D23's Holiday Splendor Event Friday, December 6 and Saturday, December 7, 2013
What if you had an opportunity to view the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights with just a handful of others, all of you with special ears that blink in time with the lights and music? How about reserved seating for the Candlelight Processional and a private dessert party while you watch IllumiNations, Reflections of Earth? Are you interested in Disney history, and how the holidays have been celebrated at Disney Parks throughout the years? If so, D23's Holiday Splendor event may be for you! The schedule for the event starts with an evening viewing the Osborne Lights in the Hollywood Studios, then continues the next day with a full day of scheduled events in Epcot. (Please pardon the quality of the following photos. Somehow I got out of the house without a real camera on this trip, and only had my phone to snap pics with.)
Friday, December 6. Private viewing of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.
The event began with check in at 8:15 p.m. on Friday evening at the Premier Theater in Disney's Hollywood Studios (near the Lights, Motors, Action show at the back of the park). Guests who did not have park tickets were able to check in at the entrance to the Park, and were escorted to the Premier Theater. After checking in we were given a set of "Glow with the Show" ears,
and a pair of special glasses, that we were instructed to bring with us the next day as well. (I wish that the cast members had actually let people know what the glasses were for, as I saw that some folks never put them on.)
After getting the goods, we were instructed to meet at the Studio Catering Company at 8:50 p.m. to gather for our private viewing time. At 9 p.m., after the rest of the park guests exited, the Lights were turned back on just for us! We had 15 minutes as a group to wander around and see the lights. It was a pretty amazing sight, as everyone in the group (I'd guess about 100) had on the Glow with the Show ears, which were blinking in unison with the music. The glasses made the lights look like little Mickey's. I think I remember them being handed out to everyone as they entered the viewing area a few years ago, so these might have been leftovers from then. It was a great start to the event!
Saturday, December 7. Breakfast, holiday presentations, The Scavenger Hunt, access to the Hospitality Suite in The American Adventure pavilion, reserved seating for The Candlelight Processional, dinner in the Rotunda in The American Adventure pavilion, Illuminations Dessert Party.
At 9:30 a.m., check-in started at the Odyssey pavilion in Epcot. Today, everyone attending the event needed to have valid park admission. If you had checked in already the night before, showing your lanyard to the cast member at the door gained you admission to the lobby of the pavilion, where a "light" breakfast buffet was spread. Guests who had not attended the Osborne Lights portion of the event the night before checked in and received their Glow with the Show ears and Mickey glasses.
I was pretty impressed with the "light" breakfast, having expected maybe some pastries and coffee. Offerings included a selection of mini muffins, a nice fruit salad and an egg, hash brown and sausage casserole. There was also coffee, tea, orange juice and water.
As guests entered the room to claim seats, there was a display of yummy holiday pastry treats to be oohed and aahed over, in addition to a display of some choral robes for the Candlelight Processional.
After everyone sat down with their breakfast, Laura Sanchez, from D23 Events kicked things off with a welcome and an overview of the day.
Steve Vagnini, Disney Archivist, presented Walt at Christmastime, showing archival photographs of Christmases and Christmas traditions throughout Walt's lifetime, from wishing for a new pair of boots to keep him warm on his childhood paper route, to the lists he kept of presents that were given to the children of Disney Company staff, to the television Christmas specials of the early 1960s.
Disney pastry chefs, Jeff Barnes (the Contemporary) and Yoly Lazo Colon (Epcot), then talked about Holiday Sweets, particularly focusing on the processes involved in creating the amazing gingerbread houses, trees and other displays throughout the resort (they get started making the gingerbread in January!), but also including other yummy treats on offer.
Here are some photos of several of the creations the chefs discussed that I took later in my trip:
The Mary Blair-inspired gingerbread tree at the Contemporary (which had to be specially anchored because of the vibrations of the monorail passing through)
and the gingerbread installation in the Land Pavilion at Epcot, which has contributions from all of Disney World's head pastry chefs.
