By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2019, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.





Category — w. Most Recent Stuff

Amenities and Dining at the Hilton Buena Vista Palace, Disney Springs Resort Area

The Hilton Buena Vista Palace in the Disney Springs Resort Area has both valet and self-parking.

If you are driving and self-parking, you may park in the port cochere until you have completed check-in.

There’s one large, obvious, ugly, and painfully distant self-parking area–on the left as you enter the property. A much better choice, once you have checked in and gotten your room key card, which also serves as your parking pass, is on the right when you drive in, but of course on the left as you drive away from the port cochere.

See the annotated image, where the better parking area is marked with red fill in the lower center.

This better parking area is also right next to the bus stop. Details on transportation to the theme parks from the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels are here. Perhaps worth noting is that these Disney Springs Resort Area hotels are also served by the Minnie Van service, which can allay some transportation issues, especially to Magic Kingdom.

Also right in this area is the walkway to Disney Springs. Basically you go out to the road, turn left, and walk to the overpass. The furthest tower rooms are about a half mile walk to the nearest part of Disney Springs. Closer Island rooms are a quarter mile away.

The basics of the Hilton Buena Vista Palace’s services are around the lobby that you’ll find on the floor that comes off the port cochere. Check in is way at the back–by the windows.

You’ll find the bell stand on one side…

…and concierge services on the other. Around the corner from the concierge desk is the rental car desk.

There’s some seating on the way back to the check in area.

The check in area itself.

Also in the main lobby is this bar, Sunnies.

The lobby bar at night.

The lobby bar closed unreasonably early a couple of nights I was there–but there’s a second bar, Blue, more of a sports bar, down the hall and down some steps.

It has about a tenth–maybe a twentieth–the romance of the lobby bar.

There’s another bar at the pool.  I cover the pool at the Hilton Buena Vista Palace in detail here.

All other amenities (unless I am forgetting something) are either on, or accessed from, the Palace’s lowest level.  This is also the path from tower rooms to the pools, the bus stop, and the pathway to Disney Springs, so you’ll be down here a lot.

On the way to the bus stop you’ll find this gym.

Just outside is this outdoor lounging area, sometime used for events but otherwise more popular than you might think, given the Florida weather.

Back inside you’ll find a large gift shop…

…separated from an even larger grab and go and snack shop by this seating area, which could use some redecorating.

The grab and go shop keeps extended hours–it was open 24 hours one of my stays, and until 2a on another.

It offers, besides hot snacks, all kinds of cold items and shelf-stable snacks and drinks.

More shots of the grab and go area.

The featured dining venue at the Hilton Buena Vista Palace is Letterpress.

It has character meals on Sunday mornings…

…and has, God bless it, book theming.

I think, though, that I am the only person to have actually read books in the restaurant.

The dinner menu.

The lunch and breakfast menu–Letterpress, by the way, serves breakfast all day, a practice I commend.

I had a nice salad…

…and fine steak for dinner…

…and the “Breakfast Standard” another day for lunch.

I’ve eaten in the past 6 months in all the Disney Springs hotels except for the Doubletree (I had Disney dining reservations my entire stay there), and Letterpress at the Palace is the best of the bunch. That said, dinner in Disney Springs is still your best bet.

Overall, including its pools, the Hilton Buena Vista Palace in the Disney Springs Resort Area has as strong a set of amenities as you’ll find among the Disney Springs Resort Area options. Both its pools and its table service dining are the best among these resorts, and the only thing obviously missing is outdoor sports courts for tennis or basketball, for which the Wyndham has the best offering.

 

 

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November 20, 2018   No Comments

May 2019 at Walt Disney World

November   December   January   February   March    April    May

WHAT IS MAY LIKE AT DISNEY WORLD?

Earlier May is a great time to visit Walt Disney World, with low crowds, moderate prices, and good weather.

The weather typically gets hotter and more humid over the month, and the end of the month sees high crowds and high prices from Memorial Day weekend on.

[Read more →]

November 19, 2018   No Comments

The Holiday Season at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

For 2018, most of last year’s holiday additions to Disney’s Hollywood Studios are back, the holiday projections at Tower of Terror have been tightened and plussed, and the new-in-June-2018 Toy Story Land makes a strong Christmas statement (although the minor additions to it for the holidays do not).

