One of the most beautiful renditions of the Christmas story I’ve ever heard was the Candlelight Processional at Epcot.
A celebrity narrator tells the Christmas story, interspersed with Christmas music performed by a 50-piece orchestra and mass choir. The choir (at least 300 members based on my rough count) is composed of a cast choir of Disney Cast Members (this year they were on the central risers that look like a Christmas tree) and a guest choir made up of school, church and community choirs from around the country that changes from night to night.
The celebrity narrators change up every year (although many favorites return year after year). Here’s the schedule for 2014:
- Jodi Benson – November 28 – 29, 2014
- Neil Patrick Harris – November 30 – December 2, 2014
- Jonathan Groff – December 3 – 4, 2014
- Whoopi Goldberg – December 5 – 6, 2014
- LeVar Burton – December 7 – 9, 2014
- Edward James Olmos – December 10 – 12, 2014
- Joe Morton – December 13 – 14, 2014
- Chita Rivera – December 15 – 17, 2014
- Ana Gasteyer – December 18 – 20, 2014
- Marlee Matlin – December 21 – 23, 2014
- Isabella Rossellini – December 24 – 25, 2014
- Blair Underwood – December 26 – 27, 2014
- Steven Curtis Chapman – December 28 – 30, 2014
There are three performances most nights (5pm, 6:45pm and 8:15pm) from the day after Thanksgiving through December 30 in the America Gardens Theatre in Epcot’s World Showcase. The America Gardens Theatre is an open-air venue with bench-style seating for about 1,800 guests. No separate tickets are required, but it is a very popular show and the lines form early. The general seating line forms to the right of the theatre (if you’re facing it) and the handicapped and Candlelight Processional Dinner Package reserved seating lines form to the left of the theatre (if you’re facing it). Of course, this can change so make sure to ask a Cast Member (or two just to be sure) where to line up when you go.
This year, my birthday was the day after Thanksgiving, so Erik and I treated ourselves to a special dinner out with the Candlelight Processional Dinner Package. The table service restaurants in Epcot offer special reservation packages with a prix fixe meal that includes an appetizer, entree, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage for each party member and a special sticker for a specific showing of the Candlelight Processional. You have to select the Candlelight Processional Dinner Package when making your advanced dining reservation.
That sticker gives you guaranteed seating at that show. Ours was for the 6:45 show and we got in the proper line about an hour before the show. Despite Erik’s complaints about lining up an hour early for guaranteed seating, we were far from the first people in line.
It was very chilly and I think Disney should consider having a hot cocoa and hot tea vendor with a cart walk up and down the line on cold nights! By the time they let us get seated the line snaked back all the way to Morocco!
They let the handicapped guests find their seats first and then let our line start going in. We weren’t sure which seats would be the best to select, so we tried to get near the center and about five rows back from the front. The guaranteed seating is only guaranteed if you get to the theatre before they start seating the general admission guests, so don’t wait until the last minute to get there. Some nights are so popular that it is hard to get seated if you don’t have the Dinner Package, but on several nights this year we happened to be walking by right before the show started and it looked like almost everyone in the general admission line found a seat. Even if you don’t get a seat, you can stand in the taped off area behind the seating and you can clearly hear the music and narration.
After we found our seats and got settled in, the orchestra came in and started warming up. Then some trumpeters came in, followed by the conductor. The orchestra began playing and then the choir filed in in one by one, carrying candles while singing. They filled in the risers while the song became louder and richer until the whole stage was full.
Our narrator was Jodi Benson, the voice of the Little Mermaid. Each celebrity narrator approaches the story a little differently. Jodi’s approach was genuine, positive and emotional and she threw in a couple of Little Mermaid references just for fun! The narrator tells a part of the Christmas story and then pauses while the orchestra and choir performs a Christmas song. The audience joins in for a moving rendition of Silent Night which always makes me cry.
It’s hard to put the experience into words, but it is worth making a trip to enjoy it at least once. I’d love to make this into an annual tradition (like the lady who was in line behind us with her college-aged children).
The only downside is having to wait a while to get the best seats, but I think if we do it next year we’ll do the Dinner Package but won’t get in line quite so early. While it is visually appealing, I think any seat in the theatre will be great.
Have you gotten to enjoy the Candlelight Processional? Do you have a favorite narrator, seat, song or night?
Since we all need a little Disney magic in our Mondays, I’m linking up with John from run.geek.run(Disney), head on over and get your Mickey fix for the day!