In the Shadow of the Mouse

Secrets of a theme park obsessed local who lives next door to Mickey, with annual passes to every Central Florida park

Last year for the Osborne Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

It’s the 20th year for the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and it’s also the very last year the the Osborne lights will appear at the theme park. That makes them a must-see for 2015 as you bid them a bittersweet adieu.

The Osborne lights, seen in the video below, came to Disney’s Hollywood Studios back in 1995 after Jennings Osborne, an Arkansas millionaire, lost his lawsuit with neighbors over his massive home light display. The neighbors took him to court because they were sick of the traffic jams caused by people who flocked to see the dazzling Osborne light show each year. Disney stepped in and gave the Osborne lights a new home, first on the studio tour back lot, then in the New York section of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The park is now making way for its new Pixar and Star Wars areas, which means the lights are being crowded out after the 2015 holiday season:

If you’re like me and you love the lights and want to give them a special send-off, book one of the special events offered at Disney’s Hollywood Studios this year. The first in the Merry and Bright Dessert Party, which runs every night at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You get to sit in a special reserved area at the end of the street and enjoy a wide selection of tasty desserts while listening to the music, watching the lights dance, and soaking up the atmosphere. If you’re 21 or over, you can also indulge in some seasonal spirits to warm you in both body and soul as you get into the Christmas spirit. The party is $69 for adults and $39 for kids, and you can book it on the official Disney World web page.

The Osborne lights always draw a crowd, and this year more people are flocking to Disney’s Hollywood Studios than ever to see them for the last time. The party is a great way to relax outside of the crowd. People tend to head out of the park as closing time draws near, but the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights stays illuminated for a full hour after closing. Stay until the end of the party, then head out onto the street, where the crowd will have dwindled considerably.

If you really want to go all out for your last viewing of the Osborne lights, see if you can catch an available table for the Merry and Bright Dinner Reception. It only takes place on January 1, 2, and 3, and although it’s currently sold out, you may be able to catch a cancellation. I personally booked the last day so I can literally say goodbye to the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights at the last possible moment. You can find details here; it’s $99 for adults and $54 for chilren, and it includes a special shadow box memento with a real Osborne light bulb inside (you get a commemorative stadium blanket at the dessert party).

Even if you don’t do one of the special events, get out to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to say goodbye to this two-decades-long tradition. Walt Disney World is always a prime place to celebrate the holiday season, but a little bit of Christmas will feel like it’s missing once the Osborne lights are gone.

SeaWorld Christmas Celebration shares spirit of the season

The SeaWorld Christmas Celebration is in full swing, running on select nights through December 31 (daily from November 18 on). SeaWorld is very much a show park year ’round, with presentations like One Ocean with the orcas, Blue Horizons with the dolphins, and Sea Lion high (the name is self-explanatory, although there are co-starring otters and walruses, too). However, once Christmas is in the air, you get treated to some extra special entertainment like the shows below:

Shamu Christmas Miracles

The park’s orca pod is multi-talented. In addition to their usual daytime show, they get into the Christmas spirit with Shamu Christmas Miracles at night. In this special show, their performance is set to Christmas carols:

O Wondrous Night

As much as I love the orcas, I have to admit that O Wondrous Night is my favorite of all the SeaWorld Christmas Celebration shows. It’s cute, funny, has a good message, and has a finale that can’t be beaten. It tells the story of the nativity through the eyes of the animals in the stable. They start out as puppets, but by the end you’re marveling at real donkeys, sheep, and other animals up on stage:

Winter Wonderland on Ice

Yep, SeaWorld Orlando presents an outdoor Christmas show in Florida. That’s especially tricky this year, since the Orlando temperatures have been unseasonably warm. The rink at Bayside Stadium is relatively small, but the performers do some big stunts and put on a rollicking Christmas show:

The SeaWorld Christmas Celebration is included with your regular park admission ticket. Just plan to stick around late and plan out your schedule to make sure you take in everything. In addition to the shows you see here, there’s other entertainment like Elmo’s Christmas Wish and the Sea of Trees that you’ll want to fit in. Get a show schedule as soon as you arrive so you can make your plans accordingly.


Ice! at the Gaylord Palms transforms a classic Christmas tale

Ice! at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando is open for the season, and it transforms a classic Christmas tale, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” into a display of colorful, chilly artistry. The Chinese artisans have worked for weeks to transform plain ice blocks into detailed sculptures that walk you through the story of a visit from Old St. Nick.

If you’d like to see just how much work the artisans put into Ice!, compare these three videos. First, here’s what the display looked like early on, when the artisans arrived in late October:

As one of this year’s Ice!perts, I had an opportunity to follow their progress from behind the scenes. Here was my next check-up, with the sculptures, themed rooms, and ice slides taking shape for Ice! at the Gaylord Palms:

And last but not least, here’s Ice! in all its glory, complete with the “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” display, the kid-favorite ice slides, and of course the classic crystal clear nativity sculptures at the end:

Quite a transformation in just a little over a month’s time!