So what we now have in this park is

  • General holiday decorations
  • Holiday projections on the Hollywood Tower Hotel (site of the Tower of Terror)
  • A Christmas Tree and substantial decorations in the Echo Lake area.
  • Toy Story Land, augmented by some minor plussing
  • The Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! show

The total effect is to make Disney’s Hollywood Studios the most “Christmassy” of the parks other than Magic Kingdom, and if you subtract the extra charge items of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, the Studios is actually the most rewarding park to fans of Christmas.

GENERAL HOLIDAY DECORATIONS IN THE PARK

You’ll find holiday decorations throughout Disney’s Hollywood Studios, including just outside the park, where bows decorate the Fantasia brooms…

…and along Hollywood Boulevard

HOLIDAY PROJECTIONS ON THE HOLLYWOOD TOWER HOTEL

The Hollywood Tower Hotel, best known until most of the year for screaming elevator riders, last year had four sets of holiday projections added to its facade.

This year the projections return, add lasers, and see the interval between projections shortened. The tightened pacing makes the sequence of four now work better as a show, rather than as background entertainment. And the lasers add visual appeal, kinetics, and panache.

While there is not much to the projections, when combined with other holiday decorations on Sunset Boulevard, they really amp up the holiday feel of this section of the park.

The entire effort is called Sunset Seasons Greetings, and highlights…

…Frozen…

…Mickey’s Christmas Carol…

…the Muppets…

…and Toy Story.

There’s not much to these–nothing like the action and subtlety of Tree of Life Awakenings at the Animal Kingdom, for example–but together with the other holiday decorations on Sunset Boulevard (and snow!), the overall impact is to turn this into a much more festive area of the park.

My co-author Josh has even more–and much better!–images on his site easyWDW.com here.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE AND DECORATIONS IN THE ECHO LAKE AREA

Hollywood Boulevard has always been delightfully decorated, but now so is the Echo Lake area.

The most notable addition is the Christmas Tree, which used to be outside the park…

…but Gertie now has a bit of holiday decor as well–snow and a Santa hat.

A closer view of the tree…

…and the tree after dark.

Echo Lake after dark.

On the Gertie side of Echo Lake you’ll find these decorations…

…and further counter-clockwise around Echo Lake, near Hollywood and Vine, these.

The same later in the evening.

Until now, Echo Lake has been a bit of a pass-through-without noticing area for me, kinda like (but not so dull as) Commissary Lane.  Gertie has historical importance, and the lake itself is cute and some find it to part of an enormous hidden Mickey.  But really, yawn.

The holiday decorations add a focal point and a coherent atmosphere that’s been missing here until now. You will still largely pass by the lake on your way to something else, but now it’s a delightful walk.

TOY STORY LAND AND ITS HOLIDAY ADDITIONS

The new this summer Toy Story Land (details here) has had a few minor Christmas additions.  While there’s not too much to the new stuff, the key point about Toy Story Land is that it is always entirely Christmas themed–and especially after dark.

After all, the main lighting concept of Toy Story Land is Christmas tree lights, and the land itself is filled with toys. What more could you do to suffuse the area with Christmas?

The answer is not much, which is exactly what Disney did.

You’ll find Woody with a holiday scarf…

…Buzz Lightyear with a Santa hat…

…antlers on Rex above Slinky Dog Dash

…some Christmas ornaments near Alien Swirling Saucers

…and a Christmas cookie outside the Andy’s Lunch Box.

There’s a few more items but in general as noted it’s not much. That said, Toy Story Land with its Christmas lights and toys is already very Christmassy, especially at night.

JINGLE BELL, JINGLE BAM!

Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM debuted at the Studios in 2016. Largely a projection show on the Grauman’s Chinese Theater facade, it’s not a tour de force, but is fun and clever.  It’s framed around the crew from Prep & Landing, but adds a million Disney animations and require no real knowledge of the framing show.

I cover Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! in detail here, and my co-author Josh covers the somewhat disappointing dessert party associated with it on easyWDW.com here.

The Echo Lake and Sunset Boulevard decorations profoundly strengthen how well Disney’s Hollywood Studios celebrate the holidays, and Toy Story Land is always fun–especially after dark.  Don’t miss them!

 

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November 18, 2018   2 Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Everyone Comes to Walt Disney World

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

EVERYONE COMES TO WALT DISNEY WORLD

By Jim Korkis

In 1965, Walt Disney told the press, “We love to entertain kings and queens but at Disneyland everyone is a V.I.P.”

