Weekend Update – The Best Disney Season

Disneyland ResortDisneyland (park)Sleeping Beauty's Winter CastleI love this bridge and the stream off to the side of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Makes it feel even more quaint! For more tips, information, and photos of Disneyland, visit my blog: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/


If you follow us on any social media channels, you are probably aware that we recently spent some time in Hong Kong Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Resort. Hong Kong Disneyland was our last global Disney park to “check off,” and Tokyo Disney Resort at Christmas is pretty great. (As a Country Bear enthusiast, the highlight for me was seeing Country Bear Christmas – Jingle Bell Jamboree several times.) I have spent every night the last couple of weeks digging out from the mountain of photos I have to edit from that trip, and new trip reports should be coming soon. Long before we booked that trip, we grabbed a deal for $110 RT airfare to Los Angeles for this weekend (if you haven’t followed the advice in this article and signed up for Airfarewatchdog alerts, do it now!), so we’re also heading to Disneyland for the weekend (well, I’m going for the weekend…). Tough life, we know…

Seeing the way the Asian parks, which exist in very different cultures than the US, embraced Christmas got me thinking about how much I love Christmas. Not just at the parks, but in general. A lot of Americans complain about Christmas and how it has been subverted, etc., but that takes an overly bleak focus. I think the fact that the question ‘what does Christmas truly mean?’ is asked so often in itself suggests that Christmas has many meanings for many people. Obviously, Christmas has historic origins that are what they are, but like many things, it has developed secondary meaning over the passage of time. Regardless of where you stand on its origin, I think it’s difficult to call all of these secondary meanings bad things.

In parts of Asia, to a great degree, the secondary meanings are the only meanings. As we walked around Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, in particular, we saw the positives of this on full display. There, the season is about family and love. Young, well-dressed couples walking hand in hand were everywhere in the parks for Christmas dates. These couples were so common that the parks felt like a piece of old Disney concept art or modern-era Dapper Days–except with kawaii hats! Families were there with their kids in tow, fully decked out for the holidays. I could have stood near the Christmas tree in World Bazaar for hours. The area just oozed happiness, with people all around posing for their holiday photos or enjoyed holiday snacks.

With the exception of the well-dressed guests, the US parks are really not all that different during the holidays. It seems that the parks are even happier than normal, with a great sense of community and family. I wouldn’t ever wear one myself, but I always smile when I see families dressed in matching Christmas sweaters or homemade shirts mentioning their “Disney Christmas Vacation.” Call me crazy, but I believe that the collective attitude of guests imbues a certain ambiance in the parks, and that guest-made ambiance is no better than at Christmas.

I don’t mind the crass consumerism of the holiday (hating consumerism and loving Disney are mutually exclusive, I think) and I actually like the winter snow and cold weather (we got 4″ here overnight!) associated with Christmas. However, it’s the sense of togetherness, community, and family that Christmas inspires that I think make the holiday truly special. Christmas can bring out some of the best parts of us all, and also the parts of Disney we like best. It’s easy to see why so many people consider it their favorite time of year in the parks.

Okay, that’s enough sentimentality. We know there are less than 20 days (where has time gone?!) until Christmas, but we have some exciting Christmas content coming between now and then on the blog. Additionally, if you want to see daily Christmas photos from each of the five worldwide Disney resorts, follow me on Instagram!

Christmas Lists

It’s become annual tradition for us to share a Christmas list with some of our top gifts for the Disney fan (here’s our 2012 list). Here are a few items for this year:

dreamfinder-figment-christmas-epcot-center-shirt

Figment & Dreamfinder Christmas ShirtSo there are a few caveats with this shirt. It doesn’t ship until after Christmas(?!) It’s white. It’s only in men’s sizes. All of that aside, I think it’s a great design. Then again, I’m biased as I love classic EPCOT Center, Figment & Dreamfinder, and Christmas. It puzzles me that it wasn’t released earlier…but it’s my gift to myself for next year, I guess.

The Art of Frozen – This was on sale for $17 on Black Friday, so I bought it on a whim after seeing (and LOVING!) Frozen. I’m glad I did, as it’s an interesting mix of computer and hand drawn artwork that shows all the work that went into the design. I think the best part is the focus on the Norwegian backdrops. Obviously the setting was a big part of the movie, but it felt like the camera always panned by the village and castle too quickly, making it possible to soak up the detail. This book solves that, and generally has some gorgeous art. Highly recommended!

