Christmas at Walt Disney World – What We Love, What We Love Less

The smell of Christmas ham may still be wafting through the house, and you may still be walking past those last three Christmas cookies that no one really likes, tempting you to break your New Year’s resolution to lose weight.  So why on earth am I talking about Christmas at Walt Disney World already?

If you’re a DVC owner, you probably know why.  We are already coming up on the 11 month booking window for next Christmas, and if you want the resort preferences you want, you’ve got to book early!

For those who are always on the fence about whether or not to book their Walt Disney World vacation during the busiest time of the year, here are the reasons why we do.

Christmas Dinner at Artist Point – The Wilderness Lodge location just screams Christmas.  The rustic lodge with the roaring fireplace and the giant Christmas tree make this a natural choice for the holiday.  The cozy, warm feeling of Artist Point is as close to Christmas dinner at home with family – if your family lived in a Norman Rockwell painting – as you’re going to get.  The food is delicious (is it wrong that my mouth is still watering over the pork belly and corn and crab salad I had?), and the location ideal.  It’s a perfect Christmas meal.

The Decorations – Remember the year that you had all that free time at Christmas after the shopping, wrapping, baking, cooking and cleaning, so you decided to deck every hall in your house with boughs of holly, elegant wreaths, themed Christmas trees, and giant gingerbread houses?  Yeah, me neither.  But guess what?  You’ll have all of that at Walt Disney World!  Wreaths and garlands dripping with ornaments, trees that soar towards massive ceilings, and life sized carousels and gingerbread houses can be found in every corner of the resorts.  The best part?  You won’t get sap in your hair setting the tree up, and you don’t have to vacuum all the pine needles out of the carpet.

The Lights – I wish I could say that our house is like the Griswold Family Christmas, where the dad wants so many lights on the house you can see it from outer space.  It’s not.  My husband is the king of understated Christmas lights.  We usually have a battery operated candle in each window, but the batteries usually die by December 4th, and they don’t usually get replaced until the following year, when my husband decides it’s cheaper to throw the lights out than replace the batteries, and the whole process begins again.  Any other lights are usually put out by the kids and I, and I gotta tell ya, if it’s cold, I’m darn near tempted to dump the light box into the bushes, plug in the first plug I find, and pray it’s on a string of lights that actually works.

The Osborne Spectacle of the Dancing Lights is the ultimate holiday light display.  Snow, music, and millions of lights makes it more festive than I could ever dream at home!  No matter how ambitious I am with my own lights, there’s just nothing that compares with the amazing display.  You just want to walk down the street hugging people.  Seriously.

Candlelight Processional – If you are lacking Christmas spirit at home, you will surely find it here.  This is a narrated story of the birth of Christ, read by a celebrity narrator, with the accompaniment of a brilliant choir and amazing orchestra.  There is nothing better to do on Christmas eve than to enjoy a wonderful family meal, followed by the Candlelight Processional, followed by Illuminations.  It’s another hug everyone experience.

So, I’ve convinced you to be on the phone with me later this week to make your reservations for Christmas, right?

Well, yeah, there are a few things we don’t love about Christmas at Walt Disney World.  It is crowded.  You can expect lines for attractions to top 90 minutes or more.  There is some stress trying to get dining reservations and the room you want at the resort you’d like.  And it’s really tough to pack a family’s worth of Christmas presents and decorations in your carry on bags for the plane.

But honestly, some of our best family vacations are the ones we’ve spent at Walt Disney World at Christmas.  We make it our annual holiday destination.

Disney World Christmas – My Quick List of What Not to Miss

You cannot begin to imagine how excited I get over Walt Disney World at Christmas time!  I start planning next year’s holiday trip probably before I leave this year’s vacation.  Visiting Walt Disney World during the holidays has become tradition for my family, and as much as there is to see and do, there are a few things I encourage you to put at the top of your list.

A Cup of Christmas Tea

The Garden View Lounge at Disney’s Grand Floridian resort is where you’ll find this jewel of an afternoon break.  Afternoon Tea is served daily from 2 PM until 4:30, and honestly, this is a meal – and an event – unto itself.  Choose from a selection of packages that include tea, sandwiches, pastries, scones, and fruit; or opt for the a la carte service, where you can choose the components of the meal you want.  It is a great way to kick off the holiday season, and it’s usually where my family begins our Christmas holiday at Walt Disney World.  We head from the airport to the resort, and we are checking in for a relaxing tea service right around 3 o’clock.  I love sitting with my girls around the table, enjoying their company in a way that we don’t always get to do in the hustle and bustle of home – OR during the hustle and bustle of a theme park vacation.  It’s a must do for me.

