[I]Looking at the boards around the internet, I’ve been surprised to see so few trip reports for the event. So, I decided to share this so others can see how well it really went![/I]
While I was driving out of the parking lot near the Magic Kingdom, a mist and fog covered everything around me. Space Mountain, the Contemporary and Bay Lake Towers, the resorts across the lake, and Cinderella Castle all looked like mirage’s hovering around me. They glowed and shimmered as if they were to good to be true, and made me wonder if the past 48 hours were as well.
I had just spend the last two days basking in the greatest Disney trip I have ever taken.
None of the 200 participants could believe that we were there as everyone gathered together on Saturday morning outside of the Odyssey Club in EPCOT. Most of the guests had picked up their park tickets and the itinerary of the upcoming events at Guest Services just outside the gates.
The envelope they gave us contained two one day one park passes, two one day Disney Quest passes and double sided page for the itinerary. As we came up to the check in desk, Jeffery and other D23 cast members checked our photo ID, D23 card, and the confirmation letter that was sent out from the order. With that done, they handed over the big packet with a cord lanyard with our D23 credential hanging from it, along with a welcome letter and several pages of biographical information about the people that were about to speak to us and several park maps.
After Jeffery told us again for the third time to keep the pass around our necks, I entered the Odyssey Club and got into a second line for scheduling the Castle Suite tour for Sunday afternoon. While waiting to sign up, another Cast Member was showing us the new D23 Magazine case they are releasing and forms to order if we were interested. The second Cast Member has handing out a cookbook to the D23 members. Someone pointed out that is the same book they gave out during the “Sip and Stroll” event during Food and Wine. When we finally signed up for our tour everyone was free to mingle and find seats for the 10:00 AM presentation. They also had soda, water, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate readily available for the guests. I made sure at this time to get myself a back row seat so that I could record this event. At this point I realized how few people were going to be taking part in this event. With only 200 people, it was half of those that attended the Candlelight Spectacular in Disneyland the previous week. It really gave it a more special and intimate feeling for all who were there.
At the end of each part of the presentations they brought something new out for us. One time was a packet of fastpasses, six for EPCOT rides and seven more for the Magic Kingdom. The second item they handled out was a Santa Mickey hat, and the third item was right after the gingerbread chefs which was a gingerbread man and/or a gingerbread Mickey head. To finish it up D23 brought out a special guest, Christmas Stitch for pictures and such. All in all, it meant a trip back out to the car to drop it off since I didn’t have a bag large enough to carry it all.
When the presentations concluded, we were informed that the Odyssey Club would be available to us up until 4:30, and that drinks would be made available for the whole time and they added wi-fi if people wanted to bring their laptops and use the Internet there. This came in handy for my iPhone since my phone network isn’t always speedy in the parks. I did go back to the club a few times during the day, and would find different people in there resting, talking, and even some times sleeping and really just enjoying the hospitality lounge they provided for us. It gave us that one extra touch that keeps it special.
At around a quarter after 4:00 PM, several of us started heading over to the American Pavilion as they wanted us to start showing up at 4:30 for seating.
The venue was much smaller then I was expecting to see. They had us sitting in the back sections for the show. Now, this was not a bad spot at all since it is tiered seating and no matter where you were, unless you were behind some one much taller then you, you were able to see most of the stage. The trees could be an obstacle for several spots, but a little neck bending could get you past it to see what was going on. While the performance was very good, I ended up recording the ASL sign language person because he was so expressive with his form of singing.
When the performance came to an end, the D23 staff had us stay in our seats until everyone else had left so that they could escort us backstage to the buses taking us to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the next events.
The buses pulled up to the “Lights, Motors, Action!” set, and as we walked through the tunnel we got an ever increasing view of the show stage with cast member servers on the other side of the bridge waiting for us to cross and offering different wines or beers. If you didn’t care for these, there was a drink station by the buffet tables with sodas, water, and I believe juices. Up on the main LED screen was a greeting for the D23 attendees. It was a great opportunity to be able to stand on the set of this show and not feel like you were be overly watched. They were free with everyone to take all the photos, video, whatever we felt like while we waited for everything to start up.
The food was very good. Everything was served up buffet style, and there was plenty for everyone. It was truly a Christmas/Holiday dinner. This also gave everyone a chance to sit down and meet more people of a Disney persuasion or catch up with others we already knew and talk about what we had seen so far.
When the dinner was completed around 8:00 PM, the park was closing down, so they walked us backstage again to the alley between Prince Caspian and Toy Story Midway Mania. This was to be our “Last Ride of the Night” mini event before the desert party. While they put us all in the Fast Pass lane, and for the first half of the group we still merged with the park guests that were still waiting on their own “Last Ride of The Night”. Everyone had fun on the ride and most were comparing scores at the end to see who did the best. I got 235,400. Not too shabby! A few minutes after we came out, they offered to let people back in since they weren’t quite ready for us at the Desert Party. This time I only got 224,100. My arm was tired!
