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February 12, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in Cinderella's Castle - Part 1

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle. She shares her magical story with All Ears.

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I look back now to my every step and action of the morning that put me in the right place at the right time for the Year of a Million Dreams Dream Squad to find me.

There are many "what ifs" that came to mind:

If I didn't take a few extra minutes to look at Marge and Paul's Disney cruise pictures before I left their house that morning.

If my annual pass had worked in the turnstile and I hadn't had to wait for a CM to get me a new one.

If I hadn't taken the time to sit down and write the number of my new AP down so if I lost it, it could be reprinted.

If Lisa and I had waited to ride Soarin' with the MouseFest meet instead of going ahead so not to miss the Walk in Cards Footsteps meet at 10 a.m.

If the three FastPass guests had gone down the Concourse 2 like they were suppose to instead of going down Concourse 1.

If I tried to sit in a better seat instead of deciding to sit where I was suppose to while thinking to myself this is the worst seat on this ride. Little did I know it would turn out to be the BEST seat that morning!

If any of those things when differently, I wouldn't have this story to tell because I wouldn't have been the one on Soarin', concourse 2, hang glider C, row 3, in seat 1 at around 9:50 a.m. on Saturday, December 8 where Dream Squad members Elton, Jackie and Kathryn greeted me after the ride.

Soarin'

Thinking back I was aware there were people outside the exit door "as I gathered my belongings" but it didn't hit me until I walked through the door that they were Dream Squad members.

I thought that we were going to get FastPasses. I was calm. Lisa told me later, she wasn't. They asked me if I was familiar with the Year of a Million Dreams and told me I was a "potential" winner of a great prize. They asked me if I'd like come with them and Lisa too. They started asking me a battery of questions: Where are you from? Do you know any cast members? Who are they? Are you related? Do you live with them? There were probably others I don't recall now. We walked along the exit hallway as we talked. They kept telling me I could be the "potential" winner of a great prize every time stressing "potential."

When we came to an area where the standby line and exit line meet and there were lots of other guest around to witness what was going to happen next, we stopped. A portable DVD player was placed on the railing and it began to play a commercial for the Year of a Million Dreams and the prizes offered.

The sound didn't work very well at first but it was fixed. I playfully said that I'd take the cruise as a picture of one of the ships appeared on the screen. Next thing I know the words "Cinderella Castle Suite" are on the screen. Still, feeling calm I recall thinking that it would probably be good to act surprised and happy, so I did. The Dream Squad certainly made a big fuss over it! It hadn't really sunk in yet what had happened.

Kim Howe and the Dream Team


We walked together out the rest of the Soarin' exit and past the FastPass distribution area where the Dream Squad continued to make a big fuss which brought attention to us by other guests. I told them that they must LOVE their jobs making people happy all day and they said they did. As we walked out of the Land and to the Imagination Pavilion, they explained that I could invite five guests to join me. Lisa was a given since she was with me.

Let me back up a bit.....
Lisa and I met at MouseFest 2005 and again in 2006. The first year we communicated via e-mail a few times after MouseFest but in the last year we really didn't keep in touch at all. I didn't even know if she was attending MouseFest this year. I met Mark Goldhaber from MousePlanet at the airport and while we were boarding the plane to FL for MouseFest, he asked me if Lisa was attending. My answer was that I didn't know because we didn't keep in touch at all in the last year. He found that hard to believe since during MouseFest we attend many of the same meets together and even toured together between meets. As in the past two years, sure enough, I was at my first meet, MouseFest 101 and I looked to my right and there she was in her Pooh Santa hat.

Ok, back to the day of dreams!

I had four more people to invite!!

As we were walking I called my friend Paula to invite her and her 16 year old son, Dylan. I lost my calm feeling as I spoke with her and started to cry.

To Be Continued....

February 14, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in Cinderella's Castle - Part 2

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle.


Part 1 - Stepping off of Soarin


This is Part 2 - Who Shall Join Me?

I had four more people to invite. As we were walking I called my friend Paula to invite her and her 16 year old son, Dylan. I lost my calm feeling as I spoke with her and started to cry.

A few weeks before MouseFest, I applied to Allears.net to attend the VIP IllumiNations Dessert Party and was selected. When I invited Paula to join me, her reply was that I was the luckiest person she knew when it came to winning things. My reply was that, no, the REALLY lucky people get to stay in Cinderella Castle. We had lunch together earlier in the week and we talked about that conversation again. I told that I was going to call her if I won, never really thinking it would.

Now I've actually won and I'm on the phone to tell her that we were also going to be Grand Marshals in the Share a Dream Come True Parade and have dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table so pack her bags and be at the Epcot Guest Relations by 12 noon.

I started by saying as best I could through tears, "Remember when you told me I was lucky and I said that the lucky people get to stay in the castle? Well, I'm going to stay in the castle tonight and I want you and Dylan to come!"

Then things got a little crazy with Elton asking me how old her son was and him telling me that minors, 16 and under, could not participate unless they were my children. I had to tell Paula that Dylan couldn't come and ask her if she still wanted to. She paused and said yes but needed to find a place for him to go for the night since her husband was out of town. I gave her the instructions to bring an overnight bag, her ID and to be at Epcot by 12 noon to fill out release forms and hung up.

Elton made a call and worked some "magic" and got approval for Dylan to be able to go. I called Paula back to tell her and we were both very happy about that. I asked if anybody had any tissues. Luckily, somebody did and handed me one.

Next I just had to call the couple who I was staying with, Marge and Paul. Marge answered right away like Paula did. I was SO lucky I was able to reach both of them right away because the clock was ticking.

Later when I was telling Marge how calm I felt, she told me that I did not sound calm to her when I called. She said I said her name very loudly into the phone, "Marge, Marge! I won a night in Cinderella Castle and want you and Paul to come too!" I did that because it was hard to hear her when she answered and I wanted to make sure - well, okay, so I wasn't so calm anymore.

I filled her in on what was going on and gave her the same instructions I gave Paula and also asked her to zip up my two suitcases and bring my toiletry bag too. I was so glad I kept all my clothes in my suitcases. I couldn't think what to tell her to bring so I just said to bring it all. Oh, and I told her to call Paul and let him know too.

I mentioned Elton's name and she asked me if Elton was there now. I told her he was and asked if she knew him. She did so I handed him my phone. I could not believe it. HE couldn't believe it. Marge's husband, Paul, had trained Elton on the Epcot front gate. Elton was very happy, as were Jackie and Kathryn, that I was inviting three cast members but when he realized he knew two of them, he was ecstatic. I told him Paul was working at the gate that very moment. Elton was concerned that Paul wouldn't be off work in time but I was sure he'd be done in time because I knew he went in around 5 a.m. this morning to open.

In fact this feeling was shared by all the CMs we ran into who learned that Marge, Paul and Paula were CMs. They were all very excited to hear fellow CMs were getting a chance to stay in the castle. The chances of CMs being able to do so are slim since they can't win themselves, someone they live with or who are related to them also cannot win. Pretty much, the only way they could go is if a friend won and invited them.

By now we were standing outside a door at the Imagination Pavilion and the five of us went inside to take care of the necessary paperwork. Until that was completed, I was still a "potential" winner. It was an office area that consisted of a large room with lots of cubicles along the two walls. There were only a couple people working but it was a Saturday. I said to Lisa, "Hey, we are backstage." We were taken into a conference room and Elton was in and out, I guess, getting the paperwork together and making phone calls.

I finally called my husband, Bill. I started to cry again. My poor tissue was soaked. Jackie or Kathryn brought us cups of water which I was grateful for. Bill was afraid that something bad had happened until I could explain what was happening. Bill was very happy for me and wished he was with me. He doesn't always go with me when I visit WDW. As he says, he "gets it" but also gets enough of it quicker than I do. So, my trips to MouseFest are solo that way I have the freedom to open and close parks everyday and not worry about his happiness. I told him to call everybody and he replied that nobody would "get it," meaning understand the significance of it all. He did say he would call my mother, though. He also called his mother.

