This Year’s Best Central Florida Holiday Celebration


This holiday season is going to be different, isn't it? This pandemic has its ripple effects, some of which will extend to how we celebrate the holidays. This week's release of New Year's Eve hours for the Walt Disney World parks brought the slow realization that, as of now, none of the four parks will be open at midnight for the traditional ringing in of the new year. Oh 2020, you continue to leave your mark, don't you?

However, if you were thinking that the holidays in Central Florida will fall short in the filled-with-joy-and-all-things-celebratory department, you'd be wrong. Very wrong, in fact. Enter Give Kids the World Village's Night of a Million Lights.

Fiasco and I (and our spouses) had the chance to attend a preview of Night of a Million Lights just the other evening, and I can't overemphasize the need to get to Give Kids the World Village if you're going to be in the Central Florida area this holiday season. This event is going to knock your socks off and give you all of the holiday feelings you thought you might have to forgo this year. I promise.

The evening started off with Steven Amos, Director of Development at Give Kids the World and close friend of The DIS, greeting us and walking us to a large room known as The Hoppening Place. When the Village is up and running, this room is filled with children and their families for evenings filled with entertainment, fun, and laughter. While the Village is closed to families due to the pandemic, this room has become a repository of all things holiday magic.

Stacked in neat rows according to color, lights are waiting to be prepped for display. It was announced the evening of the preview that Walt Disney World has donated 3 million lights for the 53-night holiday event. Let that sink in for a second. Three million lights. And the boxes that fill this room are a fraction of what's going to adorn 60 buildings in total throughout the Village.

While in The Hoppening Room, Fiasco and I had the chance to make our own addition to the event's lighting display.

We each worked on setting up a light globe, and we had the chance to sign the stem of the globe.

It was a great way to connect personally with what we were about to see: a shimmering winter wonderland.

While Make a Wish trips are on hiatus for COVID-19, the team at Give Kids the World will be hosting this special event each night from November 17th through January 3rd.

Guests of all ages are invited to come and attend the walk-through event that includes rides on the Village's three accessible attractions, a 150-foot lighted tunnel, physically distanced meet and greet opportunities with Mayor Clayton, Miss Merry, and Santa Claus, mini golf, hot cocoa and ice cream, and, of course, the intricate lighted buildings and villas (a mile of them!) that the guests of the Village have called home for years. The proceeds from ticket sales to the event will allow the team at Give Kids the World to be ready to host Wish families as soon as the green light is given.

After making our light globes, Steven took us on a tour of the Village. It was hard to believe that the lights were only partially done because everything was just gorgeous.

Companies have sponsored villas, and each will feature its own theme in accordance with the sponsoring company's vision. Dreams Unlimited Travel is one of the sponsoring companies for the event, and I can't wait to see the Dreams villa when it's complete.

Henri's Starlite Scoops, the Village's new ice cream parlor, was completed just before the pandemic hit and the Village had to close. It was so exciting to finally get to see the new parlor, and, of course, we were treated to a scoop of our favorite ice cream. Ice cream plays a big role at the Village.

Each critically ill child who visits Give Kids the World is treated to, as Village President and CEO Pam Landwirth puts it, "a week filled with yeses." If a child wants ice cream for breakfast, that's a-okay.

The parlor was designed with its special guests in mind, right down to the lower glass fronts that allow a child in a wheelchair to see the tubs of ice cream and pick out his or her favorite flavor. Having ice cream at Give Kids the World is special, and it was a treat to get to do so.

Pictures fail to accurately depict the beauty of the lights and the detail, time, and effort put into the light design and its implementation. Some of the team responsible for the light installation and design are former or furloughed Disney cast members. So much love has been poured into this event.

One of the most shining (literally!) examples of the thoughtfulness woven into the Night of a Million Lights is the Wish Tree. The massive tree is covered in purple LED lights. When a Wish child (the team knows of Wish families who are planning on attending the event) pushes a button at the base of the tree, the tree will come to life just for them.

Volunteers will staff the event (9,500 volunteer shifts in total), and if you'd like to be a part of the magic as a GKTW volunteer, click here for all of the details and to complete the volunteer application.

At the end of the evening, Fiasco and I took turns going up in a lift 80 feet in the air to get the full scope of the lighting displays and the work that's been done. The view, as you can imagine, was breathtaking. If you haven't already watched Fiasco's video of what he saw from 80 feet up, click here. It's not to be missed.

Night of a Million Lights will be a physically-distanced event, and face masks must be worn at all times.

And so, this holiday season? Just when you thought the magic was taking the year off, it returns plus some. If you're interested in purchasing tickets or you'd like additional event details, click here. If you'd like further information about the Village, click here.

Best holiday celebration this year? Yep. For sure. I'll see you there.

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