Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Candlelight Processional

One good reason to celebrate Chrismahanukwanzakah (besides the fact that the Virgin Mobile commercial is so cool) is that you get to start early in December and keep partying for a week after Christmas. Thus, even though December 25th is past, we continued our string of holiday activities with a trip to the Candlelight Processional at Epcot tonight.

For those who are not familiar with it, this is a telling of the Christmas story by a guest celebrity narrator, with a wonderful live band and choir. It has become a holiday tradition for us; my husband likens it to a long, musical version of Linus's monologue in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, although I've pointed out to him that the surroundings would probably be too commercial for Linus's tastes. Oh, wait, wrong Peanuts special...it's the Great Pumpkin that demands sincere surroundings before putting in an appearance.

We've learned that the best (actually only) way to see the Candlelight Processional during the peak season is to book a dinner package, which supposedly guarantees you a seat. There are three pricing tiers. I think ours was around $37 per person, which included dinner at Morocco. You can order any appetizer, main course, non-alcoholic drink, and dessert, and tax and tip are included too.

My husband had booked the 6:45 processional show, with an 8:30 dinner reservation. We headed over to Epcot early, as he somehow got the insane idea that we'd be able to fit in some rides. "But dear," he protested to my guffaws of laughter, "we can always do the singles line on Test Track." The poor man is used to visiting in the off-season, so he easily forgets what the Christmas-to-New-Years crowd looks like.

Hubby soon got a dose of reality as we waded into the crowd of holiday park-goers. Sure enough, the Test Track singles line was over an hour, and the stand-by entrance was two hours. The Fast Passes were long gone. Things were the same at Mission Space, which I won't ride anyway, as I have no desire to toss my cookies. I can ride a roller coaster all day long with no ill effects (I once rode Batman at Six Flags 40 times in a row), but put me on a spinning ride and I become a limp, green-faced noodle.

We ended up at the Wonders of Life pavillion, which more closely resembles something that you might find at a fleabag carnival. It's only open seasonally now, and unless Disney wants to sink a little money into it, it shouldn't be open at all. We did Body Wars, which is dated but still fun. But the exercise bikes that show you a movie while you pedal are mostly non-functional. Some are out-and-out broken, and the ones that "work" have terrible screens that practically make the footage look black and white because the picture is so washed out.

We went to the hands-on exhibits so I could touch the weird coils that feel like they're burning your hand. That has always fascinated me; it's a trick that is accomplished by alternating hot and cold coils. The exhibit is still there, but it doesn't work. There is no sign indicating that it's broken, so lots of puzzled people were touching it and trying to figure out what they couldn't feel anything.

It was really sad to see that Disney would open a pavillion with so many non-functioning exhibits just to draw off some of the crowd. Another example of Eisner economics, I guess.

We left the pavillion in disgust and went to watch the tree lighting before boarding a boat to cross the lagoon to the American pavillion for the processional. We didn't realize that the lighting actually entails an entire 15 minute ceremony, so we were running later than we had planned. By the time we arrived, most of the dinner package people had already been admitted to the theater. We hurried in and found fairly decent seats, even though it was mostly full. After seeing how many people buy the package, I don't think there's much room for "stand-by" people on the busy days.

The celebrity guest reader was Gary Sinise. He did a great job, but I kept picturing him as George to John Malkovich's Lenny in "Of Mice and Men." Saturday Night Live did a great spoof of that movie. It revolved around the fact that Lenny is a more popular character than George, leading Disney to do a remake with twin Lennys and no George at all. John Malkovich, who was guest starring on that episode, reprised his role, and the late Chris Farley played the other Lenny. It was a riot! Of course, they worked their way through a whole litter of puppies, not to mention twin girls.

But I digress...the Candlelight Processional was as awe-inspiring as always. I enjoy hearing the story of the nativity and the true meaning of Christmas. Afterwards, we decided to head to the restaurant to see if they could seat us early so we could see Illuminations. As we headed toward Morocco, we saw the line of dinner package people waiting to enter the theater for the next processional. The line literally stretched all the way back to Morocco, and that is a loooong way! One all those people entered, I doubt there was any stand-by seating left at all.

Just as I predicted, we were able to get a table with only a 10 minute wait. I've never seen Morocco so crowded! Their food is a bit "exotic" for many tourists, so typically it's half deserted. This time, as soon as one party left, their table was cleaned and new people were seated within minutes.

The service was prompt, so we were done with our meal by 9 p.m. We headed out to stake out a spot by the lagoon. We ended up standing right across from the Morocco pavillion, near the boat dock. It has a tall, solid wall, so it's not an ideal place for kids, but for us it was perfect. The only slight annoyance was a man who stood right next to us and then proceeded to light up a cigarette. My husband pointed out that it's a no-smoking area, and he pulled the "No understand English" routine. No problem, since I know enough Spanish to cover a situation like that. That's one of the reason I hate to visit the parks when they're overly crowded. There is little enforcement of the smoking/non-smoking areas, even at the best of times, but during the peak season that flies completely out the window.

Soon it was 9:30 and the show began in a blaze of fireworks. I love the music from Illuminations, especially the part that plays when the globe turns blue. I've seen the show countless times, but I never get tired of it, and I even have the CD to get a fix inbetween visits to Epcot.

The holiday brochure promised a special ending in honor of Christmas. I must say, Disney really delivered. After the regular show, the globe lit up once again in a shimmering rainbox as "Let There Be Peace On Earth And Let It Begin With Me" played over the speakers, counterpointed by a bonus fireworks display.

I felt someone pushing on my purse; at first I thought it was a pickpocket, but it was a kid bumping into it while trying to work her way up front for a better view. Unfortunately, the tall, solid wall was no match for a short child. I put my hand on her head and thrust her in front of me, since there was an opening in the wall that was just about at her eye level, and I heard her exclaim, "Cool!"

The holiday bonus show ended with an explosion of fireworks so intense that I swear the ground was actually shaking. What a show!

Of course, on the drive back to Celebration, we were treated to a show of a different kind. The traffic on World Drive consists mainly of dazed and confused tourists who cut across four lanes with no warning, brake repeatedly, or even stop in the middle of the road at will. My husband and I try to predict who will do what, culminating in a bet on how many people will make a U-turn where the road dead ends at Celebration Boulevard (there's always at least one). Sometimes, we even make "Trading Places"-style bets (a dollar) on the number of cars that will make the U-turn. It makes the ride home much more amusing.

Another holiday event down...a visit to the Ice Festival is on the slate for tomorow.

I can be reach at the following email address: celebration@mailblocks.com

My Celebration website is www.celebrationinfo.com

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