The Best Ways to Spend the Holiday Season in the Disney World Parks

Spending the Holiday Season in the Disney World Parks

As you might have already guessed the DW Dads really love the Christmas Season.  Although Disney gives you a taste of the holiday season all year long, starting in early November, Disney World starts to celebrate the holidays as only Disney does.  So if you are looking to book your trip anytime from early November through early January, you can enjoy some of the festivities.  Although there are so many ways to spend the holidays in Disney World, below are a few of our favorite suggestions. So if you are looking to make a quick getaway in 2013 or plan a trip for next season, let DWDads get you started with a quote.

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Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

  • Location: Magic Kingdom (special event)
  • Dates: Select Nights – Early November–Late December
  • Times: 7:00 PM-Midnight (entry starting at 4:00 PM)
  • Cost: Tickets $62-71–ages 10+; $57-66-ages 3-9

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a special ticketed Christmas themed event.  This event includes Special Character Meet & Greets including Santa, Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade, Holiday Wishes Fireworks Display, Special Holiday themed stage shows, snowfall on Main Street and all the hot chocolate, cider and cookies you care to enjoy.   The event festivities begin at 7PM, but the ticket grants you admission starting at 4PM on the day of the party.  Since there are so many special attractions, setting a plan for the night is important.

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Tip:  Special Meet & Greets are one of the major attractions at these private parties.  All Seven Dwarfs only appear together during this event in Frontierland so the line can become VERY long.  If you want to meet these guys, we suggest you line up before the party starts about 6pm, this way you won’t miss other scheduled events.

Holidays Around the World Candlelight Procession

  • Location: Epcot – America Gardens Theatre
  • Dates: Every Night – Late November–Late December
  • Times: 5:00 PM, 6:45 PM & 8:15 PM
  • Cost: FREE with park admission – First come first seated

The Candlelight procession is held three times every night starting in late November at the America Gardens Threatre in Epcot.  A large ensemble choir joins a celebrity narrator to tell the story of Christmas with words and music in a very special way.  Some of the celebrity narrators for 2013 are: Whoopi Goldberg, Sigourney Weaver, Ashley Judd, Trace Adkins & Blair Underwood.

Tip:  To guarantee seating at the Candlelight Procession, reserve a Candlelight Dining Package available starting in July at many table service restaurants in Epcot.   This reservation not only provides you one three course meal or buffet, it also guarantees you a seat for the Candlelight Procession, and reserved viewing for IllumiNations. 

 

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

  • Location: Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Streets of America
  • Dates: Most Nights – Early November to Early January
  • Times: Dusk until about 1 hour after close
  • Cost: Free with park admission

Close your eyes and imagine Clark Griswold’s house in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  Now imagine that Clark’s whole neighborhood joined in and decorated their homes.   If you can picture that in your head, you are just scratching the surface of the display that is put together on the Streets of America in Disney’s Hollywood Studios every year.  This tradition began in 1995 in Disney World after a real life Griswold family from Arkansas – the Osbornes – were no longer permitted to display their light display by court order.  Each year since then, Disney has proudly displayed this collection at Hollywood Studios.  The lights are turned on as dusk and are displayed on most nights when there is not a special event at the park until an hour or so after closing.  Although aptly named as a “Spectacle of Dancing Lights,”  words truly do not do this display justice.

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Tip:  On your way over to the Streets of America, stop and grab some treats (Mickey Ice Cream Bar or PB&J Milkshake from 50s Prime Time) and casually walk through the display just before park closing.  The lights stay on for about an hour after the park is closed, so you can enjoy a couple more attractions before ending your night with the show.

 

Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade Animal Kingdom

  • Location: Animal Kingdom
  • Dates: Every Afternoon – Early November – Early January
  • Times: 3:45PM
  • Cost: Free with park admission

This popular music-filled street celebration is a variation on Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle parade and is full of holiday spirit.  The daily parade has festive music and Mickey and all his friends get you into the holiday spirit as they parade through the park.

