12 Months of Christmas in Disney World

So, your friend just came back from Disney World and told you how it was the most magical place to be in the whole world for Christmas.  You’d like to jump on a plane and be there right now to bask in the balmy holiday season of sunny Florida, but you just can’t make vacation plans in the fall and winter.  Is there any way to visit Disney when it’s convenient for you, but still enjoy Christmas while you are there? You bet!

Most Disney fans know that visiting the parks at Christmastime can be one of the most festive and enjoyable vacations that your family can take.  What happens if you can’t visit during the holidays, but you still want to feel some holiday cheer while you are in the World?  Well, as usual, Disney has you covered, with Christmas-themed experiences that span three of the four parks and a few spots outside of the parks.

The most obvious place to go to feel the Christmas Spirit all year round is one of the four Christmas shops that populate Disney World.  Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe is located in Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom, and while it isn’t the biggest Christmas shop on property, it does weave itself into the story of its host land better than any of the others.  The Shoppe is actually three separate late 18th century locations that have been combined; they are the home of a music instructor (Ichabod Crane), a woodcarver’s shop (the Woodwrights) and the home of German folk artists (the Kepples – a nod to Walt Disney, whose grandfather’s first name was Kepple).  The exterior still maintains the appearance of three separate facades; the stores are connected inside, but have each maintained their respective personalities.  This is not only a great place to shop for Christmas souvenirs, but Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe also really helps to tell the story of Liberty Square.

There are two other Christmas shops within the parks that help to tell the stories of their locations.  The first is housed in the Germany Pavilion of Epcot’s World Showcase: die Weihnachtsecke. This shop offers many Christmas items, specializing in those that exhibit German craftsmanship.  This is also a perfect place to get a pickle ornament, a German Christmas tradition.  The other in-park shop is It’s a Wonderful Shop, located in the Streets of America section of Hollywood Studios.  Like many spots in this section of the park, it is dressed to appear as though it is being used to film a Christmas movie: decorations are visible, but props and “off-camera” areas are left untouched.  These two are small shops, but offer nice, quick doses of holiday cheer.

They’re sweating from making snow angels. In Florida. In July.

The biggest Christmas Shop on property is located in Downtown Disney and anchors the Marketplace: Disney’s Days of Christmas.  This massive shop houses everything you can think of to hang on a tree, place on a mantle or top an antennae. While the other shops offer better theming, this is definitely the place to go if you are looking for the widest selection. There is also personalization offered on most items. (Tip: Get off the bus at the Marketplace end of Downtown Disney and make this one of your first stops.  By the time you are done walking the other shops and are returning to your bus, your personalized items will be ready!)

There are a few other locations to get your year-round Christmas fix during your Disney World vacation.  The first is Winter Summerland Miniature Golf, which tells the story of a holiday-themed vacation spot for Santa’s off-duty elves.  It’s a little off the beaten path, but Christmas fanatics won’t want to miss it.  Two attractions also offer some allusions to Christmas.  Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress features four scenes, each set in a different time of year.  The final scene, which reeks of the ‘80s, is set during Christmas in the home of the story’s family.  A much more subtle reference is made in the final scene of Soarin’, which features a flyover of Anaheim’s Disneyland during Christmastime, made most clear by the Clark Griswold-inspired lighting of it’s a small world in the upper right-corner of the park.

So, don’t be a Grinch if you can’t make it to Florida during the actual Christmas season.  Take advantage of these experiences to keep a Disney-themed Christmas with you all through the year!

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Disney’s Hidden Gems : Disney’s Silhouette Artists

Most of us are familiar with the most popular “headliner” rides at Disney’s theme parks; after all they are probably the main reason for visiting the parks.  In this series, however, I focus on some of the lesser known things to do inside the parks.  

There are many different types of talented artists in Disney Parks and watching an artist work is truly a great experience.  One group of artists in the Disney parks make their work come to life not with a brush or a pen, but a pair of scissors.  The Disney Silhouette Artists are some of Disney’s truly hidden gems.  Although they have the ability to complete a silhouette in under a minute, most take a few minutes start to finish.  Given the sentimental value and the talent of the artist, I am always amazed at how inexpensive this is.  Since we are always looking for a great keepsake or souvenir for our trips, this is a must for every Disney vacation.

From our sons first trips (left Charlie 2012; right Jack 2010)

Our sons’ first trips [left Charlie (2012); right Jack (2010)]

Disney World

Walt Disney World has multiple locations to capture these treasures: 2 carts in the Magic Kingdom – Main Street USA  (right side alley) & Liberty Square (behind Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe); a cart in France in Epcot; and Silhouette Portraits in Downtown Disney Marketplace.  Each session is done is done in just a few minutes, but the result will last a lifetime.  Since each session comes with at least two silhouettes, you can keep one and give the other as a gift (grandparents, maybe).

