Disney Holiday Loops: Buena Vista Steet

There are only two things in this world that rival my love of Christmas. Disneyland is one of them, coffee is the other.

In fact, if you zoomed in on the epicenter of my personal Venn diagram of happiness, you would find me stepping out of the Market House, coffee in hand and waiting for rope-drop while taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Disneyland at Christmastime.

Photo of the Market House at Christmastime, decorated with holiday garlands and wreaths
Photo by Loren Javier

Oh, and I can’t forget my family. That makes three things that rival my love of Christmas. And yes, they would also be present in my aforementioned fantasy…though they look a little disgruntled. We are already on day five of our hypothetical vacation and we’ve been closing down the parks each night. Everyone’s feet are a little sore and operating on a little less sleep than they’d prefer.

And while I’m breathing in the early-morning Disney magic, they’re all remembering back to that time I did the episode on Holiday Loops and almost forgot to acknowledge the copious amount of happiness they bring me. It seems they still haven’t let that one go.

On the other hand, I could have simply gone back and edited the first sentence of this post, correcting my omission and ensuring my love of my family is never called into question. Instead, I wrote the three additional paragraphs of nonsense you’ve just read. I’m sorry.

So, what does any of this have to do with Disney Holiday Loops or Buena Vista Steet? Nothing really.

This was going to be the intro to my inaugural post about the Disney’s Christmas Favorites album, but I couldn’t quite shoehorn it in. Instead, I tucked it away for the next time the topic of Disney was discussed. If you’re reading this, it looks like this is the post where it made it through editing and into the final cut.

For those of you who have never set foot in a Disney park, music is a big part of the experience. Not just on the rides (or attractions as Disney calls them), but each area of a park, each hotel and shopping district has its own unique soundtrack, usually around an hour in length, which is played continually (hence the “loop”) and further adds to the immersion.

For example, when you walk down the Esplanade you’re greeted with classic Disney movie tunes like, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” “Be Our Guest” or the “Star Wars Theme”.

Well, except that they switched up the playlist last year as part of the Disney 100 celebration and leaned heavily into the music of past and present attractions instead. But, regardless of the version you hear, this particular loop executes its mission flawlessly by delivering a pure form of nostalgia that can both pump you up for the day that awaits you and provide that final sprinkle of pixie dust to send you off at the end of the night.

Photo of the Esplanade, looking toward the Disneyland gate.
Photo by Joel

Let me take one more small detour here to explain the Esplanade to anyone unfamiliar with the term, especially Walt Disney World fans who are often flummoxed by the concept. At the Disneyland Resort in California, the original Disney resort, the greatest Disney resort, the only Disney resort that Walt Disney himself ever stepped foot inside, there are two gates: Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. The entrances to these parks stand directly across from each other, just over 200 feet apart. The area in-between, which also connects the gates to the Downtown Disney shopping district, the shuttle bus area and the pedestrian walkway from Harbor Boulevard is the Esplanade.

As I mentioned, this is an especially hard concept for Walt Disney World fans to understand. Where they have a combination of buses, monorails, boats and gondolas, through miles of humid, alligator-infested swampland to get from one gate to another, out here on the Best Coast it is a 30-second walk between parks.

Ok, now that we have that out of the way, onto Buena Vista Street…by way of another slightly winding narrative.

As mentioned before I derailed this post with my light-hearted Walt Disney World bashing, musical loops play all throughout the Disney parks and properties. During the holiday season, a vast majority of these convert over to Christmas loops, each unique and with songs selected to match the theme and ambiance of their area.

My first and last time experiencing Disneyland at Christmastime was our family vacation in December 2019. Now, I’ve always loved Christmas and by extension Christmas music. It would be kind of hard to imagine someone devoting this kind of time and effort to the topic if they didn’t. But, experiencing Disneyland at Christmastime elevated it from love to obsession.

Photo of a Mickey-shaped garland, hanging over Main Street USA
Photo by Loren Javier

Even today, hearing the intro to David Rose’s, “The Christmas Tree” causes me to take a deep breathe and look up, just like I did the first time I heard it on Main Street USA, staring up and the exaggerated holiday garlands and trying to work out how in my head how I could replicate them at my own home.

And then COVID happened.

By June 2020, I was working from home, wondering when lockdown would, wondering why Spotify was relentlessly suggesting The Cure’s Disintegration album and just as importantly, wondering when the happiest place on earth would reopen. My tank of Disney magic, which had been overflowing just six months earlier was completely drained. I needed something, some way to get my Disney fix. That is when I stumbled upon the Magical Soundtracks channel on YouTube, which contains nearly all of the Disneyland area loops and many of the holiday versions. Not to mention many of the Walt Disney World loops for any of those folks who haven’t already left.

These loops became my go-to work-from-home background music for the rest of 2020. And, each year since then, when Thanksgiving rolls around, the holiday versions receive a good amount of airplay in my home. Some have even become part of my yearly traditions. For example, the day after Thanksgiving is when my outdoor decorations go up and, for the last four years, the Disney Springs Holiday Loop has been my decorating soundtrack. But that’s a topic for another day.

Magical Soundtracks logo - a pair of yellow, Mickey-ear headphones on a purple background
Magical Soundtracks Logo

Today we’re talking about the Buena Vista Street Holiday Loop…finally.

Buena Vista Steet is the first area you step into once you are through the gates at Disney California Adventure. When the park opened in 2001, it was called Sunshine Plaza and was themed to look like a postcard of California, complete with a Golden Gate bridge that the Disneyland Monorail passed over.

