Christmas at Gaylord Palms 2018 review

Christmas has arrived at Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee near Disney World! The Gaylord resorts are well-known for their world class dining, entertainment, and luxurious rooms, Gaylord Palms presents its annual ICE event featuring the endearing Christmas classic A Christmas Story. In addition to the life-size exquisitely designed ice sculptures, Christmas at Gaylord Palms also offers guests fantastic shows, games, food, Christmas-themed drinks at the bar, a Cirque show, and gorgeous dancing lights display in the main atrium. There is no shortage of events and offerings to uplift your holiday spirits! Fortunately, I had the privilege of attending the media event for this highly anticipated celebration, and I am looking forward to sharing my experience with you in hopes that you make time for this most festive event to brighten all your holidays this season.

When attending an event at the Gaylord Palms, the best way to begin your evening is with a dining reservation at one of the award-winning restaurants. My friend Paula and I made reservations at Old Hickory Steakhouse to start Christmas at Gaylord Palms. I cannot recommend this restaurant enough. From the exemplary service to the steak grilled to medium rare perfection, this dining experience will enhance your Christmas at Gaylord Palms exponentially. Our server recommended bold pinot noir to pair with our center cut fillets along with creamy mashed potatoes and grilled mushrooms. With three atrium designs at the resort, you will get the sensation of dining outdoors in the cool air without the bugs and humidity. Some tips for planning you dining experience at Old Hickory: the meat and seafood sections are sold without accompanying side dishes, but you have the option to select family-style sides including many options from potatoes to mushrooms to vegetables and more. Whether you select a boldly seasoned steak or mouthwatering seafood, you will greatly enjoy and vividly remember your time at Old Hickory.

After dinner, we headed for the St. Augustine atrium to take in the Cirque show and dancing lights! Unfortunately, I misread the schedule and thought that checkin was from 7-8pm, so we missed Cirque. But on the plus side, that gives me incentive to return this season to enjoy the show. Ever since Disney pulled the plug on the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights in exchange for shallow map projection shows at Hollywood Studios, I make sure to visit all the dancing light shows in the area because that feeling of being looking at or being surrounded by choreographed displays of thousands or millions of lights cannot be replaced. There is a high degree of immersion, dimension that cannot be replicated by the projection of light onto a building. There are several different musical numbers for the lights, and each one takes full advantage of the space and creates Christmas splendor with each and every twinkle of each and every light dancing during the show.

In the lower level of the convention center, the Alpine Village awaits you! While the Cirque and dancing light shows are complimentary with your evening, the majority of the offerings for Christmas at Gaylord Palms are located in the Alpine Village, which requires additional admission. In this wintery village, you’ll find snow tubing, Santa’s snow throw, Mrs. Claus, the Sweet Shoppe, Christmas market, and the flagship attraction ICE featuring A Christmas Story. Because this was the media event, Gaylord Palms provided us with quite the spread of handcrafted sweets from the artisan chefs at the resort. After sampling the delicious treats that the resort so magnanimously provided for our enjoyment, we decided to try our hand at the snowball throwing midway game! Until I held a snowball in my hand, I would not have believed that was possible given the village is not kept below freezing. But sure enough, I received a bucket of snowballs to throw at the targets. I didn’t hit a’one. Perhaps you will have better luck!

Next to Santa’s Snow Throw is the snow tubing attraction. Up until now, no one had ventured down the slope. So, I decided to break the ice, snow to speak ;). Here’s a tip, in case the ride greeter neglects to tell you to pick up a tube on your way through the queue, pick up one! I literally walked past the greeter twice and they never told me to pickup a tube and neither did they hand one to me. So, thank you ride attendants at the top of the slope for accommodating me by giving me one. Once I slid down the snowy slope, then many more guests flocked over to the snow tubes! For those of us who live in Florida, this is a rare opportunity to have some snowy fun indoors! It is so much fun! So don’t miss out on the slopes in Alpine Village.

