Disneyland Christmas 2013 Trip Report – Part IV

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Time for the final installment of our Disneyland Christmas trip report. Read the previous parts here. Candlelight Processional was next on the agenda. We’ve been to Candlelight Processional numerous times at Epcot, seeing a range of narrators from Neil Patrick Harris to J. Peterman from Seinfeld. I’ve always enjoyed it, but I can’t say it’s the highlight of the Christmas season at Walt Disney World for me. It’s not worth the long wait in standby and since we’ve already seen it several times, it’s difficult to justify the dinner packages. Sarah also enjoys it, but could take it or leave it.

Despite this, we were intrigued when we realized that Candlelight Processional would be occurring during our Disneyland trip, and looked forward to attending, even if it meant dealing with congestion and heavier than normal crowds. Taking last year’s anomaly out of the equation, Candlelight Processional only has four performances each year at Disneyland on two nights. There is no seating for the general public (in the past there have been very expensive VIP dinner packages, but none this year to our knowledge), but day guests can stand outside the roped-off Candlelight Processional seating area. Prime spots fill up fast, and we’ve heard of people camping out for hours for benches or good views. (Disclosure: we were invited guests of Disneyland at Candlelight Processional–the invitation included our seats plus a one-day Park Hopper ticket for each of us–we’re APs, so those went unused.)

Candlelight Processional is definitely more of a spectacle at Disneyland. The backdrop of the Main Street USA Train Station is much nicer than the America Gardens Theater at Epcot, and the seating area feels more intimate and inviting. The various lighting and other effects are great, and really add to the sense of pageantry. The procession from Fantasyland to Main Street is also a really neat touch. Kurt Russell was the narrator for the performance that we saw, and he did an excellent job, as did the choirs and orchestra.

All in all, it was an excellent show that surpassed the Epcot version, although I can understand the differences. Epcot’s show is run from a utilitarian perspective; it wouldn’t make sense to have an intimate show in Epcot (the theater there could be twice as large and it would probably still fill up for each show!) since it’s for all park guests–or at least those who purchase dining packages. While it would be cool if Walt Disney World still did it on Main Street, that just isn’t feasible, and I prefer that everyone has the opportunity to see Candlelight.

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We were seated to the side of the viewing area, which was originally a bit of a letdown until I realized that it provided the perfect perspective to photograph the spotlights!

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I was able to set my tripod up and capture some long exposures.

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She was very enthusiastic.

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“Call me ‘Snake.’”

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Seeing a celebrity is cool, I suppose, but I’ve always thought the highlight of the show was the Cast Member performers. These CMs were no exception.

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“The name’s Plissken!”

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After Candlelight Processional, we had to figure out what to do. Disneyland was packed, so attractions were basically out of the question. I took a quick photo of the spot I had scouted our earlier. This is perhaps my favorite view of ‘it’s a small world’ holiday.

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We decided to see if Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue would honor our earlier reservation for the dessert. They did!

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Since the dessert takes 30 minutes to prepare, supposedly, if you tell them that’s what you’re ordering in advance, they’ll start it out for you right then…

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We had about a 10 minute wait before we were seated, so we took some photos.

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It’s rare that we take photos of ourselves or one another nowadays. I always implore others to do this, so we should start practicing what we preach.

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There’s entertainment at Big Thunder Ranch BBQ year-round. For Christmas, they have a special show. It’s fun entertainment that gives Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue a good atmosphere.

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They also performed Ghost Riders in the Sky. I’m not quite sure why…

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Jingle Jangle Jamboree Christmas tree.

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After a 15 minute wait to be seated and another 30 minute wait from the time we were seated, our dessert finally arrived. Guy swears that he has been able to simply drop by the check-in desk, tell them he’ll be back in 45 minutes, and the dessert is ready for him when he arrives. Either Guy has some pull with the Big Thunder Ranch BBQ Cast Members or he can’t count, and he actually waits for it, too. I wouldn’t rule out either possibility. 

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In any case, the Peppermint Ice Cream and Brownie Skillet was everything we hoped it would be and more. It would’ve been worth a two hour wait. Seriously. If it comes down to taking an hour (or so) out of your day to have this dessert, or doing a few additional attractions, choose the dessert.

The brownie was hot and gooey in the middle and a bit crunchy on the edges (literally the best brownie I’ve ever had), and the peppermint ice cream was great. It was all sorts of amazing. It supposedly serves 3-4 guests, and maybe if your party is filled with people who don’t like awesome ice cream and brownies, that will be true. The two of us finished this with ease, and truthfully, we probably could have each had our own. But we’re pigs.