Disney Infinity – I am a big fan of Disney Infinity, and its relative success thus far means Disney is probably going to stick with it, offering expansion packs for the foreseeable future. There have been a lot of deals on it this holiday season, so I’d recommend looking or waiting for one rather than paying full MSRP.

Movies – Two perennial recommendations of mine for Christmas viewing are Muppet Christmas Carol and Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. The good news about the latter is that it’s now streaming FREE for Amazon Prime members! As far as non-Christmas movies go, our pick this year is the Little Mermaid Diamond Edition, which received a great audio/video transfer and new extras. (And maybe Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Edition…it’s sitting on the table, waiting to be watched!)

Ears of Steel: The Real Man’s Guide to Walt Disney World – This is by no means a comprehensive guidebook (and we DON’T recommend purchasing it for that purpose), but it’s a funny “man’s man” look at Walt Disney World. Disney markets WDW as a land of princesses and Dumbo, and this refutes that notion. A good gift idea for the reluctant adult male who thinks WDW is only for “kiddies.”

My Photo Prints! – I recently revamped my SmugMug photo store, upgrading my print lab and making some other changes. Read more about it here. A lot of these prints aren’t cheap, but I think they look great. Plus, with coupon code CHRISTMAS2013 you save 20% on all orders through 12/15/2013.

Cool Fan-Made Designs - Disney merchandising has had some hits this year, but frankly, I think there’s some equally (or more) impressive stuff on Etsy, Zazzle, etc. Here are links to a few shops I’ve found with interesting stuff: Dan-O Florez’s Custom Artwork (amazing hand-painted shoe designs); Stephen Christ’s ImageKind (great EPCOT Center tribute designs); Actual Chad (great mash-ups featuring Haunted Mansion); Love, Ashley Designs (graphic Disney-inspired and other designs); and Mid-Century Maude (1950s-inspired Disney designs), just to name a few! If you want to give something a little less common and want to support talented artists, spend some time scouring the various art marketplaces online.

Photography & Travel Gadgets - While not directly Disney-related, photo and travel gadgets are a big part of this blog (and will probably make up 75% of the gifts we receive this year!). Check out our Unique Disney Packing List and Photography Buying Guide for ideas!

It’s no secret that most blogs rely on advertising and affiliate dollars (and a heavy dose of passion) to operate, so if you have Christmas purchases to make through Amazon, we hope you’ll consider clicking through one of the Amazon links here before doing some of your Christmas shopping. Even if you don’t want to support this site (hey, no hard feelings!), click through the links on your favorite sites. It doesn’t cost you anything, and helps support those providing quality content.

Upcoming Posts

I have no clue what the upcoming week looks like in terms of posts. You may have noticed in the last weekend update that I said there are three trip reports coming before the end of the year. That’s still the plan, and I’ve been working at a fast pace to get Tokyo and Hong Kong Christmas photos edited for those reports. However, there’s a bit of a delay before I can post those, so it’s likely the Disneyland Christmas Trip Report will start first, with Thursday being my goal for Part I. We’ll see. Here’s the tentative schedule:

Monday - Lights of Winter Tribute

Wednesday - Wild Card Wednesday! New York Deli Review, Sequoia Lodge Review, or Harbour Galley Review. This is your call, vote in the comments. Majority wins!

Tuesday, Thursday, Friday –  TBD

Cool Linkage

We haven’t had a chance to update TravelCaffeine since being home, but if you haven’t checked it out in a while, head over there to catch up on posts you might have missed.

TouringPlans shares some interesting statistical  insight into the distribution rates of FastPasses over time.

Construction progress of the Ratatouille dark ride, likely the biggest addition to any Disney theme park in 2014, is covered on Disney and More. 

The Disney Parks Blog offers some of the first confirmed details of Shanghai Disneyland in a long time, with info about the “Garden of Twelve Friends.”

Gorillas Don’t Blog features some photos of the Disneyland Christmas Parade from 1996.

We missed it while we were gone, but Main Street Gazette posted a nice tribute to Sid’s at the Studios. The disintegration of theme at that park is something else.

