Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas in Walt Disney World

Sticking with our Christmas theme from last post, I almost went to Florida this year for the Holiday party at Disney World. This blog wasn't around last year, and I did indeed attend the festivities at WDW and Epcot, and a great time was had.

Last year, my trip began with winning a very, very nice gift because of the Year of a Million Dreams. Without going into details, the gift was expensive, and nice, and made my trip easier, and placed Disney World on the top of my list of very best friends.

That said, Disney is a class act, and puts on one heck of a party. If you haven't attended a Disney Party, I can say that the Halloween and Christmas Parties at WDW in Florida are well worth the extra cost. The extra cost is a small fee for tickets to the park at night, and the park is only open to those ticketholders, so is relatively less crowded than on a normal day. The party consists of a special parade and fireworks exclusive to the party, and of course the place is decorated to the hilt. I'll cover the Halloween party at a later date, but the Christmas party has hot cocoa and cookies at different areas of the park, and other freebies I can't remember right now. There is artificial snow falling in Main Street, and Disney Characters available for meet and greets, and Belle telling a Christmas story behind the castle, and the castle? Wow!

The castle is covered with lights that change color slowly, and truly makes the place look magical. The lights are practically invisible during the daytime, unless you get up real close to the castle, and look for them. At night, though, the lights are hard to take your eyes away from.

At the larger hotels, the chefs create special edible holiday displays thta must be seen to be believed. At the Beach Club in 2007, a gingerbread carousel smelled and looked wonderful. At Epcot there is a candlelight procession, Santa's from around the world, Holiday foods and music, and more. The Cast Members are very helpful, and enjoy talking about their Holiday traditions. At MGM, or Holiday Studios, (whatever they're calling it this year) there is a beautiful display of Christmas lights set up that again must be seen to be believed. Each of the parks also has their own giant Christmas tree, decorated to match the parks theme, such as the tree at Animal Kingdom being covered with animals.

Altogether, Christmas at Disney is a wonderful experience. Sure, the snow isn't real, and the swimming pools are full of bathers, but the Christmas magic is there, and the Holiday is very enjoyable, even to someone who is used to cold and snow at Christmas. :0)

And here's a Disney secret! Book yourself for an early morning event, like breakfast with the Princesses, or special offers that give you early access to the parks. It's amazing to walk through the gates and seeing Main Street Disney, with the castle looming behind it, all sparkling clean, and free from the crowds. Very nice!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas in New York City

A big city has a lot to offer... it's fairly safe to say that most people will find something to enjoy... if they can stand the crowds, and do some research before they go. For me, there is no better time to visit a big city like New York or London, than at Christmas time. The lights, decorations, and Holiday spirit can take away from the pollution and litter, and the crowds seem more festive than annoying. Nighttime is best, of course, when the lights sparkle, and everyone is bundled up against the wind and cold, and the smell of roasting peanuts and pretzels fills the air.

I've been to New York City at Christmas time many times, and it's usually pretty much the same every year, but somehow I find myself still taking the same pictures of the same lights, and enjoying it just as much. And there is always something new to see. The window displays of the major department stores change yearly, of course, with some being worth the long lines to see and hear.

The above photo is of the famous processional in front of Rockefeller Center, facing away from the tree. This is definitely one of those sights I look forward to seeing each year, and it is lovely to stroll here. The huge snowflakes in the background twinkle, and every few minutes play Christmas carols, while blinking on and off to the music. The angels light the faces around you, and underneath those huge snowflakes is the window displays of Saks 5th Ave, I believe. Behind this view is Rockefeller Center itself, the famous skating rink with its golden statue, and the giant Christmas tree and large toy soldiers overlooking all.

The surrounding area has much to offer in shopping and sightseeing, and every corner you turn can offer more Holiday displays such as the photo above. Besides the taxis and tourists, at this time of year you are more likely to see the horse and carriages of Central Park making their way southward to show the sights to their occupants. The clopping of hooves adds to the Holiday fun somehow.

A bit more walking will bring you to Times Square, which, if you haven't seen it, should probably be on your list of things to do. It's still crowded and dirty, but they put up about 200 more television screens, and a million more light bulbs to distrcat you from that. There are also hundreds of more advertisements, but hey, that's what it's all about, right?

Times Square has some neat shops to visit, such as the Hershey's chocolate store, the M&M's chocolate store, and the big Toys R Us which is three stories tall and offers a huge ferris wheel inside, as well as a giant moving Tyranosaurus Rex that is guaranteed to scare the kiddies. :0)

This trip I went to the M&M's store, to buy some chocolate, and was surprised that the hardest thing to puchase there was... chocolate! They have hundreds and hundreds of items for sale from underwear to figurines with M&M characters everywhere, but oh so little chocolate, and what chocolate they did have was quite expensive! I didn't visit the Hershey's store this year, but I remember it being a lot more kid friendly, and chocolate lover friendly, with the emphasis on product first, merchandise second.

Of course, New York City is the best for one sport... celebrity spotting. There's always somebody famous, or semi-famous, out and about, enjoying the sights. I saw this guy at the NBC store, but he obviously wasn't happy about having his picture taken. :0)

Now, I've only briefly scratched the surface here... there's much more to see, and much, much more to buy, if shopping is your thing. Still, a night in a big city at Christmastime can be a fun and rewarding outing, especially if you enjoy the bustle of the Holidays.

If the big city isn't exactly your thing, I can highly recommend a smaller city such as Edinburgh, or Zurich. Both offer big city sights and stuff with a much smaller, tamer, nicer, cleaner atmosphere. Zurich in particular is lovely during the Holidays, and really has kept the traditions alive there.

Wherever you go, and whatever you choose to do, I wish for you a safe and happy Holiday Season! JOHN :0)