Walt Disney World Cast Members Bring Heritage to the Holidays

Claire Embil

by , Communications Associate, Walt Disney World Communications

It’s officially the holiday season at Walt Disney World Resort, and our talented Holiday Services team has created over 40,000 individual pieces of holiday décor for millions of guests to enjoy this year. From themed decorations representing characters and stories across 100 years of Disney films to cherished Disney experiences, Walt Disney World cast have spent months creating towering trees, miles of sparkling garland, hand-painted treasures and more that span over 780 locations!

Though the team decorates across the resort, the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll presented by AdventHealth holds an extra special place in the hearts of two Holiday Services cast members – Kaawaloa and Gerardo “Jerry” – who had the unique opportunity to combine their passion for Disney and their respective Hawaiian and Mexican cultural traditions into the making of the “Moana” and “Coco” themed trees.

Cast members prepare holiday decorations

Bringing a Touch of Home to the Disney Holidays

Kaawoloa, who has been with the team for eight years, is most proud of her work on the tree inspired by Disney’s “Moana,” drawing inspiration from her Native Hawaiian upbringing.

“It feels like home,” Kaawaloa said. “I love to get together with my family and make ornaments because I have memories of learning traditional techniques growing up, and I get to continue the tradition now with my work!”

Kaawaloa helped select the specific types of flowers, shells and colors that would best represent the Island of Motunui. She used authentic Hawaiian lei crafting and fabric techniques that mimic the ocean water, and even took a basic boat the team had in storage and turned it into one of the canoes from Motunui!

“The complexities and scale of our projects make for great learning experiences,” Kaawaloa said. “We work with so many extremely talented Disney cast members; someone is always there to lend a hand to bring décor to life.”

Cast member creates Moana tree decorations

Walt Disney World Cast Bring “Moana” and “Coco” Inspired Décor to Life

Jerry, who has been with the team for six years, brought his Mexican heritage, family traditions and unique decorating techniques that he learned growing up to the Disney and Pixar’s “Coco” tree.

“Decorating the ‘Coco’-themed tree brought me back to when I was little,” he said. “My grandma and great-grandma took care of me, and they owned a flower shop, so I grew up surrounded by art and decoration. When I found out I could do that for a living, I felt like it was a natural move.”

Using his memories of celebrating both Christmas and Día De Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, with his family, Jerry’s goal for the tree was to make it look like “a party in the afterlife.” He turned the tree into an authentic, colorful ofrenda, complete with hand-painted alebrijes and calaveras, offerings like fruit and shoes, and photos of the Rivera Family in intricate frames.

“When we get close to finishing a project, I always think about standing near the trees and hearing the guests’ comments,” Jerry added, “I feel really good inside knowing that millions of people from all over the globe visit Disney World just to see our décor!”

Family observes Christmas tree at Disney Springs

These trees and more can be found on the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll presented by AdventHealth beginning Nov. 10! Don’t forget to grab a complimentary map at participating locations so you can seek out all the fun trees located throughout Disney Springs. And keep a lookout for new trees this year, including a tree inspired by Disney Animation’s upcoming feature, “Wish” – in theaters Nov. 22!


  • Wonderful article! So many talented cast members in our department. It is truly an honor to be part this team.