 Tip:  There are stone “benches” that are between Pizzafari and the restrooms on the same side as the restaurant.  These natural seats are right on the parade line and nicely elevated to give you a good view of the parade.  They are close by the bathrooms and typically there is an ice cream cart nearby.  Since the parade line runs right by you, your party can sit at these benches while enjoying an ice cream or beverage and wait for the parade without fear that someone will stand in front of you.

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Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

This past weekend marked the opening of Christmas season in Walt Disney World with the first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) of the year. For many, planning for the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party can be both exciting and overwhelming.  Since this event requires a separate ticket ($62-$71 ages 10+; $57-$66 ages 3-9) and some make this a one-time experience, most want to get the most out of this evening and DWDads is here to help.

The most important way to prepare yourself for MVMCP is knowing what to expect.  The event is held November 8, 11, 14, 15, 17, 21 and 22 and December 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19 and 20 from 7PM-12AM, though the park opens to those that have party tickets at 4PM  Given that this party begins at or around many of our little children’s bedtimes, taking a late afternoon nap, might allow your group to prolong your night later than a typical night – after all, it is Christmas. Eating dinner prior to the start of the party is also a good idea, unless you plan on eating cookies and hot chocolate for dinner (no judgment here).  Pick a few things that you list as your Must-Dos and prioritize the rest.  Since the party is only 5 hours long, it nearly impossible to do it all and that is ok.

Here is our list of the 12 best things about the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – the Twelve “Yays!” of MVMCP.

The 12 “Yays!” of MVMCP

12) All you care to enjoy cookies, hot chocolate and cider

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These posts mark the places where you can find these treats

11) Glow with the Show Mickey Ears – new in 2013

10) Special Party Edition Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom Cards

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9) Character Dance Parties – Club Tinsel (Cosmic Ray’s) & Woody’s Hootin’ Holiday (Diamond Horseshoe)

8) Seeing Santa Claus in Disney World (Parade and Meet & Greet Next to City Hall)

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7) Very short lines at attractions – most rides are walk-on throughout the night

6) A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show

5) Celebrate the Season Cinderella’s Castle Stage Show

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4) Special Character Meet & Greets in Holiday attire – especially All of The Seven Dwarfs

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3) Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade

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2) Holiday Wishes!

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1) Snow falling on Main Street

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DWDads’ MVMCP plan:

In 2012 we went to the first MVMCP of the year on November 9th.  At the time, our boys were 3 and 18 months.  We spent that morning at Animal Kingdom and left right after lunch. All four of us went back to our resort and took a 1-2 hour nap and got ready to be on the bus by 4:30 or so.  We arrived at the Magic Kingdom just after dark and we watched the Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Street Party coming down Main Street.  After picking up some hotdogs and snacks at Casey’s, we immediately headed toward Frontierland to line up to meet the Seven Dwarfs.  We got there at about 6:30 and the line had already formed and continued to build as we enjoyed our dinner in line.  The party started at 7 and we were able to meet the 7 Dwarfs and get pictures by 7:30.

Clare and Charlie then walked toward Main Street to get a spot for the parade while Jack and I rode Splash Mountain (no line).  We then met up with them on Main Street and waited for the parade.  You want to make sure you watch the parade from in front of the shops ON Main Street in order to capture the full effect of the snow falling during the parade.  As you wait for the parade, there are cast members in the street entertaining you and the kids. Charlie even got called out with other kids to dance in the street. As soon as the parade ends, you should make your way into the street and grab a spot for the special Holiday Wishes! somewhere in the street before the hub.  As we waited for the show, Clare ran to get some cookies and hot chocolate for all of us to enjoy.  It was truly one of the best displays we had ever seen.