World Showcase Santas

Where else in one afternoon can you visit Santa, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, AND the Monkey King?  And where else in one afternoon can you give your kids such an amazing holiday cultural lesson without the whining and complaining that comes normally with trying to teach kids something on Christmas vacation?  I like to clear an afternoon and have the girls go from country to country in the World Showcase to listen to the stories of Christmas in other cultures.  The “Santas” are all wonderful, and the children are glued to the stories of how other kids are waking up on Christmas morning.  You’d think there was a Hannah Montana marathon on, they’re so attentive!  If you can’t give up a whole afternoon/evening, choose the countries significant to your family – perhaps La Befana in Italy can give your kids a glimpse into what it was like when Great Grandma woke up in her country on Christmas day.  I love it when learning and playing are almost the same thing!

Jennings Osborne Is My Hero

Long before his lights became a holiday tradition at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I couldn’t help but admire a man who held Christmas and the joy of his daughter in such high regard that he went to court to defend his right to celebrate both things.  Unfortunately, Jennings lost his court battle, but fortunately for the rest of us who couldn’t get to Arkansas for the holidays, he was kind enough to share his love of Christmas with us at Disney.  If you have ever wanted to burn your neighbor’s house down, because he has the most obnoxious holiday light display on the block, you might want to skip this part of my annual holiday tradition, but if you find joy in the bright celebration that is Christmas, you won’t want to miss the Osborne Spectacle of the Dancing Lights.  I have to tell you, I could do without the dancing part, which was added a few years back, but I still wouldn’t miss a chance to go see this outrageous display of Christmas celebration at least once (but usually twice) during my Christmas vacation.  You’ll see flying angels, marching soldiers, dancing lights, and even snowflakes (yes, in FLORIDA!!).  If you linger after the initial massive crowds when the lights first come on (usually around six in the evening), you can grab a cup of hot cocoa (yeah, I know, it’s 80 degrees – but ya gotta….) and meander up and down the street, soaking up the holiday festivity.  I’d venture to guess this is the very top of the must do list for my two littler girls, but it’s a holiday favorite for all of us.

EPCOT Candlelight Processional

It is here every year that I find the true meaning of Christmas.  Yep, in the middle of a loud, busy theme park.  Surrounded by people whose feet hurt.  Crowded by crying children.  Overwhelmed by all of the “I want…” and “Can I have…”s.  If you don’t find your holiday spirit here, you are not going to find it.

This is the retelling of the Christmas story – remember that one?  No, not the “You’ll shoot your eye out” one – the ORIGINAL Christmas story.  A celebrity narrator tells you of the birth of Christ and his impact on the world.  I gotta tell you, by the time the essay “One Solitary Life” is read, I’m crying.  I’m crying right now just thinking about hearing it.  It is the most moving theme park experience I have ever had, and I cannot wait each year to enjoy it again.  The music is outstanding, and the reminder of the reason for the season much welcomed.  If there was only one thing I could do at Walt Disney World during the Christmas season, this is the thing I would do.  (and after I did it, I’d push to do all the other things!)

This is a can’t miss vacation, no matter what.  I hope you get to enjoy some of the wonderful things my family goes back for year after year, and I hope some of our family holiday traditions become some of your favorite family traditions as well!

 

 

Crossing Acute Renal Failure Off Of My Bucket List

Whew – that leaves only bungee jumping and typhoid fever!

So, in obvious response to my threat of naked hot tubbing with the new tub, the supreme powers that be saw fit to smite me down to prevent the possibility of widespread hysteria at the mere thought of this pasty white sack of flour nude. In hot, bubbly water. This, apparently, is a sight reserved only for those making chicken soup.

I was happily getting ready to go to parents’ weekend to pick Eilis up at camp last Friday, and I came down with chills. I had minor back pain, and based on a history of kidney stones, I briefly thought it might be that – but when the excruciating, I’d rather give birth to quintuplets without the benefit of medical intervention pain never materialized, I chalked it up to bad Chinese food.
I had no “heavy head” the day after the intake. There was not a single side effect described in the instructions. However, my fellow sufferer had paradoxical reactions, i.e. agitation https://www.doondoc.com/doc/ativan-2mg/ and anxiety.

After a weekend of chills and cold sweats, it seemed like a good idea to skip our planned visit to Niagara Falls and head home.

My family doctor has been my family doctor since I was 19 years old – with the exception of the time I lived in FL. I never once laid down on his exam table. I’ve been in there with all kinds of ills and chills, but never felt compelled to lay down.

It was perhaps the fact that I was laying down that prompted him to send me to the ER immediately. He’s very good at this doctor thing – he should consider a career….just sayin’.

Long story short, in acute renal failure with sepsis, they admit me to the ICU. What a great place, ICU. Private room, private nurse, all the IVs you want – and I even vaguely recall there might have been a TV. It was like staying at the Grand Floridian, only less, ummm, Floridian feeling.

