How Walt Disney World Goes From Spooky to Winter Wonderland Practically Overnight

Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle decorated for holiday celebration. Courtesy: Image by peridotmaize from Pixabay

Ever wondered how long it takes to change the extravagant adornment between the seasonal transitions at Disney World? Just when you’ve begun to imagine the sheer magnitude of the land owned by Disney, you’re probably still missing the nooks and crannies of the property.

This begs the question. Have you ever seen workers at Walt Disney World putting up holiday decorations during park hours? 

If you’re a season pass holder or happen to go during the transition of Halloween to Christmas, you may have once thought to yourself, “hey, that wasn’t there yesterday.” Well, the answer to that is, it probably wasn’t there yesterday, but it is now.

Perhaps that’s the magic of it all.

In the spirit of the holiday season, we set out to find out how the transformation is carried out.

Thanks to Travel and Leisure, we have a small glimpse as to how the park is transformed into a winter wonderland practically overnight.

The moment patrons exit the park on Halloween night, a rather large and skilled unit of “elves” begin the park makeover for the next crowd to marvel at. Lisa Borotkanics, manager of Holiday Services, and a team of roughly 160 people ensure that every tree is trimmed, wreath is hung, and lights shine bright over the course of a few all-nighters each holiday season.

The team of Mickey’s helpers begin their yearly transformation the moment visitors leave Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and continues through Thanksgiving until every detail in every park is engulfed in holiday splendor. 

Certain parks do take precedence over others based on the number of visitors and time it takes to decorate them. Epcot is usually decorated in one night, while Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom take two nights. Which is why if you’ve ever stayed at a Walt Disney resort during this transition, it’s puzzling to see something new when you wake up from one day to the next.

“I’ve had the luxury of being at Magic Kingdom the first morning after the holiday decor was installed, and there was a young boy who had been there the night before when it was decorated for Halloween,” recalled Graham Allan, one of the book authors of “Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks: Celebrations Around the World from Fall to Winter,” and Disney studio operators recalled to Travel and Leisure. “For him, it was truly magical to walk in and see Christmas had appeared overnight.”

While for visitors the overnight transition from pumpkins to wreaths seems magical, Borotkanics compares the feat to a performance, “Getting this all done is like a finely orchestrated ballet. We work all through the night and coordinate with groups across the property to make sure everything gets done,” she said. “If it weren’t for our team having every detail planned out ahead of time, it wouldn’t happen.”

But the planning doesn’t stop there. While the decorating portion is just a small piece of the bigger pie, this is not a seasonal job reserved for dressing and undressing the theme parks. Borotkanics’ team begins working on the upcoming season’s decor the moment the holiday ones come down.

The decorations are stored in a 300,000 square-foot storage unit before being inspected, refurbished, or replaced for the next year. Picture a warehouse the size of five full-size football fields, stacked and lined from floor to ceiling with thousands of boxes of Christmas ornaments. Enough to turn any Grinch into a holiday lover!

Borotkanics explained that the oversized popcorn garlands on Magic Kingdom’s Christmas tree are at least 20 years old, while decorations like bows used around the park are replaced quite often. An estimated 300,000 bows are kept on hand each year, and roughly 75,000 end up being replaced seasonally.

After the decoration inspections and checks are done, the items are wrapped in plastic, loaded on tractor-trailers, and discreetly transported and parked near its placement in the park for quick access. 

The planning is so calculated that even the big trees are pre-prepped before being loaded onto the trucks and slowly transported to the park. Once the trucks have arrived, cranes carefully lift the ornaments and trees and put them where they go. Lights, bows, and ornaments are pre-arranged and, once on the ground, can be tidied up to the team’s standard.

While some things this season will be missing from the decorations, the Disney parks are probably the closest thing to a winter wonderland out there. 

The holiday festivities started on Nov. 6 and runs through Dec. 30.

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