For whatever reason, Big Thunder Ranch BBQ is the only place in Disneyland Resort where this delicious ice cream is available this year. That’s really too bad, as it’s really good. (In previous years, I know at least Gibson Girl also had it.)

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More of the entertainment.

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We met up with Henry and Kate, and did Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Next stop was Main Street to wait for Believe… In Holiday Magic. I think we arrived about 30 minutes early, but it was already crowded.

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Hardcore Disneyland fans (at least our friends) don’t seem too keen on Believe… In Holiday Magic.

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I love it. From the burst selection to the music, I think it’s a very good show.

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Of course, it’s no Remember… Dreams Come True, but nothing is. That is the gold standard for Castle park fireworks shows. Saying Believe… In Holiday Magic is lousy because it’s not as good as ‘Remember’ is like saying Derrick Rose is a lousy basketball player because he isn’t as good as Michael Jordan.

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Yes, the music does have a late-1990s new age sound to it, but it’s high in sentimentality and a very fitting show for Christmas.

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For me, the highlight of the show is the finale (or is it the post show?), when Main Street and the Hub come alive in white “snow” lights. This leaves most “regular” guests in awe, and is the defining moment of the show.

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After ‘Believe’ ended, we raced over the Disney California Adventure for World of Color – Winter Dreams.

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We made it into the show with plenty of time to spare, and were able to snag front row spots in the wet zone.

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The spotlights added to Mickey’s Fun Wheel are a great effect that hopefully will be integrated into the regular show. They’re certainly photogenic!

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I’ve already shared my thoughts on Winter Dreams, and there’s not really much more to say. In fact, this installment is fairly heavy in photos and light in text. I’ve shared most of my thoughts on Disneyland Resort this Christmas in the previous three installments. No point in adding more commentary just for the sake of having commentary.

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This scene with the snowflakes shows a lot of Disney films featuring the holidays in a very quick manner. I wish some of these films had their own scenes (especially the likes of Mickey’s Christmas Carol and a few others). A greater mix of shorter scenes would have been nice, I think. I’m guessing some films didn’t receive full scenes because they are older films that score low on the SYNERGONATOR 2000. I can’t imagine Three Caballeros has much synergy potential, though, but maybe they didn’t have any better options for Viva Navidad!

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Peace on Earth card with the Waltograph font. Are these the fan designed cards a la LuminAria?

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Santa Claus and Sleeping Beauty Castle. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a clean shot of “Mater Claus.” SORRY!

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Christmas tree.

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Rex ‘dances’ with the Toy Story aliens. Cute segment.

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Olaf loves summer. I could have done without this song in the show, but I get wanting to push Frozen.

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Babes in Toyland toy soldiers.

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A couple photos of some colorful scenes.

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These Christmas tree fountains at the end are a nice touch.

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Happy Holidays projected into some mist concludes the main show.

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As with the regular version of World of Color, the post show is the best time for photos.

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This is also when ‘snow’ falls into the audience/Paradise Bay. It doesn’t photograph very well, mostly because there’s not enough of it concentrated in the scene. It just looks like isolated globs of stuff.  In fairness, it’s not as easy to make it snow here as it is on Main Street (larger area, plus wind, etc.).

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The lights on California Screamin’ are another great new effect.

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This kitten was warming itself on a light behind Flo’s V8 Cafe. We felt bad for him–it was really cold and he was just a little guy. The Cast Members didn’t seem to know what to do about him…I’m not sure there was anything they could do.

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Motor oil Christmas tree in front of Flo’s.

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Garland and other details.

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Radiator Springs Courthouse.

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Another view from under this awning. Although Cars Land is beautiful to look at, it’s not quite so easy to photograph. There’s a lot of dead space and lack of symmetry, making framing shots a bit of a challenge.

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The awesome neon goes a long way to make up for this.

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The cone tree outside Cozy Cone Motel was probably my favorite.

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Cars Land decorations seem to be love ‘em or hate ‘em, and I love them. Sure, they’re over the top and in many cases tacky, but they fit Cars Land perfectly. I think Cars Land normally does a decent job with balancing real life car culture with Cars culture, but it is a town pulled straight out of the Cars films. It is cartoonish. Cartoonish decorations are what fit.

