2016 Walt Disney World Christmas Trip Recap – Part 1

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We are back from our Christmas season Walt Disney World trip, and thought we’d drop in with some photos and a quick recap of things we did, thoughts, etc. We’ve already done individual posts for several specific topics, and have plenty more things to tackle, but that’ll take several weeks, and not everything is deserving of a fully-fledged post.

However, since we are still in the midst of our Fall 2016 Disneyland Paris Trip Report (sorry for the delays!), we didn’t want to start another trip report. This means less rambling, corny jokes, and more to-the-point info. Yeah, I heard the collective “phew” from those of you reading just now.

We started planning this trip over the summer, and with some banked Disney Vacation Club points coupled with low season point charts, we figured we’d use those. We started out with a split stay at Saratoga and Old Key West, neither of which are all that desirable at Christmas season. Gradually, we were able to pick off dates at our preferred resorts, and eventually ended up with an itinerary that included stays at Bay Lake Tower (2 nights), Grand Floridian Villas (1 night), Animal Kingdom Villas (1 night), and BoardWalk Villas (2 nights).

That’s a lot of resort-hopping, but we didn’t want to drop the Grand Floridian Villas from the itinerary given that we haven’t stayed there. We left LAX on a red-eye, arriving at Bay Lake Tower just before 7 a.m. We “knew” our room wouldn’t be ready, but figured we’d check in as soon as the desk opened, anyway. To our surprise, our room was ready when we checked in, and Sarah just about hugged the Cast Member who told her that.

Our last Disney Vacation Club stay before this was at the Polynesian in the Fall. Going from a studio at the Poly to Bay Lake Tower was a bit jarring. It probably would’ve been worse on consecutive nights, but the size difference was obvious even with stays spaced a couple of months apart.

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Sarah is a big fan of Bay Lake Tower, both for its style and proximity to Magic Kingdom. I like it, but am far less enthusiastic. I’d rather have a more aggressive theme that differentiates the hotel significantly from what you’d find at a real world hotel.

Still, a nice room. I’d also say that these rooms make very efficient use of space, so even though the size difference is pronounced, it certainly doesn’t feel uncomfortably small. At some point I’ll update our Bay Lake Tower Review with additional room photos and further thoughts.

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Before taking a nap, we headed to Contempo Cafe for breakfast. I had the egg sandwich, which was shockingly good. It looked like it was even made with real eggs!

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Sarah opted for an oversized Mickey waffles, which was overpriced and tasted exactly how you’d expect. They’re a fun novelty if you’re eating from a buffet and “need” a cute Instagram photo, but then will actually eat something else. I cannot fathom ordering Mickey waffles by themselves.

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Lunch was at Katsura Grill, and we went to Epcot literally just for that, Impressions de France, and to pick up my AP Food & Wine Festival glass. (They were all out, so I got an outlet mall-reject from the Tim Burton Alice sequel, instead. Lovely.)

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Katsura Grill is one of our Epcot go-to picks, but we decided to try options other than our favorites, and the results were only so-so.

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After that, it was on to Ample Hills Creamery, where I went for the peppermint pattie flavor, wanting something “Christmasy.” (The ice cream was delicious, but I probably should’ve done a brownie base instead of a buttercake.)

This place is still pretty divisive among Disney fans, and I just don’t get that. People lament the price points, but this is some seriously high quality stuff, and that sundae is large enough to share.

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Then it was on to everyone’s favorite, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Wait times were obscene, so we just sat back in Muppet Courtyard shaking our fists at the Star Wars Land construction walls while yelling “BRING BACK OSBORNE LIGHTS!”

Seeing the partially demolished Streets of America behind those walls made us nostalgic, and also sad. Not just sad that the Osborne Lights are gone, but that these walls have been up nearly a year and they still haven’t finished demo work.


I’ve been optimistic that the removal of the Streets of America is for the “greater good” of DHS–and I still am. It’s just a bit difficult to retain that mentality when thinking about what could have been with the Osborne Lights this year.

They have done maybe a full 2 weeks worth of work since putting those walls up. They could have run Osborne Lights this year, and then just moved at a faster pace in 2017.

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I suspect Star Wars Land is moving at a slower pace because capex spending on Pandora is higher than projected, and there’s a mandate to distribute spending over X number of fiscal years. It’s still sad. At this rate, Star Wars Land will open at Disneyland 2-3 years before it debuts at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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I’ve already done a full post on Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!, so I won’t fixate on that here. I will say that the snow on Hollywood Boulevard was a top notch way to exit the park.

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If the creative team can come up with a better show next year and maybe a bit more decor elsewhere in the park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios could be a really strong park in terms of Christmas offerings. The glitz and glamor of old Hollywood work nicely with the twinkling lights and stars of Christmas.

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We took the bus from DHS to Contemporary, with the plan that we’d walk to Magic Kingdom and have dinner. Our bus stopped at Wilderness Lodge first, and we impulsively got off there, thinking we’d do dinner at Territory Lounge or Roaring Fork. We opted for the latter, and their delicious roast beef sandwich. Because I’m a pig (and the bread tends to be a bit dry) I always ask for a side of extra dressing–highly recommended.

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From there, we boated to Magic Kingdom, watching the Electrical Water Pageant on the way. Pretty cool to view it from the water.

First order of business in Magic Kingdom was watching Once Upon a Time. It was nice being able to understand the majority of the words in this show for once, but the narration didn’t add much…so maybe it wasn’t so nice.

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The show had been cut by 5 minutes from the Tokyo Disneyland version, presumably because Americans have the attention span of gnats. Other changes had been made, as well, almost all of which were lateral moves. There’s new Frozen stuff, naturally, and also spotlights instead of lasers. Everyone knows lasers are awesome, so their absence is missed.

All things considered, though, the condensed/altered form is just as good as the Tokyo Disneyland version, which is to say it’s very good. It’s a significant improvement from Celebrate the Magic, and I hope Magic Kingdom’s next iteration on this type of show adds water fountains in the moats and lasers to the mix. Imagine having that, Wishes, and a new electrical parade all running in the same night–Magic Kingdom evening entertainment would be more formidable than Disneyland’s!

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Nothing else of consequence to report from that day, so on to our second day. We had work to do in the morning, so we got a late start, heading to Magic Kingdom around midday. The only noteworthy thing from this day was that we saw both shows of “The Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History.”

As I shared in our Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: 2016 Photos & Report post, this is my favorite new thing in Magic Kingdom in the last decade (a timeframe during which all of New Fantasyland opened).

The show was pitch perfect, and the most true to character use of the Muppets in ages (better than both movies and the tv series). I have a ton more photos and thoughts about this show, but it’s really deserving of its own post. Suffice to say, if you’re going to Magic Kingdom, do not miss this. There are two versions of the show, both of which are absolutely worth doing.

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After that, it was dinner at Pecos Bill. Surprisingly, the toppings bar remains as good as it was when we last updated our Pecos Bill Review a year ago, at which time we indicated we’d be surprised to see the guacamole last. Well, it’s still there. Thanks to that toppings bar, this remains our Magic Kingdom go-to dining spot. It’s easy for us to split a meal and leave full.

The rest of the evening was filled with Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party stuff, all of which we covered in the aforementioned MVMCP Photos & Report post. Suffice to say, even though the party was really crowded (we’ve heard last night’s party was dead–maybe early December dates before Pop Warner will be good?) we had an excellent time. The parade and fireworks are always excellent, and the new stage show and cookie choices were strong.

On Page 2, we’ll check into Grand Floridian, where we received an awesome surprise!

25 Responses to “2016 Walt Disney World Christmas Trip Recap – Part 1”
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