Star Wars Weekend VIP - Year of a Million Dreams Winner
We were on our second trip to Disney World last August 16th - August 23rd 2008.
The first couple of days were fine, nothing more than the normal rain that comes through every day in Orlando in August. The weather report got worse however, they were reporting that a hurricane was going to hit the coast. Fortunately, when it did hit the coast it was downgraded to Tropical Storm Fay.
It rained for 3 straight days. One day we were just waiting for the rain to slow down before we headed out to a park -- Animal Kingdom! It was raining really hard so I dropped the rest of the family off at the front gate and I parked the rental car. We met up in one of the stores just past the front gate.
Everyone decided to go over to the Dinoland U.S.A. My son wanted to ride Primeval Whirl. My wife took him to ride that while I took the 3 year old on Triceratop Spin. There was no line so we just walked right through and onto the next available car (dinosaur). When we finished the ride and were about to get out of the vehicle, I noticed some Dream Squad members by the exit.
I thought I would walk by and see what they were giving away, but just as I was about to go past them they stopped me. They said, "We have some good news for you!" I asked if we could wait until my wife and son got off Primeval Whirl before they said anything. You see, we had one Dream Fastpasses on our January trip as we were coming off the train at Magic Kingdom. Then there were just a couple of Dream Squad members handing out the passes but this time there were 7 or 8 of them waiting on us. I had a feeling that this was going to be better than fastpasses.
When my wife and son saw us standing there with the Dream Squad they didn't know what was going on. I told them we won something but I don't know what. They said "Let's go get out of the rain!" We went into the store in Dinoland.
The Dream Squad told us we had just won an all expense paid, VIP trip back to Disney in 2009. I asked what we did to win it. They said that the computer picked 1:00PM on August 20th at Animal Kingdom on the first seat of car number 8 on Triceratop Spin. They then took us to the front of the park to guest services to fill out all the paperwork.
We had a choice of weekends to select. There was Soap Opera weekend, ESPN weekend, and Star Wars weekend. It was a pretty easy choice to make since we are Star Wars fans. Not only did Disney pay for all the trip expenses they also paid the taxes that we would have to pay to the IRS for winning a prize.
Fast forward now to May, 2009. It's time for our Dream Weekend in WDW!
Thursday, May 28th, was check in day for our Star Wars Weekend VIP experience. The hotel we selected was the Boardwalk Inn. We picked up the room keys and the information packet from Disney. The packet had our itinerary and 4 $300 gift cards. We were scheduled for a standard room but when we got to the room ( at the very end of the resort) we were surprised to see a boardwalk view. We were on the 3rd floor - the next to last room by the ESPN Club. This is a great location but it can be a little noisy until around 11 or midnight when most of the restaurants close. The view is spectacular though.
We went to EPCOT to spend the day and had reservations at Chefs de France at 5:00. We didn't tell the kids where we were going because we wanted to surprise them with Remy from Ratatouille at the restaurant. We walked around the park to see all of the attractions for the Flower and Garden Festival.
After seeing all the displays and riding Spaceship Earth we headed to the restaurant. After the waiter, Xavier, took our drink order, Remy made his way around to our section of the restaurant. What a great addition - I hope they extend this past September. Remy spent maybe 30 seconds at the other tables and then he made his way to our table. He was getting ready to leave but since we know (from reading this site) what to ask him, we asked if he knew how to dance. He then does his routine to "Can't Touch This".
We have the Tables in Wonderland card since we are season pass holders. On our last 2 trips whenever we tell the waiter we have the discount card, the service is usually horrible. They figure they have their 18% so why bother. Xavier was one of the best waiters we have ever had at Disney so we tipped around 25% I think.
We headed back to the hotel since we were going to get up and open Hollywood Studios on Friday and it was Extra Magic Hour morning. I stayed down on the Boardwalk to take a few pictures and the rest of the family went back to the room. When they got back to the room Disney had delivered 4 gift baskets with Mickey Jedi robes and Fx lightsabers. The kids then had a lightsaber duel down the hallway as I was walking back to the room.
We walked to Hollywood Studios in order to get in line for the Toy Story Mania morning dash. We were disappointed that the storm troopers didn't do their show before the park opens. We weren't really expecting the show since it was Extra Magic Hour but were still hoping. The park opened so we followed everyone else to Toy Story Mania. We got in line to get a fastpass with the hopes of getting them and then getting in the standby line to ride. About 3 people before I got to the machine it broke. The cast members tried to fix it but they couldn't get it to work. I told my son to go get in the other line which was about 20 people deep. He made it to that machine and they were still working on my machine. I handed him the tickets and we got our 4 fastpasses. We headed to the standby line and it was probably at about a 45 minute wait, at least, by then. We decided to just come back at our fastpass time.
