building are incredible, and each new song that plays features something different. You can catch the Dancing Lights show on select nights from November to January.

2. IllumiNations

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This Epcot must-see is completely different than any other show at Disney—it’s not based on anything mythology from the movies, but rather it features a premise designed by Walt himself. Epcot as a whole is meant to bring nations and cultures together to work towards a brighter future, and IllumiNations inspires just that. The show takes place in the center of World Showcase Lagoon when all the countries around it go dark. A metallic globe rotates on the water and captivating images are projected onto it as it turns. It eventually cracks open and makes way for a gorgeous and inspiring fireworks display. I revisit this show each time I come to Disney, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone for something a little different.

1. Wishes

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You probably saw this coming, right? Wishes is the ultimate Disney experience; there’s nothing quite like gathering on Main Street when the sun goes down to watch the Castle light up and hear your favorite characters come to life as fireworks adorn the sky. The movie scores and original songs that play during the show are a stirring encapsulation of what Disney is all about, and there’s nothing quite like seeing the Castle transform right before your eyes. In the end, it’s nothing short of magical.

 

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Favorite Rides

The attractions at Walt Disney World are iconic, innovative, and immersive—but which one’s the best? It depends on your taste, but here’s my list of the park’s top five greatest rides. (Disclaimer: I’m no thrill-seeker! You can keep your Rock n’ Rollercoaster and your Tower of Terror.)

5. Pirates of the Caribbean

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This classic Magic Kingdom ride is such a must-see that it inspired an entire movie franchise. It takes you on a boat ride through deep, swash-buckling caverns as 18th century inhabitants pillage, plunder, and party all around you. There’s nothing really thrilling about this ride, save for a small drop at the end—the enjoyment comes from the atmosphere and attention to detail as you traverse the water-way. A fun legend surrounding the ride helps add to its captivating theatrics; many Disney visitors have long-since acknowledged that Pirates is haunted by a (mostly) friendly ghost named George, who will break down the ride if you denounce him in your boat.

4. Haunted Mansion

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Speaking of ghosts, another one of my favorites is the Haunted Mansion. Similar in style to Pirates, Haunted Mansion takes you via Doom-Buggy through the ghoulish residence of Madame Leota. The technology on this one is pretty impressive, and there are so many undead beings floating around that you’ll have to ride multiple times to catch all the details. But don’t worry—this ride never gets old.

3. The Great Movie Ride

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This Hollywood Studios landmark doesn’t have the universal appeal of some original Magic Kingdom favorites, but as a lover of all things movies, it’s a must-do for me. I’m hooked right from the queue, which features a clip-show of great films throughout the years. When you are seated in your vehicle, everything is flashing dazzling lights and you really feel like a part of Hollywood. The live-action part of the ride is always entertaining, and can change each time you return. This one truly lives up to the name.

2. Kilimanjaro Safaris

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Instead of taking you on a journey through the movies, Kilimanjaro Safaris brings you to the African savannas. This ride in particular has the most potential for a completely unique experience each go-around, and new animals are constantly arriving at the location. It’s an adventure unlike anything else at Disney, and has become a landmark attraction over the years. As an animal-lover, I really enjoy this up-close encounter with the parks’ residents.

1. Soarin’

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Fly over California in this amazing attraction located in Future World, Epcot. Your vehicles are only a few feet off the ground, but their swinging momentum coupled with the dazzling scenery in front of you really makes you feel weightless. Some of the scenes are even accompanied by scent to add to the immersion. This ride always has a really long wait, but it’s definitely worth it, and the journey’s ending is unforgettable.

 

Honorable Mentions: The Jungle Cruise, Test Track, & Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin

 

Images provided by buzzfeed.com, pinterest.com, grumpymickey.com, and thegreatmovieride.tripod.com.

 

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Spotlight: Haunted Mansion

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This iconic supernatural journey through a ghostly home is located in Liberty Square, Magic Kingdom, and is one of Disney World’s most famous attractions. Just because it’s well-known doesn’t mean it’s overrated! The ambiance and attention to detail are just a few great things that puts this ride on my must list.

The Haunted Mansion attraction starts with an interactive queue that builds the spooky atmosphere, complete with an eerie crypt and ghostly graveyard. Inside the mansion, Disney Imagineers put forth some of their greatest work with a room that inexplicably stretches right before your eyes. When you get to the ride, an invisible Ghost Host invites you to take a seat inside your ‘doom buggy’ and tour the home where ghosts lurk at every turn! You’ll want to try out this ride a couple times to catch all the details – they’re worth it!