Next to the slopes is the Italian ice stand, but my friend Paula and I were still stuffed from dinner and the holiday treats that we had to turn down that offering. I will make it a point to get one when I return. Near the entrance to ICE and close to the Marketplace are Mrs. Claus house and the Sweet Shoppe. Both of these houses offer shows! With Mrs. Claus show being an hour long, we did not have time to enjoy that one, so it’s another offering I want to experience when I return. The show in the Sweet Shoppe wasn’t starting again for over a half hour, so we took this time to experience that movie that plays for 24-48hrs every year on a TV channel. A Christmas Story!.

Bring gloves! I always encourage guests to bring gloves because it is incredibly cold. However, as much as I preached to my friend to bring gloves, guess what I didn’t do? Bring gloves. Haha. Pretty much, my hands were completely numb by the time we passed THE END. When I say A Christmas Story, you likely have several individual scenes that instantly come to mind. Fortunately for you, each of those scenes are captured by the artisan ice sculptors. Only Hemingway could find the words to describe the beauty of the experience. Prior to entering the frigid exhibit, you get to learn about how the history of ice sculpting and how the team of sculptors create the amazing sculptures that successfully translate the iconic movie to live experience. Just before walking down the ramp into the arctic temperatures, you will be given a parka; however, I also encourage long pants and warm socks. From the moment you walk into the first room, you will be awestruck by the sheer size and beauty of the ice-tastic creations.  These are not just your average ice sculptures that you may find at weddings, galas, or even theme parks; these are quite literally life size representations of entire scenes (characters, setting props, and all) from A Christmas Story. And not just white or clear ice, these sculptures are in living color! As I walked through the flagship attraction at ICE, I was amazed at how effectively the movie was captured. I really did feel that I was watching the movie from start to finish. Since it’s a movie that also has some memorable lines of dialogue, there are signs with those quotable moments. Returning as the final display on the tour during the experience is the absolutely stunning ice nativity. I’ve seen a lot of still nativities in my day, but this one is always the most beautiful! You may even find yourself singing O Holy Night along with the background music.

Closing out our evening, Paula and I took our seats in the Sweets Shoppe for the live comedy show featuring a hilarious crossover between Babes in Toyland and The Nutcracker as told by two incredibly funny performers as the Sugarplum Fairy and Nutcracker. Highly interactive, I was reminded of the line from a Rocky Horror Picture Show live shadow cast when the live cast yells “this movie sucks without audience partici–” and Dr. Frank responds with “–pation.” Because the show itself is funny, but the entertainment factor is increased ten fold by engaging the performers and playing along. Although you can sometimes tell that an actor is or isn’t having fun in a movie, picking up on how much an actor in a live production is far more noticeable. And these two were having a blast! The Sugarplum Fairy and Nutcracker were genuinely interested in my enjoyment and truly displayed enthusiasm for their show. Do not miss this show. It’s only 20mins, and I imagine it will have multiple showings each evening. I love the addition of a comedy show to Christmas at Gaylord Palms! So much is stunning, inspirational, heartwarming, and more; but you know what, sometimes you just want to laugh too! And you will laugh a lot during this performance! The actors even asked me if I wanted to take a pic with them on stage. How incredibly nice of them! Do yourself a favor, and make time for the show. Oh yeah, don’t forget to say hi to the gingerbread man out front too.

Opening Friday, November 16th, Christmas at Gaylord Palms featuring ICE should definitely be on your list of events to attend this year. If you dine at one of the restaurants, your parking will be validated (and parking is not cheap). You may be familiar with A Christmas Story but you’ve never seen it like this.

Merry Christmas!

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa and works in creative services in live themed entertainment. He’s also published prolifically on theme parks and produced a peer-reviewed study. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry

Thrillz (theme parks): Thrillz.co

Are Theme Parks Pricing Millennials Out of the Ability to Experience the Magic?

If you’re a Millennial like me, then you may have asked yourself the same question. In fact, I read an article recently on another Theme Park website that explored how changing demographics are changing the theme park business. Fascinating article. However, there was an item of mention that troubled me. When commenting on the observation of the addition of food and wine festivals, expensive up-sell experiences, and line-skipping passes to appeal to adults without kids, it was stated in the form of this development being great for Millennials. And that got me to thinking. Is it, though? Considering the current economic climate and the career status of those who are in their early 20s and to early to mid 30s, are these new trends truly accommodating of this group?

