Park Hopper's Excellent Christmas Day Parade Taping Adventure


Being part of the taping for the 22nd annual Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade last week was a combination of fun and boredom – and the disappointingly unsettling knowledge of just how fake and deceptive the medium of television is.

For those who may not know, the WDW Christmas Parade was filmed in four sessions over two days last Friday and Saturday (though I think some taping also was done on Sunday). The parade, hosted by Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa, will be televised nationally on Christmas morning on ABC.

Ours was the first taping session on the first day of shooting. DW and I arrived at the MK turnstiles at our assigned time of 8 a.m. (yawn) on a chilly 51-degree Friday morning. Participants were encouraged to wear festive and colorful clothing to improve their chances of getting on camera, so we were decked out in our 100 Years of Magic denim jackets with the huge embroidered patch on the back. I had on a red flannel shirt and DW a red sweater. The pieces de resistance, though, were a red santa hat with black mouse ears for me (a perfect complement to my white – don’t call it gray – beard, and, for DW, a red and white Minnie hairband adorned with Christmas decorations. Oh, and we each wore our pin lanyards.

But as eccentrically as we were dressed, were we anywhere close to being unique in our attire? Of course not. A majority of the people in the crowd we were with were dressed just as crazily, if not more so. We couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves standing around in a throng of outrageously dressed folks who all were completely oblivious to how silly they looked.

It was still before rope drop when our group was led down Main Street. It was strange not seeing anyone else on the street except CM’s who were just opening their stores. We were taken to Cinderella castle’s forecourt and told this is where our group would be taping. The taping on Main Street, we were informed, would be done the next day, when Regis and Kelly would be there. :noo: :crying: What!? No Regis! No Kelly! No Main Street! :frown: This wasn’t what we had signed up for! :angry:

But wait! :huh: Now we were being told our group will be the audience for the entertainment segments of the parade. :cool: You know, like when Regis says “We hear that John O’Hurley is at Cinderella’s Castle with Beauty and the Beast’s Belle. Let’s take a look!”

Hey, this is getting better. :wink: Yes, we will be the wildly cheering audience for performances by the Brian Setzer Orchestra (remember the Stray Cats?), Vanessa Williams and (DW’s heart :wub: still hasn’t stopped fluttering) John O’Hurley, the former Seinfeld star who captivated the country this summer with his appearances on “Dancing with the Stars.” :happy:

After this good news has sunk in, though, the boredom begins. After filling the castle forecourt (we were lucky enough to be only a few rows from the front) our group is told the Brian Setzer Orchestra will be first to perform once the stage is finished being set up. The castle stage already is filled with holiday props, including a mock-up of a '57 Chevy that is attached to a pedestal that lifts the car high into the air. The Brian Setzer Orchestra will be performing their rendition of “Jingle Bells.”

But waiting for the sound checks and light checks and pyrotechnics checks seems to take forever. Then the band members arrive, sans Brian Setzer, and more checks are done. Finally, Brian Setzer and Mickey Mouse are on hand. This is when both the taping and the deceit begins.

The audience already has been given cheering instructions by two people whose job is to get the crowd fired up. Coincidentally, one of them is a female CM at the Adventurers Club who teased me non-stop and ended up sitting on my lap during a recent visit.

When the taping session begins, though, not a single note or word is live. Brian Setzer lip-synchs every word and the orchestra pretends to play while we cheer wildly and applaud uncontrollably. This goes on for take after take after take, including some segments with Brian Setzer and Mickey Mouse in the '57 Chevy. One segment ends with an explosion that sends gold streamers spiraling down into the audience. The audience is told to pick up the streamers and put them in their pockets so the streamers won’t be visible to the overhead cameras when the next take is shot.

Between takes, “audience scenes” are taped. This entails hand-held cameras moving into the crowd to shoot close-ups of enthusiastic people. The filming is done, though, when absolutley nothing is happening on stage. Sometimes the sound track isn’t even playing.

After the Brian Setzer segment is finally finished, it’s more waiting as the set is dismantled and a new set put in place for John O’Hurley. I can’t say enough nice things about John O’Hurley. Of the three performers we saw, he was the only one who acknowledged and interacted with the audience. He came to the front of the stage (he was only a few feet in front of DW and me) and talked to us and truly seemed like a very nice man. He joked that when you do a two-hour show on the stage, it takes two hours, but that doing a two-hour show for TV takes three days.

Dressed in a black tuxedo, he was a striking figure as he danced with Belle and other characters from Beauty and the Beast while singing (lip-synched) “Be Our Guest.” Unfortunately for the audience, John O’Hurley needed only a couple of takes to satisfy the TV crew. “Surprisingly, I got it right,” he told the audience. “Now I’ve got two days with nothing to do.” He also taped an introduction segment with audience members and joked that “I need to be able to prove to the IRS that I was here.”

After John O’Hurley departed, more phony crowd scenes were shot while we pretended to go crazy over a performance that wasn’t even taking place.

More waiting now while the stage is adjusted for actress and singer Vanessa Williams, who will perform “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Vanessa Williams arrives on stage wearing a strapless, gold lame gown and a thick shawl to guard against the chilly morning. Whereas at least Brian Setzer acknowledged the audience with a wave, Vanessa Williams is completely oblivious to us as she sheds the shawl and gets stage instructions from the director.

She, however, at least actually sings the song, and although it requires several takes, there is some satisfaction in having finally seen a “live” performance. Of course, the live session is followed by more taping of phony audience excitement, which by now is pretty difficult to muster.

Vanessa Williams’ performance is the final one before there is a break for lunch. Another audience is scheduled to arrive for that session, but in truth anyone who wants to come back can do so. But after spending five hours standing in fairly close quarters, DW and I decide to abandon ship and spend the rest of the day in the park.

During the course of the morning there were a lot of audience defections. The main perk of attending one of the sessions was free park admission for the rest of the day when you were done, but many, many people drifted away – tired of standing and/or wanting to make the most of their park freebie. I’d estimate we eventually lost about three-quarters of our original audience, with replacements recruited from regular guests who just happened by the session.

All in all the taping session, while tedious at times, was a fun experience. You don’t realize until later, though, how tiring it is :sleep: to stand for five hours while pretending to be excited and enthusiastic. We figure it took five hours to film segments that probably will last no more than 7 or 8 minutes total on the screen. We can’t wait, though, until Christmas morning to see if we made it on TV.

Will we do it again next year? :eek: Well, there’s still a lot of time to think about that!


Thanks for sharing this with us! There sure is a lot of work that goes into something that seems so simple.
I’ll have to look out for you and your DW (and the thinning crowd) on Christmas morning :mickey:


Wow a lot of things that I didn’t know thanks. At least you had a good time while you were there.


Welcome to my medium Park Hopper. LOL The power of TV huh? Wasn’t Brian Setzer the best though?! It even topped my performance last year with Mariah Carey!


thanks for letting us know what happened park hopper hope to see you on TV


The whole thing sounded so phony,PH. I know I will be one person who won’t be watching the Christmas parade.


I knew that it took a long time to do all of that kind of stuff… my DD used to model for commercials in Memphis… I stopped it because it was way too much work for a child…then we moved to Florida…LOL… but I will be looking for you in the crowds when I watch…thanks…


Wow, that sounds like a very interesting day! I am a little disappointed that it’s pretty much all lip-synched, but I would still watch the parade anyways since it’s still Disney World…but I will more than likely be working at WDW on Christmas Day anyways! :mickey:


Aw come on mick! That’s TV for ya. A feature film would be 10X worse! But at least the finished product is cool! Don’t get me wrong I understand where you’re coming from. I was helping one of the main characters in last years parade. Had to be at MK at 4:00am, worked till 2:00pm for filming 5 minutes of TV footage…and only 30 seconds had my character in it!!! Take after take, the director telling people how to act and be it gets very old. But it’s still cool to say I was part of it. And watching it all come together on TV will make it make more sense! What do you say? Won’t you give it one more chance?:wub: :laugh:


When does it air??? I can’t wait to see it!


On the East Coast the parade airs on ABC at 10 a.m. on Christmas morning.


I have to say it is a huge dissapointment to hear how pre-orchestrated the event is. It may ruin some of the magic for me, but DD will never be the wiser! Unfortunately, for a NY’er who is very fond of big LIVE holiday events like the Macy’s Parade and New Years Eve, it is so sad to know you don’t really get the true experience!


Thanks for that great report. It will be hard not letting on to my DS and DD when they are watching it on Christmas morning that it is not happening live (Must admit, I never knew that myself until this year.)


Sounds like a great day Park Hopper. Thanks for posting it.


Thanks for all the details! I will still be watching it on TV. We still love Disney!


Thanks for sharing all that. It was very interesting to hear about how that is done. You didn’t mention however if you think you got on TV in one of those audience shots. Should we be looking for you?


At least now I know I never need to lament not being in the parade crowd.

BTW, the same goes for print media. Don’t ever assume a magazine’s picture isn’t posed. Very few are truly candid.


That’s what I want to know!

Thanks PH!


I am usually in church Christmas morning,but I will consider videotaping the parade.


At least you got the chance to be on TV and a day at MK! What more can anyone ask for?