The Desert Party gave us a chance to mingle again while they served bread pudding, fruits, and other items. Fortunately they seemed to be as eager as the guests to move on, and escorted us down a dark New York Street to a platform set about half way down in front of the toy soldiers along with the light switch to turn it all on.
John Fielding was introduced and gave us a fascinating story about the history of the lights from his point of view as he was the primary person at Disney for getting the lights brought to the park. He talked about the setup and the new upgrades and also some of the little known secrets about the display. When he finished up with this portion, he asked a young boy to come up and turn the lights on for us. Wow! The feeling of seeing the lights, hearing and feeling the music was unbelievable. I was over come with awe at what they had here. Pictures and stories from others just do not do this justice. I fell in love with the display and have found another reason to go to WDW every holiday season.
Finally they turned off the lights and started to gather everyone up to get us back on the buses. A nice parting song was playing in the background, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. As we got to our rides, they handed everyone a D23 ornament as a keepsake. Watching the lights was, I would say, the best way to end a holiday evening, and I wish I could end every night like that.
Sunday was a more mellow day, but not any less exciting. They didn’t have us get together until the 11:00 AM lunch at the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon in Frontierland. This was also another time where all of us had to explain to passerby’s what D23 was and that the restaurant was only open for a private event. I have to admit I was so glad they went with lunch food for this lunch. I know that sounds strange, but it was not going to be heavy on everyone before going out to the parks later on. It was a good mixture of sandwiches, turkey, grilled vegetable, and pulled pork. Plenty of different drinks, and a small dessert bar.
When Becki from D23 got up, she announced that someone in the room, picked by a piece of paper taped to the bottom of someones chair, would be be given a special opportunity. The winner, which was not me, was going to be the Grand Marshal of the parade that day. After Jeffery finished up on some of house keeping items for us, he let everyone know that we would have the Liberty Belle from 7:00 PM till midnight as a hospitality area, and that the D23 cast members would be there from 7:00 to 7:45 PM to say goodbye. He also gave a reminder to be fifteen minutes early to our tour of the Cinderella Castle Suite at the Sleepy Hollow area. They also handed out our passes for “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” so we could be admitted.
At this point we were free do do what we wanted around the park. I ended up at the waiting spot around 30 minutes early and spend all of it talking to the D23 cast members about the past events and was able to hear a few of the ideas they may work on. But I was sworn to secrecy, so I can’t share with you what they may be, so watch their site!
When our groups time came, we were escorted by one of the parks cast members up to the castle while she pointed out the windows that we will soon be seeing from the other side. Once inside by the tile mosaics, our tour guide explained some of the architecture styles we would be seeing up there, and some of the history of the room before and after the changes. When the previous group came out the door, we were handed off to the next tour guide, and showed us the concierge desk, the tiling on the floor, and the grandfather clock that is stopped one minute before midnight, because the fun must end at midnight, and who wants to see that happen. He also gave us some details about the elevator we would be going in, and was correct that we would all be close friends! Upon exiting the elevator, saw more tile work on the floor as our third tour guide explained it in more detail along with the glass slipper, crown, and pumpkin in the corner case. She also pointed out the three art pieces were from the storyboards for the movie. From there she brought us in the main room of the suite. It’s small! It was awesome, but it’s small! Our current tour guide explained that she was used to this reaction from guests, and then proceeded to tell us some of the finer details in the different rooms. There are three rooms. The main room with two double beds, the sitting room, and the bathroom. The construction and details looked incredible and you just wanted to beg to stay the night in there. We were given about 10 to 15 minutes up in the suite, and then handed back to the second tour guide and brought back down to the concierge room. After thanking us for coming he gave us each a Cinderella Suite room key similar to what you have out at in the different resorts. Upon the completion of the tour, our group was free to do as we pleased in the park.
The last event that was planned for D23’s Magic and Merriment was “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party”.
And, as we were told, the Liberty Belle was docked and ready for us. They had cookies, hot drinks, cold water, and smiling faces everywhere. Several of us spent a while on the dock talking and then headed over to the D23 section for the parade. There were two spots across from each other down in Town Square on Main Street. Plenty of room for all that wanted to see it from there, and the area was also reserved for the 10:30 parade if we chose to see it then also. After the parade several of us agreed to meet back up in a while at the Liberty Belle and take in a few rides, and relax on the dock again. We made sure we got emails, Facebook accounts, and other information before saying our final farewells.
Towards the end of the night, you could see it in people’s faces that they didn’t want the night, let alone the weekend experiences to end. I took my time walking down Main Street, with the snow still falling, trying to take in as much as I could before having to make my last exit of this trip under the train station and through the turn stiles.
Maybe this is why as I drove away that everything around me looked like a dream. It was as good as any I could imagine.