Elton gave us big blue, white and gray buttons with the castle on them that said:

WHERE MY DREAM CAME TRUE

The Year of a Million Dreams

Walt Disney World

He told us to put them on as they signified that we'd won a tier 1 or 2 prize, which were the highest ones.

The castle stay was considered a tier 2 and winning a trip around the world visiting all the Disney parks or a DVC membership was the Tier 1 level.

He gave me four more for Paula, Dylan, Marge and Paul. Then he started going over 10 pages of forms with me giving me clear and thorough instructions to insure it would be done correctly and completely explaining what they were for and what areas I had to fill out so I wouldn't be disqualified.

The forms were to accept the prize, an affidavit/declaration of my eligibility/liability and a publicity release. I said let's get started filling them out! I also had to provide my driver's license for a background check. Elton, Kathryn and Jackie had to witness the forms.

Lisa had to just fill out a guest liability/publicity release and show her ID. Elton asked me to write down all my guests' names with their ages. He arranged with the concierge at the Grand Floridian for all of our cars to be parked there. He also told Lisa and I to be at the Grand Floridian by 1:30 p.m. - 2 p.m. at the latest.

Kathryn wanted to give us a FastPass in compensation for taking up so much our park time. We really weren't planning on riding anything and didn't accept her offer. When she suggested ice creams, however, we changed our minds! She filled out a little form on a pad and gave it to us to redeem for an ice cream from a cart. With all the formalities aside, we took pictures with Elton, Jackie and Kathryn.

To be continued....

February 16, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in Cinderella's Castle - Part 3

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle.

Part 1 - Steppin Off Soarin'

Part 2 - Who Will Join Me?

This is Part 3 - Logistics, Epcot, Dream Squads, and MouseFest, oh my!

We left the conference room and the CMs in the office area congratulated us. Then Elton, Jackie and Kathryn walked with us out into the park and spotted another Dream Squad handing out dreams and encouraged us to go to them. We felt that would be greedy but they really encouraged us. We did and got FastPasses for Epcot only and for that day only. Kathryn waved to us and asked what we got.

Later I learned that at this point Elton when right to Paul to tell him and have him fill out his paperwork. He was still so excited.

At this point, I could barely think straight and, I think, Lisa felt the same way.

It was 11 a.m. and we'd missed the 10 a.m. MouseFest meet, Stroll in Card's Footsteps. We were disappointed but a stay in Cindy's castle was worth it. It seemed we had a lot of time before 1:30 p.m. when we needed to be at the Grand Floridian. I'd planned on attending the Pin Trading meet at 11 a.m. but now we had the FastPasses. We decided to use them and went to Test Track.

As we walked, I checked my phone messages and my mother had called so I called her back. She had also left a message which I didn't listen to until the next day. She was crying with joy for my good fortune. As a girl she watched the Mickey Mouse show and sang the Mousekateer songs so she "gets it" too. Bill's mom also left a message saying that this couldn't have happed to a bigger Disney fan.

I also called Marge and left a message for her to also bring my camera and phone chargers. I thought she didn't answer because she was busy packing. Later she said that she'd probably already left the house. At the time I called the first time, she was ironing and had laundry in the washer and drying. She pulled the plug on the iron and stopped both machines. She ran around like a crazy woman and threw all of her and Paul's clothes in my suitcases and was glad there was enough room because their suitcases were in their attic.

Between our walk to Test Track and the time we spent in the FastPass line, Lisa and I had an opportunity to think and determined that we really did not have has much time as we thought especially since we still wanted to go to the Mega Mouse Meet.

We were glad we pre-registered and had the extra magic hour to get in at noon instead of 1 p.m. During our ride on Test Track my mind was wandering, going a million miles an hour, forget 65MPH, trying to sort things out and put together the afternoon's plan. We agreed we could not use the FastPasses and we should just give them away since they were only good that day. On our way off Test Track there were two young girls, probably sisters, in front of us and we gave the FastPasses to them. They thanked us as did their mother who was waiting for them and saw the exchange. It made us feel really, really good to do that and it gave me goosebumps.


Next we had to finish thinking about our afternoon logistics.
Lisa had to get her overnight bag ready and get to the Grand Floridian by 1:30 p.m. Luckily, she was staying at the Boardwalk. We decided the most efficient use of our time was for her to go to her room after the Mega Mouse Meet then wait for me to pick her up with my car out front at the Boardwalk. While she was getting her bag together, I would continue on to Epcot through the International Gateway and out the front entrance, get in my car and drive around to pick her up.

The day was quite warm. We were making our way from Future World to World Showcase and remembered our ice cream voucher. We couldn't recall any carts in World Showcase so we turned around and headed to the cart outside of the Imagination Pavilion.

On our way we saw another Dream Squad handing out the blue and white with silver Mickey ear hats. Boy were we on a roll so we went over and each got one. Jackie was one of the Dream Squad members and we told her we gave away the FastPasses. She said that she and Kathryn agreed that we were so nice that that was probably what we would do with them.

Next we got two Mickey Premium bars. Yum! I was hungry and it was quite warm out. Marge had called and left me a message. She said that she had filled out and signed her paperwork and wanted to know what to do next. I assumed the CM who went over her release form would give her instructions but he didn't.

As I was walking, eating a melting chocolate ice cream pop with a white shirt on, I was also calling and talking to Marge. No time to waste. I told her we had to be at the Grand Floridian by 1:30 p.m. and to meet us there. Later she told me she then went to get a sandwich for lunch to share with Paul. She was finally able to reach Paul to tell him what was going on but learned that Elton had already found him at the front gate and told him.

After learning that Marge was given no further instructions after filling out her paperwork, I wondered if someone would tell Paula or not and was waiting to hear from her asking me the same as Marge did.

Lisa and I continued our fast pace out the International Gateway and decided that walking to the Dolphin and the Mega Mouse Meet would be quicker than the Friendships. We also figured that walking on the Boardwalk side might be quicker than the Yacht and Beach Club side since the sidewalk at the Dolphin snakes in and out close to the building and is not very direct. Besides, the Boardwalk side was currently in the shade. Have I mentioned is was considerably warn out (at least 85 degrees) and we were power walking.

We couldn't believe we waited for MouseFest and especially the Mega Mouse Meet for a year, and now we were going to miss the day's meets (especially Disney Music with Greg Ehrbar, Hidden Mickey's at Epcot with Steve Barrett, Turtle Talk, Magic in the Pixels") and blow through the Mega Mouse Meet. But there were no questions which we chose over the other--the castle won.

Once at the Dolphin, we were glad to find the ballroom was right off the lobby and not through the labyrinth of hallways like the last two years. We put on our wristbands with our raffle number as we walked. I don't know why we even put them on. In order to win any of the prizes you needed to be present and we wouldn't be present. We obviously just weren't thinking clearly. We were handed "swag bags" as we approached the registration area. Since we pre-registered and had our lanyards on, we didn't even need to stop and just got on the escalator down to the ballroom.

The tables near the entrance were busy with people. It was just after 12 p.m. and there were already lots of MouseFesters there. We both thought walking across the room and beginning at empty tables was a good strategy. We only had less than half an hour before we had to leave in order to give us an hour to get to the Grand Floridian. We quickly made our way, individually for the most part, around the room keeping our eye on one another as we went along so as not to lose each other. We picked up literature and swag and talked briefly with "personalities behind the tables" (to quote Mike Scopa). We'd have to visit the websites of the personalities at home-no time now.

At the Allears.net table we told everyone our "news" to a reply of shrieks and congratulations. It's so nice to be among fellow Disney fans who "get it" and appreciate the significance of it all. That's why we attend MouseFest. We continued to share our news and received congratulations as we continued around the room. Mark Goldhaber and Brian Bennett of MousePlanet gave us big hugs. By 12:40 p.m. we'd made a complete circle.

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There were snacks available during this extra magic hour and that was a good thing. I picked up a water and granola bar which turned out to be my lunch for the day - besides the Mickey ice cream bar.

