The sweet and spicy aroma of gingerbread fills the air as carollers wander down Main Street and snowflakes drift down in front of a fairy tale castle covered in icicles.
By mid-November, Disneyland and Disney World are transformed into a holiday wonderland.
Disney hotels also get in on the action with special displays and activities.
As our family wandered into Disney’s Beach Club Resort in Orlando, Florida recently, we sensed the unmistakable aroma of freshly baked gingerbread wafting through the massive lobby. While we watched, a crack team of pastry chefs assembled a giant edible carousel using 45 kg of icing, 45 kg of confectioner sugar, 44 kg of bread flour, 23 kg of dark chocolate, and 16 kg of honey.
Just seeing this spectacular edible carousel conjured images of childhood fantasies, but smelling it took the experience to a whole new level.
There are few places on the planet that can compete with Disney when it comes to holiday decorating. In Walt Disney World alone, there will be more than 1,500 Christmas trees, 3,000 wreaths, 18 km of garland and thousands of lights on display this Christmas. The Disneyland resorts in California will be equally decked out for the holiday season and special shows, parties and displays are planned for all Disney theme parks and hotels.
“Planning for the holiday season begins a year in advance,” says Jennifer Bellman, manager of creative resources and entertainment at the Disneyland parks in California.
“There are so many traditions that are part of what we do. The castle will be decked out in LED lights that look like icicles, Mickey and Minnie will be performing on ice skates during the holiday parade, the dolls in It’s a Small World will be in Christmas costumes, and Santa will be at the park every day.”
In addition to the over-the-top decorations and shows, hundreds of carollers, professional choirs, orchestras and celebrity narrators will come together in a candlelight procession to tell the story of the birth of Jesus Christ — one of the most popular shows in the park.
“It takes a talented and creative team to bring it all together,” Bellman says. “But the holidays are one of the most magical times to experience Disney. We even guarantee that it will snow every night and that’s not easy to achieve in California.”
Tips to make the most of the season
Travel before Christmas: You can take in the holiday decorations, parades, shows and festivities and avoid the crowds by visiting in late November or early December. By U.S. Thanksgiving, the holiday decorations and parades are already in full swing, but the crowds have not yet arrived and this is a great time to visit if you can.
Go early: Getting to the park early always helps you to beat the crowds, but it is particularly important if you are travelling during the peak holiday season. Be at the park gates 15 minutes prior to the posted opening time. Parades and shows also fill up early during the holidays and you need to get in line well before the scheduled start time in order to get a good seat.
Have a plan: Make a list of the rides and attractions you are most interested in seeing. Strategically plan your day by visiting the most popular rides first.
Use fastpass: The most popular rides offer a fastpass system that allows you to bypass lineups, but you can only hold one fastpass at a time. When the park is busy, it is important to arrive early and get your fastpasses right away.
Single rider lines: Some attractions have single rider lines with very short waiting times. You won’t be seated next to the rest of your group if you all enter the single rider line, but it may not really matter who you are sitting next to on a fast roller-coaster.
Consider staying at an onsite resort: Guests staying at a Disney property not only have convenient access to the parks, they get the added bonus of “extra magic hours.” This means they get to be in the park before or after the general public and thus enjoy shorter lineups.
Don’t try to do everything: It’s almost impossible to do and see everything during a short visit to a Disney theme park. Make sure to pace your day, so that everyone in your party will have a good time. Younger children often benefit from an afternoon nap or a swim in the hotel pool partway through the day. Remember that this is a holiday, not a military mission.
New Fantasyland expansion
The largest expansion in the history of Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando officially opened on Thursday, but previews began on Nov. 19.
The expansion features new rides and experiences based on Disney films and characters that are particularly popular with younger visitors. Highlights include a new version of the Dumbo ride, Under the Sea Journey of the Little Mermaid, Goofy’s Barnstormer family roller-coaster and opportunities to meet princesses in an Enchanted Forest.
The expansion will continue with the opening of Princess Fairytale Hall in 2013 and a new Disney mountain ride called the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train in 2014.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.