It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Decorations are going up around the various parks, and they are also fully in place at Downtown Disney already. At the Magic Kingdom, the upcharge Very Merry Christmas Party has begun (and we’re due to see the new castle projection show this week, too). So today let’s take a quick look at some of the offerings for this year, and do a little catching up on odds and ends throughout the parks…

ICE, ICE, Baby

Just outside the Disney World gates on Osceola Drive is the Gaylord Palms resort, a hotel that would not be out of place in Las Vegas, since it’s a mega-hotel too with its own sub-themed areas. They do ICE! yearly here, a Christmas-only ice sculpture display housed in a warehouse kept at 9 degrees… that’s cold!

Before I get into the review here, a disclosure: I received complimentary admission for myself and my family as part of a press event. Regular admission varies by how busy the day is, and if you bought tickets ahead of time, but $22-$27 seems to be the going adult rate. (And you need to budget $15 for parking, too).

This is expensive for a single experience, but if you take your time it could easily last a couple of hours (more if you do the other things they offer like cookie decorating). And in that light we’re talking about something twice as expensive as a movie ticket, and about twice as cool (no pun intended). Since it’s only seasonal, it’s likely they can get away with higher pricing.

Alas, no Circus Afro!

This year’s program, like every year, is new and this go-around is themed to DreamWorks Madagascar. I admit, I don’t know these movies. So maybe a kid who grew up with these characters will have a different reaction than I did, but I thought it was pretty like always, impressive like always, but at the same time missing a sense of awe and grandeur that was there in previous years. That may be because the same four Madagascar characters were in every room, so there was a touch of sameness to the rooms as you progressed through.

It’s still a great event and a wonderful addition to the Orlando line-up, and it is probably perfect in every way for fans of the Madagascar films But I hope they try to vary things a bit more in future years. I confess I still have a soft spot for giant ice cream cones and snowflakes as the colored ice sculptures.

I wanted to find a duplicate to this one, make them face each other, and see if they would start a conversation.

Osborne Lights

The Osborne Lights are back at Disney Hollywood Studios [DHS], and they look great as always. It occurs to me that they might actually be dancing TOO much, since the lights are seldom on “full power” now, which makes photography a bit harder. I feel for the out of town tourists on this point.

A Winter Wonderland!

We saw a new traffic pattern for crowds attending the display: you are routed all the way down to the Hunchback theater, and join the lights only in the main angel-filled square (where Lights Motors Action is). You can’t join up early or on the side entrances, which are all roped off. This is probably smart, since people want the “money shot” and now can get it at the end of their trip, rather than at the start, and thus there is less of a bottleneck. Pro tip: come from Midway Mania and join up on that side; there are fewer crowds.

Santa Goofy: coming down the chimney tonight?

The nativity scene has moved from its usual location on the “loading docks” at the end; it is now near the raining umbrella, up against facades. Taking the nativity’s place: a meet and greet (and PhotoPass Opportunity) with Goofy. Your conclusions as to the change are invited, just use the comments box at the bottom of the page. 🙂

New last year, this video screens give life to the windows.


Disney announced this week that Walt Disney World’s Starbucks locations had now been chosen: Starbucks will replace the Main Street Bakery (Magic Kingdom) and Fountain View Cafe (Epcot). Do you think this is good news or bad? Let us know in the comments!

For me, I’m OK with the change. I’m tempted to say I’m indifferent, because I don’t normally drink coffee and thus am not affected by the loss of the “regular” coffee (which is still available elsewhere in the park, of course). A majority of people who do drink coffee claim that the Disney blend is uninspired, so I assume the Starbucks is good news for them. In that sense, it’s a win.

I’m not that bothered by an outside company having a shingle at the park. This has happened from the earliest days at Disneyland, when Carnation, Coca-Cola, and Kodak were early sponsors. There is a difference thematically, I suppose, because those Disneyland companies were part of authentic turn of the century America, and Starbucks is not. I can see that objection, but it doesn’t bother me overly. There’s been plenty of slippage in Main Street over the years already, and it’s more about idealization than authenticity now. As for Future World, a Starbucks will not be jarring, provided the signage doesn’t just “take over” the visuals of the area.

Festival of the Masters

The annual art show at Downtown Disney was back this past weekend, with numerous booths displaying artist wares (many of which you can buy). I had little interest or use for this mini-festival the first few years I was here, but nowadays I’ve come to appreciate it for a couple of reasons…

There are food and drink booths, too!

First, I’m older, which makes me more of the target audience, and second, I’ve tempered a bit my feelings on who WDW is “for”. Disney, being a business, knows it can and should target multiple demographics, and minor events that target a sub-population are almost certainly not accidental or coincidental to Disney’s success. If they help bring people to the WDW resorts and parks, I’m sure they have a place.

LEGO version of a Qbert standup game, done in miniature.