(May I also say that the Linzer cookie that I bought at the Contemporary was just about the most amazing cookie that I have ever eaten! If you can, you should run right over there and buy one now!)
Next up was Forrest Bahruth, Show Director, Candlelight Processional, who gave a very interesting history of the event, starting with a group of a capella singers in Disneyland in 1955, continuing to the opening of the show in 1994 at Epcot. Bahruth also explained some of the changes made this year to the current show, including changing the backdrop, adding new "stained glass windows" on the sides of the stage, updating the choir robes, and changing the shape of the "tree" made of singers, and updating the narration to be more understandable for international guests.
Behind the Magic of Glow with the Show was the topic of the next presentation, from Erin Catalano, Disney Park Merchandise. Swearing us to secrecy, Catalano gave us a basic explanation of the technology behind the operation of the ears, which light up and blink in sync with the music and visuals of several shows in Disney parks around the world. The special ears were first developed to be used in conjunction with The World of Color show at Disney's California Adventure, and were then adapted for the fireworks show at Disneyland Paris. At Walt Disney World, the ears can currently be used with Fantasmic! and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at the Hollywood Studios, and Celebrate the Magic and Wishes at the Magic Kingdom. Tip: Batteries can be replaced free of charge at any shop that sells the ears.
Finally, Graham Allan, Historian, presented Seasons Past, a presentation of remembrances from seasonal presentations of the past thirty years in the parks. He showed clips of various Christmas parades in Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and a particularly interesting clip of a special Christmas water pageant at Tokyo DisneySea.
After the presentations, it was time for The Scavenger Hunt! (Alternatively, guests could take time to view the Holidays Around the World offerings, ride the rides or just hang out in the Hospitality Suite in the American Adventure Pavilion.) I opted to do the scavenger hunt, and spent a crazy four hours trying to track down all of the 100 items. (YOU try to count all of the red baubles on the main Epcot Christmas tree, it is not as easy as it sounds.) Next year I need a team!
At 5:45, we gathered in front of the American Adventure Pavilion to be escorted to our reserved seats for the Candlelight Processional, which was being narrated by Whoopi Goldberg that evening. I was a bit disappointed as our seats were way at the back on the side, and did not offer a very good view of the stage. Guests with dinner packages were seated in front of us. I did enjoy the show, however, and made special note of the changes that were pointed out earlier in the day by Forrest Bahruth.
After the Processional, we proceeded to dinner in the American Adventure Rotunda. As we entered the Rotunda, servers were waiting with, wait for it, trays of wine and beer. After the exhaustion of the scavenger hunt, I was ready for that adult beverage (and there was an open bar at the back, if anything other than wine or beer was desired).
The dinner was served buffet-style and was really quite delicious.
After dinner, the winner of the scavenger hunt (with a score of 91!) and the runners up (73, and 74, I believe) were announced, and we were directed to the back of the room, where two special guests were waiting to meet all of us!
As we left the Rotunda, we picked up our goodie bags, which included special artwork prepared just for the event, and a yummy cookie among other fun items.
The group was then escorted to the Terrace des Fleurs near the France Pavilion for a Dessert Party and IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth viewing. The desserts were yummy, and the view of Illuminations was amazing!
So in the end, did I think that the Holiday Splendors event was worth the relatively steep purchase price of $205? Considering that the event allowed premium viewing opportunities for three of the major Disney World Holiday events (the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, the Candlelight Processional and the holiday version of IllumiNations), included two substantial meals (and alcoholic beverages!), the Glow with the Show ears, a bag full of goodies, in addition to the presentations, I actually do feel that it was a good value. I did wish that the event were run a bit more like a tour, however, as I felt that we were simply turned loose on the Osborne lights without any real welcome, and there were no introductory remarks for either the Candlelight Processional (also our reserved seats for this were pretty terrible) or IllumiNations, either. I understand that this was the second year for this event, and it would be great if they offered it again next year, as I REALLY would like to win that scavenger hunt!
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was 10 years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited every one of the Disney parks throughout the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.