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Holiday DLights Tour at Walt Disney World

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.

Tour Guide Carmine

And this is tour guide Mark talking. It was difficult to get a picture of Mark without his hands and arms moving all about.

Tour Guide Mark

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. -:)

Name Badge

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.

Tour Bus

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.

Toy Soldiers / Magic Kingdom

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.

Mark talking to group

A look down Main Street.

Main Street lite up

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.

Mark talking as we walk

The Fairy Godmother saying the magic words.

Fairy Godmother

The castle lite up. Sorry the picture isn't better but we didn't have a good viewing spot.

Castle with Dream Lights

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.

Osborne Lights

Osborn 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!

John O'Hurley

The conductor gets things started.

Candlelight Processional Conductor

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!

Candlelight Processional Choir

Mark and Carmen told us how over 1,500 Cast Members apply each year to be part of this Cast Member choir.

Cast Member Choir

For the hearing impaired, someone signs the entire performance.

Person signing

One last look at the performance.

Both Choirs performing

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?

Holiday DLights Tour pin

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!

Finally, be one of the first people to hear when my newest blogs go live on AllEars.net by joining "DisneyMike's World" Facebook group.

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.

Comments (19)

Dan:

Great article, Mike.

Sounds like a lot of fun - but it also sounds like a LOT to cram into one evening.

Perhaps they should start an hour or two earlier. That would give more time for food and bathroom breaks. And it doesn't need to be dark to view the first part of the tour (the Decorations Building you spoke of). I agree with you on the prioroty seating issue.

Still, I wish I lived in Orlando so I could just pop over to WDW for these type of things.

Thanks again for posting.

DizneyMike replies: Dan, I do appreciate that they are trying to pack so much into a short time period. And solving that issue won't be easy, however, if anyone can do it Disney can! Thanks for the comment...Mike

Jeanie Johnston:

That's for taking us along with you on the lights tour!! Our family had the opportunity to visit WDW last year about this time, and really enjoyed the Christmas decorations. We won't be going this year.....but maybe next year!

DizneyMike replies: Jeanie, I hope all is well with you! Hopefully you will be able to visit next year...Mike

cathy m:

Hi Mike,
The tour sounds wonderful although the price seems steep. I did find this out about Toys for Tots:
The program was founded in 1947 by Major Bill Hendricks. The familiar logo of a train with the name on it was designed by Walt Disney Studios. So I wonder if this Major was Walt's friend?
Thank you for another interesting blog.
Have a magical day!

DizneyMike replies: Cathy, more than likely that's the connection. Thanks for providing that great info....Mike

Laura:

Hi Mike.We are doing the D-Lights tour on December 9, so I was very interested in reading your account of it. I'm sorry to hear there isn't better viewing of the castle lighting and the Candlelight Processional - but you still managed to get some good pictures of the latter! Thanks for getting your write-up done so quickly - you must have had a late night!------

DizneyMike replies: Laura, I would put money on the fact that Disney will have these issues resolved before you take the tour on the 9th. Also, yes, I was up till 3 AM working on the blog...Mike

Michelle:

Hi Mike,
I was so excited to see your article about
Holiday D-Lights! We are scheduled to take the tour on December 7 and I haven't been able to find out many details. One question, are you able to stay in Epcot after the tour to see Illuminations? Or do they take you back to the entrance? It would be nice if they added a VIP area to see Illuminations at the end of the tour. Thanks again for your wonderful articles!

DizneyMike replies: Michelle, we actually said our goodbyes in the American Garden Theater right after the Candlelight Processional. Our tour guides encouraged us to stay in Epcot and watch Illuminations. I do agree with you, it would have been a nice touch if they add special viewing of Illuminations to the tour. Anyway, I'm sure you'll love the tour. Enjoy...Mike

Laura Turner:

Hi Mike,
We took a Holiday tour last year and we came away thinking it would have been much better if it had been at night since it was about holiday lights and decorations. At least the idea is right, just need to work out the bugs. The price is steep for what seems to be a rushed tour.

DizneyMike replies: Laura, yes, we agree that the idea of a night time Holiday tour is outstanding. The issues I mentioned are ones that Disney can and will resolve. I believe in that Disney Magic....Mike

Khristine:

Hi Mike!

Thanks for the thorough review of the holiday tour. I, myself, have been on a couple tours that Disney offers and they are worth the price. I do have to correct you on one point in your article. Carmen is the correct name of one of your guides, not Carmine.

