Is the holiday magic still alive at Disney?
If anything, 2020 has been a year like no other. After a nearly four month closure, massive layoffs, and strict reopening measures, things definitely look different at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. As far as the holiday season goes, how would the Magic Kingdom feel without those iconic Dream Lights on Cinderella’s Castle or snow falling on Main Street USA? Most of all, is the Disney magic still alive?
So, we may not be able to have Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party but we did gain something fun and magical: suprise “Character Cavalcades”! These mini-parades don’t run on any certain schedule, but you’re certain to catch them if you are hanging out on Main Street USA or the Frontierland/Adventureland side of the Magic Kingdom (this is where these mini parades begin). You may see a variety of princesses, Mickey and the rest of the Fab Five or even Santa Claus himself! There are five different Character Cavalcades that run throughout the day.
While there’s only a handful of character dining options spread throughout Disney World, and none currently at the Magic Kingdom, there were fun character sightings outside the Crystal Palace restaurant. Rabbit, Piglet, and Eeyore waved and blew kisses to their adoring onlookers.
As you can see, they were decked out in holiday scarves. Kids posed at a distance for super cute photo opportunities.
Venturing further into the park, we headed towards Fantasyland where we had a surprise Jiminy Cricket sighting! Perched upon a balcony at the Pinocchio Village Haus restaurant, Jiminy waved and made “heart hands” to his fans below. This was the first time I could recall seeing Jiminy Cricket “in the wild” so needless to say, I was super excited!
One thing that did catch me off guard was the length of the lines, but it was a bit of a red herring. Seeing the line for Peter Pan’s Flight meander and wrap down into Liberty Square by the Haunted Mansion was a bit alarming. However, it was due to the social distancing measures and the six foot spacing between each party. This makes lines look crazy long, even for modest and minimal waits. It’s a necessary precaution that needed to be implemented and is definitely a sign of the times in 2020 Disney. There are even what look like long lines to enter the shops, such as Ye Olde Christmas Shop and the Emporium on Main Street. What I thought were going to be thirty minute waits ended up being five or less. It’s good to know they are really monitoring capacity limits thoroughly.
After leaving Ye Olde Christmas Shop, we had another surprise character sighting: Muppets in Liberty Square! They arrive unannounced and pop out of windows and interact with each other and guests below.
These surprise character pop-ups are a FANTASTIC addition to the ambiance in the parks and I love how they’ve integrated social distancing without making it feel impersonal. Guests, including myself, were surprised and delighted around every corner throughout the day. Disney has done a phenomenal job with these character appearances. Bravo!
Once again, the Jungle Cruise has been transformed into the Jingle Cruise! Skippers offered up a seasonal spin on their humor and it was one of the park’s longer wait times. The overlay of Christmas decor adds another element of seasonal fun and it’s definitely worth the wait!
If you’re anything like me, one thing I always look forward to at Disney (and practically anywhere) is the food! Disney has a whole batch of new seasonal treats to sample and I enthusiastically thought I would try them all. With my eyes being bigger than my stomach, I realized this was not a possibility, even when being shared. The ones I did sample, though, were quite delicious and worth trying.
Our first seasonal treat review is the “Let It Snow Taco” from Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe and is described by Disney as a “sugar cookie taco shell filled with salted caramel and spiced chocolate mousse.” I picked this up along with some tasty nachos with queso. I couldn’t taste any salted caramel or sugar cookie in this dessert taco, but I also liked it pretty well. The chocolate mousse filling was light and fluffy and the spices tasted a lot like a chai latte to me. The shell didn’t remind me of a sugar cookie but it had a good texture and the right amount of sweetness.
There are plenty of other sweet holiday treats to try, like the light and tangy Orange Bird Christmas and the Twice Upon a Cupcake that has a red velvet hidden Mickey!
Last but not least, we had to finish our day with some beautiful views of Cinderella’s Castle. Always a beautiful sight any time of year and made even more magical with the addition of a series of projections. So they aren’t the icicle dream lights of Christmases past, but it is bright, festive and cheerful and makes a lovely photo op, regardless.
Boughs of garland with colorful Christmas lights, a huge Christmas tree, and oversized toy soldiers complete the festive decor on Main Street USA. Between the decor and the fun characters, it’s enough to snap any Scrooge out of their funk and into the holiday spirit!
Hollywood Studios was also in the holiday spirit with tons of retro-inspired decor. Much like the Magic Kingdom, there are random Character Cavalcades along Hollywood Boulevard.
Our sweet treat of the day at Hollywood Studios was the Holiday Whoopie Pie at the Trolley Car Cafe. It’s a red velvet whoopie pie filled with cream cheese icing and sprinkles, topped with a dusting of powdered sugar. First, let me say that this more like a small layer cake than your typical whoopie pie! It could easily serve 3 to 4 people but it was delicious. The filling had the perfect balance of sweetness and tanginess from the cream cheese. Highly recommend trying it along with your favorite coffee or the new frozen salted caramel hot chocolate, also from the Trolley Car Cafe (which is also happens to be a Starbucks).
Epcot still had their International Food and Wine Festival underway, but they will be adding in their holiday kitchens starting November 27, 2020. New additions this year include the Spiked Frozen Apple Pie beverage and Maple Buche de Noel. Head over to the International Showplace for an all-American inspired gingerbread display. Likewise, Animal Kingdom has added a few sweet treats for the holidays along with their Christmas trees and decor.
No snow in the parks? No problem! I found the snow at Disney Springs! This year they’ve replaced the Christmas Tree Trail with the Christmas Tree Stroll, which you can read about in more detail here. It’s a fun way to spend an evening while observing social distancing guidelines.
Overall, I was very impressed with how Disney has kept the magic alive during these challenging times. Things were different, but some changes, like the random character sightings, were for the better! Phased reopening means not all resorts, restaurants, and attractions are open yet but they are slowly adding in more all the time (but safety first!). Disney takes safety precautions seriously but they’ve integrated it in a way that doesn’t feel unnatural or obtrusive. Everyone’s situation is different, so only you can decide if and when a Disney vacation is in your future. But one thing is for certain, Disney knows how to immerse us in the magic and make us forget about the troubled outside world around us, if only for a moment.