Yuletide Fantasy Tour Review

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The Yuletide Fantasy Tour is about holiday traditions around the world with a little bit of Disney holiday traditions sprinkled in. It is open to guests age 16 and older and is only available select days in November and December. In 2012 it is offered Monday through Saturday at 9am from November 26 to December 29. There are a few exceptions to this schedule: the tour is not offered on 11/30, 12/1, or 12/25. This review is based on the 2011 tour, so some changes may have occurred for the 2012 season.

Guests on Yuletide Fantasy TourLike the Holiday D-Lights tour, Yuletide Fantasy is a multi-park tour offered by the Disney Institute. Since separate park admission is not required, Disney Institute tours usually have higher prices than single park tours such as Keys to the Kingdom.

At $84 (without discounts or tax) for 3.5 hours, the Yuletide Fantasy tour may look like a losing proposition compared with other tour options. For example, the 4.5-5 hour UnDISCOVERed Future World tour is only $54.

When reviewing tours, I place a lot of emphasis on value: not just the cost of the tour or the use of a ticket day, but what you receive in exchange for forfeiting precious vacation hours. As I set out for my Yuletide Fantasy Tour, I kept that in mind since a 9am tour means giving up valuable early morning park time.

Our group met outside Guest Relations to the far right of Epcot’s turnstiles. By the time 9am rolled around, all 34 folks in my group had arrived, signed in, and received name badges. Then we were off to the tour bus. In addition to providing a welcomed seat between stops, the bus also served as our locker.

Holiday Traditions Around World Showcase

Since there were 34 of us, we had two guides. We divided into two groups and split up during the stops. This meant each guide only had 17 people, which was much nicer than when I’ve been in a group of 32 with one guide on other tours. Both guides were enthusiastic about the holidays and thrilled to have the opportunity to lead this limited seasonal tour.

Yuletide Fantasy tour guests learning about La Befana in the Italy PavilionOur first stop was the Germany Pavilion. We entered through a backstage gate and stepped out into a deserted World Showcase. When I booked the tour, the phone agent assured me there was no difference in content between the 9am tour and the 1pm tour. [Note: the 1pm option is not available in 2012.] For me, there is all the difference in the world between going on a tour when a park is closed and when it is open. Even if a later option is available, do the 9am tour.

Since the World Showcase doesn’t open until 11am, there were still Disney maintenance crews and custodians sprucing everything up at 9:15. We were allowed to take photos onstage as long as we didn’t take any photos of the workers, vehicles, etc.

Here our guide told us about the origins of the Christmas tree and other traditions that started in Germany. We also visited the Christmas shop, Die Weihnachts Ecke, and discussed the questionable history of the pickle ornament. Afterwards, we stopped outside the miniature village and train set on the the way to the Italy Pavilion.

Shimenawa

Shimenawa, traditional New Year's decorations of rice straw rope, grace the doorways in the Japan Pavilion.

In Italy, we learned about the witch, La Befana. This and several of the other stories we heard on the tour overlap with the tales told by the Holiday Storytellers in World Showcase. Having heard all the Holiday Storytellers before, I found that the guide elaborated on their stories rather than repeating them.

Other tales we heard that relate to the Epcot Storytellers were the history of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in the American Pavilion, as well as the story of the daruma dolls in Japan. Our tour group included a couple from Japan, who validated the guide’s explanation of the daruma dolls. This was really a special moment for our group and the guide, who had never had a Japanese guest take the tour with him before. The couple also identified the shimenawas, rice straw ropes, that are the Japan Pavilion’s only holiday decorations.

After we finished up the four countries (Germany, Italy, USA, and Japan), we exited backstage near Japan to our awaiting coach.

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom Town Square

Crowds for the Christmas Day Parade taping filled the Magic Kingdom

On our way to the Magic Kingdom, our lead guide confessed that he wasn’t sure what we were going to see or if we were going to be able to do the tour as usual. I took the tour the morning of the taping of Disney’s Christmas Day Parade in the Magic Kingdom. Organized chaos is definitely the appropriate description for what we witnessed.

We made our way into Town Square and circled around the parade crowds to the bathrooms next to Guest Relations. After a quick break, we all huddled outside the Chamber of Commerce to learn about why fruit and candy canes are used in the decorations in early 20th-century Town Square.

Next, we made our way through the parade taping hubbub and through the gift shops (which were being blocked off to guests) to little alley on the right-side of Main Street. Here we learned how the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created and handed out at Montgomery Ward.