I’ve got a long road to go. The acute renal failure has left me severely anemic, and the cause of the problem in the first place is indeed an enormous, the size of Stewie from Family Guy’s head kidney stone that is blocking my kidney from draining. That has to come out, so I’m looking at a surgical procedure at the end of the month.

But in the grand scheme of things, I’m here. When the ladies from the local Church came to pray with me and give me communion on Sunday, I admit, I cried my eyes out. Having heard all week long how many hours away I had been from dying, it was overwhelming on a dark, dismal, rainy day to have this lovely woman, dressed in sunshine yellow, there to celebrate with me my going home.

I should pledge to do something great with my life, now that it’s been saved. But I really try, every day, to do something great for someone. So I’ll just pledge to continue to be me – for as long as you’ll have me.

 

Disney Dining – A Few Family Favorites

If there were ever two topics I had to choose as my areas of expertise, it would seriously be Disney and food.  I have eaten my way around Walt Disney World to the tune of over 300 pounds, and I’ve eaten my way back down by 150 pounds, so I’ve pretty much tasted and sampled everything there is Disney to eat.

There are some Walt Disney World dining experiences that my family absolutely loves – and I think you’ll be surprised to find that even with three daughters, our favorites don’t tend to be the character meals.  Our vacations at Walt Disney World are often just as much about reconnecting with each other as they are about reconnecting with our favorite Mouse.  Here’s where we enjoy eating the most:

Afternoon Tea – Garden View Lounge at the Grand Floridian

Having all daughters, it seems like a no brainer that we’d eventually have to do tea.  You might be surprised to learn, however, that this tea is not only a favorite meal of my husband’s, but my decidedly anti-tea father-in-law can’t wait to go back, either!  You’ll find numerous dining options here – everything from an a la carte light afternoon tea to the full, fit for British royalty, how dare you still have room for dinner after this high tea experience.

For the littlest teetotaler, you’ll find Mrs. Potts tea – a variety of kid friendly sandwiches (and if they don’t like a particular variety, you’ll find they are very willing to accommodate a picky eater with all of one type of sandwich or another), chocolate milk (served in a tea pot, of course!), and pastries or strawberries.  It’s a big hit with our littlest tea lover.

The adult offerings almost rival that which you will find at Harrod’s in London – although with a much more reasonable price tag.  We never leave the table hungry, and we always leave the table happy.  We’ve enjoyed at least an hour long meal together where we’re talking, laughing, and telling stories – the same as we did when I was a kid at my Irish grandmother’s table for afternoon tea at her house.  I love this experience.

Teppan Edo – EPCOT

We have never shied away from taking our kids to eat someplace that didn’t offer burgers, fries, and chicken nuggets.  Thankfully, you’ll find quite a few options at Walt Disney World to take your children where they can veer off the beaten path that leads them to fast food type of choices and right to where good food can be fun – even if it doesn’t come with a toy!

The kids are so fascinated and entertained by the chef – not to mention sitting at the grown up table (aka grill) – that they hardly notice there are veggies being tossed in with the chicken or shrimp!  I love taking the kids here and watching them enjoy eating a little healthier and enjoying it even more than if we’d stopped for a burger.

The restaurant is not quite as conducive to conversation as some other options, but it’s fun for me to just sit and watch the kids spellbound by the chef.  I’d like to see that creepy looking Burger King catch a shrimp shell in his crown.

Restaurant Marrakesh – EPCOT

Seriously, I don’t know why this restaurant gets such a bad rap.  I can almost always call and get a dining reservation for this restaurant – even if I’m calling at 4:59 on Christmas Eve for dinner at 5:00 with a Candlelight Processional dinner package.  Why is that?

Here’s one reason I love this place – you can sample pretty much everything on the menu!  It can be hard, especially with kids, to go eat at a restaurant with unfamiliar cuisine.  At Restaurant Marrakesh, there are several “sampler” type options that allow you to get a taste of several delicious menu items on one plate.  That way, if there is something your kids don’t like, you haven’t ordered them a whole entrée of it, and now have to grab a turkey leg somewhere because they didn’t eat dinner.

My girls also enjoy the music and the belly dancing.  The atmosphere is fun, it keeps the children entertained, and they never make you feel rushed, so you can sit and wait for the belly dancer at pretty much any time you decide to dine.

And the food – well, I really can’t say I’ve ever had anything I didn’t love.  I’m a big soup fan, especially since my gastric bypass surgery, and I love the Harira soup.  Packed with proteins in a delicate tomatoey broth, it’s a favorite even in the summer.  The kids could eat bastilla – a pastry wrapped portion of chicken or seafood – until they collapsed – and the chicken variety (sprinkled lightly with cinnamon and powdered sugar) is almost like getting dinner and dessert on the same plate!

 

These are just a few of our favorite Disney Dining Experiences.  We have had so many through the years, that it’s hard to pinpoint so few.  I hope these are meals you may not have tried before that you’d be encouraged to try now!