Soon it was time to leave.

To be continued....

February 18, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in the Castle - Part 4

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle.

Part 1 - Steppin Off Soarin'

Part 2 - Who Will Join Me?

Part 3 - Logistics, Epcot, Dream Squads, and MouseFest, oh my!

This is part 4 - Grand Marshalls in the Magic Kingdom Parade

After leaving the MouseFest MegaMouseMeet, we power walked back toward Epcot. We split up at the Boardwalk and Lisa went to her room to pack and meet me out front of the hotel. I asked her if she thought we could get to the Grand Floridian in 50 minutes. She said there was no question, we will, and we did!

I continued to the International Gateway. My phone would ring but when I took it out of my pocket is would stop and say I had a missed call. It was Elton and after a second call we connected. He wanted to meet me to give me everyone else's completed releases. I was on a tight schedule but told him I was at the fountain in Future World. He said he'd be right there. I paced and as I paced, I gulped my bottle of water and ate my granola bar. It was so warm that I didn't want to pass out. It seemed like it took him forever, but I'm sure it was only five or ten minutes before he arrived and gave me the forms. He'd already heard that Lisa and I gave away the FastPasses. Boy, news travels fast.

I was out through the front gate, in my car and around to the Boardwalk in no time where Lisa was waiting for me talking to her boyfriend, filling him in on the news.

When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom parking plaza, I told the CM, "We were going to the Grand Floridian!" We were waved on and I said to Lisa that saying that sounded nice! When we arrived at the Grand Floridian security gate, I blurted out, "We are staying at Cinderella Castle Suite tonight!" and we were congratulated again and waved on without even being asked to see my ID.

At valet, after I told the CM who we were, he told us to wait in the car for a special welcome. I quickly brushed my hair because it felt so stringy and I was sticky too-not my best for a special welcome. He came back and said we needed to wait inside for a Dream Squad member to meet us.

We walked in and Lisa knew some people just inside the door. How unlikely! She stopped to chat with them. It turned out they all knew the other would be at WDW the same time but never thought they'd run into each other. I kept on walking to where I saw Marge and Paul waiting for us. Paula and Dylan were there, too, but they hadn't seen Marge and Paul. They walked over when they saw me. Lisa soon joined us and I introduced her to everyone. The others all knew each other.

We all talked about how wonderful, unbelievable and fantastic this all was. We each shared our experiences since I'd called them two hours earlier. They all dropped everything and packed very quickly, drove to Epcot, the Grand Floridian and then waited for Lisa and I. Dylan said Paula woke him up to tell him the news and to get ready and how she scared him because she was crying. They put a big bowl of water and food out for their three cats and left the house. At least they all had an opportunity to get some lunch while they waited.

We talked for a half hour and no one showed up from the Dream Squad. At 2 p.m. I went to the Guest Services and waited for what seemed forever for a CM to be free to help me. I told him "our story" and that I didn't want to be late for the parade. I pointed to where we were waiting and the CM went to find out what was going on.

Soon CM Matt showed up. He was not a Dream Squad member, at least he wasn't dressed like them. He was dressed in the Magic Kingdom Guest Services costume with a red plaid vest, white shirt and dark pants. We all introduced ourselves and he told us "Our coach awaits!" Oh my, I thought, will it really be Cinderella's coach with the white ponies. No, it was a white Suburban with a sign on it that said Cinderella Caste Suite.

On our way to the Suburban, Matt pointed out the family who stayed in the suite the previous night. He had just dropped them off and they were waiting for their car. The mother waved, wished us well and said we would have a great time. Marge was taking pictures the whole time and would continue to do so. I am grateful to both her and Lisa for all the pictures they took. I couldn't have gotten all the shots they did and still enjoy myself. They documented the experience very well.

Matt drove us backstage, on the Grand Floridian side, the Magic Kingdom and we passed by the construction site of a new fire station. I didn't recall ever reading one was being built there so it was a surprise. Along the way Matt asked us what we'd like to do, specific characters to visit, etc. I mentioned meeting the Evil Queen. We also said it would be fun to get our hair done at Bibbity Bobbity Boutique but neither opportunity was offered.

We drove around the back of the park and around to the parking lot, on the Contemporary side of the park, behind Main Street USA near the Town Exposition Hall. There, we met CM David who was dressed in the Dream Squad costume of kaki pants, light blue short sleeved shirt and light striped vest. Matt was going to take our luggage to the castle.

He took us on stage between Tony's restaurant and the DVC office in Town Square. Main Street was packed with people waiting for the 3 p.m. parade and we were going to be the Grand Marshalls! We walked very slowly up Main Street chatting with David and each other and stopped for a picture near the hub.

We walked through Adventureland and up the parade route in Frontierland past the gate and the view of park guests. We didn't go completely backstage, though. David introduced us to two more Dream Squad members, Dorothy and Scott. We were just in front of the railroad tracks and had to wave to the train when it went by. We waited here in the hot sun for our parade vehicle to arrive. Some shade and water would have been welcomed. While we waited, three marching bands went by us and we waved to them too. They looked hot. Dylan could relate to them because he's also in a marching band.

When our vehicle arrived, the driver was joking about the brakes not working properly. The vehicles are antique cars and this one really putt-putted down the parade route shaking violently at one point. It had a sign on both sides identifying us "Cinderella Castle Suite Winners." As we drove down the parade route, you could see people read the sign, their faces light up and then they would wave or give us the thumbs up.

Another parade vehicle pulled up behind ours for a large group. Daisy duck rode with them. After the parade we learned that the two men are authors Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry of PETER AND THE DREAM CATCHERS. As we'd walked past the Pirates of the Caribbean, I recalled seeing a sandwich board announcing a book signing. It must have been for them. They all had the black Mickey ears on with their names embroidered on them.

We expected to get ears, too, but did not. Marge asked about it and David hedged. We did wind up getting them AFTER the parade. We felt that either someone dropped the ball on that one or we weren't supposed to get them but did because we asked.

CMs from the Family Fun Day parade arrived. They would be joining us down the parade route. Clarabelle the cow was there too. They chatted with us. Once again, all the CMs were very happy to learn Marge, Paul and Paula were fellow CMs.

David took pictures of us in the parade vehicle. They really came out great because of the sign on the side and everyone's face is visible and smiling.

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He gave us instructions to wave and smile A LOT during the parade. We asked if we could take pictures and he said we could. We were underway and soon into view of the guests. We were smiling and waving and I soon realized I needed to lift weights more since my upper arms were waving too. Yikes!

Boy, waving and smiling gets tiring fast. I wondered to myself how do those parade performers dance the entire parade route, especially on hot days. Some parade watchers waved back but I didn't think too many did. Paula thought a lot did. Marge said she will always wave to the Grand Marshals now that she has been one. I agreed. It's kind of weird waving to people who ignore you. Before we knew it, we were at the end of the parade route by the Barber's Shop where we got out of our vehicle.

We were escorted to the VIP viewing area in front of the Firehouse. Luckily it was in the shade. It was here that David told us who the other grand marshalls were. Paula and Dylan were familiar with the author's books and had their pictures taken with them. They were very nice people. It was a few minutes before the rest of the parade came by so the girls took a break to freshen up and get drinks. While we waited for the parade, Marge sat on the curb with two young boys and chatted with them. It was cute.

Finally, the parade makes it way to us and it's supposed to be a new parade but it still looks a heck of a lot like the old one to me only the glass globes are off the floats now. We watched, took pictures and waved to the characters. Afterwards I was given a Photopass card with pictures of us from the parade. Nice! CM Scott arrived with our Mickey ears after the parade too. We put them on and had a group picture at the end of Main Street. It looked pretty good with everybody not only wearing the ears but big smiles too.

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David said we had time to do one ride before he needed to take us to the castle suite. Dylan had already said that he wanted to ride Space Mountain, so Space Mountain it was. He had been and was a good sport through this whole experience. I'm sure it was hard for a 16 year old boy, especially wearing Mickey Mouse ears.