I say props to the decorating team that got creative with the decorations, going for what the animators might have done had there been Christmas in the film, rather than the standard (and likely cheaper) “theme-appropriate decorations on a normal Christmas tree” found everywhere else. Don’t get me wrong, the normal Christmas trees Disney does are great, but that’s probably not what an animator would’ve dreamed up for Cars Land.

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Really the only thing I didn’t like was the star on the top of Sarge’s tree. I get it and think it’s clever, but I just don’t like it. Struck me a little as clever for the sake of being clever.

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Wide shot of Christmas in Cars Land.

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This scarf draped over your head look is a new fashion statement that is sweeping Indiana.

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I think Cars Land probably lends itself better to a mid-range zoom lens (used here) and careful framing or a telephoto lens for close-up shots of details.

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This snowman car thing was another PhotoPass hotspot. There were people lined up for him well after Disney California Adventure closed. It’s cute, I guess, but I think there are approximately 1,632 better photo spots in the park than against a billboard and next to a snow-car-thing (the view above would not be the view in those PhotoPass photos).

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I really like the framing on this shot, but I think I tamed the highlights in Carthay Circle too much. The lighting on it is a real challenge–I’ll have to revisit this photo.

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I like the location of the Buena Vista Street Christmas tree, but it’s surrounded by trees, making it difficult to photograph.

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I think the tree is waaaaaay too cool, color temperature-wise. They have that stereotypical LED light look. Both the main Disneyland Resort trees are too cool, in my opinion. I prefer warmer lights from an aesthetic perspective, and that’s especially true when the tree should be from an era when LED lights didn’t exist.

Tokyo Disneyland’s tree in World Bazaar is LED, but it’s all yellow, red, and orange lights. Not only does it not look like an LED tree, but it “feels” more warm and homey. I think a similar tree would’ve been great on Buena Vista Street. I’m sure there was a reason for this cool of a tree, but I still don’t like it.

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I think this is probably the best perspective for photographing the Christmas tree and Carthay Circle. Wish I would have captured this while the Red Car Trolley was still running!

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Gripes about the cool LED lights aside, Buena Vista Street looks amazing at Christmas. Buena Vista Street always looks amazing, but my main complaint about it has been a lack of lighting. The addition of the Christmas lights addresses this, and completes Buena Vista Street. The level of detail on BVS continues to astound me–I spot multiple new things each time I wander down it. I really wish I had taken the time to wander through the stores this trip and see the decorations inside.

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I started back by ‘it’s a small world’ holiday, trying to find a new angle to photograph it. I wasted a lot of time doing this, and didn’t really come up with anything. I spent more time back there for this one mediocre photo than I did on all of the photos that follow combined. I mean, I took more than just this one photo back there, but none turned out to be anything remotely special.

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Not a conventional perspective of Sleeping Beauty Castle for portraits, but I think it works well with the swans in the background. Love birds and love birds, you know?

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I love photographing these animals around Sleeping Beauty Castle. Here, I used my telephoto lens plus teleconverter to shoot the bunny. The bokeh “next” to him is actually a good distance away (the bunny is to the east of the Castle, the lights that he’s sniffing are to the west of the Castle).

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We ran into Matthew and Michaela from Tours Departing Daily again. I creeped on them for a bit, grabbing this action shot. We chatted briefly, but security was quickly closing the park. That always seems to happen when it’s cold, as “normal” guests (i.e., the ones who are shopping on Main Street, and aren’t crazy photographers) leave quicker.

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Another one with the telephoto lens. I’m pretty pleased with my telephoto night shots. Some night, I need to just use that lens, and leave my ultra wide angle in the bag. I don’t know if I could do it!

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For those who haven’t seen the Disneyland Christmas tree in person, it’s not always this blue. Earlier in the night, it’s lit by red and green lights, and looks great. The blue looks good, I think, but doesn’t look in the context of Main Street.

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It was time to leave the park, but I grabbed a quick shot of the Train Station on the way out.

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Ultimately, even though it was a less than two day trip, it was a great time. In looking back, we only did about 20% of the attractions and didn’t see a lot of entertainment and other things we would’ve liked to have seen. Certain entertainment, like Viva Navidad! and Big Thunder Ranch, definitely would have been worth seeing again, and I wish we had more time to explore and look at decorations. I also wish we had more time to try out various snacks. I previously indicated that the Christmas snacks were disappointing this year as compared to last, and I stand by that, but it turns out there were some we missed. We also didn’t make it to any of the hotels, Trader Sam’s, or Downtown Disney to see the decorations or entertainment there. There are a lot of things it would have been nice to have done.