Instead of limiting this topic to the changing population (baby booms versus baby busts), I think it’s more effective to explore this topic of how changing demographics are changing the theme park business with the addition of the income criteria coupled with population. This is an important element to add to the discussion because it’s no surprise that it’s taking much longer to land a full-time position earning a truly livable wage for us than it did for our parents (see images 1-3). In fact, the Pew Research center (image 4) shows that our parents had far more purchasing power when they were rearing us than we do today. Essentially, non high-level mangers or non-executives have exponentially less disposable income correlating to the cost of living than our parents did in the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s. Furthermore, it’s much harder to get a mortgage than it was 10-20yrs ago, rent rates are way up, and student loans enter repayment. When theme parks keep adding expensive up-sell experiences in order to capture the young single adult or young couple without kids (as we are currently in a baby bust that doesn’t look like it will change with GenZ), I am not entirely sure they are considering the financial burdens and increasing cost of living that 20 and 30-somethings currently face. Our parents COULD afford more vacation than we can today.

Whenever I see a Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or blog post about a new experience at Disney Parks especially, but also Universal Parks, lesser so at Busch Gardens and SeaWorld (who DO tend to cater to where current finances are for Millennials), I wonder who is actually paying for these experiences? Most of these special tour and dining experiences are in excess of $100/person and often much more. After paying for either day tickets or annual passes, hotel nights (if applicable), plane tickets or fuel for the car, I find it difficult to believe that the typical Millennial is able to afford these experiences. Therefore, if the typical Millennial possesses an inability to afford all the increases and special experiences in the parks, then perhaps this “changing of the theme park business” is actually not a good thing for those of us who are in our 20s and 30s. Seems to me, that the more logical course of action would be to follow the median economic status of the biggest group of park guests.

According to the the article that inspired me to write mine, the largest group of park guests is trending toward late GenX and Millennials (with GenZ not being too far behind) without kids. It makes perfect sense for the parks to add in “adult” activities in order to entice Gen-Xers and Millennials such as food and wine festivals, line-skipping passes, and special events, but the prices of these events is outpacing the income of the group that the theme parks know will soon surpass the number of “families” that are guests at the parks. The disadvantage of a proliferation of high-priced up-sells is alienating the very group of current and potential park guests that is outpacing the more traditional families that have been the main source of income for the parks. More than anything else, in terms of spending money on entertainment, Millennials are looking for a good deal–more than our parents–because we have much higher overhead and less purchasing power than they did when they were out ages taking their kids (us) to the parks. Therefore, it’s important for the current theme park business model to recognize the desire for Millennials to continue to support and enjoy the parks as more traditional families get smaller and Baby Boomers getting older with currently empty or soon-to-be-empty nests.

Although it seems common sense for the parks to adapt their respective business models to accommodate the finances of Millennials, the opposite appears to be coming to pass. Instead of packing better deals for young professionals without kids, the trend seems to be catering to only upper-middle and upper class individuals and families. The antithesis of what should be done in order to capture the next generation planning vacations to the parks. If the trend of continuing to add expensive additions to your park ticket continues, then theme parks will become as exclusive a destination as a European vacation or exotic cruise. “This park wasn’t built to cater only to the super rich, everyone in the world has a right to enjoy…” as Dr. John Hammond countered the lawyer’s desire to charge exorbitant prices during the lunchtime debate scene in Jurassic Park (one of my favorite scenes from the iconic film)Disney and Universal should borrow a line from Hammond and modify the business model to create magic for Millennials–especially Disney Parks, as they are increasingly catering to only the super rich.