Also while we were gone, Passport to Dreams posted a retrospective following its first seven(!) years online with links to some overlooked articles, 4 of which I haven’t read. Oh great, there goes an evening…

If you’ve written or read a good blog post recently (or know of any meet-ups, etc.), please share a link in the comments of this article. Hopefully this will help me find great new blogs to read and feature in future “Cool Linkage” sections, and also send a bit of traffic your (or their) way!

That’s it for this update! To follow our adventures, find us on TwitterPinterestFacebook, and Flickr!

Your Thoughts…

What do you think of Christmas in the parks (or in general)? Any other unique ideas for Christmas?  Have a vote for our Wild Card Wednesday blog post? Have any of your own blog posts to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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27 Responses to “Weekend Update – The Best Disney Season”

  1. KCmike says:

    Have a blast in Disneyland! We just got back a few weeks ago for Christmas. It was a lot of fun and we finally got to visit Club 33. Can’t wait to see some new images and a trip report from California. That airfare, $110 roundtrip, is an amazing deal. I mean really amazing. The best I could ever pull from KC is $90 something each way but they were non stop flights.

    Mike

    • Tom Bricker says:

      We’re pretty excited–it sounds like a lot of cool additions have been made for the holidays this year! So the $110 is through Southwest, and we have a Southwest Companion Pass (meaning Sarah flies free), so our effective rate is $55/person. When we booked the Asia trip, we debated canceling this one, but for the price, we figured we might as well just do it.

      Nonstop airfare is rare out of Indy. When it is available, it’s almost always with a legacy carrier at a pricey rate (~$400 RT, at least).

  2. KCmike says:

    It’s going to be crowded out there this weekend with the Candlelight Processional. They are saying that that the hotels are fully booked. Make sure you see Mickey and the Magical Map as I thought it was a real treat and take in Billy Hill one last time!

  3. Kevin says:

    Congrats on scoring the roudtrip airfare! I only recently (~6 months) have been using airfarewatchdog, and haven’t stumbled across any really great rates yet. We just scored our companion pass, so we need to find some SW flights to go on for the next year. I really like that airfarewatchdog aggregates Southwest since most of the other sites don’t seem to do so.

    We own the Art of Tangles and brave books and both are great. I assume Frozen is similar quality and $17 is a great deal. I wish I had seen that.

  4. Dan Heaton says:

    I vote for the Harbour Galley review. I don’t know much about it.

    I also wrote a piece for my blog about The Timekeeper, which is a lot better than the Laugh Floor and fit better in Tomorrowland.

    http://www.ptsnob.com/2013/12/when-jules-verne-met-robin-williams.html

  5. Will says:

    I may be the only one, but I’m voting for the Deli- That’s where I had my DisneySEA dinner! :)

  6. Brandon says:

    When are you guys going to come clean and admit you are trust fund babies? Hong Kong, Tokyo, California…
    Or maybe your real name is Tom Disney?

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I “love” how nowadays the assumption is that you’re either a trust fund baby or are digging yourself into debt if you do costly things–not that you have any self-made success.

      Neither of us are trust fund babies (or in debt, in case that was your third guess). We have been fortunate in some decisions we’ve made (e.g., rather than going to a T14 law school and incurring a lot of debt, I went to a smaller name school and had a “full ride plus”…right before the legal market headed south; we bought a modest house rather than continuing to pay rent…right before the housing market in our area started to rebound). Travel is our main priority (expense-wise) right now, and we spend a lot of money on it. In other aspects of life, we live pretty frugally.

      This may sound defensive, and it probably is. It’s not directed all at you, but is a general response to similar sentiment. We hear a lot of snide remarks about how frequently we travel (that, frankly, I feel people probably wouldn’t say if not from the comfort of behind a computer monitor) and it has grown tiresome.

      • Brad says:

        Great response Tom. People need to learn boundaries. You handled it very well. Keep up the good work.

      • Bernadette says:

        Amen. I get similar reactions to ‘only’ working part time so that I can be home with my kids. That is our main priority right now, and we too are only able to pull it off through a series of fortunate decisions (that strangely enough also involve law school for DH and some well timed home purchasing) and hard work. Everyone has different financial priorities at various points in their lives – thank you for letting me live vicariously through yours. :)

      • Aaron in DC says:

        Thank you, Tom and Sarah, for sharing so freely of your great adventures! I think your authenticity is why so many of us enjoy following your blog.

