Nobody does Christmas like Disney. Even Ebenezer Scrooge would have to give in to the Christmas Spirit if he visited a Disney Resort at holiday time.
Before I ever worked for Disney, I grew up going to Disneyland once a year, and my first experience with Christmas was in 1986. Experiencing the park decked out for the holiday is etched in my mind. I still remember walking onto Main Street and hearing Christmas music filling the streets from the speakers around, and it immediately gave me a very special feeling that I still get every time I hear it.
Towering above Town Square was a beautifully decorated live Christmas tree, and continuing down Main Street, I vividly recall seeing the lamp posts which were decorated with wreaths that had Mickey ears! Sleeping Beauty Castle was beautifully decorated with garland and a wreath, and to the left, a live stage show was occurring at Carnation Plaza Gardens, with characters and live performers singing, “We Need a Little Christmas.” Then I saw Goofy walking by dressed like Santa Claus!
As I went to one of my favorite attractions, the Country Bear Jamboree, in what was then called Bear Country, the land was decorated with a different kind of holiday décor. It was completely themed to the rustic surroundings, and there was a Santa and his sleigh built of tree branches. I think this was my first realization into the detail of theming that Disney puts into it. As for the Country Bear Jamboree, it was a Christmas version of the classic Audio-Animatronics show. This proved to be historic, as it was the first Disney attraction to get a holiday overlay.
My second unforgettable Disney moment occurred a couple years later. I had gotten a job in Disney Television Animation, and back then, as studio employees we could attend a Family Christmas Party in Disneyland. The park was closed to the public and only open to Disney employees and their families. (Incidentally, at that time, only onstage Disneyland employees were considered “Cast Members,” since they were part of the Disneyland Show. At the studio we were just employees.)
One of the treats of the Christmas party was that if we wanted we could work in Disneyland for what I think was a couple hours. Employees of the studio and Imagineering would work alongside some of the official Disneyland Cast Members at the various attractions and food locations. (It was strange to board a ride by a male attraction host with long hair and full beard and moustache at a time when men were not permitted to have facial hair working in Disneyland! Studio and Imagineering employees did not have the same grooming requirements as the park.) Never being one to pass up any opportunity while working for Disney, I signed up and was assigned to work on the classic Haunted Mansion.
I arrived at Disneyland, parked in the employee lot and proceeded backstage to get my Haunted Mansion costume. After changing into the required attire, I walked toward a gate to head toward the attraction, and a special moment hit me that remains one of my favorite memories. I exited through a gate from backstage to Main Street and I can only describe it as Dorothy, in “The Wizard of Oz,” going from the colorless Kansas shack to the beautiful world of Munchkinland. I was instantly surrounded by the music that had touched me a couple years earlier. The decorations and twinkling lights were so beautiful that I actually got a tear in my eye.
Through the years since that party, Christmas at Disney has only grown grander and grander. Today, Sleeping Beauty Castle not only retains those classic decorations like I saw back in 1986, but now snow caps the turrets, while thousands of white light icicles adorn the park’s icon. The Haunted Mansion attraction now becomes Haunted Mansion Holiday, masterfully themed to the classic movie, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The it’s a small world attraction, is completely holiday-themed inside and out, with the animated dolls singing not only “it’s a small world,” throughout the ride, but “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” as well. The outside of the attraction is one of the most beautiful displays of colorful Christmas lights, and if you wait for 15 minutes, you can enjoy a two minute spectacular projection-mapping performance on the building’s exterior, set to the Russian Dance music of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite.”
The holiday feeling is just as abundant at Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line as well. From the moment you step into the ship’s lobby, you are met with the detailed holiday décor that Disney has become so masterful at. Docking at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, you can continue maintaining the holiday mood, despite the beautiful unwintery temperatures. My family and I got to pose at a photo location of nicely sun-tanned snowmen.
As for Walt Disney World, you can spend days experiencing the uniquely-themed beauty of the holidays all throughout! I’ve always been fascinated with the details of the Disney resorts, so during my own Disney World visit, I was delighted to see how Disney World did it, not just at the parks, but at the resorts as well. From the Hawaiian traditional plumeria flowers in the wreaths at the Polynesian Village Resort to the life-sized real gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian to the traditional African woven baskets in the tree at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, time after time I experienced a unique holiday magic akin to what I experienced in 1986 the first time I stepped into a Christmas-themed Disney Wonderland.
[Photos: Scott Wolf at MouseClubhouse.com]
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