Magic and Merriment

On the weekend of December 12 and 13, 2009, Jill and I attended the D23 “Magic and Merriment” event at Walt Disney World Resort.

D23 is the “official Disney fan club”. Membership is $75 per year, which gets you the quarterly magazine as well as access to D23 events (some free, some at extra cost) and the ability to buy special D23 merchandise.

I tried to talk Jill out of it. “You’re paying them for the ability to buy more things from them!” I said. But she was undeterred, and we enjoyed the free “Flowers and Fireworks” event in May at Epcot (where we got special seating to see Tony Orlando, and he did a few shoutouts to the D23 members); so when she wanted to go to “Magic and Merriment”, I agreed to go along with her. And when I found out that tickets were $200 each, Mom and Dad agreed to cover half the cost as their Christmas present to us.

Signup for “Magic and Merriment” was on the Disney web site. It started at a specific hour on a Thursday morning. Within five minutes it had entirely sold out, placing many people on a waiting list. Our friend Heather got in, but her guest β€” her husband Jason β€” was waitlisted, and Disney appeared oblivious to the snafus, so Jill crashed the next D23 event (“Sip and Stroll at Epcot”) and found a castmember directly involved in D23 and explained the problem and helped get everything get sorted out.

So, on the Saturday morning of December 12, Jill and I and Heather and Jason and Josh and Lynda arrived at Epcot, tickets in hand.

. o O o .

Sign-in started at nine in the morning at the Odyssey Restaurant, which was the designated “hospitality location” for this day; it was well-stocked with sodas and tea and coffee and hot cocoa. Odyssey is a restaurant between Test Track and the Mexico pavilion. It closed in the 1990s, and since then has been only used for special events such as Food and Wine. It’s been maintained just fine, and was all decorated for Christmas. I hadn’t been in that building for two decades. It was great just to be in there again.

About two hundred people attended the event. We checked in at Epcot guest relations for our event passes, and the welcome packs given to us at Odyssey included (for each person) an itinerary, two park tickets, and two DisneyQuest tickets. Each ticket is good through the end of January. Each D23 member was also given a “Culinary Confessions” cookbook written by one of the castmembers.

At ten o’clock began the first presentation of the weekend. First we learned how Holiday Services decorates the parks for the holidays; the talk focused on Kidani Village and Bay Lake Tower, the two newest Disney Vacation Club resorts. Then a pair of chefs came out and built a small gingerbread house whole they explained all about how they built the huge gingerbread house in the Grand Floridian and the gingerbread merry-go-round at Beach Club.

The presentation lasted about an hour, and every few minutes a team of castmembers would come through the audience, giving out gifts. We all received Santa Mickey hats with ears, a generous pack of ride passes (seven re-entry passes for Magic Kingdom rides, six FASTPASSes for Epcot rides), and gingerbread cookies. One person in the audience won the gingerbread house that the chefs had made on stage. Santa Stitch made an appearance for photos, and then afterwards we were “set free” to “explore the park on our own” for the afternoon.

The next item on the agenda was the 5pm Candlelight Processional, narrated by Chita Rivera. We had special seating for this; a bit further back than I would have liked, but bypassing the long lines was satisfying enough!

After the show, we were escorted backstage (behind the America pavilion) to board Disney Cruise Line buses, which brought us backstage Disney Hollywood Studios to dine on the set of Lights, Motors, Action! It was at this time that things started to really feel quite special. Dinner was a buffet with carved beef tenderloin, turkey and dressing, crab and lobster au gratin potatoes, a variety of salads and some wonderful hot bread. Tables were set up for us actually right on the pavement where the cars drive for the show; we got some great close-up photos of us standing in front of the faux French bistros!

There was a bit of disappointment when we couldn’t find a table for all six of us to sit together. Jill spoke with the staff, and within minutes they had brought out and set another table for us.