Carmen and Mark are both exceptional guides. I have been lucky enough to tour the parks with both of them and it's amazing the amount of knowledge they both posses and can interject into their respective tours.

Have a magical holiday season!

DizneyMike replies: Khristine, I stand corrected. Thanks for pointing that out. It is important to get the names right. I've gone back and change the name in the blog to the correct spelling. Thanks for the comment....Mike

Rebecca Smith :

Loved Mike's blog on the Holiday DLights tour! Thanks for taking the time to provide so much info and insight! Great job!

DizneyMike replies: Rebecca, thanks for the great comment. It's much appreciated...Mike

Kim:

The only time I was at Disney for Christmas was 20 years ago on my anniversay (which, by the way, is today!) and there was nothing like this tour available. I am hoping to get back for the Christmas season (maybe for my 25th!). For the price Disney should have light refreshments available each time the group reboards the bus...can't help with bathroom break advice!

DizneyMike replies: Kim, you definitely need to start making plans to celebrate your 25th at WDW during Christmas. It is a very special time of the year to visit....Mike

Josh:

Hey Mike
Thanks for all the great pictures and info on the Holiday Dlights tour. I love Disney World and I can't wait to go there during the christamas holidays. It is #1 on my things to do list for disney. Thanks again.

DizneyMike replies: Josh, that's a very smart plan. The holidays are the best time to visit Disney....Mike

JoAnn:

Wow!! Sounds like a lot of fun. We just (11/12) had Mark as one of our "Backstage Magic" tour guides and I agree he is great! FYI they added Animal Kingdom to the Backstage Magic tour so now you go to all 4 parks and lasts a bit longer. I can't wait to do this tour!

DizneyMike replies: JoAnn, I haven't done the Backstage Magic tour yet but plan to do so soon. Thanks for the great comment...Mike

Jeanie:

Hey Mike,

Great review as always!

With a few of the kinks worked out, this really looks like a special experience.

I'm sure that the tour was very entertaining because I had the pleasure of completing the Disney Institute Class when it came to Pittsburgh and Carmen was one of our instructors!
She had great energy and was simply wonderful!
I'd probably take the tour if I got a guarantee that she was my guide.

thanks
Jeanie

DizneyMike replies: Jeanie, yes Carmen was great, however, I'm sure whoever Disney picks for these tours has got to be pretty special....Mike

Tom:

Thanks Mike for the info., but it sounds like
a total ripoff. My family has gone to Disney
at Christmas for the last 15 years. Everything
your group saw can be done on your own including the Candlelight Processional. If they gave you front row tickets for the Processional and great viewing for the Castle
lighting it might be worth it for a much cheaper price. I am sure the tour guides were great, but we just learned all about Holiday Decorating on the HGTV Special. $179 ????

DizneyMike replies: Tom, you're right about being able to do everything except the tour of the Decorating Support facility on your own. However, I believe that the reason the price is so high is because you don't need park admission for this tour. So, they take you to three parks and you don't have to use one of your days. That's a big plus for someone with a five day park hopper. Secondly, you need to add it the cost of the tour guides and the bus. It will be interesting to see if Disney was able to correct the seating and viewing problems. Hopefully someone who attended a later tour will let me know....Mike

Kelly:

Last year we did the Yuletide Tour, and while it covers others aspects of Disney at Christmas time (or rather, at Holiday time) I think for the price, I'd much rather do the Yuletide Tour! It began early, the pace was great, we DID visit the Holiday Services building, and we didn't need admission. We were done by lunch, which made for a great day. As mentioned, I can do everything here except visit the Decorations building on my own. Think I'd prefer the Yuletide personally.

DizneyMike replies: Kelly, I also took the Yuletide tour but a number of years ago. We did like the tour. Personally I haven't taken a WDW tour that I wouldn't recommend. They are all really good tours.....Mike

Jeff:

We took this tour last night and found it to be similar to your detailed description, however they changed the order of it so that we started with the Magic Kingdom rather than Osborne Lights. We viewed the Castle lights from Town Square while the Spectro Magic parade was going on. Mark told us about the 'lighting' ceremony of the Castle but it was disappointing that we did not see that, let alone view the castle up close. They tried to get us to the lighting of the Osborne lights at 7:00 but the lighting actually began about 3 minutes early while we were approaching. Our seats for the Candlelight Processional were in the back as you described. I would recommend this tour to others though, just don't expect that they will have made any significant changes to it from the described.