In the late 2000s, much of California Adventure underwent a major renovation and re-theming. In mid-2012, Sunshine Plaze was reopened as Buena Vista Street, transformed from a modern, stylized version of California, to a less modern, but still highly stylized version of Los Angeles circa 1920s-1930s, complete with a replica of the Carthay Circle Theatre, where Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered in 1937. The Golden Gate Bridge was also removed and now the monorail travels over a replica of the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge.

This rehab included an overhaul of the area music loop. It went from a California-themed playlist that leaned heavily on the ’60s to a period-appropriate soundtrack of big band, jazz and swing tunes.

Sunshine Plaza Area Loop (2001-2010)

Buena Vista Street Area Loop (2012-present)

The holiday loop was also refreshed. Gone was the surf-heavy soundtrack featuring Christmas tunes from the Beach Boys, the Ventures and Wave Benders. It was replaced by a selection of jazz and swing holiday tunes from folks like Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Ralph Marterie and Fats Waller.

Sunshine Plaza Holiday Area Loop (2002-2008, 2010)

Buena Vista Street Holiday Area Loop (2012-present)

That’s a lot of orchestras and that’s not a bad thing. The Buena Vista Street Holiday Loop is one of my favorites from any of the Disney parks. And, song repetition aside, it’s a great hour of swinging Christmas music.

When the holidays come around, I’ll often put this loop on in the kitchen on a weekend morning while I’m making breakfast. It’s an upbeat contrast to a typically dark, cold winter morning. Though my brain has now formed a strong correlation between Louis Prima and the smell of Dutch Babies, so it’s not without side effects.

Buena Vista Street Christmas Tree - by Kevin Williams, Dec 2019
Photo by Kevin Williams

The Buena Vista Street holiday loop also contains some fantastic Christmas gems you might not hear regularly during the holiday season. Fats Waller’s “Swingin’ Them Jingle Bells,” Benny Goodman’s “Santa Claus Came in the Spring,” and “What Will Santa Claus Say” by the previously-mentioned Louis Prima all fall into this category for me. As does “Meet Me Under the Mistletoe,” which has a special connection. I heard this song on Beuna Vista Steet while sitting with my family on the benches that surround the Christmas Tree and looking at all the period-inspired ornaments like the Santa faces and bells featuring Disney characters.

Two fun Disney facts about the Buena Vista Street Tree:

  1. The bell ornaments on the Buena Vista Steet Christmas Tree were designed by artist Sam Carter and inspired by real Disney-licensed bell Christmas lights from the ’30s.
  2. All of the ornaments on the Buena Vista Street Christmas Tree are made in multiple sizes, with the ornaments getting smaller the further up the tree they are hung. This adds to the forced perspective and makes the tree, which is already quite large appear to be even taller.

Back to the music…and I apologize for all the tangents today.

Out of all the songs on the Buena Vista Street holiday loop, it’s the three Bing tracks that feel most out of place. They stand out for their focal forward, pop sound that didn’t really become popular until the following decade. In fact, Bing didn’t record his versions of “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” until the 1940s, ‘43 and ‘47 respectively. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” wasn’t recorded until 1951, the same year Meredith Wilson wrote the song.

It pains me to say it, but I think the loop would be a tighter, more cohesive representation of the ’20s and ’30s sound if you just plucked out the three Bing tracks. And, since all of the Bing contributions are duplicate tracks, one a triplicate, I don’t think you’d lose much with the edit. There, I’ve said it.

This brings me to my (hopefully) final tangent of this post. From time to time I’ll see Disney bloggers or hear YouTubers state that Buena Vista Street has a much more rigid timeline. Rather than existing in an amorphic period somewhere in the ’20s-‘30s, it is supposed to represent LA in 1923, the year Walt arrived. This is often followed by callouts or complaints of items that exist on Buena Vista Street but did not exist in Los Angeles, in 1923, on Earth-1218. That last bit is for the Marvel nerds out there.

This airing of grievances extends to both the regular area music and the holiday loop.

I did some research to try to find out if Disney ever assigned a specific date to Buena Vista Street, like they have with other areas and attractions. For example, the Disneyland version of the Jungle Cruise is set in June, 1938.

I found a series of blog posts Disney released in the run-up to Buena Vista Street opening in June 2012. A post from the beginning of April, started with “When you enter Disney California Adventure park this summer, you’ll step back in time to Los Angeles of the 1920s and ‘30s on Buena Vista Street.”

Seems settled, right? And it was…for exactly two weeks. Then another blog post was released which said “This busy California street will take you back to 1923, when Walt Disney first arrived in California.” Oh boy.

Personally, I adhere to the looser interpretation, the area being an amalgamation of 1920s-‘30s LA and things that inspire or evoke that period of time, though note strictly adhering to it themselves. Looking at the non-holiday loop, it contains recordings all the way through the early 2000s, but they are all tracks that faithfully reproduce that early swing and jazz sound that would be at home in the era Buena Vista Steet is portraying.

The holiday version is a much title grouping, sourced mostly from the mid-‘20s to early ’50s. But, this again makes me question the Bing tracks. Chronologically, they were close to the eras being represented, but a shift musically from the rest of the soundtrack.

Album cover for Ella's Swinging Christmas
Ella's Swinging Christmas album

Heck, since we’re not limiting ourselves to ’20s and ’30s recordings, there’s a whole catalog of Ella Fitzgerald Christmas tunes that could have been used instead. In fact, she has versions of both “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” on her 1960 album Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas that, at least to me, seem a way better fit on Buena Vista Street, despite being recorded another decade later.

Some of Ella’s tracks from this album are used in the queue loop for the Jungle Cruise’s holiday overlay the Jingle Cruise, which we’ve established is set in June 1938 and seems right at home. But, that is another queue loop for another day.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Posted by Kevin Williams | Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Music Disneyland Disney Jazz