On the walk to Space Mountain, Paul stopped to buy a soda and asked if anyone else wanted one. David told Paul not to worry about it that Scott would take care of it. He got us all either water or sodas. Wow. Everyone walked through the Space Mountain queue but only Lisa, Dylan and I rode. Marge took our picture in our space vehicle but just got Dylan's hand as he waved to her. We screamed and laughed. It always feels like we are going 65 MPH, like on Test Track.

Our next destination was THE castle.

To Be Continued.....

February 20, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in the Castle - Part 5

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle.

Part 1 - Steppin Off Soarin'

Part 2 - Who Will Join Me?

Part 3 - Logistics, Epcot, Dream Squads, and MouseFest, oh my!

Part 4 - Grand Marshalls in the Magic Kingdom Parade


This is part 5 - The Cinderella Castle Suite



Our next destination was THE castle.
We walked through Tomorrowland past Cosmic Rays and up the side path. Marge took a picture of us from the back with the castle in it and I really like it. To me, we look like a bunch of anxious children. I still had on my Mickey ears. Inside the back of the castle David asked us to wait for him. We walked into the new Bibbity Bobbity Boutique shop and it smelled heavily of hair spray. David came back and escorted us behind a curtain that was erected so guests would not walk through the castle. CM Alexis met us at "our" door. She was also wearing the Magic Kingdom Guest Services costume.

The door opened up to a small reception area with a desk, phone, and large flower arrangement on it. The walls were stone block (looking, but not really stone). There were tapestries hanging high up on the walls and the ceiling was very high. There was a fake grandfather clock that never quite strikes twelve and a mirror with a large gold frame.

David presented each "family" with a certificate in a nice folder which he'd been carrying around with him since he met us at the Suburban. They read:

Walt Disney World
Where dreams come true
Across the miles and over the years, you'll always remember this.

Certificable Magic Moment form the Walt Disney World Resort.

The Howe Family
Castle Suite Guests-December 8, 2007 Your Pal Mickey Mouse
& the Walt Disney World Dream Squad

The "Your Pal Mickey Mouse" was not typed but signed in Mickey's handwriting. I didn't actually read it thoroughly until I typed it just now. What a nice keepsake. Lisa got one, Paula and Dylan got one and Marge and Paul got one each with their "family" names on them.

We said goodbye to David and Alexis escorted us into the elevator. It was decorated with wood in a warm tone and mirrors. It was quite beautiful. When we reached the third floor and the door opened we saw a beautiful vestibule. On the floor was a tile mosaic of Cinderella's coach.

On the ceiling was a beautiful glass chandelier. The walls were the same warm wood with framed original artwork from the Cinderella movie. There also was a lighted display case built into the wall with her glass slipper on the top shelf, crown and wand in the middle and three glass pumpkins on the bottom shelf.

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There were also two doors. One was built to be inconspicuous while the other was quite nice with large key for the pull to open it.

Alexis had given us all our suite keys. Mine came in an envelope with the Cinderella Castle Suite logo on it plus my name and date just like any other resort room key except this one said: CINDERELLA CASTLE Suite with the suite logo. It was the master key and until I activated it in the door, the others would not work. I slipped it in the door, Marge took my picture, of course, and I pushed the heavy solid wood door open.

We all started checking out the suite and taking pictures. Alexis got our attention, before we got too out of control, to give us the safety instructions and showed us were the two fire exits were. The fire exits were a door between the entrance and the bathroom doors. The two stained glass windows in the main sleeping area were also fire exits. She told us not to open them because an alarm would sound. She also explained how to control the light switch on the wall and what the remote worked.

To tell you the truth, I was only half listening and so were the others because then it came time to use the remote, nobody seemed to remember. Too funny! We were all awe struck at the beauty of the suite, especially the bathroom.

Let me give a shot at describing the suite. It is just so beautiful that words just cannot begin to do it justice. When you open the door and walk in from the vestibule, you are in the main sleeping area. There is also a sitting area and the bathroom off this main room.

The main room is the largest and holds two queen sized beds; a fire place, desk and chair, two chairs and a set of stacked TV tables with a fresh bowl of fruit, purple cloth napkins and silverware; a small stand with an ice bucket and six blue long stemmed glasses.

Cinderella's Castle Suite

The beds were covered with blue and gold bedspreads that were very rich looking. Above the heads of the beds were wooden valance type things that heavy draperies hung from. At the ends of each bed were elaborately carved trunks that had two drawers in them, instead of opening from the top. Inside the drawers were extra pillows and super, super soft maroon colored robes with a "C" embroidered on them.

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Then there were the two stained glass windows (fire escape) to the left of the beds on the outside wall. The floor was colorful large tiles that sparkled, especially at night. The walls were stone, wood or mirrors.

There was the fireplace with fireplace tools and ash bucket. The fireplace glowed and sparks twinkled and also made crackling noises as if it were really burning. The picture of the mantle was of Cinderella. The remote changed the picture to a mirror or to a TV.

Cinderella's Castle Suite

There was an arrangement of fresh flowers on the mantle. I think I counted six fresh flower arrangements throughout the suite. Two of the walls were mirrored which helped make the room look bigger than it was.

The sitting room had two walls with stained glass windows, each picturing something from Cinderella, i.e. castle, slipper, mice with key, slipper, ball invitation. There were heavy draperies that could be closed to cover them and they were pulled back with large gold cording and tassels. The third wall was wood and mirrors which hid two closets and the refrigerator stocked with water, soda and juice. One of the mirrors turned into a TV. The fourth wall was the large doorway that had draperies to pull closed for privacy. The sofa was a burgundy and gold color accented with wood trip and opened to a bed.

Cinderella's Castle Suite

Behind the sofa was a deep shelf with many things on it. I remember opening a long box. First of all, I was surprised that it was not locked shut and second, that it held a brass telescope that I took out and looked through. There were also classic story books which could also be removed to read. There was also another fresh flower arrangement with the main flower being orange tiger lilies.

On the floor was a round area rug, thick and plush in an oriental design of burgundy and blue. On a stand next to the sofa was a decorative globe and a fancy box which, when opened, held drink coasters with needlepoint roses on them. All the accent pieces were very classy and better (and not bolted down) than you would find in a hotel room. All the furniture throughout the suite looked like or was an antique - like you would expect a castle to have. It reminded me of how you find bed and breakfasts decorated like someone's home. Well, then again, this IS Cinderella's Castle, isn't it?

The bathroom brought the most WOWs. The sinks were copper basins raised up off the granite counter. The mirrors in front of each one were set in the wall deep enough to hold a box of tissues, SPA toiletries and small arrangement of fresh rose buds. There was a stained glass window between the sink area and the shower. From the shower side it was set in the wall to create a shelf which held the SPA shower gel, shampoo and conditioner.

Cinderella's Castle Suite

The shower stall itself was off white and gold tiles arranged in swirls. The same tiles and patters was also on the bathroom floor. The water pipes in the shower were exposed and were copper as well. The waterfall shower head was high enough for tall people like me and provided an abundance of water. There was a heavy plastic shower curtain and also a cloth one that was pulled back on each side of the shower door. Between the shower and the room with the toilet, was a vanity with a large mirror behind it. It had a nice stood with a tapestry seat. There was a huge fresh flower arrangement on it with a make-up mirror.

The "throne" room was large and had a wooden pocket door. The toilet itself was square and above it was a smaller version of the "things" that were also above the beds with draperies too. There was also a three tiered stand in the corner.

The tub was a whirlpool tub but wasn't all that big. Only one adult would have been comfortable in it. It was surrounded by three tile mosaic scenes from Cinderella and the ceiling was a deep blue with little white lights to resemble the night sky with twinkling stars. The control panel turned on/off colored lights and jets in the tub and also lit the mosaics and stars in the ceiling.

Cinderella's Castle Suite

There were super, super soft large white bath towels, hand towels and wash clothes for six people. The bath towels had a burgundy "C" embroidered on them.

The fresh fruit didn't last long, by the time I was done taking pictures and went to get a piece there were only two bananas and oranges left with a few grapes. I ate the grapes and was grateful for it as were the others.