While a little scary at times, this ride is suitable for younger vacationers, and is perfect for the kid at heart. It truly sums up Disney Magic.

Images courtesy of vimeo.com, answerparty.com, and disneyworld.disney.go.com.

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Trip Log: November 20th, 2013

My most recent trip to Disney World took place from November 20th to November 24th just last year. My family was hoping to see the Christmas decorations and events up and running before the large crowds descended, and indeed, when we arrived on Wednesday, 11/20, Disney’s holiday spirit was already in full swing.

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We were staying at the Yacht Club on the concierge level, and were checked in to room 5177 at around 12 PM. For those of you wondering, the concierge level is basically a special floor in on-site hotels that has its own check in/check out desk and its own “concierge lounge,” which concierge guests can visit and get complementary meals, snacks, and drinks throughout the day. It costs a little extra, but I would recommend trying it at least once! The accessible food is especially convenient, and if nothing else, it’s a really fun experience that helps you feel a little like Disney royalty!

Here is the view from our balcony:

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Pretty great! We were basically right across from the iconic lighthouse, which was unbelievably lucky. It was especially cool to sit on the balcony at night, when the entire boardwalk was lit up just across the way.

Once we were all ready to go, we headed over to one of my favorite places in Disney: Epcot’s World Showcase!

A great perk to staying at the Yacht Club is the ability to walk directly into the back of World Showcase. There is a path that will lead you right into France, and it was remarkably uncrowded this time around. We arrived the week before Thanksgiving hoping that crowds would be light, and we were in luck!

The weather was cloudy and a little rainy, but temperatures were steady in the high 70’s. We explored France for a bit, stopping in the well-known stores and taking pictures by the wonderfully decorated Christmas trees. We eventually made our way to Morocco, where we had a lunch reservation at Restaurant Marrakesh.

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I’m not the most adventurous eater, but my mom was dying to try Moroccan food and so we dove in to the authentic dishes. They were actually quite good, and my mom (who is a far better judge of good food than I am) was very impressed by the chicken bastilla.

We finished up at Epcot (enjoying our time in Italy, Germany, Norway, and Mexico) and then caught a Monorail to Magic Kingdom at around 4 PM. First stop, Main Street, USA!

The three of us shopped around on Main Street for a bit before exploring the other subsections and getting on some rides. We ventured off into Adventureland in pursuit of two of my favorites: Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise! Despite the little bit of rain that fell in the afternoon, the rides were so much fun. We took a quick detour through Liberty Square to ride another personal favorite, the Haunted Mansion, and then proceeded to new Fantasyland.

We didn’t have a whole lot of time to dedicate to new Fantasyland, as our dinner reservations were coming up, but we did take a peek at the new Be Our Guest restaurant, and I even got to hang out with Gaston! If you’re in the area, he’s definitely worth waiting for — he’s completely hilarious!

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At about 5:30, we went to the Plaza Restaurant for our dinner reservation. They had pretty basic dishes — meatloaf, chicken, sandwiches, burgers — but we were all relatively satisfied with both the meal and the service. Honestly, the best part of the dinner was the view of the castle; we were able to watch Magic Kingdom slowly light up as the sun set.

After dinner, we gathered around Main Street to watch what is now one of my favorite parts of Christmas at Disney World — the ceremony that lights up Cinderella Castle with thousands of sparkling holiday lights. It was perfect!

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While waiting for Wishes, we decided to spend our time in Tomorrowland. It was relatively uncrowded since the rest of the park-goers were likely staking out spots for parades and fireworks. We were able to use our FastPass+ for Space Mountain, which is always scary but in the end really fun. Then we stopped by Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and eventually the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, which we had never been to previously but turned out to be hilarious, thanks to some funny interactive bits with the crowd.

Finally, we made our way over to the Rose Garden, and presented our FastPass+ to watch Wishes.  We arrived just a few minutes before showtime, and had a great view of the castle. (Be sure to head over to the Tips section of the blog to read about exactly how we did this!) The show, as always, was absolutely perfect, and is one of my favorite things to do in all of Disney World!  Check out some of my dad’s great pictures from the show:

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Thanks for reading! Next time I’ll be talking about our time at Hollywood Studios and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights!

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Magic Kingdom Overview

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When most people think of Disney World, they immediately associate it with the childlike innocence of Magic Kingdom. This 107 acre park was designed with Walt’s childhood memories in mind, and Main Street, U.S.A. is sure to evoke a classic hometown feel. The iconic Cinderella Castle stands in the center of Magic Kingdom, with exciting new possibilities sprouting out in every direction. The park itself is divided into six wonderfully-themed categories: Main Street, U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Liberty Square, and (the park’s newest expansion) Fantasyland.

