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.
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.
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."