Nick Silhouette

Luke SilhouettePricing

Epcot/Magic Kingdom : Single silhouettes are $8 per person and you receive 2 silhouettes – mirror images of each other – and you can buy an optional black oval frame for $7.95/each.  Cash or Credit – no room charge

Downtown Disney – Single sitting portraits are $12; doubles are $20; triples are $24; or you can capture a family of four for $27. Each portrait comes with three copies and you can buy an optional black oval frame for $7.95/each.

Disneyland

Disneyland is home to the Silhouette Studio,  which is located on Main Street USA, where it has been since 1956. Two of the artists, Slyvia and Bonnie, have been working at the shop for over 30 years each.  Don’t be concerned if you think this shop is messy; the artists intentionally leave their paper clippings on the floor to add to the experience.  Since this place opened 6 months after the gates of Disneyland, they have produced millions of silhouettes.  So next time you are in a Disney Park, have a seat and have yours done.

Pricing

Disneyland : Single silhouettes are $9 per person and you receive 2 silhouettes – mirror images of each other – and you can have it framed for an additional fee. Cash, credit and room keys with charging privileges are all accepted.

Top 5 Ways to Celebrate America in the Parks

Walt Disney was well known for being a patriotic American. When he was a teenager, he wanted desperately to serve with the U.S. Army in World War I, but he was rejected for being underage. He went on to serve with the Red Cross, but his biggest contributions to the US may be what he did – and what his legacy continues to do – for American morale. Here are the top five ways to celebrate America in the Disney Parks.
(BTW: While the Disney Parks throw huge parties for the holidays, like the 4th of July, I’ve chosen experiences that can be enjoyed all year round!)

5. (Tie) Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (Disneyland Park/Hall of Presidents (Magic Kingdom)
When Walt Disney was a young boy, his hero was Abraham Lincoln. It’s no surprise, then, that he chose Lincoln as the President to appear in one of his earliest showcases of the ingenuity of Audio-Animatronics. Today, President Lincoln and his speeches are intertwined with the story of Disneyland in a hybrid show that appears on Main Street U.S.A. Its sequel, the Hall of Presidents, is the realization of Walt’s dream to have a tribute to all of the US Presidents in a single exhibit.

4. California Adventure
With its beaches, snow-covered mountains, deserts, and seaside fishing villages, California is representative of the US as a whole; therefore, California Adventure is not only a celebration of all-things-Californian, but also of America itself. More important than the geographic aspect of this West coast love letter, is the park’s underlying message: the power of the American Dream. When you enter the park and walk down Buena Vista Street (which is modeled to look like the California Walt saw when he arrived there from the midwest) you see the manifestation of that dream: the street moves you from gas stations and corner stores all the way to the restaurant modeled after the Carthay Circle Theater, where Walt premiered his first feature length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. American Dream, realized.

3. Liberty Square (Magic Kingdom)
An homage to America’s beginnings, Liberty Square is the home to several popular attractions and dining locations. The land also includes many symbols and representations of Colonial America. Some, like the replicas of the Liberty Tree and the Liberty Bell, are versions of well-known American icons. Others are representative of the detail that Disney Imagineers put into the parks: the leather straps that hold some shutters in place (the metal hinges were needed to make bullets during the Revolution); the two lamps hanging in the upstairs window of a home (“two if by sea…); and the chronological tour of American architecture, from the 17th century Haunted Mansion to the 19th century Frontierland.

2. American Adventure (Epcot)
America plays host to many of the world’s nations in Epcot’s World Showcase. It’s pavilion, called the American Adventure, contains several attractions and a restaurant. It’s main feature, however, is the American Adventure show that is housed in the large, vaguely-familiar building that sits right in the middle of the Showcase. The building doesn’t represent any specific US landmark, but includes a variety of attributes found in colonial architecture (FYI: It is also a unique example of reverse forced perspective; needing to house an immense theater, the building is larger than it appears). The show itself is a worthy cousin of the Hall of Presidents, but featuring other major players in the history of the US, including Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain.

1. Main Street U.S.A. (Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom)
The legend goes: Main Street U.S.A., which is the first land to greet visitors to the flagship parks, was based on Walt’s childhood hometown of Marceline, Missouri. While this may be true to an extent, it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Blending reality (fire stations, barber shops) with a sense of idyllic wholesomeness (horse-drawn carriages, a fairytale castle in the distance), Main Street U.S.A. feels utopian, yet instantly familiar. If you close your eyes and picture your own childhood, the image may be vaguely similar to, but more likely influenced by, some of the things you see on Main Street U.S.A. Flags line the rooftops (FYI: They are all replicas, usually missing a star or two, so they can be left out all of the time; the only real flag is the one in Town Square, which is taken down daily during the Flag Retreat, with assistance by a U.S. serviceman or servicewoman in attendance). And it’s for good reason: it’s always Independence Day on Main Street U.S.A. It’s the reason for the bunting, the parade, and the mayor and his red-white-and-blue sash. And it’s why every night ends with fireworks!

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

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