Review by Bob Varley
Tour times 9AM and 1:30 PM (No tours on Sundays or Christmas Day)
Tour requirements: Ages 16 and up with Photo ID
Price: $69.00 per person plus tax. Discounts available are 15% for AAA, AP, DVC, and 20% for Disney Visa Card holders
Tour Starting Location: Epcot at the Guest Relations window outside the main entrance to park on the right.
The tour is approximately 3 1/2 hours long and gives you a behind the scenes look at how Disney creates all of the magic happening at Walt Disney World this holiday season.
Your tour includes Epcot’s World Showcase, Disney's Hollywood Studios Streets of America, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, backstage at Holiday Services and a walk up Main Street at the Magic Kingdom.
We’re always looking for DIS Unplugged podcast segment ideas. Thanks to a suggestion by ‘Mommyceratops’ I was sent on the Yuletide Fantasy tour.
The tour gets you up-close and personal in seeing how Walt Disney World is decorated for the holidays. Not only will the guides get you into the holiday spirit, you’ll learn how some holiday traditions began.
First, there are occasions when I use an ECV. If you do the same or need a wheelchair, you should discuss your needs when booking this tour and they’ll let you know what your options are. Personally, I found it best to leave the ECV behind for the day and walk with the rest of the group. You should also know that a deluxe motor coach was used to transport us from one location to the next, which meant being able to climb a few steps to get to my seat. Again, let them know what your limitations are and they’ll do their best to accommodate you if possible.
Now onto the tour. After getting on the bus, our first stop was the backstage area of Germany in the World Showcase. Our group of 20 was split into two groups of ten. We were each given headsets which allowed the tour guides to communicate without the need of us crowding close by to hear what was being said. This is a nice touch as it gives you a little freedom to check things out as you walk around.
As we toured Germany we were told of that country’s holiday tradition, the ‘Christmas Pickle.’ You can find many websites out there that talk about this. Here is just one of the more popular tales about how it began: A very old Christmas Eve tradition in Germany was to hide a pickle deep in the branches of the Christmas tree. The parents hid the pickle while the children slept. On Christmas morning, the child who found it received an extra gift from St. Nikolas.
During the tour we passed through the gift shop in Germany where there’s a big display of glass pickle ornaments for sale. If you want to start this tradition, you may want to pick one up on your next visit to Epcot. (It sure beats hiding a real pickle in your tree.)
After visiting Germany, we stopped at the Italy, United States and Japan pavilions. At each country we were told fun facts about the countries and their holiday customs and traditions. Here are just a few of them:
There are 7 different colors of Poinsettias available and 90,000 of these Christmas flowers are used at WDW during the holidays. The color chosen in the USA pavilion is called Freedom Red.
Italy’s traditions are more religion based while Germany is more celebratory. (Think St. Nikolas.)
Once back on the bus we went to Disney's Hollywood Studios. Our tour guide discussed how Hollywood has influenced some of our holiday traditions over the years and the movies that have become part of the season’s “must see’s.”
At Disney's Hollywood Studios, we headed to the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Here are some facts regarding this very popular Disney display:
90 % is original lighting from the Osborne family’s personal displays
There are 5 million lights used and it takes 10 weeks to get it set up
If you ever spotted the purple cat and wondered why its part of a Christmas display, here’s how this began. When the Osborne lights were shipped to Disney World, the cat, which they used for Halloween, accidentally got mixed in with everything else. Now you’ll find the purple cat in a different spot each year.
Next we got on the bus and went to one of my favorite hotels for the holidays, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Our guides explained how the Victorian theme of the hotel influences the holiday décor.
One of the highlights at the Grand Floridian is the life size, 12 foot tall Gingerbread House in the lobby. Each year a new design is used and it takes 840 hours to complete it. This year there are two chimneys which send out puffs of gingerbread scented smoke at timed intervals. If you go, see if you can find the 19 hidden Mickey’s that have been added to this year’s house.
A nice surprise waiting for us on the bus were roasted chestnuts and pieces of gingerbread. Speaking of which, bring a bottle of water or something to drink as nothing is provided. Also eat something before the tour. After a couple of hours, you’ll thank me. Also take a bathroom break before the tour begins. (There’s a 10 minute rest stop in Disney's Hollywood Studios.)
Next we went backstage to the Holiday services area. This is a huge building in the backstage area behind the Magic Kingdom where it’s all about the holidays 365 days of the year. Some fun facts:
25 cast members work full time year round getting ready for the Holidays.
To set up all of the decorations, they bring on an additional 45 cast members during the height of the season to help.
Since 1996, all of the trees are artificial
They have a device called a magic box that can hunt out any bulbs that are burnt out in a string of lights.
Disney has Christmas wreaths in sizes from 12 inches to 25 feet. Next time you’re in Downtown Disney West Side, check out the wreath on the Cirque du Soleil building. Yup you guessed it, not the 12 inch one; it is the 25 foot wreath, the largest of them all.
Our final stop was at the Magic Kingdom. One of the fun facts we found out was the Main Street window display competition. Cast Members are given a window to decorate and judges choose the winner. Here are some more holiday tidbits:
The Magic Kingdom decorations have a fruit theme. This is a tradition rooted in Walt’s childhood.
The Christmas tree is 70 feet tall with 500 ornaments and 5000 lights.
The new castle holiday lighting was installed over 5 weeks by six cast member “elves.” They used 5 miles of cable, 200,000 LED lights and 32,000 square feet of fish netting.
Overall I was very pleased with the tour. The tour guides have all kinds of information available pertaining to the holiday displays. I suggest that prior to the tour you make a list of questions that you’d like to ask. They will go out of their way to try and get you the answer.
Cameras are allowed in the guest areas but not in the backstage parts of the tours.
Another tip is to travel light for the tour. You will be able to leave a bag on the bus when you get out, but as you go through each park, security will be checking your bags on the bus.
Not to spoil the surprise, when you finish your tour you will be getting a nice souvenir to take home with you.
I recommend the Yuletide Fantasy tour as a must do.