This evening (Monday, November 30th) I had the privilege of taking the very first Holiday DLights Tour at Walt Disney World. Let me start by showing you the description of the tour as provided by Disney:
"Discover how the twinkle of holiday magic is created for celebrations like the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Get an insider’s look into the transformation of Cinderella Castle to a sparkling holiday masterpiece. Bask in the holiday glow of the Candlelight Processional, one of the longest-running Disney holiday traditions.
Epcot: Sit back and enjoy the Candlelight Processional, as the Christmas story is brought to life by a 50-piece live orchestra, a mass choir in the shape of a singing Christmas tree, and a celebrity narrator.
Magic Kingdom: Experience the holiday magic of Main Street U.S.A. as the sun sets and the holiday lights begin to shine. Watch as Cinderella Castle is transformed into a breathtaking, icy palace by the Castle Dream Lights.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Marvel at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, an impressive display of millions of holiday lights choreographed to music of the season.
Event & Decorating Support: Visit the talented team responsible for planning and executing grand-scale signature events across Walt Disney World Resort and learn what it takes to transform the entire destination into a winter wonderland."
The Holiday DLights Tour is limited to six nights. The cost is $179./pp plus tax. However, Annual Passholders receive a 15% discount and Disney Visa Card Holders get a 20% discount. Admission to the parks is not required. However, no children under the age of 16 are permitted on the tour. The tour is billed as a four and a half hour tour.
We started our tour in front of the Guest Services location in front of Epcot. We were asked to be there by 4:45 PM. A group of approximately 36 people had gathered there by the time that our two tour guides showed up. Tour guide Carmen and tour guide Mark introduced themselves and quickly went about checking everyone's photo ID's, giving us name badges and wrist bands to wear as well as headsets and receivers to wear during the tour.
I should mention here that this tour is a Disney Institute tour. Usually if the tour encompass more than one park they are the ones running the tour. As you can imagine, a lot of coordinating is needed for a tour like this.
For those of you who have never taken a tour at Disney, they now give you these receivers and headsets so you can listen to the tour guide while walking. Each of the tour guides has a microphone and transmitter. It's a great way to walk though crowds and still be able to hear what the tour guide is saying.
Here's a picture of tour guide Carmen talking to the group.
And this is tour guide Mark talking. It was difficult to get a picture of Mark without his hands and arms moving all about.
I took a picture of the name badges they gave us for a reason; that will become clear at the end of the blog. So, you'll have to wait; no scrolling down until you're told. -:)
We started the tour by walking to a Disney Cruise Line bus that was waiting for us in the Epcot bus parking lot. Along the way Carmen and Mark gave us an outline of what was in store for us on the tour.
As we drove to our first destination, Mark explained the history of the importance of lights to Walt and to Walt Disney World. He also told us that Walt, along with a Marine friend of his, was the originator of the Toys for Tots program. Also, it was interesting to hear how Walt had a program where every son and/or daughter of Disney employees under the age of 12 received a toy from him at Christmas. Hearing these stories gives insight as to how the holidays meant so much to Walt.
Our first stop was to the "Decorating Support" building. Since this was a "backstage" location no pictures were allowed. Decorating Support is where the lights for the castle were made and where they are stored when taken down. In addition this group builds all the kiosks for the Epcot's Food and Wine Festival and where most of the large props seen around the hotels and parks are built and stored. It's a large facility consisting of about 50,000 sq ft. They average around 3,400 projects a year. Decorating Support is very different from Holiday Services. Holiday Services is where all the Christmas Trees, wreaths and garland are stored. We did not visit Holiday Services.
Back on the bus we headed over to the Magic Kingdom. On the way there Mark explained how Francois Leroux designed the castle lights for Disneyland Paris and was brought over to do the same thing at Walt Disney World. He worked with the WDW Imagineers to create the spectacular Dream Lights you see today on Cinderella Castle.
I mentioned that park admission wasn't required because we entered each park via a "backstage" entrance. However, as we entered each park the entrances were gated. At the gates a Disney Security guard got on the bus and performed a bag check. So, even backstage you have to have your bag checked.
Once off the bus we entered the Magic Kingdom from a backstage location next to Tony's Town Square restaurant. Here's a picture of the Toy Soldiers that are just in front of the train station.
Here you see Mark talking about how the Magic Kingdom is transformed into the holiday wonderland you see now. Interestingly, prior to 1991 all the decorating of the parks and hotels was done on Thanksgiving evening after the parks closed. However, WDW got so big and the decoration so elaborate that much more than one night was required.
A look down Main Street.