So yes, we are experiencing theme parks changing their business models to adjust for fewer families and more singles/couples without children. And Food and Wine festivals are a huge hit! I truly enjoy them. But, in developing offerings that attract adults without kids, the parks are in danger or pricing Millennials out of enjoying the magic. Millennials are looking for those after-hours events, food and wine fests, and line-skipping passes but not at the cost of not being able to go to begin with. Theme parks should reevaluate the pricing structure and take the current economic times facing millennials into question. Millennials represent the majority of folks soon to be going to the parks as young professionals, with the traditional families of 3-5 becoming less common. But, Millennials are burdened by rising rental costs, rising student loan repayment cost, lower salaries than our parents, and rising cost of transportation.

Are the Slow Times a Thing of the Past?

Remember when there were some select weekends each year, like clockwork, that the central Florida theme parks were slow? Yeah, well so do those who run the parks. Over the last few years, there have been a number of new specialty events from A Celebration of Harry Potter to RunDisney, Food & Wine Festivals and more to fill those used-to-be slow weekends. Prior to the addition of many of these events, January and February were typically slow, same with August and September. Even Busch Gardens and SeaWorld have cashed in on eliminating the slow times that locals counted on to enjoy the parks without the bulk of tourists. Fortunately for locals, Super Bowl Sunday (after 3pm anyway), Mothers Day, and Labor Day are still the slowest three days (on average) but that may change in the future too. Moreover, while these events bring in thousands that would otherwise have waited until Springtime, Summer, or the Holidays to visit the parks, these events have a downside too. Think local. The annual passholders that, by in large, provide the regular cash flow that is typically unaffected by the economy, find that it’s getting more and more difficult to enjoy the parks without the constant heavy crowds.

Just a few years ago, there was an ebb and flow to the park attendance. Waves of tourists would come in usually over the Summer months, followed by the holidays at Thanksgiving and Christmastime, then the Spring Break weeks of March and April. When you live, say within an hour or two of the parks, you pick the weekends or weeks (if you work weekends) that don’t fall within those times. Or, perhaps you used to. With the increase in the number of RunDisney events, special celebrations, and festivals, there is far less of an ebb and flow–now it’s constantly busy. If we look at this as a mathematical equation, then perhaps we can develop a solution that not only provides the specialty/seasonal events aimed mostly at tourists but also integrate some local-centric events too. What you do to one side of the equals mark, do to the other side. The yin and yang.

A solution to the increasing issue with locals losing the times that used to be slow could be adding more annual passholder exclusive events. Universal has done this before, but it greatly limited the number of passholders that could take advantage of it, and the slots filled up nearly as quickly as the RunDisney events. An easy event to offer annual passholders at the theme parks to show how much the parks appreciate the dedication (and the money on a regular basis) is a time that the park is closed to day-ticket holders. Even twice a year. And for the parks not to place a cap on the number of annual passholders that could attend. No special musical guests, special merchandise, nor special shows need to be added. Just keep the park operating as normal but close at an early time to day guests, and remain open for six hours for annual passholders.

Disney could close Magic Kingdom to day guests at 7 as it usually does for the other hard ticketed events, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure could close at 5 as with other events, and Busch Gardens & SeaWorld could close at 6 as they do for special events. Then keep the parks open for the next six hours. Showing appreciation for annual passholders in this fashion will reaffirm to those who are thinking of canceling to renew their passes. Furthermore, it will also compensate for the lack of slow times that used to exist–the times that passholders counted on. Furthermore, passholders of all socio-economic classes could enjoy the exclusive operating hours because many hard ticketed events are out of the price range for those who already spend a large sum of income on passes, food, and the occasional stay-cation at a resort. Moreover, with some parks, there has been a mitigation of passholder appreciation. Overall, Universal, Busch Gardens, and SeaWorld show regular appreciation through events, “bucks” for in-park purchases, BOGO ticket offers, and more; however, there is a selection of parks that feel buttons are an adequate form of appreciation beyond complementary park admission. A’chem.

With the disappearing slow times, if the theme parks show appreciation to passholders by having the parks open only exclusively for passholders–even if just 6hrs on a Friday or Saturday–then passholders would feel that there are still a few times a year (collectively between the parks) that they can enjoy them without the wall-to-wall crowds and 60+ min waits in queue for an attraction.