My point with all of this is that it sort of baffles me when people call Disneyland Resort “too small.” I know we are not the norm, but we easily could spend 5 days there and still not experience everything. That’s especially true when seasonal entertainment is offered. Now, we don’t run from ride to ride checklist style, and we like to slow down, snack, and wander, but still…I can’t imagine doing a first visit to Disneyland Resort and only spending a couple of days there.

We had an excellent time on our recent Halloween trip, but no season at Disneyland is as good as Christmas. With Disney California Adventure now having its own very solid holiday offerings in Viva Navidad and Winter Dreams (plus great decorations that were previously lacking), Disneyland Resort is a powerhouse for the Christmas season. The number of additions and special offerings (all of which are included in the regular cost of admission…imagine that!) are pretty astounding, and were universally well done.

In other words, if you’re planning a trip to Disneyland Resort and trying to figure out when to visit and how many days to take, Christmas and 5 are our respective answers. ;)

Speaking of which…if you’re planning your own trip during the Christmas season, you should check out our “Ultimate Disneyland Christmas Guide,” which will give you tips for visiting, right down to snacks to try and when to experience certain holiday offerings!

As for figuring out the rest of your Disneyland trip, including what to pack, whether you should stay off-site or on-site in a Disney hotel, where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland trip planning guide!

For more Disneyland tips, special offers, and news, subscribe to our newsletter!

Your Thoughts…

What do you think of Candlelight Processional? Cars Land at Christmas? Are you a fan of Believe… In Holiday Magic? Hearing from you is half the fun, so if you have additional thoughts or any questions, please share them in the comments!

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19 Responses to “Disneyland Christmas 2013 Trip Report – Part IV”

  1. Kelly M says:

    That dessert looks incredible. I was drooling at the description.
    Wishing you and Sarah very happy holidays!

  2. Albert L. says:

    Fantastic TR, and glorious night photos as usual. Love the telephoto shots… a nighttime detail photo run is on my agenda sometime soon as well, since I also have a 70-200mm.

    On average (and I ask because I’m too lazy to just d/l the photos and load them into Bridge), what were your shutter speeds on the World of Color shots? Definitely like the crispness, but they’re well exposed still too.

    Glad you had a fantastic time at the Disneyland Resort. It really is more magical during the holidays!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I think they range from about 1/30 second to 1/2 second. Depends on whether they are projection photos.

      • Albert L. says:

        Ah, gotcha. They seem more crisp than for a shutter speed that “low,” but that’s just me. Thanks for the general guidelines! I’m in the same range when I shoot, though I’m typically freehanding, so there’s probably some drawback there.

  3. Melios says:

    Alot of great shots, and that dessert looks awesome. the hubs and I just got back from his first trip to disneyworld, and we are now looking at our anniversary trip, I was thinking of socal and visiting Disneyland because our anniversary is in september and I fear a trip being ruined by hurricanes (even though you point out, unless it’s 2004, hurricanes’s shutting WDW are rare) I just worry that, going so far (we live in NYC)we should see more than just Disneyland, but then there is trip length to consider. Can disneyland and California adventure really be seen and appreciated in oh, say, 3 days? I know we can’t do EVERYTHING anyway, but I wouldn’t want to waste the trip since we probably wouldn’t be out there again after that trip for the foreseeable future. Thoughts?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Nah, the point with the end isn’t that everyone *needs* to spend 5 days at Disneyland Resort, it’s that spending that amount of time is very feasible, especially for serious Disney fans. If you want to do other things in SoCal (and you should), three days is plenty. Just know that you won’t be able to see or do it all.

  4. JB Meier says:

    Thanks for the link to the history on the CP; great read. Man, what I wouldn’t give to have heard Jimmy Stewart narrate in ’75.

    Great report as always and very time appropriate; perfect for topping off the Christmas Cheer meter.

    Appreciate the work and have a very Merry Christmas; chance for Xmas morning snow here in Illinois and if so we’ll send some over your way.

    P.S. You and Sarah seem to have a traveling hat…

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant. Lots of big names back in the day!

      We’re at my family’s home in Michigan for Christmas–plenty of snow here. Merry Christmas to you, too!

  5. Mitch says:

    Wonderful trip report as always. It reminds me of why I believe travel and experiences are a much better investment in life than most other things. I have no doubt working full time and sneaking away on the weekend to Disneyland is totally exhausting, but I also have no doubt that when you look back on the photos that you have zero regrets.