It was close to 5 p.m. and we were all hungry. Matt was coming back to get us to watch the 5:45 p.m. castle lighting show called "Cinderella's Holiday Wish".

To Be Continued....

February 23, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in the Castle - Part 6

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle.

Part 1 - Steppin Off Soarin'

Part 2 - Who Will Join Me?

Part 3 - Logistics, Epcot, Dream Squads, and MouseFest, oh my!

Part 4 - Grand Marshalls in the Magic Kingdom Parade

Part 5 The Cinderella Castle Suite

This is part 6 - Dinner with Cinderella


It was close to 5 p.m. and we were all hungry. Matt was coming back to get us to watch the 5:45 p.m. castle lighting show called "Cinderella's Holiday Wish".

That left us an hour to relax a bit, freshen up, admire the suite and check everything out. Besides the fruit bowl, there was also the refrigerator with bottles of water, soda and apple juice boxes.

Paul and Dylan were immediately in the sitting room with the TV remote watching it. Paula asked about sleeping arrangements and claimed the sitting room with sofa sleeper because she knew Dylan would be up late watching TV and there were heavy draperies to close so he wouldn't be disturbing others trying to sleep. The rest of us would sleep in the two queen beds in the main room.

At 5:30 p.m. Matt came to get us. We left through the back of the castle and took the path down past Sleepy Hollow, across the bridge to the hub. The park was very crowded and we followed him as he worked his way toward the front of the crowd and off to the left side of the castle stage. It was fine viewing area. I was excited to see the show since I'd tried another night but arrived too late.

As we were waiting for the show to begin, I talked with Matt and asked him about himself. I learned he is from Maryland and always wanted to work for Disney. After college he applied and, the lucky dog, was hired, and look at the great position his has! He lives near Marge and Paul too.

The show was short and sweet and the castle is just gorgeous lit up. The show is about decorating the castle and Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Donald are in it. They are unsure how to decorate it. The Fairy Godmother appears on the balcony of the clock tower and suggests they check with Cinderella. Cindy and her prince arrive and she would like to decorate it with lots of icicles. The Fairy Godmother waves her wand at one section of the castle at a time lighting each section until it is completely lit all the way to the top of the highest spire.

Afterwards it was dinner time at, where else?, Cinderella's Royal Table in the castle. When we arrived at the podium, there seemed to be some confusion with our reservation. There didn't seem to BE a reservation but it was quickly worked out and we went inside the waiting area. Cinderella was there and welcomed us and posed for pictures. There were two shots taken by a CM and one pose was with me alone and the other was the group.

Kim and Cinderella

There was castle and coach shaped gold confetti on the floor and I picked up one of each. The princesses were presented with wands that were made of clear plastic handles and blue star ends and they said Cinderella's Royal Table on them. The princes each got swords. They were reluctant to take them but they were being good sports.

We were soon escorted up the elevator and to our table which was on the upper level of the dining room. Matt did not eat with us. I had invited him to earlier when someone asked if he was able to join us and he said he was. He declined, however, saying that the table would only accommodate six people and his joining us would mess that up. I felt bad. Our table had lots of gold castle and coach confetti on it. Dylan made a comment that at least it wasn't dirty" like the ones I picked up off the floor downstairs. I made sure I put some in my bag before we left.

CM Todd was our server and he was a little short and surly at first. We thought, perhaps, he didn't know "who" we were. He warmed up after a trip back to the kitchen, however, so he must have been informed. The menu was limited and I chose the corn and crab soup, pan-seared salmon and raspberry sorbet. Everything was excellent, especially the sorbet. The other options were:

APPETIZERS OF THE COURT

Castle Salad - mixed field greens with blue cheese, raspberries, and candied salnuts tossed in a berry vinaigrette

Vegetable Spring Roll - with soybean and bok choy salad and a ginger-garlic sauce

BLT Salad - applewood smoked bacon, tomato, egg, red onion, iceberg lettuce, frisee and baby spinach tossed with roasted shallot vinaigrette

Corn and Crab Soup - with sour cream and chives (Matt's recommendation)

ENTREES ROYAL

Roast Lamb Chops with roasted fingerling potatoes, vegetable ragout, and drizzled with herb pesto

Pork Tenderloin with bacon and mushroom ragout, vegetable couscous, and drizzled with sweet chili glaze

Lemon Lavender Chicken on mashed potatoes served with wilted spinach and a chicken jus

Roast Prime Rib of Beef with grilled asparagus, gratin potatoes, and a cabernet sauce

Pan-Seared Salmon with a grain pilaf, grilled asparagus, and glazed with rosemary-lemon honey

Cheese Tortellini with julienne vegetables, garlic, marinara sauce and fresh romano

FINALES

Chocolate Cream Cheese Buckle with chocolate ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce (Matt's recommendation)

Poached Pear on angel food cake topped with mango sorbet and drizzled with a port reduction

Raspberry sorbet

At the bottom of the menu it said: Where meals are served with a side of pixie dust.

Lisa wanted the pork tenderloin but has an allergy to green peppers. As a result, she wound up with a different version than the menu describes since the peppers were in most everything. As a result her meal was quite bland. The others all had prime rib for dinner. There were a few minutes of musical plates until everyone was satisfied with the size and doneness of their piece of meat. They took Matt up on his recommendations for the bisque and the chocolate dessert and they turned out to be good choices. Dylan had the vegetable spring roll which he didn't care for. He shared it with me and I thought it was okay but I could understand why it wasn't what he expected. Paul posed for a picture cutting his meat with his sword.

The Fairy Godmother did a show during our meal and we really didn't pay attention to it since it was in the main dining room and three of us had backs to her. She did announce me by name and recognized our table, as well as, everyone celebrating a honeymooner or anniversary . She asked me wave my princess wave. Pearla and the other mouse were there too. They all walked around the room and came to every table but moved very quickly, hardly slowing down enough for a non-blurry photo. Needless to say, there were no autographs being given at that rate of speed.

The pictures taken before dinner were brought to the table each in very nice pink folders with Cinderella on the front. They also had a photo of Cinderella Castle in it. All photos were 8 x 10s and were complimentary. I didn't realize until a couple of days later that there were 4 x 6s tucked in the folders too.

Matt arrived when we were finished with dinner and he escorted us down the stairs. He asked if there was anything we wanted to do and I suggested a ride on Cinderella's Carousel. Marge and Lisa decided to join me.

To be continued...

February 25, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in the Castle - Part 7

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle.

Part 1 - Steppin Off Soarin'

Part 2 - Who Will Join Me?

Part 3 - Logistics, Epcot, Dream Squads, and MouseFest, oh my!

Part 4 - Grand Marshalls in the Magic Kingdom Parade

Part 5 The Cinderella Castle Suite

Part 6 - DInner with Cinderella

This is part 7 - A Special Night in the Magic Kingdom


Matt arrived when we were finished with dinner and he escorted us down the stairs. He asked if there was anything we wanted to do and I suggested a ride on Cinderella's Carousel. Marge and Lisa decided to join me.

Paula, Dylan and Paul watched and Dylan also took some pictures as we circled around. As we waited in the standby line, I was trying to find Cinderella's horse but couldn't remember what characteristic distinguished it as hers. I asked Matt what it was and asked if I could ride it. He said her horse had a bow on its tail and when the carousel stopped it was right in front of us.

After the previous riders got off, he unhooked the chain and ushered us onto it before the other guests. We rode three in a row with Marge on the Prince's horse on the outside and Lisa on another on the inside. Matt took our pictures for us. He took lots of pictures of us throughout the night and he is a good photographer.

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Afterwards Matt brought us back up to the suite so Paula and Dylan could get jackets they forgot to take with them when we left earlier. It was a little chilly and we were going to watch Spectromagic next.

When we opened the door to the suite, we found some wonderful surprises. The beds were turned down, each had four pillows standing up on them, there were chocolate squares wrapped in gold foil with the castle printed them on both beds accompanied by cards.

