I am a huge fan of the guided, behind the scenes tours offered at Walt Disney World, and I am an even bigger fan of the Christmas season. When my college freshman son and I had the opportunity to take a trip to Walt Disney World just before Christmas I knew one of the holiday seasonal tours would be on my must-do list. I have always loved the parks decorated for Christmas, it adds an extra touch of magic to everything and to learn more about how they do it is just up my alley.
The Yuletide Fantasy tour is offered seasonally and last for 3.5 hours. You need to book in advance by calling 407-WDW-TOUR, it is only offered select days in November and December. Children must be at least 12 to participate.
Leading up to our trip I received a couple of emails from Adventures by Disney tour services regarding our tour reservation which surprised me, but I was happy to receive this confirmation and detailed information about when and where to meet for the experience. Once we were on the tour I spoke to a manager who was tagging along on the tour about the Adventures by Disney involvement and he said that they are taking over all of the multi-park behind the scenes tours like this one, Backstage Magic, etc. Previously the Disney Institute operated the tours but it doesn’t fit within their mission of corporate training, so Adventures by Disney was working on taking these over. The tour experiences contained within a single park like Keys to the Kingdom will continue to be operated by the guides with Guest Relations (with the plaid vests).
Our meeting point for the tour was outside the Epcot turnstiles near Guest Relations (but once you clear the security lines). We were a bit rushed to arrive due to some transportation issues and a very slow moving security line—our timing just wasn’t quite right. But we got there in time and we were not the last ones to arrive, so just be sure you allow plenty of time to get there. We received name tags and were checked off of a list. We had two guides (who were dressed very festively) for our tour and our group was divided in half.
Our first stop was to follow the guides back stage and board a motor coach waiting on us. Onboard we received the remote listening devices to make sure we could hear throughout the tour. Bottled water was also available as needed. We drove around backstage to the World Showcase and entered “onstage” while crews were still finishing up the cleaning and daily maintenance work to set up for park opening, so we were not allowed to take any photos.
We made stops in Germany and Italy to learn about Christmas traditions from those countries and how they influence celebrations around the world today. The guides did a great job with the presentation of the information, they truly had that Adventures by Disney storytelling feeling about the experience. The information was interesting and a good complement to what you would learn and experience in the parks by seeing the storytellers in each country.
Our next stop was the American Adventure Pavilion where we went inside and discussed many holiday traditions, not just Christmas. And we got a quick glimpse of the US Capital Gingerbread on display. One great “little” thing on the tour was the offer to take photos of each group along the way. In America we posed in front of the large tree outside holding the Yuletide Fantasy sign. This was a nice touch.
Onboard the bus the guides told us stories of their Christmas traditions from their families. One of the guides lived in the New Jersey and one year her family’s tree was selected for Rockefeller Plaza—she said that it is the one seen in When Harry Met Sally. That was a nice personal touch to the tour.
On board the motor coach was another “little” detail that makes everything feel more special and pulled together, the TVs on the motor coach were showing the Disney’s Magical Fireplace Yule Log DVD. I thought it was really a cute touch.
We next traveled over to the Magic Kingdom. This is the part where I felt like things could’ve been handled a little differently. Everyone in the group had to enter through the security check points including our guides who had bags full of props to use in the park. It took quite a while to go through the lines and regroup once inside the turnstiles. I am all for safety and having security scans, but I felt like there must be a better way to do it with a group like this.
Inside the Magic Kingdom we only went as far as the Firehouse area of Main Street over to the side. Our guides explained to use that on Main Street USA Disney is going for a Currier & Ives feel to their decorations–that idealized American Christmas. They pointed out some of the decorative elements used in the garlands, wreath and on the tree. They also passed around some props for the tour illustrating how the Disney Company was involved in popular culture Christmas celebrations of the 1930s and 40s with illustrated books that were given to children for going to particular department stores to visit Santa Claus. Overall, I felt like our time at Magic Kingdom was too short for the trouble it took to get into the park on a fairly crowded day. I would’ve loved to hear more about the décor there.
Back on the bus, our next stop was the one myself and just about everyone else was most excited about—backstage Holiday Services building. As a lay person, this is pretty much the only way you are going to get to see this. A warehouse building FULL of themed Christmas décor, it was amazing! Organized by resorts, parks, stores, restaurants. Bins of snowmen, snowflakes, santas, reindeer. It was Christmas overload! I was a kid in a candy store. At this point everything is up for this season so the elves were prepping the decorations for next year already. We were told from the time a concept or request for new décor comes in it takes 2 years to make it a reality—like the new decoration in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2017. We were not allowed to take any photos, but we had another photo op from our guide in a staged area inside.
Back on the bus we were given a light snack: Mickey head rice krispie treats. YUM! And we headed to our final stop, the Wilderness Lodge. Of all of the resorts, Wilderness Lodge to me is the most Christmas-y, warm & inviting for the holidays. We went to the Territory Lounge where we were served tiny mugs of hot spiced apple cider, and we were given the recipe to take home. The guides used this time and space to wrap up and conclude the tour experience.
We did return to Epcot after the Wilderness Lodge just to have the same ending point as the start in case someone parked at Epcot.
At the end of the tour we were given really nice pins commemorating the experience. These were attached to an Adventures by Disney postcard (some nice cross-marketing). And it had the website and code to access the photos that were taken during the tour so we could download those (free of charge)
All in all, I was very pleased with our tour experience. I felt that both guides were knowledgeable, friendly and organized. The little extras were nice touches to complement the experience. The access to see the Holiday Services was definitely the highlight. I came away wishing I had learned more about how Disney does Christmas—the process, design decision, and so forth—rather than the Christmas customs. The tour description on Disney’s website is definitely accurate to what you get on this tour, however. I would recommend this tour to anyone who has been to Walt Disney World multiple times and is looking for a new experience, anyone who loves Christmas and decorating, and Disney nerds like me who love any chance to get backstage. If this is your first trip, or even your first trip during the holidays I think you would be better off to take advantage of visiting the parks and doing as much in them as possible rather than taking the time out for the tour. You can do that on a future trip.
Have you taken the Yuletide Fantasy Tour? What did you think of your experience?