        “May the peace and joy found at the manger be yours this holiday season!” –DLR Candlelight

      • Betsy says:

        I totally agree with making travel a priority. My husband and I make a lot less money than most of our friends (we’re both teachers) but we travel a lot more because it’s what we prioritize. We’d rather do things than buy things. Our friends are always surprised at how much we travel. I applaud you and Sara for your choices. The only thing I’m admittedly jealous of is how much time you seem to be able to take off from work. I know you said once that you work a lot of weekends, and Sarah goes on call frequently, but I would love to see what your calendars look like…ha. Happy travels!

      • Kevin S. says:

        Very well put! My wife and I find ourselves in a similar predicament (although on a much less public scale), with constant “jabs” from coworkers and friends about our travels. However, just as you and Sarah, we’ve been fortunate enough to finish up school, find stable jobs, and find ourselves a modest home before both the job and housing market took it’s fall. We are always conscious of our spending, but believe in putting money towards activities we enjoy (Disney!). Keep up the good work, and we look forward to your future posts!

      • Alisha says:

        You both have jobs AND you have a successful blog. I think a lot of people don’t realize that blogging can bring in some extra income. And who cares what you spend it on? Traveling is your priority so great! Plus not having kids right now makes it easier on you so why not go as often as you can? I think the op was joking but I can see how over time too many jokes can get to you. People will always be curious as to how you can afford it.

  7. Brandon says:

    Tom,
    Sorry, I wasn’t trying to offend or anything. I am a big fan of your travels, writings, and photos and was just making an attempt at light hearted humor. I guess I failed. Sorry again.
    I enjoy your blog because reading about your travels are a great way for me to enjoy the Disney things I probably won’t get to ever see. And if I attempt any humor in the future I will use the international symbol of “just joking around” : )

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I went back and forth on whether it was a joke or not. My fault for not giving more weight to the last name is Disney part of it.

      Like I said, though, it wasn’t just directed at you. We hear remarks like this from a lot of people who aren’t kidding, and I’ll readily admit that it does bother me.

  8. Tony says:

    Come on Harbour Galley review!
    I’ve been betting on it, I mean voting for it, for so long now I just want to see it win. =)

    Looking forward to the upcoming trip reports, and photos (and more Tony Solaroni)!

  9. KCmike says:

    I’m lost on the companion fare. What exactly is this? I have a Southwest card I guess I need to look into it further. Thanks.

    Mike

  10. Phil says:

    Good point here: “I think the fact that the question ‘what does Christmas truly mean?’ is asked so often in itself suggests that Christmas has many meanings for many people. Obviously, Christmas has historic origins that are what they are, but like many things, it has developed secondary meaning over the passage of time.”

  11. Matt says:

    Let’s hope its The Harbor Galley’s turn to shine…;)

  12. Dave says:

    I recently got to visit Hong Kong Disneyland last month while in Hong Kong on business. I can’t wait to hear your opinions about it in future blogs. I particularly want to hear your thoughts on some of the attractions that exist only there, like Mystic Manor.

  13. Tom Bricker says:

    IT IS HARBOUR GALLEY’S TIME. Expect a review later today. Congrats on the win after weeks of trying! ;)

  14. SirEdge says:

    I’ve been a huge fan of your photos and posts for a while now. I admit I haven’t been very participative here, but moved nonetheless. Count me in as those, not necessarily converted, but certainly nudged into making that Tokyo Disneyland Trip happen.

    I’m certainly looking forward to the Hong Kong reports, especially on Mystic Manor and Grizzly Gulch.

  15. Wendy says:

    I can’t wait to read your Christmas in Tokyo Disney trip report! We are going in November (planning around the Christmas decorations) and I’m curious how the crowds and your touring strategies differed this time around (if they did at all). Also curious about where you chose to stay this time as I’m currently grappling with spending our entire time there at the Ambassador or staying most of the trip at the Hilton Tokyo Bay and splurging on one night at either the Disneyland Hotel or the Mira Costa. I loved reading your first Tokyo Disney trip report…so useful!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I’d do most of the trip at Hilton Tokyo Bay and then splurge on a night at MiraCosta. Nothing against the Ambassador, but it lacks the special hook that the MiraCosta has, and Hilton Tokyo Bay is just as nice of a hotel (albeit without “Disney” in the name) with a better location.

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