One card had Cinderella in her blue dress with long white gloves on it and the other a pink pillow trimmed with gold braid and tassels with her glass slippers. Their messages read:

GOOD NIGHT

And may your dreams come true

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On the backs was the Cinderella Caste Suite logo which is a "C" with the caste pictured inside the "C" with a flourish of flowers and leaves around it. Very classey. Under to logo the following words read:

CINDERELLA CASTLE SUITE * Fantasyland * Magic Kingdom

But that wasn't all. On a mirrored tray was a beautiful display consisting of two solid white chocolate horses pulling a hollow white chocolate Cinderella coach. The top of the coach came off like a candy dish lid and it was filled with huge milk chocolate covered strawberries. There were more of the strawberries on the tray itself as well as three other candies in pastel colors with a "D" written in chocolate on them.

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In the bathroom were fresh red rose petals strewn on the tub and a big bottle of Disney princess bubble bath. Matt must have remembered that Lisa mentioned she liked taking bubble baths. On the vanity was Disney towel art featuring a towel pillow with the corners tied with black ribbons. On the pillow was a towel slipper and more fresh red rose peddles strewn around.


We were giddy and snapping pictures like crazy. In hindsight, it was a good thing that we came to the suite at this time because we had the opportunity to "ohh and ahh" and take pictures. When I returned at the end of the evening with Marge and Lisa, Paul, Paula and Dylan had already gone to bed and it would have been disturbing to them.

Now it was time, to head back into the park to watch SpectroMagic. Matt led us out the Fantasyland side of the castle and along the walkway past Sleepy Hollow again. The announcement that SpectroMagic was about to begin played and Matt knows it so well, he motioned to the lights just as they went off. I thought to myself, he's spent way too much time here!

The park was packed with guests so, as you can imagine, they staked out their parade viewing spots early and were several deep along the parade route by now. We, on the other hand, had the luxury of walking to the VIP viewing area on just off the Liberty Square bridge and sat in chairs. There were already some other people sitting in the front row of seats but we could still see fine.

After we were seated, there were a few minutes before the parade began. We took this time to chat among ourselves and call people to tell them where we were and what we were doing. I called my friend from work who shares my love of Disney and left a message. Later she called and left one for me telling me to say, "Hi!" to the castle mice. I also called Bill to update him since I hadn't called him since before we watched the afternoon parade. He was sorry he was missing it and I told him if he had been there we could have had a nice romantic evening in the castle. Marge pipes up that she was glad he wasn't there because she wouldn't be able to stay with me. We all laughed but Bill said he would have still invited her to join us.

The view from our seats was of the castle but obstructed by trees. That didn't matter as soon as the parade began. I noticed some changes in the beginning since the last time I'd seen SpectroMagic. The clown characters no longer had those scary looking "heads" on. Instead, they had masks and/or make up on (can't quite remember which). The rest of the parade was the same as usual and we enjoyed sitting back and watching it go by. As the parade was passing by someone pointed out to me that since there were no guests on the other side of parade route from us, all the characters gave us all their attention. Except for one dragon fly who was definitely flirting with the CMs who were across from us.

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Wishes! was to follow but Paul, Paula and Dylan decided to call it a night and return to the castle suite. It must have been after 9 p.m. and Paul had been up since 4 a.m. to go to work at Epcot. Dylan wanted to watch TV and Paula was tired, too, and wanted to be with Dylan. Matt had to keep us together so we all made our way, staying together in the mass of humanity as best we could, through the hub to the castle stage area. Here, Matt took us behind ropes and I could hear a woman complaining that she was told that the walkway was closed so they could not go up it. I felt really uncomfortable, walking by her and being escorted right up the walkway into the front of the castle. I would have this feeling throughout the evening as we were escorted past standby lines.

Alexis met them at the door and Matt, Marge, Lisa and I headed back out into the crowd to find a place to watch Wishes! I asked Matt where he had planned to go and he said in the rose garden. I asked if we could watch from my favorite spot which is the hub in front of the castle between the "Partners" statue and the end of Main Street. We found an area where we weren't shoulder to shoulder with other guests.

It may have been here in talking with Matt that he pointed out the suite elevator shaft was in the highest turret and it only went to the third floor which is where the suite is. He also pointed out that the suite is located in the area behind the clock tower roof. From inside the suite we noticed the stained glass windows looked out over the back left side of the castle (Liberty Square/Fantasyland). Matt was a guide for the Keys to the Kingdom tour at the Magic Kingdom and he was full of information which he was willing to share if asked. Being with him throughout the evening was like being on a private Keys to the Kingdom tour.

Wishes! soon began and I enjoyed simply watching it. I usually take pictures but this time decided to just watch. Lisa, on the other hand, was snapping pictures the entire time. Matt knew the show so well he was coaching her whether the next fireworks explosion was going high, wide or whatever. This allowed her to have her camera positioned appropriately. Afterwards, a guest approached her and told her he'd watched her throughout the show and it gave him pleasure seeing a huge grin on her face the entire time. Throughout the show, I was thinking that my friends are actually inside that castle right now!

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As the crowd started to move, we joined in heading for Tomorrowland and Monsters, Inc. Marge hadn't seen it yet, Lisa saw it once with me on Thursday and I'd seen it twice but wanted to see how it would differ from the first two times.

To be continued.....

February 27, 2008

Dreams Do Come True - A Night in the Castle Part 8

All Ears reader Kim Howe had the "dream of a lifetime" in December, when the Walt Disney World Dream Team awarded her a night's stay in Cinderella's Castle.

Part 1 - Steppin Off Soarin'

Part 2 - Who Will Join Me?

Part 3 - Logistics, Epcot, Dream Squads, and MouseFest, oh my!Part 3 - Logistics, Epcot, Dream Squads, and MouseFest, oh my!

Part 4 - Grand Marshalls in the Magic Kingdom Parade


Part 5 The Cinderella Castle Suite

Part 6 - DInner with Cinderella

Part 7 - A Special Night in the Magic Kingdom

Part 8 - Waking Up in the Castle Suite


As the crowd started to move, we joined in heading for Tomorrowland and Monsters, Inc. Marge hadn't seen it yet, Lisa saw it once with me on Thursday and I'd seen it twice but wanted to see how it would differ from the first two times.


We entered through the standby line but somehow wound up in the handicap waiting area in the front by the doors. As with any Disney queue/waiting area, there are a lot of details to take note of and humor in the details here. The ones I like are the short size of Mike Wasowski's door and the "Inhuman Resources" sign on another.

When the doors to the theater opened Matt escorted us to seats fairly close to the front and center. He said he could not stay and watch the show with us and left the theater. We thought that was weird. I found the entire show does differ each time based on who is in the audience and how well they participate and by the mixing up of the "sets" presented in each show. I saw five different sets in three shows I saw on this trip.

From Tomorrowland we walked past the Tea Cups to Toon Town to visit the characters there. It was pretty quiet in Toon Town probably because of two things, it's a little kids area and it was late at night plus the second parade was going to take place. After a restroom break, Lisa chuckled at and then pointed out to us Pete's "bumper crop" which were car bumpers planted in the ground. Matt took us into the big tent/store and in the exit for the character meet and greet. Lisa pointed out the humorous signs leading people toward the exit. I don't think I'd noticed them before but I'd only been there once before. Lisa had a good eye for detail (which was even more obvious after looking at her pictures of inside the suite).

He asked us to wait for him across from the front of the standby line while he went inside to check things out. I'd asked if we could get pictures with more than once character at a time. He came back for us and escorted us in the princesses' room. When we walked in, there were Aurora, Cinderella and Belle with no other guests. We had our pictures taken with them individually and as a group with both the CM camera and our cameras. Lisa and I both had Photopass cards and I was sure they were getting mixed up. The princesses were very perfect in everyway - their looks and conversation. We felt very underdressed in their presence. Cinderella even asked us how we enjoyed our dinner and accommodations.

