Christmas at Walt Disney World is amped up this year thanks to technology, adding a whole new gee-whiz layer of drones and lasers and ice castles to the world's biggest tourist attraction.
Outside the parks
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 doubled in size and has a twice-nightly show of 300 drones and a Christmas Tree Trail of themed trees.
The five-minute drone show, at 7 and 8:30 p.m. nightly, brings lights floating in formation in the sky as holiday music plays — the first time a drone show of this scale has been shown in the United States.
You don't need a theme park ticket to jump on the monorails for a free tour of the Disney resorts decked out in holiday regalia. You'll find a life-size gingerbread house in the lobby of the Grand Floridian that takes months to prepare.
Disney's most popular theme park is dressed up for the holidays, but there's also a separate ticket event 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 when projection mapping turns Cinderella's Castle into a house of cards, or Beast's castle in a 3D marvel. It's a terrific marriage of technology and story telling.
The big stunner of the night is when the castle turns into an ice palace in A Frozen Holiday Wish, a show with Queen Elsa from Frozen. For the big finale, more than 200,000 LED lights make it sparkle and twinkle, dripping with icicles. The lights stay on for the rest of the night, so you'll see the lovely effect even if you didn't make the show.
If you get the separate ticket for 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 ticket for this party ($92-$99 for older than 10) costs less than a day at the Magic Kingdom. You'll find lighter crowds when the park closes to the daytime visitors at 7 p.m. and special treats (free cookies, hot cocoa, eggnog and cider are handed out at several stations around the park).
New this year is a family reunion of sorts as Mickey welcomes everyone from Clarabelle the Cow to Woody, Peter Pan, Snow White and Dopey to what feels like a 1970s variety show Mickey's Most Merriest Celebration.
Like the park's regular fireworks show, Tinker Bell makes an appearance overhead at the Holiday Wishes fireworks show and "snow" falls after the fireworks finale.
The dates left for the party are today, Friday and Sunday and Dec. 13, 15, 16, 18 and 22. After that the holiday show and parade replaces the regular the evening shows through the rest of December.
The new 15-minute laser and fireworks show is called Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam! and like its overuse of exclamation points, this show packs in a lot: lasers, fireworks, music, classic Christmas movie scenes projected on the Chinese Theater. Then it "snows" and the lasers make the snow appear to sparkle.
This was a "happy accident," said show director Tom Vazzana, that they only discovered during rehearsal, and now they look like geniuses.
Hollywood Studios has created a blockbuster of a show that makes it hard to know where to look. And it might make you forget all the construction walls as new lands based on Star Wars and the Toy Story films are actively under construction.
Epcot knows the way to the heart is through the stomach — or a big chorus.
True to its reputation as a foodie theme park, Epcot has added five new marketplaces that explore what the holidays taste like around the globe.
Most popular remains the Candlelight Processional that uses celebrity narrators. Actor Anthony Mackie, who plays Falcon in the Marvel movies, will read the Christmas story accompanied by a 50-piece orchestra and choir through Friday. He'll be followed by Robby Benson for three nights starting Saturday.
You can also see Meredith Vieira Dec. 13-15; Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, Dec. 16-18; and Scandal's Joe Morton Dec. 19-21
Sessions of Candlelight Processional begin at 5 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. each day and are included with admission.
Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer