Tour was disorganized in assembly area.
Tour got off late due to bus failure (lift failed to work) and there was no back-up. Due to delay the MK portion was eliminated.
Tour should assemble in Germany where it would have been less confusing. Safety would not be a problem in that the Princess Breakfast is held in Norway and there are many children around.
CM's were very good - but if you have been on other tours this would be a vast letdown.
I took the Yuletide Fantasy Tour on Dec 9th. The tours were run by the Disney Institute (not the old one that I enjoyed thoroughly) but a small offshoot of it.
We met outside of of the enterance to Epcot. Our hosts were Leesa and I can't remember the other woman... I think her name was Sharon, but I'm not sure. They were really good. They got everyone organized and explained what we were going to be doing and where we were going. This was a combo tour explaining both how Disney does their decorations and how our own decorations have meanings. They made sure that we had our photo id because they would check (and they did). We then proceeded over to the bus area at Epcot and boarded a bus from the Disney Cruise Line. There were 39 of us on the tour so they divided us up into two groups. It made it easier for us to hear each of the guides. On the bus, they took turns telling us different things pertaining to the holidays.
We started off at Epcot behind the scenes, entering at Germany (this is where they checked our id's). It was interesting to be able to see Epcot's World Showcase before it was really open to the public. The only other people we saw at that part of the park were other people taking tours. (I want to try the Segway one next time...) It was interesting to be able to see how they were planting in Germany (using what I described as a drill to dig all the holes and dropping the Geraniums in (I need one of those for my garden). We started out talking about how many of our traditions including the Christmas tree and the ormaments came from Germany. We learned how the glass ornaments evolved and they described the pickle ornament which traditionally is put on the tree on Xmas eve and the first person who finds it gets a special gift. We moved on to Italy where we learned that the decorations are more somber. They use darker colors and they described the old woman who comes to leave gifts by your tree. The US was next. We learned how the tree is done in the colonial style with fruit and natural things on it, with the exception that Disney put the large red balls on it. We also learned how it was Eisner's choice to keep the Candlelight processional at WDW because the story was important to Walt and he wanted all aspects of the holiday celebrated. We went inside to see the Haunaka and Kwanzaa displays. We learned about the 8 nights of light from the one night of oil. and We learned that Kwanzaa is more of a values type of holiday and learning to be the best person you can be and to keep that spirit with you and those around you.
We moved onto Japan after that. They don't celebrate Xmas tradionally, but they do it with New Years. We learned about the doll with no eyes that they color in one eye on new years and they make a wish. When that wish comes true, they color in the other eye and throw it away. In Morocco, they explained about Ramaadan and since they don't celebrate Christian holidays, they really couldn't do much for the decorations. They red and green flags are the colors of the Moroccan Flag.... They did explain that during Ramadaan, many of the cast memebers who observe it, fast for the day, so the CM's who were in charge of the area made sure that they would be positioned indoors because when they fasted they also didn't drink water and they didn't want the cm's fainting on them. They said that they had a small party at the end of Ramadaan and the cm's brought their favorite Moroccan foods with them.
After Morocco, we got back on the bus and headed over to MGM. I was surprised when we went backstage at just how much they have there that you cannot see from either the road or the park. I noticed that there is actually an office building and a parking garage back there.
We went in through a gate by "One Man's Dream" and walked over to the "Streets of America". The lights were not on, of course and they told us that they may not be on for 2 days because they are indoor lights and they take that long for them to dry out (but I also heard that they did make it on occasionally) We got the chance to see how the lights were attached and how they made alot of different shapes out of the lights. They explained several of the displays - on the globe there is a star and an arrow. The star is Bethlehem and the Arrow is for Little Rock (where the Osborne's come from) We looked for several of the hidden mickeys and we even found the black cat (tucked in an alley along NY street) The black cat is a Halloween Display that the Osbornes also put up, which got mixed in with the Xmas lights. Disney put it up the first year and when the Osbornes came to see it they noticed the cat. They decided that since it had made it all the way to Fl, it would stay. It is put in a different place every year. There are also other references to the Osbornes there. On the fire escape, the heart with Breezy's name is the name of Osborne's daughter and the date they got married. We learned that the Osborne's display had gotten so big that they bought the house next door just to store the lights in.
After we left there, we went to the Wilderness lodge, which I was glad for, since I was staying at the Grand Floridian and had already checked out the decorations there. They explained how the tree was done in natural decorations such as pine cones and even moose antlears. We also learned that the Wilderness Lodge was the first resort on Disney Property to be built with the Xmas tree in mind. They had to wire the resort for the tree and it is the largest tree in the resorts - standing on a 5 foot high base.
We left the WL and moved on to the MK. It was interesting to see how we had to go to get backstage. The security was a bit around and about and I noticed that they had those special drop down gates that they can put up to stop as much as a truck from getting through.
We got off the bus and made our way onto Main Street entering just at Town Square, next to the Confectionary Shop. It was fun to watch because it was obvious that we were a tour together and all the people around us were stopping to listen to some of what we were learning. We learned that the Xmas Tree on Main Street comes apart in 6 sections. It is brought in by crane and assembled there. They explained how they used to use live trees, but they would have to go the the Sierras and cut down 3 trees to make one tree (using one as the base and the other two they drilled holes in and stuck the branches in to make it a full tree.) (they also painted it green, because the live tree would start to brown quickly) It couldn't be composted because of the paint, so they had to throw it away. We made our way down Main street to the first alley way on the right past Uptown Jewelers. We were talking about the xmas parade because someone asked when they were going to tape it. (they had done it the weekend before) On Main St., we talked about how alot of the decorations that we use come from the Victorian times and how it became more elaborate as the years went by. They also told us about the garlands across the street. The year that they had the inflatable baloons in the parade they couldn't use it because of height of the baloons, also another year, one of the floats was too tall for the garland and each time the cm playing one of the princes went under he had to duck.
