The Walt Disney Company recently celebrated a huge anniversary. What was first thought to be an ambitious, but risky business move, has certainly paid off in the years since fans flocked to be a part of it on that legendary fall day. No, I am not talking about the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World. November 12th was officially Disney+ Day, where Disney celebrated two years of the streaming service. That being said, Walt Disney World did play a big part in the festivities.
When Walt Disney World announced that Disney+ Day would bring a slew of rare character appearances, photo opportunities, and character cavalcades to Hollywood Studios, I knew I had to be a part of it. Unfortunately, annual passholder park reservations were snatched up almost immediately. That’s okay. I’m an industrious guy and made a reservation at Epcot with the goal of park hopping to Hollywood Studios as early as we were permitted.
It wasn’t like my stop at Epcot in the early part of the day was unproductive. Cast members were handing out special Disney+ Day buttons for free. The rope-drop guests to the theme parks were given free Disney+ Day hats and Disney+ subscribers also had the luxury of early park entry. While I missed out on the hats, I did take advantage of one of the exclusive photo-ops for those of us who are members of the streaming service. In my particular Magic Shot, Baby Groot was super-imposed into my hands.
With Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival wrapping up on November 20th (making way for the International Festival of the Holidays starting November 26th), I also wanted to grab some of my festival favorites one last time for the year. I absolutely needed to get the warm chocolate pudding cake from the Ireland booth. The Ireland booth returned in 2021 after not being a part of the abbreviated version of the festival last year.
Park-hopping starts at 2 p.m. so I jumped on the Disney Skyliner a little after 1 p.m. This got me to Hollywood Studios and through security in more than enough time to be among the first guests permitted to hop to the park. There was a small crowd waiting to make Hollywood Studios their second part of the day and the cast members were very open with us that 1:47 p.m. was the sweet spot for tapping into the park.
Santa and Holiday Decorations
Right as we entered, the holiday-themed character cavalcade took off down Hollywood Boulevard. This was the first day that Santa, the reindeer, and some festive dancers took part in this particular cavalcade at Hollywood Studios. Luckily, I was able to see it from a much better vantage point right before I left the park for the day.
The holiday decorations weren’t exclusive to Disney+ Day, but they were certainly a big part of the reason that I wanted to be there.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios approaches its holiday decorations a lot different than the other three Walt Disney World theme parks.
Over-the-top-kitsch is the order of the day. These are very dated and gaudy decorations that almost exclusively belong in the 1950s or early-60s. This goes so well with the general theme of the park. Hollywood, in all its glory, can be over-the-top. The theming of Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard is retro. It just works.
Rare Character Sightings
While enjoying the ambiance of Echo Lake, I got to see one of the special character interactions. At 2 p.m., Moana made an appearance. There has never been a regular meet-and-greet with Moana at Walt Disney World, beyond special ticketed events so this was a pretty rare sighting. For safety purposes, she was behind a rope, but it was easy for all of the guests to converse with her. Most importantly, in this world of social media, she was ready to take all of those selfies.
Before I was able to hop over to Hollywood Studios, there were some other unique opportunities to see rare characters. Carl, Russell and Dug from “Up!” made an appearance in front of the Hollywood Brown Derby. Over by 50s Prime Time Café, Princess Tiana was out in a special flapper outfit. It was fitting to have Tiana available for Disney+ Day because it was just announced that the streaming service will be adding a “Princess and the Frog” spin-off series.
Of course, no discussion of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is complete without some talk about Star Wars. Next to Star Tours, Darth Vader made appearances throughout the day that served more as mini-shows than traditional meet-and-greets. The Star Wars movies are such an important part of Disney+ that I am glad the iconic villain was present to celebrate the anniversary.
After getting the chance to see rare characters, I wanted to take advantage of the photo opportunities that were exclusive for Disney+ subscribers. In Echo Lake, there was a very simple photo-op. With the gigantic holiday tree in the background, guests were given two different Disney+ Day signs to hold. This was a nice keepsake, of course, but the two other locations are where Disney took it to the next level. In Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Crumb was added to one special magic shot. Crumb is a Kowakian monkey-lizard.
The third and final of these photo-ops was over in Pixar Place, which was serving as the Incredibles section of Hollywood Studios. This was my favorite of the magic shots because Jack and Violet appear to have locked me in a force field.
Woody’s Lunch Box
No trip to a Disney theme park is complete without some good food. I took advantage of the mobile-order option on My Disney Experience to grab a meal from one of the busiest, quick-service dining locations on the property. While I waited for my order window to arrive, I took in more of the holiday decorations. About thirty minutes later, I was called to pick up my food from Woody’s Lunch Box in Toy Story Land.
There were three items I was eager to try at Woody’s. There are two very unique plant-based options for guests who are vegan or vegetarian. In addition, Woody’s is offering a special holiday version of their famous tarts. The “Holiday Lunchbox Tart” has apple filling and cinnamon icing. To add to the festive appearance, there is a sugar snowflake and some sprinkles. The tart is $4.29. The first plant-based option was the “Plant-Based Toasted Cheddar Sandwich.” This item is $8.99 and comes with a side of tots. Those tots were a little redundant because I also got the “Plant-based Totchos” for $9.99.
Woody’s is known for the tarts, and the holiday version was certainly quality. The apple filling was more reminiscent of apple pie than many processed versions you find at a grocery store. The cinnamon icing certainly added that holiday feeling.
The toasted “cheddar” sandwich smacks with a lot of flavor from the first bite. Instead of tasting waxy, like some plant-based cheese substitutes, this version tasted more like Cheetos. That is a flavor that I like a lot in small doses. It is possible that it might be a little too strong throughout the course of the entire sandwich.
Finally, the star of the show was the Totchos. This was such an interesting concept and in the same vein as Irish Nachos. Containing plant-based substitutions for chili and cheese, it was poured over potato barrels, green onions, and corn chips. The corn chips added a lot of crunch and kept the chili from making the potato barrels too soggy. Texture can be almost as important as taste and this evened out a texture that could have gotten sloppy. On both coasts of the United States, I have always felt that Disney makes quality tater tots. This meal is no exception. To throw them in with some really solid plant-based flavors was a delight. In addition, the portion size was really decent. I got a lot of food, but I left stuffed.
My day at Hollywood Studios lasted only three hours. In addition to the special photo opportunities, the character interactions, and my meal at Woody’s Lunch Box, I also was able to see a total of five character cavalcades go down Hollywood Boulevard. As I mentioned earlier, I caught Santa Claus twice in my short time in the park. There is something so magical about seeing Santa this early in the holiday season. It really makes it feel like we are closer to the end of December. It never feels “too early” for Santa. I also caught the usual Pixar character cavalcade once, with Woody, Jessie, Buzz Lightyear, Edna Mode, Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, and Sulley from “Monsters, Inc.”
There was a special Disney+ Day character cavalcade which was led by Princess Tiana, once again in her flapper dress.
She was followed by Chip & Dale, Sulley, Minnie, Russell and Dug, and Mickey. I was able to catch this special cavalcade two separate times. It really did make the event feel important. I never want to miss one of these precessions because I knew they were exclusive to this one day.
Disney+ Day was a rousing success. It’s hard to believe, with everything that has happened since the launch of the streaming service, that it has only been two years. To think of all of the cultural phenomena to come from Disney+, it is amazing that it is still so new.