    On another note- on a very cold night being in the wet zone for world of color would not be my first choice! I find photography to be more difficult while I’m being sprayed with water the whole time. I suppose you must feel the pros outweigh the cons

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Haha, if I weighed the pros and cons of being in the wet zone before just doing it, I probably wouldn’t go up there. My attitude when at the parks is ‘do first, think later.’ It tends to work pretty well. ;)

  6. John Farrand says:

    Great article Tom! I always like stopping by to see your images, especially from “our” park here in CA! :) I didn’t know about that ridiculous looking dessert at Big Thunder Ranch! Oh My!!

    I did want to give you a note about the WOC-Holiday show “snow.” They tried something knew this year. Those “isolated globs of stuff” are actually giant snowflakes! They’re really cool. The bubble foam is impregnated with helium so they float, but sadly they don’t really have ENOUGH of the snowflakes going to make them really noticeable unless you’re near one of the machines. The machines are cool, disguised as part of the presents decor, they extrude the foam in the shape of a snowflake and cut it off when it reaches about 4inches thickness.. Just like a cookie press! Very clever! So the snowflakes are about 30″ in diameter and all of the machines make a different snowflake.

    Thanks for your in depth work here! You actually encourage me to get back to nighttime shots at the park.. Just like I used to in my formative photo days. :)

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I knew the “stuff” at World of Color is supposed to be snow–I just don’t think it works. They need to refine the effect. Interesting to hear how it’s made, though. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Penny S. says:

    Hi Tom,

    I’ve just got back from Disneyland yesterday. I have to say that I was very dissapointed because the fireworks got canceled and the line for small world holiday was tooooooo long. I took your word for it, and went to Plaza Inn and tried the yule log. My friends loved the chicken so much that we went back for dinner. The yule log was awesome. We had three dole whips that day, three churros, two buckets of popcorn, 6 glasses of coke. And not enough time…
    So, do you mind me asking what camera you used for your tokyo disney trip and also for this trip? And future request please, if you can list the name of the camera and lens that you use for your disney trips in the future. I would love to know! I am a Nikon girl!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      The fireworks get canceled all the time at Disneyland. Unfortunately, that’s par for the course. Totally out of Disney’s control, though. We typically prioritize ‘it’s a small world’ holiday and Haunted Mansion Holiday (and now we’ll do the same for Jingle Cruise, I suppose) because the lines for the seasonal attractions are always longer than normal.

  8. KCmike says:

    I personally enjoy seeing photos of yourself and your wife. Not only is it needed for family memories but it also adds a wonderful touch when doing a blog or trip report. I always find myself wanting more photos of my family when I come home and upload the pics to the mac. Thanks for the stories, images and opinions. You are a trusted advisor.

    Oh and as far as this quote in this installment “This scarf draped over your head look is a new fashion statement that is sweeping Indiana” and maybe BETHLEHEM? :)

    Thanks again Tom. Merry Christmas!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I want more of them, too. We used to be so much better about getting photos of us, but I think as we visit more regularly, it becomes less of a priority? I’m not really sure…

  9. Jo says:

    Love your TR!! The dessert looks very tasty and I’m sorry we missed it this month when we were there! I didn’t even know it existed until now!

    If you ever go on a Disney Cruise, be sure to eat (or just get the dessert!) at Palo, and try their Chocolate Souffle! It is hands down the best dessert I have ever tasted!!! And eating it on the balcony of Palo at sunset makes it even better! It is warm, with lava like center, and served on the side with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and vanilla sauce.

    We will definitely make time for the Peppermint Ice Cream and Brownie Skillet next year (assuming this is a seasonal dessert?)!

    Thanks again!!! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Doing DCL is on our “someday” list, with Sarah wanting to do it sooner rather than later. In any case, I’ll remember the tip about Palo. We’ve heard VERY good things about Palo, in general.

      • Dave says:

        I’m going on the Magic soon. It’s only a 3-day cruise, so I don’t know if we’ll make it to Palo (We want to do all of the regular restaurants on the dinner rotation, too), but if I can find that dessert elsewhere, I’ll report back!

        My father-in-law went on DCL a few years ago and was telling us how great the food was everywhere on the ship (including the Pizza/Hot Dog/whatever stands, etc.), and buffets in addition to the dinner restaurants.

        I had to put some stock in that because he’s rarely that enthusiastic about anything (especially his daughter’s choice in spouse ;-))

        Dave

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