55 – What I Got for Christmas

On the second Santa-tastic day, I walk into the studio to see the Extravaganza.

First, a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard. Much had been made in the meeting of the light designs that would enhance the facades along the Park’s main thoroughfare. “Each building will receive its own treatment of decorative Christmas lights,” was the claim, “that will light up in sequence leading the eye down the street to the moment we light up the studio Christmas tree.” At the big moment, though, the lights all came on at once and were so small and dim they made no impression. The Osborne’s had nothing to fear…

Then I turn toward Amity Harbor to see Julie’s craft village. As I enter the area there is a large, lovely banner proclaiming, ‘Winterfest’. I pass by the carnival games and spot one booth selling handmade crafts, and wonder, ‘Isn’t there going to be a craft-making activity for the Guests?’ I needn’t have worried.

In the still-unused Jaws queue line there is a chance for kids to make their own Christmas tree ornament! Six big banquet tables have been set up, uncovered, in a circle. Within that circle stand three USF employees in their street clothes, each one supervising a plain cardboard box. One box is filled with red pipe cleaners, one box is filled with white pipe cleaners and one box is filled with green pipe cleaners. As a child approaches they are given one pipe cleaner of each color and shown how to twist them into a candy cane-shaped ornament.

And that is the extent of USF’s Winterfest Craft Village. Moral: If you promise, “Oh, we’ll have some crap,” you will probably wind up providing crap.

# # # # #

Finally I cross the lagoon to Central Park to witness Santa’s Departure.

An immense crane has been erected directly behind the Back to the Future show building. The top of the crane leans in close to the backside and peeks just a few feet over the top. From the crane a pair of cables stretches down the front of the building and out across the lagoon to the wharf at the foot of Lombard’s Landing where the cables disappear into a makeshift garage placed facing the water’s edge.

As the sun finally goes down, Guests are addressed over the Park-wide P.A. System by the voice of a Walter Cronkite sound-alike. I had figured since Walter was the voice of NASA on TV, it only made sense to start the show with him. I hadn’t figured on the unique Park P.A. system that sent sound bouncing back and forth across the lagoon and between the buildings, making everything unintelligible.

Then Walter throws it over to Christmas Mission Control, from which Santa’s elves will control the launch. Now I thought everyone who had ever heard chipmunks sing knew: when you do elf voices you drop your pitch, speak slowly and clearly, then speed up your playback. I was wrong. Neither the show director nor the sound technician whose voice was used knew to speak slowly and clearly, so the elf voices were unintelligible long before they were broadcast.

Then the magic moment. From across the lagoon a Super-Trouper Spotlight illuminates the garage doors as they swing open… and out flies Santa!

Santa is sitting in a small sleigh being ‘pulled’ by two plastic translucent reindeer (of the type you’d find on your neighbor’s lawn illuminated from within by a light bulb). As Santa cracks his whip and waves at the Guests (which at this point are still on either side of him) the cable arrangement pulls him out over the water and up toward the top of Back to the Future – v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

The Guests are mesmerized! The children can’t believe that they’re seeing Santa in his flying sleigh; the adults can’t believe that poor man is sitting on that tiny seat, strung between two cables and inching his way to the top of that building (and I can’t believe I had anything to do with put him there; suddenly I don’t feel so bad about sticking Goofy out in those woods waiting for a train).

Santa whips and waves and waves and whips for what-seems-like forever until he finally reaches the end of his cable far above the crowds. When the spotlight that has been tracking him finally goes out the sleigh is pointing heavenward at a 45 degree angle flush up against the top of the crane and the ride building. And that’s the show.

# # # # #

The next day a sign goes up on my office door: ‘Learn to Punt.’

No matter how brilliant your original idea may be – and Santa’s departure was a great idea (the proof lies in the fact that Skip’s team bought it in spite of the fact that it came from me) – if you can’t pull it off, change the idea to suit what is possible.

Perhaps a pre-landed sleigh and static reindeer on top of Mel’s! Kids could be escorted up stairs to the roof to be interviewed while Santa is on the job. Perhaps Santa arrives doing a slide-for-life from the top of that crane! Perhaps Santa’s Sleigh is portrayed bent and broken in Kong’s grasp in the ride (this is, after all, Universal… the same people who brought you Nazarman’s Chainsaw Massacre)!

The point is if you’re going to invest the time and money and effort (and most precious of all, your Guests’ credulity) in an idea, make sure it’s going to work out the way you plan. If not, change plans!

# # # # #

The show is over at 9:30 pm; the Studio closes at midnight. See the problem?

Strolling through the Studio that night, I – and every other paying Guest – stop every so often to turn toward Back to the Future to check. Yep… he’s still there. That poor actor is still sitting waaaay up there on that cold, cold night… staring into the skies and trying to be as invisible as possible. And he’s going to stay up there for three hours.

And that’s what put the ‘Super’ in USF’s ‘Super Santa-Tastic Extravaganza’!

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About Ron Schneider

Creative Consultant, Lecturer, Freelance Writer, Director & Show Doctor, Actor and Voice-Over. Lifelong student of themed interactive entertainment.
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