We arrived at a location to the right of Cinderella Castle near the noodle station. There we watched the castle lighting ceremony. After the castle lights were turned on we exited the Magic Kingdom by a Cast Member exit right behind us. Now I have to admit that I was disappointed in this part of the tour. I expected that we would have a much better viewing area; one much closer to the castle. And to top it off, we were right next to the smoking area. Not good at all! For this kind of money we should have been very close to the castle.
As we walked, Mark keep giving us more information.
The Fairy Godmother saying the magic words.
The castle lite up. Sorry the picture isn't better but we didn't have a good viewing spot.
Back on the bus and on our way over to Hollywood Studios. On the way there Carmen provided us with a bunch of "fun facts' regarding the holiday decorating. Here's just a few to give you an idea of what these "fun facts" were: there are over 10 miles of lights throughout WDW, 1,300 trees and 300,000 ft of ribbon.
When we arrived at Hollywood Studios we got off the bus in a backstage area. We were treated to cookies and hot chocolate. I do love Disney's hot chocolate! So, this was a nice surprise and treat.
We entered Hollywood Studios from a backstage area next to Toy Story Mania. We walked over to the Streets of America. While walking Carmen and Mark gave us the history of how Disney acquired the lights from the Osborne family and how they have changed over the years. Some of you may remember that when they were first brought to Disney and first displayed on "Residential Street". Anyway we wondered the Streets of America and viewed the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights.
From there we got back on the bus for the short drive over to Epcot. During the ride, Mark and Carmen gave us the history of the Candlelight Processional. It originated in Disneyland in California and was brought to Walt Disney World when it opened in 1971. At first the Candlelight Processional was held in front of the train station in the Magic Kingdom. However, as it gained in popularity that area became much to small for the crowds that wanted to see it. So, it moved to Epcot where it remains today. It should also be noted that the Candlelight Processional remains the most popular holiday event at Walt Disney World. I'm not surprised by that!
When we arrived at Epcot we were running a few minutes late so we really had to step up the pace. We got off the bus in back of the Morocco pavilion around 8:00 PM. So, we only had about 10 minutes to get off the bus and make the walk to get to the 8:15 PM performance in time. They did have two rows reserved for us so we didn't have to worry about seats. We just didn't want to miss any of the performance.
My second disappointment was where they seated us. We were at the very back of the American Garden Theater and not in the center but to the left of the stage. So, we had poles and trees in our way.
The speaker tonight was John O'Hurley. My wife and I have seen him two previous years. He has a fantastic speaking voice and does and outstanding job!
The conductor gets things started.
Here's a picture of part of the choir. These are high school kids from all over the country. You can see how proud these young men and women are to be part of this as they walk into the American Garden Theater. They really do a fantastic job!
Mark and Carmen told us how over 1,500 Cast Members apply each year to be part of this Cast Member choir.
For the hearing impaired, someone signs the entire performance.
One last look at the performance.
OK, here's the reason why I took that picture of my badge. On the badge there is a picture of Mickey with a candle in the corner. Well, we each were given a Holiday DLights collectors edition pin with the same Mickey as on the badge. The pin is really neat. If you look closely you see at the top of the candle there is a light. Yes, it blinks when turned on; how special is that?
We were given the pin at the end of the Candlelight Processional. We turned in our headsets and receivers and said our goodbyes! That concluded the tour.
Here's my thoughts on the tour. I thought that Carmen and Mark were excellent! They knew their stuff and were warm and friendly. They made you feel very welcome! Kudos to them for doing such an outstanding job!
I thought that the premise of the tour was outstanding! However, a few things need to be worked out. For instance, I thought the tour was rushed. We only had one short bathroom break and no opportunity to get drinks or food. Remember, this started at 4:45 PM so most people left from wherever they were around mid-afternoon to get over to Epcot for that time. So, no chance to eat any food until after 9;00 PM when it ended. I not sure how the Disney Institute can overcome this challenge. I realize that it's a night time tour so the window to view all these events is very small.
The biggest concern I had was the viewing areas for both the Castle lighting and the Candlelight Processional. Personally I think that the price tag of $179./pp warrants better viewing/seating.
Lastly, the marketing material I read stated "Visit the talented team responsible for planning and executing grand-scale signature events". Well, there was no "team". We saw the facility but didn't meet with anyone. I had the impression that we would meet with Cast Members who would give additional insight into the holiday decorating.
Now, remember that this was the very first Holiday DLights tour. Sharon, a manager from the Disney Institute, came along with us and noted many of the items I spoke about. Knowing Disney, I'm sure that these will be resolved in future tours.
With all that said, I would highly recommend this tour. It was wonderful and well worth the money!
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Well, that’s all for now. As my good friend says “see ya real soon”….DizneyMike
The previous post in this blog was A Walking Tour of Epcot's Norway Pavilion.
The next post in this blog is Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade Taping.