5 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love New Year’s

Happy New Year’s Eve’s Eve! Many people love this time of year: making lists of the bests and worsts of the previous year while imagining the possibilities of the next. Others just like the parties. Today I’m going to talk about ways to find what you like about New Year’s in Walt Disney World no matter what time of year you go. Now, the ideal thing to do would be to go back in time to when Pleasure Island celebrated New Year’s Eve every night (from 1990 to 2005). Since that’s not possible, you’ll have to work a little harder to create that New Year’s feel, but it’s possible. You just have to be OK with singing “Auld Lang Syne” by yourself…

Here are five things to do in Walt Disney World if you love New Year’s.

1. Fireworks

What’s New Year’s Eve without fireworks? For truly extravagant fireworks, Wishes in Magic Kingdom is hard to beat. Personally, however, I’m partial to IllumiNations in Epcot (LOVE the music!). Fireworks are incorporated into Fantasmic!, the evening show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but it’s not a fireworks show per se, and seeing it requires claiming a seat in the amphitheater long before the show. There are no fireworks in Animal Kingdom, so I’d suggest seeing Wishes or IllumiNations, depending on which setting appeals more to you.

2. Confetti

Confetti can be found in a variety of places in Disney World. My favorite, of course, is the welcome show at Magic Kingdom. Confetti cannons go off to celebrate the park opening each morning, and the ground is littered with tiny colorful Mickeys. On my brother’s family’s recent trip, they got there shortly after opening, and one of my nephews was disappointed that he hadn’t gotten to see the show and get any confetti. A cast member heard him and gave him a little bag of confetti! That confetti is suspiciously similar to the “pixie dust” that kids get after a haircut in Harmony Barbershop. Another place to find confetti and streamers is in Disney Junior—Live on Stage! It comes raining down toward the end of the show.

3. Champagne

If you’re looking for champagne in Disney World, why not go to France?

France pavilion in Epcot, Walt Disney World

Champagne is available at the drink stand and wine room as well as both full-service restaurants in the France pavilion. A glass ranges from $10 to $30, with most around $12-14 (prices gathered by Party Through the Parks).

4. Reflecting on the past

While usually we spend the time around New Year’s reflecting specifically on the previous year, I’m going to expand that to reflecting on the past in general, and that’s certainly possible in Walt Disney World. Historically themed attractions include Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, The Hall of Presidents, The American Adventure, Spaceship Earth, and Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream.

5. Imagining the future

New Year’s resolutions are about embracing the possibilities of tomorrow, and that’s a theme in both Tomorrowland and Future World. While Tomorrowland is more about yesterday’s dreams of tomorrow than today’s, it still allows you to imagine a future world of robots, aliens, and a great public transportation system (Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover!). Future World in Epcot isn’t all that futuristic either, but sometimes Innoventions features some cutting-edge technology.

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Since each item on this list has a number of options, this is more of a choose-your-own-adventure day than a set itinerary. Just to give you an example, though, I’d start off the day at the Magic Kingdom welcome show, being sure to gather some confetti. Then I’d head to Tomorrowland to enjoy Carousel of Progress (representing the past) and Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover (representing the future). I’d take extra time to explore all the Tomorrowland details, like the palm trees and Metrophone. After lunch, I’d head over to Epcot and experience the exhibits in Innoventions and explore Future World. I’d cap off the evening with a glass of champagne in France while watching IllumiNations. What a great day!

What do you love best about New Year’s?

Auntie Tip: Traveling with Large or Odd-Number Groups

I am the youngest of three children. Growing up that meant that someone would have to sleep on the floor whenever we stayed in a hotel room, and we’d have to add a chair to the end of the table if we sat in a booth at a restaurant. In theme parks, it meant that my dad was often in a row by himself. (We figured he was the toughest; he could handle it.) Now that we’re older and my siblings are married with kids, our numbers have grown and figuring out who sits with whom has become more complicated. We also take trips with extended family, and remembering how many of us we have at any one time can be difficult. Here are a few tips from this aunt’s perspective on traveling to Walt Disney World with large or odd numbers.

1. Consider a variety of lodging options.

I love staying on Disney property, and our budget usually places us in a value resort. Rooms in those resorts are limited to four people age three and older, plus a child under three in a crib or Pack ‘n’ Play. If you choose a family suite at All-Star Music Resort, you can fit six in a room. We’ve never done that because it’s actually less expensive to get two rooms than a suite (plus you get a second bathroom), but it may be a good option for your family. There will also be suites in the new Art of Animation resort opening next May.

If a moderate or deluxe hotel is in budget, many of those hotels accommodate five or six people in a room. A Disney Vacation Club villa accommodates even more, up to twelve people in some cases.

