My Top 10 Disney Experiences (So Far)

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Someone recently asked me what my all-time favorite Disney moments had been. Having been going to the Disney theme parks all of my life and having numerous major life milestones occur there, that’s a difficult question to answer. Not only that, but favorite is somewhat of a moving target. Moments that seem significant today may fade with time, while other, seemingly less-memorable experiences can grow over time. Still, I thought it would be a fun topic to take on, and while these are all personal enough to just me that they really won’t help you plan your trips in any way, I thought it would be fun to share my top 10 moments.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to visit the Disney theme parks often (that’s my mom and me next to Minnie Mouse in that above photo, by the way!), and have had some great experiences and made some great memories along the way. There are a lot of experiences that were really amazing that didn’t make it on the list. Things like our first visit to Hong Kong Disneyland (for those who have asked–this trip report is still coming soon!), dining at Club 33, touring the Cinderella Castle Suite, and photographing the sunrises in almost every Disney theme park in the world, among other experiences, all are incredibly fond memories of mine, but all miss the list.

Here’s what did make the top 10… (more…)

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights 2014 Tips & Info

Just a guess, but I don't think I put up quite as many lights on my house as Disney puts up on the Streets of America for the Osborne Lights! View my photo gallery: http://tombricker.smugmug.com/Learn more about the Osborne Lights: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/osborne-family-spectacle-of-dancing-lights-tips-review/

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is a Christmas light display at Walt Disney World, in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. For 2014, the Osborne Lights run from mid-November until early January 2015. When it comes to the Osborne Lights, “light display” is severely under-selling it. More like, amazing, light-up-the-entire park epic dancing light extravaganza! That’s right, the lights dance to awesome Christmas songs by the likes of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (if you’re going to have a dancing light show, you better include music from TSO!) and many other legendary Christmas artists. The lights are so vibrant and plentiful that even Clark Griswold would be proud.

Approximately every 10 minutes, the lights dim and then begin their “show” as they start rocking out (dancing) to holiday music. The songs include:

  • “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” – Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  • “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12-24)” – Trans-Siberian Orchestra
  • “Feliz Navidad” – José Feliciano
  • “Jingle Bells” – Barbra Streisand
  • “Christmas is Starting Now” – Phineas and Ferb (more…)

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party 2014 Tips

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a special hard ticket event held in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. For 2014, the party will be held on select nights in November and December, likely starting November 7 and concluding December 19. After December 19, the party entertainment will be available to all day guests (and included in theme park admission), but waiting until Christmas week also means going during the busiest time of the year, and when rooms and dining are most expensive. We will have a full schedule of the exact 2014 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party dates once they are announced.

Here is our Christmas party tips for 2014, based upon our experiences attending the party for the last five years. The Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party 2013 schedule is now set, with parties starting in early November and continuing through December! Ticket prices will vary for 2014 based upon whether you purchase in advance or on the day of, are a child or adult, and whether you have an Annual Pass, Disney Vacation Club membership, or some other affiliation that entitles you to a discount. In any case, the event is not cheap, starting at $57 for children with advance purchase on select nights and exceeding $70 for adults on the “Premium” night! To purchase tickets, visit Disney’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party page.

That said, if you’re visiting Walt Disney World in November or December, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is an absolute must-do! But more on that later. First, let’s provide an overview of the events to those who haven’t been.

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Merry Country Bear Christmas!

The Country Bear Christmas Special was an annual holiday overlay to Country Bear Jamboree at Walt Disney World and Disneyland that has been retired, with a great deal of speculation as to the reason why it ended in the Magic Kingdom. I’ve long been a fan of this Christmas overlay, having first seen it in the late 1980s and listening to its soundtrack each Christmas season since finding it on the Musical History of Disneyland. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my childhood visits to the show and the Magic Kingdom stopped doing the overlay before we started visiting as adults, so I didn’t have any firsthand memory of actually seeing the show…until this year.

To say I was excited to finally see it would be an understatement. I love Christmas and Country Bear Jamboree. To me, Country Bear Jamboree represents Disney at its best: a mix of quirkiness, wry humor, charming characters, and even edginess. It’s an attraction that works on multiple levels. Superficially, it’s a bunch of lovable bears singing. Upon closer examination, it’s an intelligent tribute to country music and southern culture, with a bit of a satirical twist. As a fan of Disney history, I appreciate its historical significance, too. (This series of articles is a good in-depth examination of Country Bear Jamboree, and a rewarding read for anyone who is interested in the topic.) I’ve said numerous times that I view whether someone likes Country Bear Jamboree as a good barometer of how well I’ll get along with them. (I treat Calvin & Hobbes and Sports Night the same way.)

Country Bear Christmas has garnered a mixed reaction from fans, and even Marc Davis supposedly thought that Disney should have left the original alone. With all due respect to Mr. Davis, I disagree. I think Country Bear Christmas is a fun and well-executed overlay in keeping with the spirit and direction of the regular show. It is fairly involved as far as an overlay goes, with significant differences from the normal show. It’s not just Country Bear Jamboree with Santa hats and different songs, it’s an entirely new show performed by the same characters. It’s their Christmas musical revue. Theme park attractions are works of art, but unlike a painting or film (well, perhaps the latter is a bad example) they have a certain fluidity to them as the parks change and evolve to cater to guests and give them a reason to return for something “new.” Unlike other forms of art, theme park attractions also usually lack a singular figure to whom ‘authorship’ is attributed. Still, it’s understandable that the artist who put so much creative energy into bringing the bears to life would be a bit protective of them and apprehensive towards what others would do to change them.

But I digress. This article isn’t meant as an examination of theme parks as art. Instead, it’s meant as a fun look at the Country Bear Christmas Special along with some tidbits about the shows. Thanks to the magic of flying to Tokyo, we were able to experience the Country Bear Christmas overlay this year during our Christmas-time visit to Tokyo Disneyland (the show is known as Jingle Bell Jamboree there), and we savored the opportunity. I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to the Country Bears, and we saw the show…let’s just say “a few” times…during our trip. One of my big goals was to capture a lot of good, interesting photos of Country Bear Christmas. The overlay stopped running in the Magic Kingdom in 2005, which was a couple of years before camera technology became advanced-enough for good low light dark ride/attraction photos, so the only good photos of it are publicity shots by Disney, and there aren’t many of those. Suffice to say, I’m now fairly confident that I have one of the world’s largest private collections of Country Bear Christmas photos. If that isn’t prime braggin’ rights, I don’t know what is!

Hope you enjoy. Merry Christmas to you and your families from Sarah and me! What better of a ‘gift’ can we give you then a few Country Bear Christmas photos from my files?! (more…)

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. (more…)