Splash Mountain Loading Zone

Remember when a branch fell off the Tree of Life earlier this year? Disney reacted by putting up nets to protect visitors below from sudden debris. Well, Splash Mountain has reportedly had something similar happen recently, courtesy of a fake boulder hitting the control booth (the thing you see from under the “bridge” at the very start of the ride).

This week, I got to see the ride, and they’ve added canvas tarps across the entire loading zone. The whole thing looks and feels like a ceiling. If you ask, you’ll be told it’s temporary, though that’s true of the Tree of Life nets also (still going strong in their temporary status!)

“Sailing” away, eh?

Magic Kingdom Quick Takes

There are numerous other things going on in the Kingdom – I’ll let the captions do the talking here…

Princess Fairytale Hall has new signage
Next Gen totem near ADV eggroll cart has tiny screens for eyes, speakers, a fake skull, and a flat-top post for putting something down on top of. No clue what ‘game’ this will be used for (definitely not SotMK)
This sign used to adorn the little shop near Pecos Bill; now, it got moved to the outdoor Pirates shop (facing the crystal cart) for some reason. Its former home is behind rehab walls.

Star Wars Miniland

An addition has opened up for the Miniland area of Legoland dedicated to Star Wars. Here are the new sections:

  • Episode I: Naboo: Naboo is one of the most geographically varied planets in the Star Warsmovies. This scene depicts the Battle of Naboo and the capital Theed – both the Royal Palace and the hangar can be seen. In this battle scene, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn encounter and fight the Sith apprentice, Darth Maul.
  • Episode II: Geonosis: In this scene, visitors have a fantastic view of the Geonosis arena, in which PadmĂ© Amidala, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker battle ferocious creatures. Witness the clash between Count Dooku’s droid army and the Grand Army of the Republic.
  • Episode III: Kashyyyk and Mustafar: In this scene, two planets are revealed: Kashyyyk and Mustafar. On one side, you’ll be placed right into the Battle of Kashyyyk – the home of Chewbacca and the Wookiees. Here you’ll discover fantastic vehicles modeled from LEGO bricks, such as the massive Clone Turbo Tank. On the other side, catch a glimpse of the fateful duel on Mustafar between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.
  • Episode IV: Tatooine: Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, C-3PO and R2-D2 can be spotted in this desert planet, Tatooine. Here you’ll discover Uncle Owen’s moisture farm, where Luke Skywalker lived as a child; peek inside the Cantina where the animated Cantina Band plays and stand above the spaceport where the largest LEGO model of Han Solo’s famous starship, the Millennium Falcon, blasts off.
  • Episode V: Hoth: The Rebels take refuge on this icy planet, Hoth, but the Empire tracks them down and the Rebels are forced to flee. This scene features LEGO models of the Imperial AT-ATs, Rebel snowspeeders and Luke Skywalker’s X-wing starfighter. Look closely and you’ll see Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia.
  • Episode VI: Endor – Next we travel to a forest moon and home of the Ewoks, who fight against the Imperial Forces alongside the Rebels. The Endor system plays a key role in Return of the Jedias the site of the Battle of Endor, fought to prevent construction of the second Death Star. This scene presents the final victory of the Rebel Alliance over the Empire. Here you can view a large-scale model of an Imperial shuttle on its landing platform, delivering a fearsome passenger – the Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader.
  • The Clone Wars: Christophsis – The seventh area brings us to a scene from the animated seriesThe Clone Wars on the planet Christophsis. Chronologically, the series takes place between Episode II and Episode III and focuses on the adventures of Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The LEGO scene depicts part of the planet’s surface, with the largest of all LEGO Star Wars models: an approximately 8-foot tall building from the Crystal City. You will also see a scene showing a battle between Separatist battle droids and Republic clone troopers.
These aren’t the LEGOs you’re looking for.

As always, you can find more photos at my personal blog:

Christmas Book(s)

Tis the season to start shopping, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you of my new book this year, Epcot-The First Thirty Years. Trace the history of Epcot through the years with this collection of photographs from a fan’s perspective. We take you back to Horizons, World of Motion, Wonders of Life, and other pavilions that have changed over the years, like the original versions of Universe of Energy, Journey into Imagination, Spaceship Earth, and the Living Seas.

We also track alternations and additions to World Showcase over time, as well as the various events and entertainment offerings. With over 500 color photographs, the vast majority of which were chosen because they illustrate items you can no longer see in today’s Epcot, this book provides a tour of the past unlike any other. 158 pages, 8×10 inches.

Available with color photos, black/white, or on Kindle.

Also, late last year I was one of the co-authors on a book about Christmas at Walt Disney World. Take a photo journey with us that includes extinct guest favorites such as the Country Bear Christmas Special, an overnight visit to the Cinderella Castle Suite from Christmas week 2007, and a look around the Walt Disney World theme parks and resorts as you may see the decorations now.

More information and updates

Readers are invited to connect with Kevin online and face to face at the following locations: