Walt Disney World: Christmas in July

Matt Austin goes behind the magic at Disney's Holiday Services


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Christmas may be months away, but for some cast members at Walt Disney World, it's Christmas all year round.

"People ask us sometimes, 'What do you do between Christmas and Christmas? Christmas," said Doug Benedict, of Walt Disney World Resort's Holiday Services.

[WEB EXTRA: Resort theme fun facts | Matt's bow-making lesson ]

That's all day, every day at the 100,000-square-foot facility for 30 full-time employees.

"We support all of Walt Disney World's resorts and that includes 27 resort buildings, four theme parks and the cruise ships," said Holiday Services Manager Lisa Borotkanics.

Local 6 anchor Matt Austin went behind the magic at the facility to see how it's all done.

Borotkanics started by showing Austin the iconic Christmas tree area.

"It's about 15,000 square feet of artificial trees," said Borotkanics.

They're not your averages trees. The icon trees are found at all four parks, Downtown Disney Marketplace and the Contemporary Resort.

Borotkanics said they range upwards of 45 feet tall with more than 5,500 lights on each tree. They have to be transported into place using flatbed trucks and a 70-ton crane.

The Epcot tree, for example, is 65 feet tall. Austin stood beside the angel that tops the tree, which sits on a pedestal while she's in storage. Austin is 6 feet 2 inches and the angel towered over him at 6 feet 5 inches, not counting the pedestal.

"Any idea what one of these things weighs?" asked Austin.

"They can weigh over 5,000 pounds a section," said Borotkanics.

She said most of the larger-than-life decorations on the icon trees are custom-made for Disney.

"It's not something that we can go and buy off the shelf because of size and perspective," said Borotkanics.

She said they keep the trees looking brand new by refreshing them. Every piece of a decor is on a cycle, so some years they're refreshed and other years, completely replaced.

"The foliage, the base of the tree gets totally replaced," said Borotkanics. "We may reuse if the decorations are good or we may replace all new decorations on it, it just depends. When we refoliage the trees, it takes about six cast members a month and a half to foliage, light it, decorate it and get it ready for installation."

Then, Borotkanics and Austin took a look at the novelty section -- rows and rows of specialty ornaments.

"This is where the theme comes to life," said Borotkanics.

Each area of the parks is assigned a theme and all of the corresponding decor matches it. Holiday Services sources the ornaments and other decorations from all over the world.

Take Animal Kingdom's Kidani Village, for example.

"We source them from Africa and they are all handmade, all handcrafted specifically for Animal Kingdom Park and Resorts," said Borotkanics.

If regular colored ball ornaments are your thing, the "color wall" doesn't disappoint.

"This particular area was set up so when our decorators are out here and they are looking for a particular color to change out, they can see it in a glance," said Borotkanics. "They know where everything is. They can see at a glance to know where to go to to find that similar shade, or that exact shape."

There's always ribbon when you're talking holiday decorations, and Disney has no shortage of that, either.

"We have one room dedicated to ribbon," said Borotkanics. "We have over 300,000 yards of ribbon throughout the property's decorations, and this is just a small portion of it. Everything is organized by color. It is all marked with numbers so that we have it listed in our databases of how much we're keeping on hand and we go from reds to teals. Our team makes all of our bows by hand."

It all comes together in what cast members call the "hands on" room.

"We get to do all of the decor, whether it's trees, sprays, wreaths, or garland," said Benedict. "We actually have over 15 miles of garland that we put up on show."

"Our team is working on many different elements," said Borotkanics. "They are in the process of rehabbing and getting it ready. They are on different parks, different resorts. Some are on Saratoga Springs Resort, so they are just finishing up or just getting started on those properties."

One of the things that happen in the room -- bow-making.

Ed Miles has been making bows at Disney for 37 years. He said at this point, he can't even count how many he has made, but guesses it's in the thousands. He showed Austin how to make what he called a simple double bow tie, which they use all over the parks.

"Not bad at all for his first bow, look at that," said Miles.

Benedict said safety is a big priority for cast members, not only in this room, but while the decorations are on show.

"I know, as a dad, when you walk through the park and you see the decorations hanging everywhere, you would expect kids to want to grab that," said Austin.

"Safety is kept at the forefront," said Benedict. "I'll give you an example. Each one of these rounds, we take the topper off and we drill through and we use a double strand of airplane wire and then we do a pull test. We also do a drop test so it doesn't shatter. Sometimes we have ornamentation in outdoor locations, where we might have high winds, so everything is done with safety in mind so when we are on season and during our show, we aren't going to have an incident."

Once all the bows are tied, the trees lit, and the 1,314 wreaths fluffed, it takes cast members just three nights to put all of the decor into place.

"The team performs their magic pretty much while everybody else is sleeping, so we like to say Christmas appears while you're sleeping," said Borotkanics. "If you think about if a park closes at midnight, it takes up to two hours for the park to clear. Parks we actually have two nights to decorate, and Downtown Disney is moving to three nights, but we try to decorate so it feels seamless as a guest, to you."

Holiday Services partners with other departments to make it all happen, but just from their department, it takes 85 people with semi-trailers to get the job done.

"The team is awesome, they all know what needs to happen and how it has to happen," said Borotkanics.

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