An off-property alternative for larger groups is renting a vacation home from a company like All-Star Vacation Homes. We did this on one trip, and it was great having a kitchen and plenty of space. The downside is that you need a rental car (or cars), and if you’re sharing a car, it gives less flexibility to split up and come and go as you please.

This is just the briefest of overviews of lodging options, so I highly recommend you refer to a guidebook like The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World or websites like AllEars.Net to help you choose the best option for your group.

2. Decide who’s riding with whom as soon as you get in line for each attraction.

Some attractions, like Expedition Everest, accommodate two and only two people per row. Others, like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, can comfortably accommodate two adults plus a small child or two. It will save time and reduce confusion if you figure out when you get in a queue how many can fit in each row and who will sit with whom. If you’re unfamiliar with the attraction and can’t see the loading area when you enter the queue, you can ask a cast member or refer to a guidebook. Some attractions also have a ride vehicle out front so you can see how you’ll fit.

You will also need to know the total number of people you have in your party, because a cast member will ask you when you get to the front of the queue. This may seem like a simple thing to know, but when you have a group of 15+, and you’re constantly splitting up and regrouping, it can be difficult to keep track. Help keep the queue moving by being ready for the question.

3. Take advantage of FASTPASS.

FASTPASS is great for all guests, but it can be especially helpful when you have a large group with lots of kids who aren’t big on standing in line. Getting FASTPASSes can be time-consuming, however, if each member of your group gets their own. What we like to do instead is to give all of our tickets to one (trustworthy) person who runs and gets FASTPASSes for all of us. You should also make sure to note at what time you can get another FASTPASS and send a runner to get the next set of passes as soon as you can.

4. Coordinate bathroom breaks.

When you’re traveling with a lot of small children, bathroom emergencies are inevitable, but you can reduce them by making sure you take regular bathroom breaks. My rule is that when we stop for one person to go, everyone has to try to go. Otherwise you spend the whole day stopping at the bathroom for just one child at a time.

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Does anyone have any other tips for traveling with large or odd-number groups?

3 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Cookies

Happy day after Christmas! I hope your holiday was filled with family, fun, and good food! Mine was lovely. I know I said in my post on fish that I’m not food-centric, but there is one exception: desserts. During the holidays that means Christmas cookies! Every year, my roommate and I host a Christmas cookie party for all ten of our nieces and nephews, and there are always plenty of cookies left over for us to nibble on for a few days. Yum!

Christmas tree cookie sold at the American Adventure pavilion in Epcot, Walt Disney WorldNow, as you might expect, Walt Disney World is a great place to find delicious baked goods. During the holiday season, you can buy decorated cookies at the life-size gingerbread houses in Grand Floridian Resort and the American Adventure pavilion. Here’s a photo of a cookie we got at the American Adventure pavilion a couple years ago. (The kids wanted to take a picture of it before we devoured it.) Special cookie treats aren’t limited to the holidays, though. Here are three things to do in Walt Disney World any time of year if you love cookies.

1. Eat an ice cream cookie sandwich at Main Street Bakery

If cookies are good, then cookies with ice cream are better! We get an ice cream cookie sandwich from Main Street Bakery on every trip. Once we even got one as a dessert on the Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan! When my roommate and I were in Disneyland Paris in June, we were sad to learn that ice cream cookie sandwiches weren’t on the menu at the bakery on their Main Street, U.S.A. We weren’t deterred, though. We bought a cup of ice cream from the nearby ice cream parlor and made our own!

2. Eat a carrot cake cookie from The Writer’s Shop

I have to admit I’m not a fan of carrot cake, but so many people rave about this carrot cake cookie that I might have to try it someday. It’s not sold at any of the major bakeries in Walt Disney World but at Writer’s Stop, an obscure little shop in the Streets of America in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. To see photos and read more about it from someone who’s actually tried it (and loved it!), visit The Disney Food Blog.

3. Eat a custom cookie treat at Goofy’s Candy Company

This is something I can’t wait to do! At Goofy’s Candy Company in Downtown Disney, you can create your own treat by choosing a base, coating, topping, and drizzle. Lucky for you cookie lovers, fudge cookies and gingerbread cookies are among the available bases. After you pick your cookie, you can choose caramel, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate as the coating. (I’d go for caramel!) Next, you pick a topping. DIS has the full list of options, but I think I’d go for crushed Oreo cookie crumbs (more cookies!) or sprinkles. Finally, you can choose a dark, white, or milk chocolate drizzle (definitely dark chocolate). You mark your selections on a card, and then a cast member makes your treat for you. Custom deliciousness!