We left the MK and proceeded onto to the Holiday services Warehouse. It used to be the building that they used for food preparation before it was spread out to other parts of the park. It is just that. A big warehouse. But they did explain alot about it to us. About how a resorts decorations are meant to last for 5 years. How it takes up to 2 years to plan out the resort's decorations. Of course the decorations were out. We did see, however how they had shelves and shelves piled high and categorized with ornaments. They purchase 5 years worth of ornaments because they expect breakage (yes, they do use glass ornaments...) They then took us into the workroom where 25 full time people work year round to get the holiday's done. After everything is brought back in from the resort, they have to inventory and list breakage and damage to the items, which they spend the rest of the year fixing. They still had the tree from CoP out - it was due to be placed before it opened Xmas week...
It was cool to see behind the scenes because I got the chance to see where the Monorail barn was and just to take a quick look around and see what was there.
We then reboarded the bus and took the road around the MK over to the GF and back to Epcot. We got back at around 12:30.
They gave us a commemorative pin - LE 1200 which was Tinkerbell sitting on an ornament.
I've taken lots of other tours with the Disney Institute. I loved it when it was in full swing (it was like being at summer camp as an adult and also going to the parks later in the day...) I liked the tour. It wasn't my top 10... that was the archetecture tour at the old DI.... but this was fun. I think it depends on who your tour guide is and try not to go in with any grand expectations and you'll find lots you may not have heard before.
I don't want to put Beach Club Villas down, but my wife and I took the tour a few weeks ago. Since there were 27 people on the tour, we broke into two groups. We got James, from the Disney Institute. He was extremely knowledgeable, and very funny. He did go into detail about the Osbourne lights :) In fact, he knew more about the multitude of Christmas, Ramadan, Hannakuh, and Kwanzaa traditions, than the other tour guide.
Although James did not provide much in the way of "Disney Christmas traditions," I don't think the tour is geared that way. I think it's geared more toward Christmas traditions - the Christmas tree, ornaments, lights, the manger, Ramadan, Hannakuh, Kwanzaa, pointsettia flowers, small down decorations (down the parade route). Then he talked about some of Disney's decorations - the 4 park Christmas trees, decorations down Main Street, USA, etc. Next we went to the Wilderness Lodge. There was really nothing extrordinary about the decorations at WL. Next we went to the 68,000 square foot Holiday Entertainment wharehouse. This is where all the Christmas displays are stored for 4 parks, 21 resorts, the Vero Beach resorts, and 2 cruise ships. Also are workshops for the 25 (?) full time CMs who get all the displays ready by mid October, and start refurbishing them starting mid-January. True, during the Christmas season, there isn't much to see, but you can definitely imagine the shelves completely stocked with displays.
If you really enjoy Christmas, and you really enjoy Christmas at Disney, my wife and I highly recommend this tour. And, you definitely need to ask for James. :)
I was very excited about my first Christmas trip to Disney, and decided to take the Yuletide Fantasy Tour to make sure I could see as much of the World as possible in a weekend. I was told that we would visit World Showcase, the Magic Kingdom, at least one hotel, and the place where they store all of the decorations. I couldn’t wait.
We met up with the group in front of Epcot, and proceeded backstage to a Mears bus. We were told we would be going backstage to World Showcase to discover how other cultures celebrate the Holidays. We started in Morocco, where our guide told us there were no decorations because they celebrate Ramadan, which was already over. Then we went to Japan, which again wasn’t decorated because the Japanese don’t celebrate a traditional Christmas the way Americans do. I was expecting to visit Italy, Germany and Norway, or at least some of the countries that looked different than they do during the rest of the year. It was nothing special. Our guide talked about how the Japanese buy new furniture during the New Year. Then we went to America, which was decorated beautifully. We went inside, and the guide tried to explain the Hanukah and Kwanzaa displays. She called Kwanzaa a “made up holiday” and said that the miracle of Hanukah was that there was enough oil to last for 3 days and it lasted for 6 (there was enough for 1 day and it lasted for 8). By this time, I was annoyed and wondering what exactly I had paid for. We went outside of the American pavilion, where the guide spent 15 minutes asking the group about their holiday traditions. I didn’t really care what everybody put on their trees; I cared what Disney puts on their trees!
That was it for Epcot. We went next to MGM because the MK was filming the Christmas parade. We went in the back way to see the Osborne Lights. We stayed on the street for about two minutes before the guide decided it was too loud and moved us over to the entrance to HISTK playground. There she went on for twenty minutes about Christmas movies, including Miracle on 34th Street and how Maureen O’Hara was cast in it and how the movie was filmed. If I really wanted to know any of this, I could have Googled it. I wanted to know about the Osborne lights!
That was it for MGM – it was off to the Grand Floridian. I was excited to see their tree and gingerbread house, and I really wanted to buy a gingerbread cookie. In the lobby, the guide read the recipe of the gingerbread house and gave us 2 minutes to take pictures. Then we were herded out of there like cattle. No cookies, no up close views, no nothing. Bah Humbug! I seriously considered jumping ship (or bus) and hitting the monorail at that point, but decided to stick it out.
Our last stop was the bungalow where Disney holds all of its holiday decorations. Which, as you can imagine at this time of the year, is a bunch of empty shelves. I’d like to see it in July. This was the most interesting part of the tour, though, because we heard about the store where they go to buy the decorations in Atlanta, the permanent staff of 15 that keeps everything looking like new, and how the Christmas trees are assembled and disassembled every year. Then it was back to Epcot.
Bottom Line: This is no way felt like a Disney tour. This could have taken place in Any Town, USA. You're much better off walking around on your own. You can learn more from reading a park map.