Disneyland’s Candlelight Processional and Ceremony

This evening, we visited Disneyland to see the annual Candlelight Processional and Ceremony, a long running program of traditional choral Christmas music performed in the Town Square area of Main Street USA. This show features a combined choir made up of numerous area choirs along with a live orchestra and a celebrity narrator. This year’s narrator was Jane Seymour. Although the show is held on Main Street during park hours, it isn’t heavily promoted to the public and a large portion of the viewing area is reserved seating that is not particularly easy to get. They do offer a very limited number of expensive dinner packages to the general public, but the vast majority of the tickets are distributed to invited guests, mainly through various Disney corporate partners. Most of the public viewing is largely obstructed views and a generally long wait is required to stake out a half-way decent spot.

Since we have a 4-year-old that wasn’t likely to sit patiently for the 60-minute show (not to mention the fairly long wait), my wife and I decided to each go to a separate performance while the other took our son on attractions. Right after the second parade got past Main Street, my wife headed off to find a spot for the 5:30 performance. She ended up staking out a spot opposite the Opera House, pretty much right by the rope into the reserved seating area. As soon as the processional started to make its way into the theater, she joined the crowds in that area that were allowed to move in to fill the unused seats in the reserved seating area. As a result, she ended up with a really good seat for the show.

While waiting for the show to start, my wife asked some of the castmembers in the area what they knew about how stand-by for the 8pm show was going to work. She learned that they would be setting up a stand-by queue and called me on my cell phone with that information. I headed back to Main Street shortly after the earlier show started and found that they had roped off two queue areas, one on either side of the center of the street. My son and I went ahead and entered the queue on the east side and ended up pretty close to the front of the line.

At Disneyland, they have long had a way of being oddly coy about the processes and procedures for the show and I ran into that yet again tonight. Upon arriving at the stand-by queue, I asked the castmember manning the interest whether it was the stand-by line. His very odd reply was to tell me that I was welcome to enter that queue area in order to listen to the earlier show and that it “might be” the stand-by line for the second show. The phrasing made it sound very much like he wasn’t allowed to tell me that it was the stand-by line, so he was trying to tell me without telling me. During the next 20 minutes or so, I did see a number of people exiting the queue, apparently thinking they were just in a far back viewing area for the 5:30 show. Eventually, they did have a CM walking up and down the queue area specifically telling us that we were in the stand-by line for the 8pm show.

Towards the end of the first show, I sent my wife a text message letting her know where I was so that she could stop by on the way out and pick up our son. That worked out pretty well as she was very easily able to find us and get to us for the hand-off after the show. I doubt it was something they had intentionally set up, but the positioning of the queues and overall traffic control was really very well set up for doing a parent switch like that.

After the first show, it took them about 30 minutes to get the Town Square area fully cleared out. They then started letting guests from the stand-by lines into the viewing area in groups of about 25 people at a time. I was close enough to the front to be in the second group that was let in. On each side of Town Square, they had set up a number of regular Disneyland park benches that were the only seated viewing specifically intended for stand-by guests. I would estimate that there was enough seating space for around 100 guests on each side and I was fortunate enough to be far enough up in line to be able to get one of those seats. The rest of the standby viewing was standing-room only, pretty much filling in most of the rest of the area surrounding Town Square, keeping small walkways opened on either side. They also did have the backstage corridor open to guests from the Fire Station to Coke Corner in order to take up some of the additional pedestrian traffic that normally would be going down the center of Main Street.

It wasn’t a completely unobstructed view due to some of the trees in the Town Square area being a little bit in the way (ironically, the main thing that the trees blocked was the center choir that is positioned in the shape of a Christmas tree.) I did still get a pretty good overall view of the show, though. From where I was seated, I had pretty much a straight on view of the conductor and orchestra. I was also able to see Jane Seymour pretty easily, although I did have to lean forward a bit to do so. It definitely was very nice being able to sit down for the show and I’m glad I managed to queue up early enough to do so.

The show itself was, as usual, absolutely wonderful. Seymour did a good job with the narration, delivering it very clearly and effectively. She didn’t quite have the passionate delivery of some of the best previous narrators that I’ve heard (such as Dick Van Dyke or David Ogden Stiers), but she didn’t embarrass herself like Olympia Dukakas (who read the same page twice, at one point) or Edward James Olmos (who seemed to stumble over most of the readings and ended up giving a final thank-you speech that suggested that Christmas brings together people of all religions) did a few years ago either. As always, simply hearing all this great, traditional Christmas music performed by such a large choir and accompanied by a professional orchestra is an incredible and moving experience. Hearing it on Main Street at Disneyland brings a certain extra magic to it that really can’t be beat. Seeing the show each year does require a fair amount of effort, and sometimes seems to be a bigger ordeal than it should be, but every year I also end up feeling that it was worth it.

2 Responses to “Disneyland’s Candlelight Processional and Ceremony”

  1. Cindy says:

    What do you think of the differences in Candlelight between DL and WDW? I’ve only really seen Candlelight once at DL, on Main Street, and it didn’t do that much for me. I can only really see myself wanting to see it again if there was a narrator I absolutely had to see.

    I’ve never seen Candlelight at WDW, but when we were there in 1999, we saw part of a rehearsal, and I actually did enjoy that.

  2. jgraebner says:

    The WDW version is generally less of a hassle to see, mainly due to the considerably larger number of shows (they have a couple performances every night for about 6 weeks) and the theater venue. Their dinner packages are a bit more affordable and much more readily available than at DL, so we have gone that route the last couple times we saw it. The more frequent performances and theater setting (it is held in Epcot at an amphitheater near the America pavilion) also make walk-up viewing more easily available as well.

    The show itself is quite a bit inferior to the Disneyland version, though, at least in my opinion. While it is the same basic idea and features the same narration, the musical program is not the same and I like the song selections at Disneyland better. The Disneyland version also uses a significantly larger choir, which does make for a more spectacular program overall. Finally, there really is something very magical about the Main Street setting that just can’t be matched in a theater, whether it is the one at Epcot or the Fantasyland Theater at DL where they recently did the show for a few years.

    Both shows are still very good, though, if you like this kind of thing. We seem to be getting into a pattern where we are going to Florida around this time every other year, so we seem to be now alternating years between the DL and WDW versions of the show. I actually kind of like that as it is nice having the more relaxed experience sometimes, while also still seeing the larger-scope DL version of the show every other year.

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