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Of course, cookies are also available at Boulangerie Patisserie in Epcot, Boardwalk Bakery in Disney’s BoardWalk, and Starring Rolls Bakery in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, among other places, but I tried to limit this list to the special cookie treats so that it would be possible to try them all in one day without going into total sugar overload! For some reason, I think a carrot cake cookie would be the most appropriate cookie for the morning (maybe it’s the cream cheese filling). Then, I think I’d head to Downtown Disney to visit Goofy’s Candy Company, and I’d end the night with an ice cream cookie sandwich on Main Street, U.S.A. You should probably eat some other things and maybe ride an attraction or two along the way. Whatever else you do, what a fabulous day!

Have you ever tried any of the cookie treats on this list?

6 More Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Christmas—And You Happen to Be There in November or December

All this week I’ve been highlighting Christmasy things to do in Walt Disney World. On Sunday, I talked about finding references to Christmas all year round. On Tuesday, I covered six activities that are only available during the winter holiday season. That list continues today with some less well-known activities you may not have tried before.

So, here are six more things to do in Walt Disney World if you love Christmas—and you happen to be there in November or December.

1. Holiday decorations resort-hop

Whichever resort you’re staying at, there are going to be holiday decorations to see, but you may not have thought of going to see the decorations at the other resorts. The most impressive display is the giant gingerbread house in Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. It’s large enough to house two cast members selling holiday treats!

Gingerbread house at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Walt Disney World in 2008

Gingerbread house decorating demonstration at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Walt Disney World

They also have frequent decorating demonstrations.

When my family is in the World in November or December, we like to take a day to see the holiday decorations in all the resorts on the monorail line. Disney’s Yacht Club and Beach Club Resorts also have impressive displays, including more gingerbread creations and a model train.

Holiday model train display at Disney's Yacht Club Resort in Walt Disney World

You might also consider stopping by Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, which calls itself “Santa’s favorite resort.” They offer Christmas-related activities, like watching Christmas movies and meeting Santa and Mrs. Claus, most days in the first three weeks of December. You can check the calendar of events on their website.

2. Voices of Liberty

The Voices of Liberty is an a capella vocal group that performs daily or almost daily (check the Times Guide) in the American Adventure pavilion. Usually they sing traditional American songs, but during the holiday season, they switch to carols. Their voices are spectacular, and I love their winter caroling costumes.

Voices of Liberty singing Christmas carols in American Adventure Pavilion in Epcot

3. Watch the taping of the Christmas parade

Disney’s Christmas Day parade is not broadcast live; in fact, it’s filmed over two days in early December. You can usually find the dates posted somewhere online. If you discover you’re going to be in Magic Kingdom on the days they’re taping the parade, expect it to be a madhouse around Main Street, U.S.A. Touringplans.com says that wait times aren’t particularly affected, although I think if you just want a nice day in the parks, you should probably choose a different park those days. But since you’re someone who loves Christmas, seeing the parade taping would be a cool experience. Just remember that it is a television production, so there will be a lot of waiting and reshoots. Also, you may not be able to get into the best viewing areas, because Disney often gives away special tickets to cast members and other groups.

4. Holiday D-Lights Tour

On this tour, you start at Epcot and see the holiday decorations and experience the Candlelight Processional. Then, you travel to Magic Kingdom to see the decorations on Main Street, U.S.A. and see the castle’s holiday lights. Those are all things you can do without being part of a tour, so the real benefit is meeting the Event & Decorating Support teams and the holiday buffet. Those things must not be that popular of a draw, because this evening tour (starting at 4 p.m.) was only offered on nine nights between November 28 and December 14 in 2011. The 2011 price was $199 (no theme park admission required). That’s pretty pricey, and it seems like this next tour is a better value…

5. Yuletide Fantasy Tour

This tour is $84 (again no park admission required) and is offered more frequently than the Holiday D-Lights Tour. The 2011 dates were Monday through Saturday from November 28 to December 30, at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. This tour seems to go more behind-the-scenes. The description on the Disney website says that you get to visit Holiday Services, “a veritable winter wonderland, and meet the Cast Members who create thousands of decorations used to dress up Disney Theme Parks and Resorts.” That sounds pretty cool to me. You also see the holiday decorations in Epcot, Main Street, U.S.A., and a Disney hotel. Both this tour and the Holiday D-Lights Tour can be booked by calling (407) WDW-TOUR.

6. Holiday Sleigh Rides

Ever actually ridden in a one-horse open sleigh? You can at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Although you won’t be dashing through the snow, I’m sure it’s a very authentic experience otherwise. It’s offered nightly during the month of December. The ride takes about 25 minutes and is $60 per group (according to DIS).

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Not all of these activities can be done in one day, so you may want to pick one or two that you’ve never done before but would like to try. Personally, I would love to visit Holiday Services on the Yuletide Fantasy Tour! Which of these activities sounds most fun to you?