We Spent the Night at Disney's Magic Kingdom to Watch the Park Transform Into a Holiday Wonderland
They say "there's no place like home for the holidays," but really, there's no place on Earth that does the holidays quite like Disney. Each year, Disney cast members deck the halls (and streets, shops, hotels, and even some attractions) at the theme park resorts, and Travel + Leisure just got a peek behind the scenes to see how they pull it all off.
Holiday festivities officially kick off at Disney World on Nov. 12, with seasonal entertainment, food, merchandise, and more, and this year, guests will find EARidescent touches in honor of the Walt Disney World Resort 50th anniversary celebration. Nearly two weeks before the official start, Magic Kingdom was transformed with holiday decor overnight, putting away the Halloween jack-o'-lanterns and fall foliage and reopening the next morning with festive garlands and the famous Christmas tree towering opposite Cinderella Castle down Main Street, U.S.A.
I spent the night at Magic Kingdom for an exclusive look at the transformation that makes the "Most Magical Place on Earth" merry and bright every November. And let me tell you, it takes a whole lot of pixie dust to bring the magic to life each year. Here's what it was like to experience the holiday transformation first-hand at Magic Kingdom, hour by hour.
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Oct. 31, 11:30 p.m.
After a quick, three-hour nap, it's time to wake up, grab some coffee, put on my Mickey sweater, and get ready to head to Magic Kingdom.
Nov. 1, 12:30 a.m.
I'm picked up from my hotel and driven backstage at Magic Kingdom Park, where we park, don our PPE (hard hats, glasses, and bright reflective vests for everyone), and wait for the final guests to leave the Disney After Hours Boo Bash against a backdrop of spooky music and Halloween decor.
Guests are gone, the park is officially closed, and now, it's time to get to work. I take in the view of the glowing jack-o'-lanterns, fall foliage, and autumnal bunting that decorate Main Street, U.S.A. one last time as the team rolls in racks of holiday garlands and bucket trucks.
With expert precision, everyone gets to work, taking down the fall decor (and placing each bunting, wreath, and banner back in its assigned spot, in perfectly organized Disney fashion) and replacing it with evergreen garlands and wreaths packed with shiny ornaments.
The first piece of the iconic Christmas tree is ready to be placed in its spot, front and center at the entrance to Main Street, U.S.A. Each piece is carefully carried with a crane, layered like an already decorated cake until the tree's tip is attached around 4:45 a.m.
We go back and forth between the train station at the front of the park, where we can take in a view of everything happening from the entrance down to Cinderella's Castle, and the hub in front of the castle, where we watch teams at work switching out all the wreaths and testing the castle's lights.
Around this time, we watch the final piece of the tree take its place at the top and then head backstage for some much-needed coffee and laptop time before going back out about an hour later.
Perhaps it's the coffee, the sun rising over Cinderella's Castle, or the holiday spirit, but this feels like the most exciting time of the night (morning?). The star is on the tree, garlands are lit up, wreaths are in place hanging over Main Street, and teams are putting the finishing touches on shop windows.
Being one of the only people in an empty theme park is always a surreal experience, but seeing the park lit up with holiday lights and shiny decor in the early hours before guests step foot inside was a truly magical experience. In the daylight, I take in the beautifully decorated tree and always charming (but now, very merry) atmosphere of Main Street, U.S.A.
The only thing better than experiencing the unbelievably impressive overnight transformation that takes Magic Kingdom from Halloween to holiday is watching the first guests of the day arrive at the newly decorated park. With another coffee in hand, I watch as they admire the decor, take selfies in front of the Christmas tree, and point out all the changes to their friends and family.
For them, it's Disney magic — on Oct. 31st, guests left a theme park packed with Halloween spirit, and the next morning, nearly eight hours later, they entered a winter wonderland. For me, it's another kind of Disney magic, knowing that there is a team of incredible cast members working year-round (and even overnight, on occasion) to give guests those memories that they'll cherish forever.
Elizabeth Rhodes is an associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure who loves all things theme parks. Follow her adventures on Instagram @elizabetheverywhere.