It was a very heartwarming story – which of course I went home and looked up on Snopes. Totally false. This is just one example of how many stories on Disney tours are just that – stories: part fact, part legend. I understand many of the cultural tales we heard during the World Showcase portion of the tour may have many variations, but I sort of expected the information about Rudolph to be accurate seeing as how it is relatively recent history. My discovery didn’t devalue my experience on the tour, but my heart feel a little colder.

The whole time at Magic Kingdom, we kept hearing the parade taping crew shouting over megaphones at the crowd. They were trying to keep everyone pumped up and excited for the cameras. This sometimes drowned out our guide, but it really added to tour experience. Personally, I would never bother to go to the park during the taping on my own, so it was fun to be able to march through all the blocked off area as part of an official group.

Grand Floridian Christmas Tree

Grand Floridian

Next we visited the Grand Floridian, the crown jewel of Walt Disney World’s resort holiday displays. The Grand Floridian not only boasts one of the nine giant trees on property, but it is also home to the famous gingerbread house (which, in true Disney fashion, doubles as a gift shop).

Here we had 15 minutes to check out the decorations at our leisure. It was pretty busy in the lobby, and I was very glad I had already visited before to get photos of the gingerbread house without mobs of people in front of it. I used up most of my 15 minutes lying on the ground waiting for people to move away from the tree.

As we boarded the bus, our driver handed out Mickey-shaped holiday crisped rice treats. I heard a few guests wondering why we didn’t receive gingerbread like what is sold from the gingerbread house. I’ll tell you why – it tastes stale! I know some people like it, but I was delighted that we didn’t receive chocolate-covered shingles.

Holiday Services

Our last stop was definitely the most anticipated – backstage at Holiday Services.

The Holiday Services warehouse is located on the north end of property in the same area as Central Shops (seen on the Backstage Magic Tour) and Event and Decorating Support (seen on Holiday D-Lights). I’ve never seen the HGTV Disney Christmas special, but it is my understanding this is the warehouse they visit on that show.

For a warehouse, it is pretty magical. Rows upon rows of decor are labeled with resort names. Trees and wreaths are stored whole, complete with wired-on ornaments and lights. There is an aisle of buckets filled with every size, shape, and color of LED lights. There are endless open bins of theme-specific ornaments. They even have shelves dedicated to gallons of glitter representing every shade in the rainbow!

We got to walk through the main storage area and workstations. We also spoke with a few of the 26 Cast Members who work on Christmas year-round. They go one by one through previous years’ decorations, inspecting them for necessary updates: worn ornaments, damaged bows, etc.

This was hands down my favorite stop. I could write whole essays on what we learned at Holiday Services, but I want to save some for you discover yourself on the tour.

2011 Yuletide Fantasy Tour PinAfter leaving Holiday Services, our bus dropped us back off near our meeting location in front of Epcot. On our way out, the guide handed us each a commemorative tour pin. These holiday tour pins change yearly, so the 2011 edition was limited to those guests going on Yuletide Fantasy that season. The 2012 tour will feature a different pin.

All in all, the tour was fantastic. I had low expectations based on some previous reviews and was certain it was overpriced at $84. However, as we were saying our farewells, all I could think about was how much I wanted to do it again next year.

Yuletide Fantasy was the perfect way to get in the holiday spirit. It really made me stop and admire the beauty of Walt Disney World this time of year. Learning about the various customs and legends from the World Showcase countries increased my appreciation for all the thought that goes into the decorations. Visiting backstage emphasized all the hard work and organization it takes to pull it all off.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. As I’m writing this, my desire to retake the tour has only increased. It may not be the cheapest per-hour tour, but it would be a perfect addition for anyone taking a trip to the World during the holiday season. If I had to chose between this and the Holiday D-Lights tour, I would pick Yuletide Fantasy every time.

Yuletide Fantasy Tour Tips

  1. Book early. Holiday tours should be available for booking by late June. Book online or by calling (407) WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687).
  2. Ask about discounts: AAA Members, DVC Members, and Annual Passholders receive 15% off. Disney VISA Cardholders receive 20% when paying with their cards.
  3. Take the 9am tour. It’s worth getting up a little earlier to see an empty World Showcase.
  4. Bring a camera. Do I need to repeat myself? Empty World Showcase!
  5. Bring weather-appropriate clothing, Disney tours go on rain or shine. There aren’t too many hurricanes in December to cause a cancellation.
  6. If you’re planning on making a Epcot lunch ADR, don’t make until 1pm or later. The 9am tour finished up around 12:30.

Have you tried the Yuletide Fantasy tour?  Do you plan on trying it out? Let us know what you think!

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Posted on November 21, 2012
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