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If you put up more than 600 Christmas trees, you need truckloads of ornaments … and a plan. Just ask the holiday services department of Walt Disney World.
The team coordinates the seasonal looks for four theme parks, resort hotels, Disney Springs and the ships of the Disney Cruise Line.
Aside from festive designs, there are factors such as UV protection, color schemes, lighting, weather issues, refurbishment, storage, nostalgia and — new this year — nods to Disney World’s 50th anniversary.
“We don’t compromise detail. … People will come up and they will zoom up on anything and take a picture. So, detail, detail, detail,” said Ed Miles, a Disney World planner, during a tour of the 55,000-square-foot holiday services building near Magic Kingdom. “It does not matter if it’s up on the tower, it still has the detail of what’s downstairs,” said Miles, who oversees development of the décor, theming and buying.
One of the purposes of the holiday services building is as a staging and planning area. It holds rows and rows of ornaments, stacked in containers. There are scads of the traditional balls, sorted by colors, sizes and finishes so that all variations can be located easily.
“We go from red to green. And we go all the way down to coppers and pinks,” said Miles, pointing to the far end of the color-coordinated warehouse. The shelves are stacked nearly to the warehouse’s ceiling with assorted ribbons, artificial greenery, florals (“from tropical to desert,” he said) and other props. Other warehouses, including one that’s 75,000 square feet, house Disney’s Christmas fare in the offseason.
The process starts with plans from Walt Disney Imagineering, Miles said, and they work about two years ahead of schedule.
“They give us an idea of what we’re looking for … and then we go around and we see what we can find that matches” in the stash of décor, Miles said. The team assembles a sample look for the project — particular, for instance, to an area of a theme park or a resort — that is reviewed and tweaked by WDI, if necessary.
Each location gets its own vibe and precise color scheme. The bright reds seen at Hollywood Studios aren’t the same as the deep, rich reds found at Disney Springs.
“That gives individuality to each area,” Miles said.
This year, there are references to Disney World’s 50th-anniversary celebration within the décor. Gertie, the dinosaur figure in the Studios’ Echo Lake, has a red ornament dangling from her mouth and it sports the official 5-0 logo in gold. Other touches are more subtle, with each theme park getting an anniversary color scheme ironed out by Imagineering.
“That blue garland on the tree over at Epcot? That’s for the 50th,” Miles said.
For Magic Kingdom’s centerpiece tree, shiny gold striping was added to the traditional peppermint-stick ornaments, another nod to the 50th. The red cars that go with that tree were painted gold for the occasion.
But Disney kept its oversized popcorn strings in place there.
“There’s certain things on some of the trees you don’t want to take off. They’re iconic. People look for these year after year,” Miles said. Disney doesn’t dramatically change the look of its “icon trees,” he said, because many visitors want to re-create photographs from year to year, generation to generation.
“We understand that. We embrace that,” Miles said.
The changes can appeal to parkgoers, said Denise Preskitt, owner of MouseSteps.com, which follows Orlando’s theme parks.
“You have a lot of repeat visitors, like Disney Vacation Club numbers and locals, who I think appreciate that you go and you see a little something different,” she said.
She noticed subtle touches in the trees and elsewhere but was pleased that 50th-anniversary stylings didn’t overwhelm the occasion.
“I personally like the reds and the greens, and, you know, I can see gold and blue all year-round,” she said.
Another hot holiday spot for Preskitt has been Animal Kingdom, particularly the Discovery Island and Dino Land areas plus the Merry Menagerie puppetry.
“That’s probably my favorite location right now for the holidays,” she said. She said she also enjoyed the Grand Floridian theming and its gingerbread house display, which included 50th-anniversary touches.
Holiday services goes beyond everyday ornaments to create décor themed to the resorts and parks.
Horseshoes may enhance the outdoorsy look at Fort Wilderness campground. A wedding dress was used for Disney Springs’ Haunted Mansion-inspired tree, which featured the attraction’s bride and her beating heart, Miles said.
“We’re about high visual,” he said. “Country, rustic, pomp, Victorian, retro, you name it. We have it.”
Right now, Christmas is in place across Disney World, but the holiday services team is back in fall mode. Members are surrounded by orange decorations from the autumn and Halloween looks, getting them ready for storage and for next year.
“We look for scratches, dents, whatever. We try to get everything so when it goes out to the guests, it’s pristine,” Miles said. The repaired products are grouped in kits along with associated hardware, lights, foliage and novelties. There’s a flow to the system — down to what goes in the bins first and last — to make installation next year as streamlined as possible. There’s an exact place for everything, even in storage, Miles said.
In January, they’ll repeat the inspection process for the recently removed Christmas looks, which eventually will be trucked to other storage areas until it’s time to redecorate next year. It’s a year-round process.
“We never stop,” Miles said.