In addition to Ice!, Christmas at the Gaylord Palms features a wide range of holiday activities, including alpine tubing on real snow (particularly fun for a Floridian like me), gingerbread house building, and visits with Santa himself. There’s also a new show in town: Cirque Dreams Unwrapped. It replaced long-time favorite Luminescence, and even though I was sad to see the old show go, I have to admit that I was quite dazzled by the new offering. You can see the costumes, acrobats, and more in the video below:

The show is free, whether or not you go to see Ice! at the Gaylord Palms or do any of the other activities. There’s a parking fee at the resort, but it’s waived if you dine at one of the restaurants so grab lunch or dinner and see the show for a pleasant, Christmasy afternoon or evening. Of course, I don’t think any visit is complete without popping into Ice!. It runs now through January 3, and tickets and full details of all the activities are available on the official website.

Videos show entertainment at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

It’s that time of year again to enjoy snow on Main Street USA as you sip cocoa, munch on cookies, and drink in the Christmas spirit. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party has arrived at the Magic Kingdom to bring good cheer for another holiday season.

The party, which is a hard ticket event that starts after the Magic Kingdom closes for the evening, runs on select nights through December 18 this year. You’ll find details on the exact days and ticket prices on the official Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party website.

Why, exactly, is it worth the cost to buy tickets to this special event? After all, you can ride the Magic Kingdom rides and enjoy the decorations during the day. But here’s a little secret: you can go into the park at 4 p.m. with your party tickets, so if you want to save a day on your regular Disney tickets, book the party and then enjoy a non-theme park activity, like shopping at Disney Springs, renting boats at one of the hotels, or just lounging around the pool, during the day. Get to the Magic Kingdom at 4 and do as many of the regular daily activities as you can to free up your party time for the special entertainment.

I hear you asking, “What special entertainment?” Let me answer that question with some videos, shot at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party this year:

Holiday Wishes Fireworks Show

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade

A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas

Celebrate the Magic Holiday Edition

Add all that to special character appearances (Jack Skellington, anybody?), exclusive party merchandise, a rare Floridian snowfall, and all the cookies and cocoa you can eat and drink and you’re got a very special way to celebrate Christmas, Disney-style. The last party is December 18, and tickets often sell out in advance, so choose your date and book the party as soon as possible.

Celebration Holiday Home and Garden Tour runs Dec. 5 and 6

ht1You may know that it snows every night in Celebration, Florida, leading up to Christmas and the New Year, and you may even know that you can skate, see Santa Claus, and even go on a horse and carriage ride downtown. What you might not realize is that there’s another holiday event that takes you away from the downtown crowds and lets you get a peek inside a dozen Celebration homes and Gardens. It’s the 17th Annual Celebration Holiday Home and Garden Tour, taking place for just one short weekend. Get your tickets now, as it runs on December 5 and 6 this year. The official website is You get a discount for buying in advance, and it’s very convenient to buy online. However, if you prefer to make an in-person purchase, you’ll be able to get your tickets downtown near the Post Office on the tour days. Just take Celebration Avenue to Market Street, and the post office is across the street from the Thai Thani restaurant and next to the Sweet Escape bakery and deli.

ht4This year’s hours are 3 to 9 p.m. on Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. You visit the homes in whatever order you wish; I personally recommend going in the evening, since some will also have light-up outdoor decor that looks best after dark.

What, exactly, is the Celebration Holiday Home and Garden Tour? It’s a self-guided tour to a dozen participating homes that fling open their doors and garden gates to let you see how they decorate for the holidays. It’s a unique was to see a part of Celebration that most visitors don’t get to experience, since it only happens once each year. Yes, you can see model homes and houses for sale all year long, but the Celebration Holiday Home and Garden Tour gives you a glimpse into real family homes throughout the town.

There’s a special feature this year in memory of Lynn Gamez, who loved to put her Department 56 homes and figures on display each year before she passed away in 2013. This year, her display is back and out for viewing in the Hospitality Home.

ht3You’ll get a map to the participating homes, and you can either drive your car or rent a bike downtown if you’re feeling ambitious and want to get a little exercise. The houses are located all over the town of Celebration, which is bigger than many people realize, so you won’t want to try it on foot!

I participated in the Celebration Holiday Home and Garden Tour many years ago, so the photos accompanying this article show some of the rooms in my house, which had TV and movie themes, as well as some decor out in the hot tub, which you can see at the bottom of this article.. Each home of the tour is unique and reflects the owners’ taste and style, so you’ll love the wide variety of decor that you get to witness as you cross each home off your list.

The Garden Club of Celebration is running the Holiday Home and Garden Tour, and the proceeds benefit local charities. If you’d like to learn more about the group and the various events they hold throughout the year, visit their official website.