Once Wishes! was over, we made our way down toward Cinderella’s Castle to get a spot to watch the Celebrate the Season Stage Show which started soon after the end of Wishes!  During that show, our 18-month-old fell asleep. It was at that time that I realized how important seeing the early parade and naptime had been.  Our 3 year old continued to party, though, at the Character Dance party in Cosmic Rays.  We enjoyed a few more cookies and he and Clare rode the WEDway People Mover once again. We caught the end of the 2nd parade as we walked down Main Street and stopped in the shops. I picked up my special Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards.  The thing I remember most, though, about that night was that as we walked down Main Street and glanced back at the castle, how softly the snow fell.  It was truly a magical night!

If you want to give Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party a try, please contact us and we can help make it happen!

MVMCP Show times:

Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade – 8:15pm, 10:30pm
Holiday Wishes – Celebrate the Spirit of the Season – 9:30pm
A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show – 7:45pm, 8:45pm, 9:55pm, 10:50pm, 11:45pm
Celebrate the Season Cinderella’s Castle- 7:45pm, 10:05pm, 11:20pm

Meet & Eat: A Guide to Character Meals in Disney World

Most of us who visit the Disney Parks have some desire to meet the Disney characters we fell in love with on the screen. We all have our favorite characters and some of us would be willing to wait for hours in line just for the chance to snap a picture and grab an autograph. Waiting in line in Disney to meet a character gives you less time to enjoy the rides and shows, so since everybody needs to eat, why not try to accomplish two things at once? Instead of a Meet & Greet, try a Meet & Eat with a Character Meal. Disney offers a variety of character meals at all times of the day, both in park and at resorts, and they include some of the most popular characters. The following chart summarizes the character meals offered at Disney World (click on it to enlarge it):

Character Chart

Tips for making the most of your character meals:

1. Make a Reservation for a Breakfast inside the park BEFORE it opens:

All of the character breakfasts offered inside the park (see chart above) have reservation times available BEFORE the park opens. For example, on a morning that Magic Kingdom opens at 9am, Crystal Palace begins taking reservations starting at 8am. If you are lucky enough to get a reservation at this time, you will be let into the park through the Reservation turnstile on the far right of the entrance about 15 minutes before your reservation time. This gives you the ability to walk down an empty Main Street and take in its glory with no crowds. Photopass photographers are often available to take photographs of your party in front of the castle and an empty Main Street. The other advantage this gives you is that you are eating your breakfast as the crowd builds at the entrance of the park. All of these meals are very good (I have eaten at all of them) and the character interaction varies, but I find it is as good as you want to make it. Once your meal is complete, you are ready to go and, since you are already inside the park, you will be one of the first people in line at your favorite attraction.

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Bonus Tip: You don’t want to have to wait at your table for your check when the park is open, so be sure to ask for the check as soon as you sit down.

2. Late Morning Brunch

For those of you who are late risers or for those that wish to take advantage of the lighter morning crowds by touring when the park opens, I suggest a late morning brunch or lunch where available. Since the best touring hours are usually the first couple hours after park opening, why not hit your favorite attractions early and then head to a character meal for a brunch? This also gives your party a break when the Florida sun starts to take its toll.

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Bonus Tip: At Tusker House, if you book the last breakfast reservation of the morning (10:55am), you will pay the breakfast price but be able to enjoy all of the breakfast items as well as the lunch items that are being served.

3. Autograph Books & Cameras Ready

Although you are there to eat a good meal, try to make the most of your time with the characters. The characters rotate around the restaurant in a predictable pattern, so at buffets try to get your food before the first character arrives or when there is a noticeable break between them. Make sure you have your camera out on the table, and items such as autograph books out and ready for when the characters arrive. During most of the meals the characters will dance and interact with their guests, so be ready with your camera for some great photo opportunities.

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Bonus tip: Instead of an autograph book bring a new solid pillowcase and some permanent fabric markers with you. It makes a nice inexpensive souvenir for your child and they will use it daily.

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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