During holiday visits to the Parks, I’ve often seen lines of people wrapped around Epcot World Showcase. “It’s for the Candlelight Processional,” I was told. But what IS that? I wondered. The image I had in my mind was of people parading around World Showcase Lagoon holding candles. But I had never actually witnessed this happening, so I was pretty sure my mind picture was a little warped.
Well, this year Mousewife Heather and her Prince Charming received combined birthday and Christmas gifts—tickets to the Candlelight Processional! I couldn’t wait to hear all about it! Here is Heather’s report:
Since moving to Florida, the path between our house and the Parks has been well-traveled. But as the calendar flipped toward December, we noticed that it still felt to us a whole lot like mid-August. Not that we are complaining. But…I did find it a bit of a challenge to get into the Christmas spirit wearing shorts and flip-flops.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one, because something I’ve noticed about Florida is that people go all out—I mean ALL OUT—for the holidays. Lights, decorations, and holiday festivities in the Sunshine State are at a “10”! In Pennsylvania, you have your school holiday programs, perhaps a town square tree lighting, and your neighbor might string some lights and put up a blow-up snow globe. The occasional neighborhood “Santa” strings lights around all their windows and on every tree in sight, and has not one blow up thing but a whole yard full. But overall, I think morning frost, a few stray snowflakes, and Christmas tree farms advertising “cut-your-own” (authentic pine scent included at no extra charge, of course) all combine to remind you that Christmas is right around the corner. So, I guess it is understandable that Floridians feel like they need to work extra hard at igniting a little holiday spirit.
The Candlelight Processional proved to be one of those “ALL OUT” holiday experiences. Here’s how our day unfolded…
I really didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at Epcot the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I had a nagging fear it would be really crowded. Baby Mouseketeer had been sick, so we were taking it slow and keeping expectations low.
We pulled into the Epcot parking lot at 10:45 A.M. Parking attendants directed us to Journey 7. What in the world?! Seven rows from the front!
Through the turnstiles, under the ball, and toward the left. Brother Mouseketeer had requested the Mexico ride. Mexico wasn’t quite open yet, but we caught the tail end of the opening…tres, dos, uno! We walked right on to the boat ride, which Brother Mouseketeer described as his favorite. (Asked why, he said, “It’s very relaxing.”) Brother Mouseketeer couldn’t get enough of the Three Cabellaros and the birthday balloons (which he is sure is a party being held just for him), the tiki that bubbles up from under the water, and the fireworks on the ceiling. No problem. We rode three times. (Living a short distance from the parks and having APs, i.e., annual passes, has its perks…No agenda to keep!)
On to Frozen. We had FPs (fast passes) for that one, but even so—where was everyone?! We felt like we had the park to ourselves! Ahhh….the lingering scent of Maelstrom, and then a little squirt of Laila.
We were getting hungry but we bypassed Norway’s lefse and headed back toward the Land to wait for our 2:00 reservation at the Garden Grill. This was part of our VIP package that would enable us to get into the Candlelight Processional without enduring a line that wrapped around World Showcase.
We were a bit early for our table time at the Grill, so we took a few minutes to sip on Diet Cokes and rest a bit in the Land’s food court. Mouseketeer was already excited about the Garden Grill because he noticed that the whole restaurant turned. We talked about how they grew the food for our dinner underneath. The Garden Grill has been one of my favorites because it is like Thanksgiving, Disney-style. But as I mentioned…I was keeping my expectations low. This was my first visit to the Grill with some dietary restrictions, limiting me to soy- and dairy-free foods. (My previous experience at the Sci-Fi Diner in Hollywood Studios was a little disappointing…I thought Disney would be creative in finding substitutes for soy and dairy that would make Disney food taste amazing, like usual. Not the case.)
As I mentioned, I was keeping those expectations low…maybe some bland rice and a few equally bland vegetables, with some grilled chicken, perhaps? Ah well, it would fill the empty spot in my growling stomach, anyway. BUT, it was AMAZING! Delicious bread, with oil for dipping, an entire skillet of rice, sautéed vegetables, melt-in-your mouth beef brisket, and my favorite—sweet Italian sausage. (Did I mention the melt-in-your-mouth beef brisket??? Ah, yes, I think I did, but it bears repeating.) Brother Mouseketeer thought the mac and cheese was the best for two reasons. First, there were goldfish on top (who would think of such a thing?!) and second, he discovered that mac and cheese makes a great dipping sauce for French fries. My cookie for dessert didn’t quite compare to Prince Charming and Brother Mouseketeer’s yummy strawberry cheesecake, but Baby Mouseketeer took control of the cookie and for whatever reason, this made Brother Mouseketeer laugh out loud, which got us all laughing. Farmer Mickey came around to visit (and Brother Mouseketeer was pretty happy to find that Mickey was wearing the very same outfit that was in the book we read over and over…”Farmer Mickey wakes at dawn, time to work the whole day long…”)
After the Grill we waddled over to take a Nemo ride, got right on, and figured we had just enough time to make it to the Processional. We made a beeline for the queue at America.
The queue that we found wrapping itself all the way to Japan.
Ok, so this is why the park was empty. Everyone was already in line for the Processional. We very quickly realized we should have been in line an hour ago, even with our VIP tickets. The people in front of us were already lining up for the next show. Thank goodness the people in the line ahead of us were kind enough to scoot us toward the front.
Once we got to the America Gardens Theater, the outdoor pavilion in front of the America pavilion, we found that there was plenty of room. We breathed a sigh of relief and settled into seats about 10 rows from the front.
It’s showtime! A live orchestra plays and the choir comes down the aisles with candles. Brother Mouseketeer thinks this is pretty cool. Even cooler, as the choir takes their places on stage, the green robes form a Christmas tree as the yellow robes fan out to the sides. The Voices of Liberty take their places in the center. Three trumpeters take their places on each side of the choir. The conductor raises the baton.
Talk about the Disney Wow Factor! This was it! The choir sang their hearts out for us and we felt it. The whole audience seemed entranced as we heard French carols, the traditional account of Jesus’ birth, and the stories behind Christmas songs and traditions. No one in the audience seemed to move.
The choir gave and gave, so much so that one of them collapsed. We noticed a few singers being ushered off the stage. (Brother Mouseketeer asked if they had to leave because they didn’t sing well enough.) We’re not sure what happened but we guessed they were near fainting from singing with every bit of breath they had.
The Christmas story, narrated by Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez, came to life. But for me, the person that stole the show was the sign language interpreter. She added a whole new dimension. More like interpretive dance than translation, I felt like I was experiencing the familiar songs and story of Christmas in a whole new way.
But the real Wow moment–the one that filled me with Christmas spirit from head to flip flops–was the singing of Handel’s Messiah. Everyone stood. I don’t think it was just tradition. It think we all just felt magically lifted to our feet. I had chills. My only thought was, “This is how this piece was meant to be performed—I get it now! You can’t help but be lifted right out of your seat when you hear it!”
Not only did we leave with a Disney-sized helping of Christmas spirit, we had been treated to a Broadway quality show, something Prince Charming and I could never do with two mouseketeers in tow. Except at Disney. Baby Mouseketeer was sung to sleep and Brother Mouseketeer was in awe (until two songs from the end when he simply laid his head down and fell asleep—and no, that is not normal for either one of them!)
So if you find yourself in need of a little holiday spirit—and even if you’ve got plenty of your own– I highly recommend this show. We plan to make it an annual family tradition!