After exiting this room, we walked back around to the front of the standby line where, once again, Matt asked us to wait until he returned and escorted us into see Minnie and Goofy. This time other guests were in the room but were leaving. I think he expected no other guests to be let in, but they were. He asked us to wait against the wall until they were through and asked the other CMs not to let anyone else in with us. We got some great photos again.

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The Big Cheese himself was next and, I think, Matt thought he'd be in his house since he mentioned that and took us through it but we wound up in Mickey's tent instead. Matt led us right in front of a line of people who all seemed to have their eyes on us. I didn't hear anything, but either Marge or Lisa heard people question who we were to get to do that and it wasn't right. It made me feel uncomfortable but soon we were removed from their view.

We waited our turn for pictures with Mickey once inside. Once again, as with the other two rooms, Marge new some of the cast members and they were all very excited to hear she was getting a chance to stay in the castle.

Sometime during the evening Matt asked if we'd like to go backstage to see the parade floats and down into the utilidoors. Of course I did! He said he sensed we were quite knowledgeable about the park and figured we'd want to see and learn more about the behind the scenes operations. Good call, Matt! Although all of us had done these things before, especially Marge, it's always a treat to get an opportunity to do things you can't always see and do without paying extra and taking the tours. I told Matt to feel free to provide us with any of the Keys to the Kingdom tour spiel as we walked through the park.

We walked to Frontierland to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We entered the ride through the exit/handicapped entrance. While we paused outside before going into the building, he pointed out the hidden Tinkerbell in the rocks. Lisa and I had seen it before on one of Steve Barrett's Hidden Mickey tours. Marge hadn't seen it before, though, and appreciated it.

Once inside, we boarded the last car at my request. I think, normally, the first train is reserved for guests entering the way we did. I thought it's a good thing I asked and felt Matt appreciated a ride in the back too. It's definitely the "wildest ride in the wilderness!" but it seems even wilder at night. WhooHoo!

We did some crisscrossing of the park but Matt was doing so trying to avoid the parade jam up. Next, it was back across the park and this time Matt motioned and the lights went back on - way too much time in the park. Our destination was The Haunted Mansion. Matt tried to point out the tribute to Mr. Toad in the Pet Cemetery. The others, as you probably know, are photos of him in his old ride building now occupied by Pooh. Unfortunately, the statue is in the very back and it was too dark to see and our camera flashes couldn't reach that far to light it up to see either. The next day, Lisa and I returned to see it in daylight.

We entered the Haunted Mansion through the handicapped entrance which is near the exit and through the servant's quarters hallway. I'd entered this way on the Keys to the Kingdom tour. As expected, it is very well detailed with the servant bells for each room on the wall.

As we entered the stretch room with other guests Matt led us to the wall which is really the exit door. The rehab of this attraction is excellent. It did not take anything away from what was previously there. Instead, the rehab added to it by using improved technology to enhance the imagineering. I rode with Matt and he pointed out the changes and explained to me, so I could finally understand, how the ballroom scene works. He also pointed out the Hidden Mickey in the graveyard scene. I'd been able to find it once before, but can't seem to see it every trip.

After this Marge asked if I wanted to share a funnel cake with her. I was still full so I declined and she didn't want a whole one but Matt insisted upon getting one. He asked us if we wanted anything else and we asked for waters. He got in line and ordered, "paid" from a pad of coupons he filled out and gave the cashier. We sat at a table in the back where it was quiet. Matt pointed out his favorite door on the side of the Hall of President's building. It was made to look like two doors that swing away from one another but when he opened it, it was one wide door. Cool.

He sat with us and we all picked at the funnel cake and made a mess with the powdered sugar. We chatted with Matt about his job as escort and what his experiences have been like - the unusual requests, famous guests, etc. He said that one group of castle suite winners were women who did not want to stay in the park but go to Pleasure Island instead. So, he escorted them to Pleasure Island for the night. That was his most unusual request. I don't recall him talking about anyone especially famous. He said every experience is different depending on the group and their interests and needs. Since we were all adults with a great deal of knowledge of the parks, he could share is knowledge from being a tour guide with us. Many groups are families with small children who spend their whole evening in Fantasyland.

It was about park closing time by now and Matt led us across the hub and we entered backstage by the restrooms between the Noodle Station and the Plaza Restaurant. How quickly the scene changes back there with everyday operations taking place: CMs on break, utility vehicles, plain white buildings, etc. We were on the side of the theater where the "Twas the Night Before Christmas" is shown and behind the buildings of the Plaza Restaurant and the ice cream shop.

Matt pointed to an area above the theater where Tinkerbell lands and explained how she is caught. Her wire is loosened a bit to slow her down then an item similar to a bed comforter is held up by a couple of people and as she slides into it and they wrap it around her. He also shared with us that Tinkerbell uses the castle suite elevator to the third floor and then climbs two more stories on a ladder to her point to take off during Wishes! We'd noticed that when Paul, Paula and Dylan decided to return to the castle, he was immediately on his radio. It was because of this fact and not wanting us to run across her in the elevator or vestibule. He said her costume is really nothing pretty since it is built with safety in mind and the lights aren't much to look at in the light.

All CMs we dealt with throughout our experience wore radios and were in contact with each other all the time as to our location and activity. Although there seemed to be some problems, they were smoothed over quickly and in general the entire 24 hours were very well orchestrated.

Next we headed into a main area, a kind of cross roads so sorts, that allows CMs in and out of the Main Street shops and the kitchens of the Plaza restaurant and the ice cream parlor. There is an elevator and a stairway, as well, leading to the offices above the Main Street shops and down into the untilidors. We went down.

It is a workplace filled with merchandise boxes and fork lifts. Gone was the Christmas music and playing, instead, was everyday pop music. There were only a few CMs about in various costumes or simply drab work clothes. They all looked tired and should be since it was after midnight on a hectic Saturday night. There was a map on the wall of the utilidors throughout the entire park all coded by color which matched the color stripes on the walls to help CMs know where they are. Marge says it's very confusing to find your way around. A guy on a fork lift was making a lot of noise moving a box around and then wrapping it in shrinkwrap as Matt was trying to talk to us.

He showed us a long wall with photos on it telling the story of the beginning of the the WDW Resort and the Magic Kingdom, how the property was bought in secret, built by placing the fill dug out from Bay Lake on the ground level (where we were), etc. He then played a short video which covered the huge operations at WDW such as laundry and costuming. Matt said that the wall of photos and video are part of the Keys to the Kingdom tour. At this point, I was feeling as if I'd hit a wall. We admitted later, we were all tired but pressed on.

We walked in a circle and when we came to the place where we had entered, we went back up and returned on stage. The park was emptying out and our next destination was the storage barn for the SpectroMagic floats. This meant we had to walk across the hub, into Liberty Square, and through Frontierland. Along the way, we asked Matt about what goes on during the night hours and what the park looks like. As you may imagine, a lot of cleaning takes place. The music is eventually shut off, about an hour or more, after the park closes and after the park is swept clean of guests. Additional lights and power washers are brought in which run off noisy generators and the place is cleaned. I asked if many people try to stay in the park overnight and Matt said no. I countered by saying maybe not that you know of. There seems to be a lot of places to hide, don't there?

I think many people wonder what goes on in the park overnight and what it would be like to be there to see it. Even if I wasn't so tired that night, I don't think I'd request to tour the park during the night. I don't mind going backstage, but I don't think I want to be in the park with the "lack of magic". That's just me.

We went backstage in Frontierland, by walking up the parade route, across the railroad tracks and behind the big solid gate. Back here are the big box buildings of Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain, the garbage disposal building and many others including the parade float storage area. I'd seen this area before on the Keys to the Kingdom tour and the Backstage Tour. I still think the SpectroMagic floats are still ugly when they are not lit. We did not go inside to see the daytime parade floats. Just as well, I was tired - but pressing on.

Something new for me was seeing the water circulating plant, if you want to call it that, for Splash Mountain. What a nasty pool of water filled with garbage that was! Hate to fall in it that's for sure. Matt said that it reported to be really quite clean but we all agreed we wouldn't want to drink it. Matt gave us all the figures on how much water it held and how long it takes to drain and refill the attraction but my brain was fried and I don't remember any of it. Sorry.

