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What to expect: Christmas at Disney World has drones, lasers and ice castles

24

November

Christmas at Disney World is amped up this year thanks to technology, adding a whole new gee-wiz layer of drones and lasers and ice castles to the world’s biggest tourist attraction.

It’s not just the four theme parks. This year Disney Springs, the newly revamped shopping and entertainment district formerly known as Downtown Disney, has a twice-nightly show of 300 drones, live performers and a Christmas Tree trail of 15 themed trees that you don't need a theme park ticket to see,

In the parks, the Magic Kingdom gets the greatest attention to detail from Disney’s “Imagineers” with clever parade floats and light shows. Epcot knows the way to the heart is through the stomach or a big chorus. And Hollywood Studios puts on a blockbuster of a laser-fireworks-video show that makes it hard to know where to look.

Magic Kingdom
Disney’s most popular theme park is dressed up for the holidays, but there’s also a separate ticket party called Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

Simply going to the park is a holiday treat to see the many decorations and the new Once Upon a Time show at night where Cinderella's Castle is turned into a canvas for creativity. Projection mapping turns it into a house of cards, or a gingerbread wonder or a 3D marvel. It's a stunning marriage of technology and story telling.

If you get the separate ticket for the after-hours Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, here's an insider’s tip: They will let you in as early as 4 p.m. and the park doesn’t close until midnight, so the $86-$99 ticket for this party costs less than a day at the Magic Kingdom. You’ll find lighter crowds when the party closes to the daytime visitors at 7 p.m. and special treats only for this party.

Free cookies, hot cocoa, egg nog and cider are handed out at several stations around the park. And it will be snowing on Main Street U.S.A, a great place to snap a few pictures and enjoy the soapy “snow.”

New this year is the Most Merriest Celebration, a corny show on the Cinderella Castle forecourt stage that has the vibe of a 1970s variety show. But they’ve pulled out the stops on the characters. Like a family reunion, Mickey welcomes everyone from Clarabelle the Cow to Woody and Peter Pan and Snow White and Dopey. If you like live shows, there’s also a 20-minute Totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show held near Space Mountain a few times per night.

There are parades at 8:30 and 11 p.m. so you can hit some of the rides during one of them. The second parade is usually far less crowded. It starts in Frontierland rather than on Main St.

The big stunner of the night is all the bells and whistles at work on the castle.
First, there’s the Once Upon a Time projection show and then the Holiday Wishes fireworks show has unusual burst with extras like  perimeter fireworks that seem to float on the sidelines and go off in strange directions. It ends with a special castle holiday lighting that makes it look like it's dripping in icicles in balmy Florida. Just try to get that Frozen song out of your head. It's imposssible.

The dates left are Nov 27 and 29 and Dec. 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18, 22
8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18 and 22. Ticketes are  $86-$99, $81-$94 children. Walt Disney World, 1515 N Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista. (407) 934-7639. 7 p.m. Friday.

Hollywood Studios

The nighttime show at Hollywood Studios feels like a brain explosion. Sure, fireworks are fun. But let's add classic Christmas movie scenes projected on the walls, great music, and lasers and falling snow.

And the lasers make the soapy snowflakes look like they sparkle and twinkle. That turned out to be a "happy accident" the show producer revealed during a media preview. They look like geniuses now. There's also red and green lasers that intersect and look like a plaid Christmas ribbon.

Epcot

True to its place as a foodie theme park, Epcot this year has added five new marketplaces that  explore what the holidays taste like around the globe. But what is most popular is the  Candlelight Processional that uses celebrity narrators (Meredith Vieira Dec. 13-15, Scandal’s Joe Morton Dec. 19-21) to tell the Christmas story accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra and choir.

Outside the parks

You don't need a theme park ticket to see some of the over-the-top Disney stage craft.

Jump on the monorails for a free tour of the Disney resorts decked out in holiday regalia, including the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa with its life-sized gingerbread house. It is composed of real ingredients, and takes months to prepare.

Or head over to Disney Springs, Walt Disney World’s shopping district that just unleashed the first show-drone performance of 300 lights floating in formation in the sky, the largest such show  of this scale in the United States.

It's a 5-minute show at 7 and 8:30 p.m. nightly with lighted drones that dance in formation, creating what appears to be a floating, rotating Christmas tree or a dove or an angel. It's impressive, like you are looking at the future.

The shopping area with free parking and celebrity chef restaurants has doubled in size in its three-year overhaul. The area also has   Stitch’s Holiday Gift scavenger hunt in search of a unique Stitch icon at each participating location, and a nightly tree-lighting ceremony.

The Christmas Tree Trail is a selfie-ready walk among 15 custom decorated holiday trees, each dedicated to a popular Disney theme. The villains tree has an appple and black rose as ornaments and the Mary Poppins tree has umbrella ornaments. It's a fun game to guess the theme before looking at the sign. And it's surely no surprise that you can find the ornaments in a nearby Christmas store.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

[Last modified: Wednesday, November 23, 2016 10:32am]

    

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