Christmas at Walt Disney World

img_4147Christmas at Disney is one of the most magical times of year. I recently spent a weekend at the happiest place on earth during the full blown Christmas season. If you’re planningimg_3882 on visiting Walt Disney World anytime soon or planning a visit for next year, read on for some helpful tips on navigating your way through the hustle and bustle of the parks.

The day that I visited Magic Kingdom there was an estimated 80,000 people at the park. This trip included a lot of happiness, magic and crowds. The trick to planning your trip during this time of year is to PLAN AHEAD. If you want to ride some of your favorite rides- like Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, try to arrange fast passes about a month in advance. img_4158It is unlikely to score any fast passes on the day of your visit during this time due to the increased amount of visitors. Once you have purchased your tickets, made your hotel reservations (see our post on Epcot here for hotel recommendations), and obtained your fast passes, it’s time for park day! If you’re looking to save a little, like many of us are this time of year, I suggest eating breakfast at a fast food place, nearby restaurant, or even your hotel’s continental breakfast. This will save you money and time. Yes, Disney food is delicious and awesome, but who really wants to stand in a 30-minute line for an overpriced meal when you’ve got the whole park to explore!? Our go-to is always a Chick-fil-A just before I-4, which is quick and convenient. If you’re not a fast food person, Disney allows you to bring your own snacks and food into the parks. Make sure to check out their rules and regulations before packing your bag.

img_4151If you’ve decided to visit Magic Kingdom during your trip, you will not be disappointed by the sheer amount of Christmas decorations and cheer. After catching the ferry or monorail, you’ll arrive at Main Street USA. Main Street looks beautiful at this time of year- check out those fun holiday decorations! img_4171Magic Kingdom is the most popular park, so it will see the highest crowds. Once you’ve meandered through Main Street and if you’ve got some time before your first fast pass, I recommend starting the day in Adventureland. A lot of people will veer to the right and start in Tomorrowland. Starting out in a less crowded section will save you some time waiting in lines. Speaking of lines, expect to wait at least an hour sometimes two without a fast pass in the stand-by lines for the popular rides like the Seven Dwarves Mine Train and The Jingle Cruise.

If you’ve got some time or just want a break from standing, hop on the People Mover or the Walt Disney World Railroad. You’ll be able to sit back and relax as you cruise throughout the park.

Another tip that I was very appreciative to learn of is that you can get free water cups at any Disney quick service restaurant. Walking all around the park in the Florida heat can be exhausting. If you need a quick water break, walk into any quick service restaurant and politely ask for cups of water, a cast member will happily oblige. Make sure to catch the Festival of Fantasy Parade that happens at 2:00pm in December. You’ll be able to see all your favorite characters aboard their colorful parade floats. I love this parade because it’s a great place to see all your favorite princesses and characters in one place.

As you end your day make sure to stick around and watch the castle light up with it’s festive Christmas lights. They also have a fireworks show that begins at 9:00pm.

Other exciting extra features that are available at this time of year include Extended Park Hours or Magic Hours. Magic Kingdom is open until 11:00pm during the month of December. Make sure to consult Disney’s calendar since Magic Hours vary for certain days of the week. If you would like a little extra fun, check out Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. This exclusive event is an additional ticketed event where you’ll get to see Mickey and Friends in their holiday best. Visit the official site here.

Happy Holidays and enjoy your trip at the Happiest Place on Earth!



A Magical Holiday Night Out in Downtown Jacksonville

The glittering lights, the vibrant costumes and the rich magic of Tchaikovsky’s music all conjure up a classic holiday experience: the Nutcracker ballet.

It is interesting to note that the original 1892 performance of the Nutcracker in Saint Petersburg was not entirely a success, only a 20 minute suite taken from the ballet. However the entire ballet has gained wide popularity since the 1960’s and now performances of the ballet, especially around the Christmas season, account for 40% of total revenue for most major American ballet companies.

Every year the Jacksonville Symphony puts on the First Coast Nutcracker and it has been part of the holiday season on the First Coast for 40 years. This year the performances are being held from December 15-17th and tickets are still available.

Friday night my sister and I dressed up in our finest holiday attire and headed to the Moran Theater at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts downtown for an enchanting evening at the ballet.

Before attending the 8:00 performance we had dinner at The Candy Apple Café & Cocktails.

It is located at 400 N. Hogan Street in the heart of downtown Jacksonville. It’s proximity to the Moran theater made it the ideal place to dine before the performance which is why I picked it but I didn’t realize it would quickly become such a star in the tale of this holiday night out.

It couldn’t have been a more perfect place to dine before a Christmas event. The restaurant, which is located inside Sweet Pete’s Candy store, features small plates and craft cocktails in a whimsical atmosphere. The twinkling lights and vibrant Christmas decorations illuminated the restaurant from down the block. Inviting and festive, it conjured up images of a Christmas party at the North Pole.

Inside the Christmas spirit was even more vibrant. The candy store and small shop displayed all sorts of sweet holiday treats.

The magic of Christmas fills every corner of the building. A visit to Sweet Pete’s is a must for any parent looking to take their kids on a special holiday outing.

After browsing the candy store upstairs we entered the restaurant which was packed with patrons. The atmosphere was warm and inviting.

They had a diverse menu which noted their brunch as a special feature. After debating about whether or not to order sweet potato fries, we finally decided to order the Adult Grilled Cheese, which came with a cup of their Candy Apple Bisque and the Croque Monsieur, a French inspired ham and Swiss sandwich on a baguette.

Their bar echoed the candy theme with decor that featured imagery and quotes from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

My sister ordered the candy infused cocktail Pop Rockadopolis which had pop rock candy, vodka, orange liqueur, lime and cranberry juice.

The cocktail came in a small pitcher which allowed her to pour her drink into a martini glass filled with pop rocks. The candy crackled as my sister poured in her cocktail. It was a playful way for her to enjoy her drink.

We left the Candy Apple Cafe filled with excellent food and the holiday spirit and headed to the ballet.

The theater was packed with patrons dressed in their holiday finest. The lobby was filled with the sent of cinnamon roasted nuts that were being offered along with various drinks and snacks at the concession areas. The lobby also displayed a giant Christmas tree that reflected the Nutcracker theme.

We had excellent seats close to the center of the stage. The lights dimmed, the orchestra began and the magic began to happen.

Snow fell upon the patrons during one part of the performance. The dancers, choreography and costumes were excellent. This year the show was directed by choreographer and artistic director, Rhonda Stampalia.

The First Coast Nutcracker did not disappoint. It was a wonderful performance that conjured up all the whimsical magic of the classic tale.

Tickets are still available and performances are being held Saturday December 16th at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM and Sunday December 17th at 2:00 PM.

My sister and I ended our evening filled with the joy of the season. If you wish to experience a little of this Christmas magic yourself I encourage you to head downtown to the Jacksonville Symphony and the Candy Apple Café & Cocktails.

– Ashton