DizneyMike replies: Jeff, thanks for the update. It's too bad that they haven't corrected some of the problems I experienced. As I mentioned in the blog these issues weren't going to be easy fixes. I appreciate you passing along the update so quickly....Mike

Denise A. Kostka:

just curious about the discounts you mentioned - I went on the tour on 12/7 and although it was excellent I thought a little steep $$$ - I was told there were NO DISCOUNTS when I booked it - I saw this yesterday and called last night and was told there are no discounts. If you are correct I'm going to see about getting reimbursed for the difference. If you are incorrect I think they should offer a discount to at least someone who has an annual pass and already has park admission. Let me know plese - I will also respond about my experience on the tour.

Matt:

I took the last tour offered for the season on December 16. I would agree that the large portion of what you talked about still remains, but there are some changes they have been making, for the better. We had a tour group of 19 people, so we had nice small intimate groups with Mark and Carmen.

We first visited the Prop warehouse instead of the holiday services building. There they had a sample of the castle netting and lights for us to look at. We walked around a bit and found some holiday themed items including trees, garland and toy soldiers. This was not the holiday services building, but they were still working with garland and such here.

After that we made our way to MK and walked up main street to the Ice Cream shop/Casey's Corner area and watched the castle lighting ceremony. While we didn't have a full view of the stage, but we had an amazing view of the castle. After that, we had time for a restroom break before heading off to our next location.

Next off to Hollywood Studios. We didn't try to make it to the lighting ceremony, but rather arrived and enjoyed the lights and saw 1.5 dancing songs. After that we enjoyed some hot chocolate and cookies before leaving.

Next off to the Candlelight. We had seats behind the first row of trees and off to the left side. While we were a bit rushed getting there (we got to Morocco at 8pm), we arrived in perfect time for the show. The seats were adequate and weren't too bad. At the conclusion of the tour we went into the American Adventure atrium and got our pins, turned in our headsets and said our goodbyes. They let us leave from there so we could enjoy Illuminations or do whatever else we wanted to do while EPCOT was still open for the next 15 minutes.

Overall, the changes they have made are a step in the right direction and it will be interesting to see what they change for next year.

DizneyMike replies: Matt, thank you very much for that great update. I'm glad to see that some of the issues have been corrected. I'm sure that if they continue with the tour next year that they will have worked out the logistics so that everything runs smoother. It is a challenge for them to fit all those nighttime activities into four hours. Thanks again...Mike

Lisa Havens:

Mike,

I was on the tour with you, and actually was sat next to you on the bus. You did a great job on the review and the pictures. I ended up taking a couple of more tours that week and was not disappointed. Thanks for the detailed review that I could share with my friends when I came home.

Lia

DizneyMike replies: Lisa, I remember. Glad you liked the blog...Mike

Johnny:

Hi Mike.... My name is Johnny and I've been reading All-Ears for a few months now and really enjoy reading your blogs but I just recently subscribed, so this is my first post.
When I saw this blog concerning the holiday lights at Disney I just had to make this comment:
It truly saddens me when I hear anyone speak badly about Disny World but I'm afraid this time it is me who must say something.... This Christmas season at Disney was a disappointment. Why?...mainly because they took away one of my favorite holiday traditions: The Lights of Winter at EPCOT.
I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked up and saw they were absent...although, given the fact that they have been gradually cutting out the tree lighting ceremony completely, It shouldn't have come as a surprise.
Disney has been gradually cutting back on things for a few years now but taking away TLOW was the last straw!
And TLOW wasn't the only thing we noticed missing. We noticed a definite lack of decoration on most of the lamp-posts, as well as alot of other little touches they thought we wouldn't notice. I'm just glad I didn't shell out the bucks for this tour.
I have been planning and anticipating this Christmas season for the past 11 months...and they really let me down.

DizneyMike replies; Johnny, I too am very disappointed that the TLoW's were not up this year. I strongly suggest that you write or email WDW and tell them how you feel. I can assure you that they listen and want all kinds of feedback; both positive and negative. Also, I really do hope that your trip to WDW this year wasn't ruined because of this. The parks and hotels are still beautifully decorated and the Christmas events are so very special....Mike

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 1, 2009 8:00 AM.

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.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.