We waited in line to get our picture with Boba Fett/Jango Fett. We wanted to get pictures with the characters today rather than tomorrow because we didn't know what the VIP schedule was going to be like.
We also went and checked out all the Star Wars merchandise at Wicket's Warehouse. I think we used all of one of the gift cards in there. We had noon reservations at the Brown Derby so we watched the Star Wars parade at 11:40 before heading over.
We headed over to the Brown Derby for lunch and were seated at our favorite waiter Ryan's table. You will recognize him because he looks like actor Paul Giamatti. You never have to worry about service with Ryan no matter what dining plan you are on. He earns more than the mandatory 18% every time. We both had the ahi tuna, I get that every time there, and the kids had something from the kids menu.
We decided to go back to the hotel and let the kids swim. We needed to get the lightsabers shipped home so we went down to the business office at the hotel. We didn't have any boxes to ship them in other than the individual boxes that they came in. We decided the best way would be to tape them all together. I figured that it would cost at least $50 to ship them back to Texas since it was an awkward size and we needed boxes. The guy in the business center said he would have UPS box it up when they came by for pick up. The total cost to ship it all back was $18. This was another great service from Disney. We next decided to go over to the Yacht and Beach Club and try the Kitchen Sink at Beaches and Cream. This thing is massive. It has 8 scoops of ice cream, a can of whip cream and every topping that they have. We could only make a dent in this thing before we were full.
The kids wanted to go swimming and I remembered that Tony Orlando was performing at EPCOT for the Flower Power series. I headed over to get in line for that and the rest of the family went back to the Boardwalk to go swimming. The line for the concert was backed up pretty far but after they let us go into the theater there were only about 7 rows in the front filled up. He came out and the first song he sings is "Tie a Yellow Ribbon". He performs a bunch of oldies and is a good entertainer. The concert lasts for about 30 minutes so I head back over to the swimming pool.
We headed over to the Boardwalk to get some food. The kids order pizza at the stand between Spoodles and the Flying Fish. While waiting on the pizza we go over and watch the magician who is performing on the Boardwalk. We have seen the same magician before at Downtown Disney but he puts on a good show and the kids love to watch him. We head back to the room afterwards and call it a night. Tomorrow is the big day so we want to be well rested.
We arrive in the lobby about 10 minutes before our scheduled meeting time at 9:00AM with our guide. Matt is already waiting on us. Here is a person that LOVES his job. He teaches school during the week and on the weekends he is a VIP guide with Guest Services. School is over for him the first week of June and he doesn't get a day off until the end of July. That is 7 days a week 10+ hours a day. He said that he doesn't consider it work. He gets to go to Disney and ride the rides all day. When he is working as a VIP guide he has to wear a long sleeve shirt and the plaid jacket no matter what the weather is like. On May 30th it was hot and humid. I can only imagine what it is like in August in that outfit. Matt says that we have his services until 9:00PM.
It is time to get in the big white van and make our way to Hollywood Studios. We park in the back of the studios by the Imagineering offices and enter the park by the Tower of Terror.
Matt needs to process our tickets so he puts us on the Great Movie Ride while he does that. We meet up at the exit and head over to ride Toy Story Mania. Matt flashes his badge and we go through the fastpass entrance. My 4 year old wants to ride with Matt so she can "show him what to do" on the ride.
Matt tells me some of the secrets to getting a good score but I didn't do that well and didn't break 175,000. The next time I ride I will ride with him and we can use a little teamwork.
From Toy Story Mania we went and rode Star Tours. Star Wars Weekends seems to be the only time that this ride is busy. The ride seems a little dated to me at this point.
After Star Tours we go over to ride Tower of Terror. I am the only one who wants to ride it so Matt and I proceed through the fastpass entrance. He fills me on all the little details in the ride. The rest of the family is waiting at the exit in the gift shop. On our way out we run into Deb Wills. This is always a highlight of our trips. This is the second trip in a row we have seen Deb. In December we ran into her in the parking lot at Animal Kingdom where she graciously took a picture with my wife. As always Deb was very nice to us. We told her about our trip and she told me I should guest blog about our experience (so here I am :). She gave us some hats and lanyards and we were on our way.
Our first scheduled activity was the parade at 11:40 so we had some time before that so we went and rode Toy Story Mania again. This time I rode with Matt. I still didn't do very well. I believe Matt scored 187,000 and I had 174,000. We couldn't get the timing right on some of the bonuses. We made our way to the parade route where they had special seating for us in front of the American Idol show. We were seated beside one of the other VIP experience families from California. They won their trip at Disneyland.