Dignitaries, celebrities, royalty and more visited Walt Disney World with the same joy as when they previously visited Disneyland. Of course, there were many celebrities at the dedication weekend ceremonies October 23-25 in 1971, from Bob Hope to Julie Andrews, but during the next twenty years many others enjoyed being guests in the Disney vacation destination as well.

Here are just a very few that you might not remember who officially visited during the first two decades of Walt Disney World to show the wide variety who came to enjoy the Most Magical Place on Earth, as Walt Disney World was originally called.

1971: Mickey Rooney, Astronaut Eugene Cernan, Johnny Bench

1972: Senators Hubert Humphrey, Edmund Muskie and Henry Jackson. Sargent Shriver, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, Wernher von Braun

1973: President Richard Nixon, Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter, George Wallace of Alabama, boxer Joe Frazier, Howard Cosell, Billie Jean King

1974: Texas Governor John Connally, Truman Capote, Ginger Rogers, John Lennon

1975: U.S. and Soviet crewmen of the Apollo-Soyuz Mission, King Hussein of Jordan, Michael Landon, Henry Kissinger, Susan Ford

1976: Jose Feliciano, Natalie Cole

1977: King Hussein of Jordan, Mrs. Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Senator George McGovern, Prime Minister Robert D. Muldoon of New Zealand

1978: U. N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Muhammad Ali, John Denver, Phyllis Diller, Empress of Iran, Amy Carter, Donny Osmond

1979: Former President Gerald Ford, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, the Russian Olympic swim team, Sophia Loren, Maureen McGovern, Marie Osmond

1980: Michael Jackson, Paul Lynde, the Osmond Family

1981: Burl Ives, Debby Boone, tennis star Yvonne Goolagong, Dick Van Dyke, Ricky Schroeder, Chubby Checker, Ray Stevens, Reba McIntire

1982: Former President Richard Nixon, Jimmy Buffet, Barry Manilow, Speaker “Tip” O’Neill, Mel Tillis

1983: President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George Bush, Crown Prince Harald of Norway, John Travolta, Red Skelton, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Billy Idol

1984: Medal winners of the U.S. Olympic team (including Mary Lou Retton), Julius Erving (Dr. J), Vincent Price, Michael Jackson again, Burt Bacharach, Billy Joel, Richard Carpenter, Toni Tenille, Marvin Hamlish

1985: Secretary General of the United Nations Javier Perez de Cuellar, Senator Albert Gore Jr., Kenny Rogers, Morey Amsterdam, the Dallas Cowboys, Chuck Norris, Ron Jaworski, Whitney Houston

1986: Robert Conrad, Alice Cooper, Johnny Unitas, George Plimpton, David and Harriet Nelson, Kurt Russell, twenty Soviet Junior Cosmonauts, Former Chief Justice Warren Burger, Buddy Rich

1987: Alan Thicke, Robert de Niro, Rob Lowe, Ron Howard, Bo Derek, June Carter Cash, Voyager pilots Jeanna Yeager and Dick Rutan, Gene Siskel, Rosemary Clooney, Roger Williams, Keith Hernandez and Daryl Strawberry

1988: Nancy Reagan, Burt Reynolds, Ray Parker Jr., Frankie Avalon

1989: Vice President Dan Quayle, Pee Wee Herman, Willie Nelson, Dustin Hoffman, Steve Allen, George Burns, Vanna White, Bob Denver, Jim Henson, George Lucas, Betty White, Harvey Korman, Buddy Hackett

1990: President George Bush, Prince Ranier of Monaco, Greg Louganis, Mark Hamill, Lou Ferrigno, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, Liza Minnelli, the Harlem Globetrotters, Jerry Lewis, Sylvester Stallone, Arthur Ashe

1991: Bozo the Clown, Emmett Kelly Jr., Joe Namath, Crystal Gayle, David Cassidy, Cathy Rigby, Ben Vereen, Bob McGrath

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Secret Stories of Mickey Mouse, and his Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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November 16, 2018   No Comments

Next Week (November 17 through November 25, 2018) at Walt Disney World

DISNEY WORLD NEXT WEEK: NOVEMBER 17 TO NOVEMBER 25, 2018

The material below details next week’s Disney World operating hours, Extra Magic Hours, parades, and fireworks.

For more on November at Disney World, see this.