We finally gave in and called it a night. We walked back through a dead Frontierland. There were sandwich board signs signifying if an area was swept clean of guests yet or not. This was so vehicles and cleaners would not be brought in until it was clear. CMs were rolling carts with the posts and ropes that mark off the parade route in the Liberty Square area as were walked through there. The reflection of the twinkling castle in the water from the bridge was gorgeous and, of course, we stopped for photos. I also asked to get a picture with Matt. One of the other CMs with the parade carts offered to take it with all three cameras. She was very nice for it being so late at night.

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The hub was quiet as was Main Street. It was around 1 a.m. and the park had closed at midnight. We walked up the circular walkway into the front of the castle. A lovely view of the carousel through the castle greeted us - more photos.

Matt unlocked "our" door which was to on the right side just as you enter the hallway through the castle. He escorted us up to the suite and said that someone else would be meeting us in the morning at 8:50 a.m. to take us to breakfast at the Crystal Palace. We thanked him for a wonderful evening and said our good byes.

Inside the suite we found Paul sound asleep but he soon woke up. The drapes were closed to the sitting room where Paula and Dylan were staying. The TV was on but no one came out. I think Dylan was still up but Paula was asleep.

We got ready for bed. Lisa downloaded her nearly 600 pictures from her camera to her portable hard drive. Yes, 600 in just one day. Needless to say, it took quite a while and she was anxious to take her bubble bath. I was too tired to even eat a chocolate covered strawberry but didn't want to close my eyes either. I finally drifted off.

When I opened my eyes in the morning, I was looking right at the light coming through a beautiful stained glass window with crowns on it beside the bed. What a nice view upon opening your eyes. The others started stirring as well. Marge said it was after 7 a.m. Obviously, our 7 a.m. wake up call hadn't happened. I said we didn't need one the night before because I knew Marge would be up early. However, Matt insisted since Cinderella makes the call.

Marge called the reception area to tell the CM what happened and he apologized and said he would set it. He also asked if we wanted coffee and juice. Wow, we didn't expect that. He called back a few minutes later to say he couldn't set it any earlier than 15 minutes which was fine. I asked him for a box to pack up the chocolate coach to take home.

When the phone rang again, it was Cinderella. Marge and I tried to listen at the same time but her voice was very faint and we could barely hear her. When I hung up, the others asked what she had said and I couldn't tell them. A few minutes later, CM Julian from Germany showed up with a tray of fresh coffee and OJ. He was our escort for the morning and said he'd be back at 8:50 a.m. to take us to breakfast.

Amazingly six people were ready to go by 8:50 a.m. It helped that Paula and Dylan took showers the night before. They also spent their evening in the castle watching Ratatouille which they hadn't seen yet. Paul had gone right to sleep.

When Julian came to escort us to breakfast, he asked us what luggage needed to go where and who needed to go where after breakfast. It took a few minutes to think about that and get a plan in place. Everybody's cars were at the Grand Floridian so all the luggage went there except for Lisa's which he would bring directly to the Boardwalk for her. She road to the Grand Floridian with me but we would be going our separate ways later in the day. She didn't really want to get it at the Grand Floridian and then drag it with her on Disney transportation to the Boardwalk so she was very pleased. Marge and Paul agreed to take my luggage back home with them along with the boxed up chocolate coach and strawberries. That was a good thing, because Julian said that the hotel would not accept it with the rest of the luggage. It was also good because they were going right home and it didn't have to sit in a hot car. The plan also included Julian taking everyone but Lisa and I back to the Grand Floridian after breakfast. We were staying in the Magic Kingdom to pick back up on MouseFest activities.

We asked Julian if people ever take the towels and robes from the suite and he said that it does happen. When we asked what action takes place when that happens, he shrugged his shoulders and questioned what could they do. We kiddingly joked about grabbing some but I reminded everyone to "Let their conscience be their guide." We laughed and left robe and towel-less.

We walked out of the castle and it was a beautiful sunny morning. Guests were just making it to the hub. It was a petty cooling feeling walking out from the castle having been in the park all night and seeing the rest of the world just entering it. I asked for one more group picture in front of the "Partners" statue. I am so glad I did. It came out perfect and at the photo counter we added "Where dreams come true" with Tinkerbell above the castle sprinkling pixie dust over us. That picture summed up what, I think, we were all feeling.

Next we were on to the Crystal Palace. There was some confusion, it seemed, with a reservation for us. Just like dinner the night before, a table for six was made ready right away. As soon as we sat down, the characters were there as they worked their ways around the room. Then the parade started. It was a bit chaotic but we managed to make our way to the buffet.

The buffet was wonderful with many choices various breakfast breads, cereals, potatoes, meats and egg dishes. I especially liked the fresh fruit and made to order omelet. We took pictures with Eyeore, Pooh, and Piglet. Tigger just seemed to bounce right past us, I guess. Our server had me sign the bill which came to $141. I couldn't help but think what dinner came to the night before but I didn't see that bill.

Afterwards, we went to the Town Exposition Hall to view our Photopasses. Paula had the good sense to bring her CM coupon with her for one free print and all others $5. Lisa didn't have Photopass on her and felt she'd left in something she'd worn the night before. She said she would just look at it later so as not to hold us up going to get it, but we encouraged her to go and Julian escorted her. I was sure our Photopass cards had gotten mixed up the night before and we would not be able to see all of the pictures without hers. She didn't have to go as far as we thought, since Julian had loaded our luggage up from the castle and had it in the Suburban behind Town Exposition Hall. What a guy that Julian.

Paula, Lisa, Marge and I looked at all the photos while the boys sat in rockers on the porch. There were many but I can't remember exactly how many. A Disney photographer had started my card with the 3 p.m. parade pictures. We selected the ones we wanted fairly quickly I thought, however, Paul came in to check on us at one point. Marge and I each selected seven and Paula and Lisa selected fewer, maybe three each. A couple of them were quite dark once we saw them printed but he CM graciously touched them up making them lighter and we were happy. She also combined all the photos on both cards and made a new card so we had three cards with each having all the photos on them. That was nice so we could order more later if we chose to.

By now it had been over 24 hours since this "dream" had began and Julian needed to get Marge, Paul, Paula and Dylan to the Grand Floridian because the cycle was to begin again with the next Year of a Million Dreams Cinderella Castle Suite Winners. I bet by then they had already been selected and filled the paperwork out.

We all went backstage by the DVC office next to the Exposition Hall where Julian had the Suburban parked. Lisa and I said our good byes and while everyone else was getting in it, Lisa took a picture of me standing by the Castle Suite Winner reserved parking sign with the castle in the background. We didn't even think NOT to take any pictures backstage! When Julian caught us, he politely reminded us. We were so embarrassed since we knew better.

Lisa and I made our way back onstage, put our MouseFest lanyards on and we were off to the WDW Radio "Disney Scene Investigation" meet at 11 a.m.

In summary, everything went pretty smoothly even though we could sense there were some bumps along the way, such as the Mickey ears and the restaurant reservations, but they were quickly smoothed over. As I already mentioned, Matt, David and Julian were on the radio a lot. Although we couldn't hear what was being said, whatever it was, the situations were resolved and hardly noticeable. There obviously are many CMs behind the scenes helping to successfully orchestrate our every move.

All in all, it was an unbelievable experience that you would expect from Disney. It was something that I never thought could happen to me. I wish everyone reading this could have such an experience.

Truly, the best part for me was sharing it with friends who love Disney as much as I do and, therefore, appreciated the significance of the entire experience.

I know I will never forget the memories we shared and the happiness I felt during those 24 hours. It made my face hurt from smiling so much. It gave me a carefree feeling that reminded me of childhood when there isn't a care or worry in the world.

It was 24 hours of being in "the Disney Zone."

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About February 2008

This page contains all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in February 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2007 is the previous archive.

March 2008 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.