The Star Wars parade is very interesting. I don't think there is another parade at Disney where the majority of the people in it aren't Disney cast members. They are just Star Wars fans in various outfits. The "501st Legion" is a bunch of people in Imperial Guard and storm trooper outfits, very good storm trooper outfits. There are clone troopers, Javas, sand people, Ewoks, rebel fighters, rebel pilots and an assortment of others that are just fans. Also in the parade are the weekend's celebrity guests. Peter "Chewbacca" Mayhew, Matthew Wood (the voice of General Grievous), Jay Laga'aia (Captain Typho) and Ashley Eckstein (voice of Ahsoka in the "Clone Wars"). Chewbacca, R2D2, ewoks, Boba Fett, Darth Maul and other characters round out the parade with Darth Vader bringing up the rear.
Our next event is a meet and greet with the celebrity guests for the weekend. We go to a building that is right across the street in front of Star Tours. The 2 other families that won a trip are there as well. Disney has a photographer there to take our picture. We get our pictures taken with Chewbacca and an ewok first, then Queen Amidala. The last characters that we met were Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker.
We then met Matthew Wood who is the voice of General Grievous and is sound engineer at Skywalker Ranch. He signed a picture that we had bought at Wicket's Warehouse of General Grievous for my son.
Next we met Ashley Eckstein who signed the kids autograph book and a picture she had of her character. The last person that we met was Peter Mayhew. He is very tall as you can imagine since he plays Chewbacca. He walks with a cane but what you notice about the cane is it isn't an ordinary cane, it is a lightsaber with a rubber tip on the end. We didn't get to meet Jay Laga'aia.
We had lunch reservations at Mama Melrose's restaurant at 1:30 so we had little bit of time before then so we watched Muppetvision 3D. It was time to go to lunch when we finished the Muppets so headed over. This was the first time we had ever eaten here. The food was very good and it was good to sit down for a while. The best part of it though was that Disney paid for it.
The last scheduled event that we had was "Behind the Force" which is a look at how they make the Clone Wars cartoon series. While waiting for the theater to open we went over to the AFI showcase and saw the "Villains" exhibit. There were also assorted Star Wars characters out in front of the theater stopping for photo ops.
When it was time for the theater to open we were seated at the front of the theater. The show was interesting. It was Ashley Eckstein and Matthew Wood showing how they do the voices for the Clone Wars animated series.
We know had to rest of the day to do whatever we wanted. We decided not to stay for the Hyperspace Hoopla since we would have to fight the crowd. We wanted to go to the Magic Kingdom but my son's favorite ride is Test Track at EPCOT. We told him that it would take to much time to get over to EPCOT and then get to the Magic Kingdom. Matt says if you want to ride Test Track it won't take long because we park right behind it. It took us about 10 minutes to get into the parking lot behind Test Track. We went through the fastpass line and got on the ride. It was the 4 year olds first time on the ride. She loved it. We got off the ride and went through a back door and made our way back to the van. From the time we got into the parking lot and got back into the van was 20 minutes exactly.
We then headed over to the Magic Kingdom and parked right behind Main Street. We rode Winnie the Pooh, Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, and Pirates of the Caribbean. It was close to 7:30pm so we decided to head out. We wanted to get our picture with Matt so we stopped by in front of the castle to get one on our photopass.
One of the other things Disney gave us was a code to get a free photopass cd. We made our way back to the Boardwalk and waited about 30 minutes for a table at Spoodles for dinner.
Sunday was check out day so we checked the bags at the front since our plane didn't depart until 8:00 PM. My 4 year old daughter and I went to the Magic Kingdom and my wife and son went to EPCOT. My son really wanted to do the Kim Possible adventure. At the Magic Kingdom we managed to ride Snow White, Winnie the Pooh, Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and the 4 year old's favorite ride Haunted Mansion. We also had to get the greatest dessert at Disney the Dole Whip. We then got on the monorail and headed to EPCOT to meet up. My son finally got his wish and was picked by the candy lady at the Japanese pavilion. She made him a dragon.
We had lunch at Cantina de San Angel and then walked around the World Showcase until it was time to head back to the hotel and catch Magical Express to the airport.
We had a great time on the trip. We spent a lot of money as well. I think we have around $100 left on a gift card. You just can't beat the VIP service. I would suggest to everyone who can afford the $1,800 (minimum per day) to do it. That is a little out of my price range but I can always "dream" to do it again someday. Thanks to everyone at Disney who made our trip a magical one.
James Knowles and family