OPERATING HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 11/17-11/25/18

The Magic Kingdom will be open from 9a-11p 11/17 through 11/24, and 9a-6p 11/15

Epcot will be open from 9a-9p 11/17 through 11/21, and 9a-9.30p 11/22 through 11/25

Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be open from 9a-8p 11/17, 9a-9p 11/18 through 11/24, and 9a-8p 11/25

Disney’s Animal Kingdom will be open from 9a-8p 11/17, 8a-9p 11/18 through 11/24, and 9a-8p 11/25

EXTRA MAGIC HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 11/17-11/25/18

Saturday 11/17 Morning: Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Sunday 11/18  Morning: Hollywood Studios Evening: none

Monday 11/19  Morning: Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Tuesday 11/20 Morning: none Evening: Epcot

Wednesday 11/21 Morning:  none Evening: Magic Kingdom

Thursday 11/22 Morning: Epcot Evening: none

Friday 11/23 Morning:  Magic Kingdom Evening: none

Saturday 11/24 Morning: Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Sunday 11/25 Morning: Hollywood Studios Evening: none

PARADES AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 11/17-11/25/18

The Magic Kingdom: Afternoon Festival of Fantasy Parade: 2p every day

FIREWORKS AND EVENING SHOWS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 11/17-11/25/18

Happily Every After at Magic Kingdom: 9p 11/17; 10p 11/18 through 11/24

IllumiNations at Epcot: 9p 11/17 through 11/21; 9.30p 11/22 through 11/25

Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 8p 11/17; 9p 11/18 through 11/24; 8p 11/25

Star Wars Show and Fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: not scheduled

Jingle Bell Jingle BAM at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 8.30p 11/17; 9.30p 11/18 through 11/24; 8.30p 11/25

Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: 6.30 and 7.45p 11/17; 6.30, 8 and 9.15p 11/18 through 11/24; 6.15 and 7.30p 11/25

SHOW SCHEDULES FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD 11/17-11/25/18

See Steve Soares’ site here. Click the park names at its top for show schedules.

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November 15, 2018   No Comments

Review: The 2018 Edition of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (“MVMCP”)

MICKEY’S VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS PARTY: A REVIEW

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (“MVMCP”) is a special event that takes place during the Christmas season at Walt Disney World.

It requires its own ticket, which is entirely separate from regular Disney World tickets and is only shown on certain nights from early November through the first two thirds of December.

(For more on MVMCP tickets and show nights, see this.)

Even though it is expensive (tickets for a family of four will cost $400 or more) it’s been part of this site’s Basic December Itinerary since the site opened, for a couple of reasons:

Going to it lets people save a lot of time. 

Disney limits the amount of tickets it sells to each show of MVMCP.  As a result, waits for the rides are low–most typically 10 minutes, although you’ll find longer waits at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan, and Jingle Cruise.  Going to it and seeing some really popular rides with hardly a wait saves a ton of time that can instead be spent sleeping in or at the pool.

Waits Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

For example, above is the Space Mountain wait at a little after 9p.

Big Thunder around 8p.

The Castle Transfigured Frozen Holiday Wish from yourfirstvisit.net

Going to it guarantees seeing an evening parade and fireworks. 

The regular evening parade at the Magic Kingdom is now gone, and at the time of year the Basic Itinerary covers, the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom may happen just a couple of times a week on non-MVMCP nights.  Going to MVMCP guarantees your family will have the opportunity to see an evening parade and fireworks.

Moreover, the parade and fireworks are unique. The fireworks are tied with those of the Halloween party as best of the year, and the parade has a fun Christmas theme!

I recommend people go to Walt Disney World in the early part of the Christmas season…so how can I not send them to this show?

It’s silly and fun!

In November 2018 I had a chance to see it again, on Friday the 8th, my twelfth visit to this party. The rest of this entry is the review of that visit. (Note that some of the photos are from my earlier visits, where they turned out better than those I took that night…)

MICKEY’S VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS PARTY

There’s a couple of components to MVMCP.

Noted already are the parade and fireworks, both in special Christmas versions.

Parade Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The parade, called Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, happens twice each night, at 8.30 and 11p.

I strongly suggest you avoid the first parade.  Instead, go on rides until about 30 minutes before the fireworks, and watch them and then watch the second parade–crowds for the second parade will be much lower.

Characters Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at MVMCP from yourfirstvisit.net

The parade begins with a bunch of characters…

Mickey and Minnie Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

…then Minnie and Mickey.

Frozen comes next with three floats, beginning with Anna and Elsa…

…then Olaf…

…and then Kristoff.

Next is Wreck-It Ralph…

…then Clarabelle Cow and Christmas cookies–I still wonder why no resort is themed to Clarabelle?

Goofy Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

Next is Goofy and Christmas candy.