Not sure which area will become your new favorite? Read on about what each one has to offer.

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Main Street, U.S.A.

The classic entrance to the park is designed to represent small town America. This subsection of Magic Kingdom is a long path leading up to Cinderella Castle, where you can find quaint shops, old-fashioned dining experiences, and even a traditional barber shop. While it’s not the place for thrill-seekers, Main Street, U.S.A. is the perfect spot to wind down after a long day in Magic Kingdom. Grab a dole whip from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor and browse the merchandise at the Emporium before settling down to find the best place to watch the park’s nighttime shows.

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Adventureland

This exotic and daring subsection of Magic Kingdom transports you from small town America to exciting and far away places like the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Polynesia. Just as the name suggests, it’s the perfect place for an adventure! The park is known for some of Disney’s most famous attractions, like the the delightfully entertaining Jungle Cruise, the classic and swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and the kid-friendly Magic Carpets of Aladdin ride.

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Frontierland

Dedicated to the exploration of America’s wild, wild west, Frontierland features majestic mountains and rustic log cabins. Take a step back in time at the dance hall or shootin’ gallery, or better yet, explore some of the most widely-known attractions. Conquer Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as you whip around a roller coaster track in runaway mine train, or brave Splash Mountain as you climb to a five-story drop. Not feeling so adventurous? Enjoy a ride on the Walt Disney Railroad or the raft to Tom Sawyer Island.

Tomorrowland

Welcome to the land of the future, where science fiction becomes reality in this unique Disney park. Walt’s vision was to create a place of “science, adventure, and ideas,” and he has certainly succeeded in establishing a park unlike any other. Tomorrowland is home to some timeless attractions, including the ever-popular Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. If you’re not a Toy Story fan (or are perhaps looking for something a little more mature), check Space Mountain, the ultimate Disney thrill ride.

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Liberty Square

In honor of the birth of our nation, Magic Kingdom celebrates American life in the late 1700’s through the Liberty Square park. It features an animatronic dedication to all of our presidents, and has several New England-themed dining areas. Perhaps best of all, Liberty Square is home to the ghoulishly entertaining Haunted Mansion ride. Featuring spectacular technology and spooky scenery, the ride is sure to delight all ages.
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Fantasyland

Recently renovated, Fantasyland is meant to bring out the prince or princess in all of us. The park features delightful new developments, including Beast’s castle and Ariel’s Grotto, and even pays homage to old classics, like Peter Pan. Young ones will especially enjoy this park, as they can explore classic rides like the Mad Tea Party and the Regal Carousel, or even get a royal makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. You’ll also want to check out the park’s new dining option, Be Our Guest, which features Belle and other classic Beauty & the Beast characters.

Now that you have a basic idea of what there is to explore at Magic Kingdom, let’s talk about the shows performed at the park on a daily basis. From parades to fireworks, there’s something for all ages – and there’s one show in particular that you won’t want to miss!

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Dream Along With Mickey

This show is performed directly in front of Cinderella Castle most afternoons, and features characters like Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Donald, as well as a few of your favorite Disney princesses! If you’re vacationing with young ones that love seeing the characters, consider stopping by this show. It’s run-time is around twenty minutes, and contains musical numbers and a small fireworks display.

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Move it! Shake it! Celebrate it! Street Party

This entertaining afternoon show features several popular floats and characters that sing and dance along with the crowd. The show is perfect for little ones who love a family-friendly party with some classic Disney characters.

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Festival of Fantasy Parade

Magic Kingdom’s newest parade can be seen along Main Street each afternoon, and features colorful floats and thematic music dedicated to celebrating the characters of Fantasyland. Highlights include floats for Beauty & the Beast, Peter Pan & Wendy, and Elsa & Anna, as well as an enormous fire-breathing metal dragon!

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Main Street Electrical Parade

These colorful glowing character floats can be seen around Magic Kingdom on designated parade nights just before the big fireworks show. Vacationers of all ages can enjoy the Electrical Parade’s dazzling display, featuring characters like Tinkerbell, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio.

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Wishes

A spectacular nighttime display of fireworks over Cinderella Castle, Wishes is by far the most popular Disney show. It features voice overs and songs from several classic Disney films, all set to a dazzling light show that illuminates the Magic Kingdom sky. In my opinion, this show is a MUST for any Disney World vacation – it perfectly wraps up the magic of Disney in one stunning show.

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