Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland Park

When the holidays descend upon the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland Park, something very bizarre happens inside those gates. Jack Skellington and his crew of comrades from Halloween Town have taken up temporary residence in the classic attraction and given it a Nightmare Before Christmas makeover. From the jack-o-lanterns and candelabras trimming the exterior of the mansion to the pumpkin-bedecked Christmas tree, gingerbready ballroom, and ghostly white snow in the graveyard beyond, it’s a darkly enchanting collision of the two holidays.

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Dare I say our kids enjoy the holiday rendition even more than the original house of happy haunts. Though they hadn’t yet seen Nightmare Before Christmas the first time they took that black sleighride through the Mansion, they were riveted by the eerie new characters, and were humming the infectious soundtrack the duration of that trip.

The annual overlay is tricks and treats only for visitors to Disneyland Park (in the United States) and vanishes after a three-month run. Due to its popularity, the FastPass machines are in use during this period; take advantage of them or it’ll be ghastly long lines for you and yours.

Location: Haunted Mansion Holiday is found late September through early January only in the New Orleans Square section of Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort.

“it’s a small world holiday” at Disneyland Park

Need a bit of a reprieve from one of the most infectious, yet overplayed songs in the world? Note to self, schedule your next trip to Disneyland Park during the holiday season when the famous peace-promoting theme song is interspersed with a perky version of “Jingle Bells” (sung, of course, in a perky variety of languages and beats). Bonus: “Deck the Halls” is also thrown in for good measure.

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Your feelings about the titular tune aside, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy the annual “it’s a small world holiday” overlay. First of all, the stunning light display that makes up the exterior of the attraction would melt even the most stubborn scrooge’s heart.

MH it's a small world holidayInside, the whimsical, merry decorations continue with candles, carolers, garlands and holiday lights plus a peek at the various ways each culture celebrates.

And any time of the year we think it’s great fun to watch the clock tower procession at the top of each hour. The kids also love picking out the Disney characters frolicking among the other dolls inside the ride – see if you can spot more than 30 of them!

Location: “it’s a small world holiday” is found exclusively (in the United States) in the Fantasyland section of Disneyland Park, Disneyland Resort. It runs annually mid-November through early January.

Last chance for the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights

MH osborne lightsTwenty years after the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights first blinked on at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then Disney-MGM Studios), they will flicker their final farewell when the 2015 holiday season comes to a close. Due to the upcoming construction of Star Wars and Toy Story-themed lands at the park, the light extravaganza has received its eviction notice from the Streets of America (whose days are numbered as well).

We took the following pictures on a Christmas trip in 2014, not knowing it would be our last chance to watch the lights dazzle and dance in sync to a medley of holiday music. It is truly an amazing sight to behold and they will be greatly missed by our family.

PicMonkey Collage osborne lights - CopySome cool facts about the Osborne Lights:

  • They got their start as an Arkansas father’s Christmas gift to his daughter. When the display swelled to the point that he was in trouble with the law, the Walt Disney Company relocated the lights to Disney-MGM. The lights were static until 2006 when switches were added to allow them to “dance”.
  • There are currently 5 million lights in the display – and, for those who love a hunt, over 40 Hidden Mickeys among them! There are also several tributes to the Osborne family sprinkled throughout the show.
  • snow machines create a magical snowfall nightly on the Streets of America.

Expect massive crowds in Disney’s Hollywood Studios as longtime fans pay their last respects to the Dancing Lights.

Location: The Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights displays nightly early November through the first week of January, kicked off by a lighting ceremony each evening around 5:50pm. Approximately every 10 minutes, the lights are choreographed to dance to a score of holiday tunes. They are officially open evenings until the park closes. Find them in the Streets of America section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Resort.


Meet: Santa & Mrs. Claus at American Adventure Pavilion

To me there is no better place to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus than the American Adventure Pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase. The backdrop is perfect — the jolly duo seated on plush thrones surrounded by trimmed trees and wrapped gifts — we just have to get past the Minnesota kids incongruously meeting the Clauses dressed in T-shirts and sandals instead of parkas and snow boots. The Christmas characters are the American contribution to Epcot’s Holidays Around the World.

MH santa american advThe shiny bow on the package was “O Holy Night” performed by the Candlelight Processional choir on the America Gardens stage in the background. What more could the kids ask Santa for?

Location: Meet Santa and Mrs. Claus in the gazebo of the America Adventure Pavilion, Epcot Theme Park, generally between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Check your Epcot Times Guide to plan a visit.

A taste of the Grand Floridian gingerbread house

MH grand floridian gingerbreadIt’s a delicious tradition dating back to 1999: the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa’s gingerbread house in all its iced-shingled, snowflake-spangled, Disney character-adorned glory. The edible little cottage sets up shop — literally, as sweet treats are peddled from inside — every holiday season in the hotel’s lavish lobby. Our family paid a special visit to the Grand Floridian on a recent Christmas trip to admire the house and get a gingerbread fix.