Next up is a sequence of princess-themed floats.

You might spot some dwarfs.

Snow White Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at MVMCP from yourfirstvisit.net

Snow White Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

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Snow White and Cinderella get their own floats.

A closer shot of Cinderella.

Princesses Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

One large float is fronted by the Beast and holds a passel of princesses.

Woody Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The parade then shifts to a toy theme, including Woody and Jess…

dsc02587

…and toy soldiers.

Santa Claus is on the last float.

Santa Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at MVMCP from yourfirstvisit.net

Santa Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

The fireworks, called Holiday Wishes, happen between the parades at 10p.

More fireworks:

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Also noted already are the rides.

  • Not all rides are open, but all of the most popular ones are (there’s a list of what’s open on the brochure below).
  • Because of the limit on tickets sold, most of the rides are pretty easy to get on to without major waits. The park will feel very crowded on Main Street and near the Castle, but this is because of all the people lining for the castle shows and the parade route.  Away from Main Street and Frontierland the park opens up and ride waits are quite short.

There’s some shows, some unique to this event.

Elsa Making Snow Frozen Holdiay Wish from yourfirstvisit.net

A Frozen Holiday Wish is the same as on regular MK evenings. It’s OK but the 8.15 show will be mobbed and cut into your ride time.

Totally Tomorrowland Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

Only shown during the party are the skippable A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas in Tomorrowland…

club-tinsel-at-mvmcp-2016-from-yourfirstvisit-net

…and a skippable dance party in Cosmic Ray’s in Tomorrowland.

Also available is “The Edge,” showing on the same stage as A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas at 8.10, 9, 10.20 and 11.10p.  This will please you in direct proportion to the joy you take in boy band a Capella gestures towards Christmas songs.

Continuing from its 2016 debut is the Castle stage show “Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration.” Showing at 7.40, 9.25, 10.30p, and 11.55p, this utterly skippable show includes dancing and character appearances to (mostly) second rate Christmas standards and (mostly) third rate original songs (all powerfully sung, however).

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Oddities include a song about texting and keeping your phone charged which also features Daisy’s rarely expressed longing for Donald, and a torch song by Clarabelle that will chill any potential target of her affections.

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But wait, there’s less, as the Three Amigos also are a focal point.

In Storybook Circus you’ll find, most likely by mistake, a sparsely attended dance party with Disney Jr characters.

There’s some fun other business: free cookies, free hot chocolate or other drinks (locations on the map), and snow!

Snow on Main Street Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2015 from yourfirstvisit.net

There’s also character encounters, some typical, and some rare.

You can spend a lot of time waiting in lines for characters–go for it if that’s your thing, but for most there’s much better ways to spend your time given the cost of this party…

seven-dwarfs-at-mvmcp-2016-from-yourfirstvisit-net

More characters:

sandy-claws-mickeys-very-merry-christmas-party-from-yourfirstvisit-net

Both sides of the 2018 MVMCP brochure are below–as always, click them to enlarge them.

Even though the party starts at 7p, Disney traditionally lets people holding tickets for it through the turnstiles beginning at 4p. Show up early, see some of the lower wait rides, and have dinner.  If you show up around party time, Main Street will be mobbed.

FastPass+ is not available during the party–but it’s also not needed, as only Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan and the Jingle Cruise see major waits. If you want to see these at the party, do them as late as you can stay up.

New in 2018 is a dessert, drinks and appetizer offering at Tony’s, which also gives access to the area around the Christmas tree for viewing of the 11p run of the parade.  I don’t entirely get the logic of paying around $100 to got to the party, then another $100 to avoid it. I think Victoria & Alberts would be the better choice for about the same money. My co-author Josh has a more positive view of this offering here on easy WDW.com.

WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE NOT FOLLOWING THE BASIC ITINERARY?

Fireworks Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2014 from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

As noted, this show is expensive, but worth considering if one or more of the following apply to you:

  • You otherwise won’t see the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom
  • Your plans otherwise leave you short on Magic Kingdom time, and/or
  • You are really a fan of Christmas

With kids old enough to be focused on rides, the right plan for MVMCP is to

  • Show up early, and eat before the party
  • Do rides until around 9.30p, and then
  • Position yourselves near the Castle for Holiday Wishes, and the second showing of the evening parade.
  • After the parade, do more rides or see the shows!

Some more shots from around Magic Kingdom during the party:

Around Main Street.

Shots of the Castle.

Some graphics.

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November 14, 2018   1 Comment