Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom have made some big changes to their holiday offerings this year. Most of the changes aren’t noticeable to children, but adults and families may be surprised.
Animal Kingdom pays tribute to animals of the world with a puppet parade, festive lights and lanterns. At the Magic Kingdom, Minnie Mouse takes over Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and gives it a bit more mature look.
By day, the streets of Discovery Island in Animal Kingdom come alive with a puppet parade featuring the Merry Menagerie, a troupe of life-sized polar bears, foxes, penguins and birds made of wood and cloth. They rub up against guests, acting as if they are chewing your clothing, and play hide-and-seek with children. The show is set to a recorded soundtrack of holiday music with accompaniment from strolling musicians.
“All the puppets have really, really great personalities,” said Andrea Wolowitz, marketing strategy manager for Animal Kingdom. “You can interact with them, talk to them and they’ll react to you.”
Also in Discovery Island, lanterns of hand-carved animal busts adorn the rooftops and illuminate at night. The Tree of Life shows got a makeover for the holiday. Animals learn about snow, the seasons and the meaning of holiday spirit in three different “awakenings,” First Snow, Gift Giver and Seasons of Light.
“The tree actually comes to life with a beautiful display of stories of animals discovering snow for the first time, and having their first Christmas,” Wolowitz said.
All of the lands in Animal Kingdom also got an overhaul. Asia pays tribute to Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Thousands of colorful flowers, lanterns and light shows fill the streets and light the night. The Bollywood Beats band provides dancing music by day. Diwali runs nightly in the theater district through Jan. 1.
Donald Duck has taken over DinoLand USA and turned it into Donald’s Dino Bash, a music- and light-infused meet-and-greet area with Daisy, Launchpad McQuack, Chip and Dale, Scrooge McDuck and Goofy. Each uses lights, ornaments, trees and a sewing kit to create holiday overlays for their meet-and-greet stations. Launchpad McQuack has a water tower adorned with 2,600 lights and tons of garland.
Pandora, themed for the movie Avatar, also gets into the spirit. Earthlings pay tribute to their homeland with a vintage nutcracker and a menorah, as well as a handcrafted toy soldier robot and a sleigh pulled by banshees.
At the Magic Kingdom, Minnie Mouse rules the holiday party. As usual, there are plenty of free cookies and hot chocolate at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, a separate ticket event at the Magic Kingdom. But this year, Minnie shows her “Dot Power,” giving the fireworks a new look. Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks features a dot-filled projection show, lots of boom, 180-degree explosions and holiday songs Grandma and Grandpa can relate to.
“This is Minnie’s gift to all of us,” said Kate Pappas, managing producer at Walt Disney World. “She has selected all her favorite holiday music and set them to brand new orchestrations.”
Also, three Tomorrowland attractions and one Adventureland attraction take on a holiday twist.
Race along the Tomorrowland Speedway through brightly lit snowballs and vignettes of holiday trees and scattered presents. It’s all set to modern holiday pop music. Roz puts on her ugly sweater and makes a “naughty” and “nice” list in the wreath-adorned Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor.
Space Mountain gives riders the gift of seeing the track for the holidays. Red, green, yellow and blue lights flash so bright, the entire track can be seen from the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. Cover your ears because Trans-Siberian Orchestra songs are quite loud all around Space Mountain.
The Mad Tea Party steps it up a bit from the Halloween party and adds a snowflake light show set to holiday music as you spin. The Tomorrowland stage sets the scene for a winter-themed a cappella concert, but kids can still dance with polar bears at Club Tinsel in Cosmic Rays.
The last two weeks of the year are by far the busiest at Walt Disney World, so now might be time to take advantage of being a Florida resident and soak in the holiday cheer before the place is overrun.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party runs select dates through Dec. 22. Tickets are $99-$139. Holiday activities and decorations at Walt Disney World are up through the first week of January. Many don’t require park admission to check out, such as the giant gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian Resort and Christmas Tree Trail in Disney Springs. disneyworld.disney.go.com.