MH grand floridian christmasAfter snapping a family photo in front of the towering lobby Christmas tree, we made our way to the cottage. The kids stood respectfully behind the red ropes and gazed at the gingerbread siding. The incredible window detail and tasty Hidden Mickeys. Marveled at the cinnamon “smoke” puffing from the chimney every few minutes. They were awed that it had taken over a thousand pounds of honey and hundreds of pounds of chocolate to create the house. “I’m hungry?” suggested the 3-year-old.

Of course we weren’t going to bring them to this delicious domicile without sampling the wares. That would border on cruel with the aromatic, slightly spicy smell wafting throughout the lobby. A short wait in line was rewarded with chocolate-dipped gingerbread Mickeys for all.

PicMonkey Collage grand floridian gingerCraving some more of this holiday treat? You’ll want to also check out the gingerbread carousel at Disney’s Beach Club Resort and a gingery display at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

Location: The Grand Floridian gingerbread house is found annually during the holiday season at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Walt Disney World Resort.

Touring tip: A free gingerbread house decorating workshop takes place outside the house at 1pm Mon-Sat through the holiday season.

Christmastime at the Walt Disney World Resort Theme Parks

Twice each night during the holiday season at the Magic Kingdom, Queen Elsa employs her powers to transform Cinderella Castle into her sparkling ice palace. A Frozen Holiday Wish was near the top of our own wishlist on a visit to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. We were down in Walt Disney World in early December thanks to the casual suggestion of my dad, who was planning to attend a convention in the area, that our family might meet him there. Of course, being the Disney nut that I am, I immediately took that to mean, “Buy your tickets and pack your bags”.

Other delights of this Magic Kingdom special ticketed evening event were Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade (minus the overtired 3-year-old’s meltdown), free cocoa and cookie stations throughout the park, a magical dusting of snow on Main Street, Holiday Wishes fireworks spectacle, character greetings and other Christmasy entertainment.

tm epcot christmasTo observe the season over at Epcot, we spied on the Candlelight Processional while traipsing around World Showcase. During this nightly holiday event, a celebrity narrator reads the Christmas story accompanied by a full choir and orchestra. Our kids also made merry with Santa and his missus in the American Adventure Pavilion and experienced other multicultural entertainment.

Moving on to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we were treated to the incredible Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights.

The holiday display includes millions of lights choreographed to “dance” to Christmas favorites piped into the Streets of America. What once began as a single family’s Christmas lights collection has swelled to the best lights show in the state (and certainly the most amazing I’ve ever seen!).

And finally, to round out the theme parks, we visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom to see what it offered for the holidays. The answer is actually “not much” (we did spy Goofy in a Santa hat), but of each of the parks’ themed Christmas trees, I think Animal Kingdom’s unique ornaments made that tree our favorite of the four.

tm animal kingdomLooking to experience Christmastime Disney-style? (Read: on a massive scale.) We toured the first week of December and found the crowds to be pretty tolerable. The parks weren’t as quiet as we’d hoped they would be, but they were nothing like the chaos that descends the period between Christmas and New Years. It’s not necessary to visit so close to the actual holiday to take advantage of the special events and decorations; they go up in November and are in place through early January.

Highlights of the Holiday Season at the Walt Disney World Resort

Could there be a more magical place to celebrate the holiday season than the Walt Disney World Resort? The theme parks and resort hotels are simply at their merriest! We’ve highlighted some of our favorite traditions throughout the parks and resorts that really speak the season to us:

Select evenings in November and December, the Magic Kingdom hosts Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, an enchanting after-hours event featuring exclusive holiday entertainment. Enjoy “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade” and a special Holiday Wishes version of the nightly fireworks show. Castle Dream Lights transform Cinderella Castle into a glittering ice palace. A magical snow fall even takes place on Main Street USA. Brand new for 2013, the classic Jungle Cruise attraction is now sailing as “Jingle Cruise” throughout December.

Seasonal traditions continue in Epcot, where the annual Candlelight Processional is performed in World Showcase’s America Gardens Theatre November 29 – December 30. This joyous celebrity narration of the Christmas Story is accompanied by a mass choir and a 50-piece live orchestra. Also in World Showcase, the pavilions are visited by very special guests: traditional storytellers happy to share tales of their holiday customs as a part of Epcot’s Holidays Around the World. Future World gets into the spirit with “Joyful! A Gospel Celebration of the Season” performed four times daily on the Fountain of Nations Stage. And finally, the nightly IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth features a special holiday finale.

Throughout the holiday season at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, marvel at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights – featuring millions of dancing lights, animated displays and 3D effects synchronized to holiday tunes.

And at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, “Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade” steps off with safari Mickey dressed in his holiday best. From November 7, 2013 – January 5, 2014 let festive whimsical floats, puppets and a joyful holiday chorus help you ring in the season!

Plus, Downtown Disney gets decked out with a giant Christmas tree, festive lights and other seasonal touches. In addition to holiday shopping, guests at Downtown Disney can also enjoy festive tunes performed by school choirs and bands and even meet Santa at Santa’s Chalet.

Finally, don’t miss the charming holiday displays found at many of the Walt Disney World Resort Hotels including elaborate gingerbread creations at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney’s BoardWalk Resort, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and Disney’s Beach Club Resort. You can bet that all of the resorts are dressed in their yuletide best during this most magical season of the year!

Witness the Headless Horseman open Mickey’s Boo-to-You Halloween Parade!

MH headless horsemanI was unsuccessful at getting a still shot of the Headless Horseman opening Mickey’s Boo-to-You Halloween Parade, so my son helped me re-create the moment (at left). We also shot some video of Andy reenacting the Horseman’s dark jaunt through the Magic Kingdom, arguably one of the most memorable moments of our first Mickey’s Not-so-Scary Halloween Party.

It was when I first heard about the Horseman’s live performance that I set my heart on seeing him in person. We staked out a front-row seat for the parade in Liberty Square. My husband teased me for having the camera out and filming far in advance, fretting that I might somehow miss the HH. No reason to worry – he receives a chilling introduction before stepping off: “With a glowing pumpkin to light the way, he’s lurking to find his perfect prey…beware! The Headless Horseman is here!”

Location: Mickey’s Boo-to-You Halloween Parade steps off nightly during Mickey’s Not-so-Scary Halloween Party select nights at Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort.

4th of July at Walt Disney World (plus a week at the beach!)

4th of july walt disney worldThough I’ve long been a total Disney junkie, I always vowed I wouldn’t go near the place during the month of July. The combination of the heat and crowds I’d heard so much about just sounded too daunting. And after having taken numerous trips during the temperate, much less attended months, I had no interest in making sweaty, miserable memories while trying to convince the kids to wait in yet another everlasting line.

But when my in-laws decided to shift our annual summer lake cabin trip to Florida, I found myself doing the unthinkable: reconsidering my Disney-in-July ban. I blame TourDad. He egged me on, claiming I wouldn’t be able to resist while being so close to Disney property.

As the pictorial evidence suggests, we ended up spending the 4th of July at Walt Disney World. And we more than just survived — we had a terrific time. On the evening of July 3rd, we viewed the special Magic Kingdom fireworks (“Disney’s Celebrate America! A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky”) from an observation deck after dessert at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

epcot illuminations The next day we were at the gate for the opening of Epcot and shut it down 14 hours later after the most incredible fireworks we’ve seen on property (the typical IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth topped off with the special patriotic finale The Heartbeat of Freedom). I owe our success to both planning and luck. A few light sprinklings of rain, some cloud cover, and plenty of indoor, air-conditioned attractions timed right made the weather quite bearable. As for the crowds, we never waited more than 10 minutes for a ride (unthinkable if you don’t have a plan and a few FastPass+ selections scheduled) and only felt shoulder-to-shoulder with mankind during the fireworks. (Excuse the poor photo; our toddler was utterly terrified of the fireworks and it was impossible to take good pics while tending to her.)

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The pressure off, we headed for a more low-key week in Redington Shores, Florida, with TourDad’s family. There was ample time for swimming in the Gulf, playing with cousins, and exploring in the greater Tampa area. Never thought I’d be saying this, but Florida in July? No sweat.

Celebrate the Fourth of July at Walt Disney World

MH july fourth epcotFor years I claimed I would have nothing to do with Walt Disney World — or anything in Florida, for that matter — during the month of July. I have never been one to have a high tolerance for heat, humidity, and crowds. The horror stories from folks who had dared visit Disney during the peak of summer had completely turned me off from doing it myself.

Until opportunity knocked, of course. (I’ll spare you the details — main idea, relatives strongly encouraged our traveling to Florida in the thick of territory I had deemed unacceptable.) The plan became one evening taking in the Magic Kingdom fireworks on July 3rd — Disney’s Celebrate America! A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky — and spending July 4th at Epcot, capping off the day with IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth and its special holiday finale The Heartbeat of Freedom.

I owe our wildly successful July 4th to a magical combination of good planning, tolerable weather, and perhaps some plain luck. The crowds only became too close for comfort as the minutes ticked down to the fireworks (and then, as you can guess, every tour group in the park was suddenly in our laps). Besides the incredible IllumiNations spectacle, here are some other ways we celebrated America on our holiday trip:

  • viewing the Magic Kingdom’s special fireworks from an observation deck at the Contemporary Resort.
  • American flag pins were handed out by Cast Members as we waited for the gates to open at Epcot.
  • Decorations popped up around the park.
  • World Cup coverage going on at the Odyssey Center.
  • And, of course, taking in The American Adventure!