After a leisurely dinner, we were escorted to Toy Story Midway Mania for a ride, and then to the Studio Catering Company restaurant for a dessert party: fruit and cheeses, bread pudding with caramel sauce, and chocolate mousse cups. Then we went to New York Avenue for a presentation about the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. The street started out dark and quiet, as show director John Phelan talked about the history of this attraction, how it was brought here from Arkansas, how he initially contacted the Osborne family, what the family was like, and so on and so forth … in much more detail than the tired audience seemed to want. Finally he concluded his presentation and ran through one loop of the show music for us as the lights danced and the snoap machines drifted snoap down on us from the rooftops.

Each of us received a glass D23 Christmas ornament as we left. Buses then met us in the Backlot Tour area to return us to our cars and resorts. Planning fell a bit short here; the bus back to the Epcot parking lot filled up quickly, so we had to board one of the resort buses, and then the driver realized how many different resorts he’d have to bring people back to, so he instead announced that he was going first to the Epcot parking lot and then straight to Downtown Disney, from where everyone else would be able to find different buses back to their resorts.

And then the driver got lost in the Epcot parking lot. He drifted aimlessly through empty lanes until he attracted the attention of Disney security, who came to help. In the midst of the commotion Jill and I hopped off and found our car.

. o O o .

After our late night, we were glad to be able to get a late start on Sunday. We met at eleven at the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon (another restaurant that’s usually closed) for a buffet lunch (pulled-pork, turkey salad, Monte Cristo, and vegetarian-on-focochia sandwiches; homemade potato chips; Walt’s favorite chili with nachos; lemon tarts; and Mickey ice-cream sandwiches). Under one of the seats was an envelope, and the family who found it got to be Grand Marshals in the three o’clock parade. The Main Street Barbershop Quartet sang Christmas songs for us while we dined.

At three o’clock we watched the parade from a D23 special roped-off area in front of Exposition Hall, and waved to the Grand Marshals as they went by. They waved back.

All afternoon was set aside for scheduled tours of the Dream Suite in Cinderella Castle. Our timeslot was 6:10, so we had dinner with Lynda and Josh at Tony’s Restaurant. We got to the tour waiting area (at Sleepy Hollow) a half-hour early, and spent the time chatting with the D23 staff; they were friendly and as enthusiastic about the weekend as the rest of us were. Finally our time came for the tour: our group of eight people was escorted into a the castle and through a small side-door into a vestibule with an elegant desk, and then we were crammed like sardines into a tiny elevator for the ride up to the suite. When I say tiny, I mean tiny; we all had to exhale to make enough room.

The elevator let us off on the third floor (“the second floor is the restaurant,” the castmember pointed out to us) into another vestibule, this one with a gold-leaf mosaic of a pumpkin carriage on the floor and a glass slipper in a display case. She opened the door to the suite, and we filed in…

The suite truly is magnificent. The main room contains two queen-sized beds facing a faux fireplace with a TV (usually displaying a portrait of Cinderella) above. To the right of the fireplace is the doorway to a sitting room containing a couch and bookshelves flanking a large mirror which doubles as a larger TV with 5.1 surround sound; to the left of the fireplace is the doorway to the bathroom, with a walk-in shower, a water closet, and a hot tub with controls for underwater lighting as well as a way to dim the lights and illuminate pinpoints of starry light in the ceiling. Overall the suite is somewhat small, but it’s the atmosphere that makes it special. This is no Holiday Inn. The decor, the appointments, and the lighting all add to the illusion of really being in a room fit for Cinderella Castle.

There are no windows in the suite, aside from two colored-glass windows in the sitting room through which you can make out the lights of the park outside. The windows are intentionally opaque so as not to spoil the forced-perspective illusion of the castle’s height; to someone on the ground outside, people in the room would look huge!

After a few minutes in the suite, we packed into the elevator again and returned to the first floor. When the elevator door opened, the elevator continued to bounce up and down by a few inches in each direction from the weight of the people squeezed into it. We got out quickly. As we departed we were each given a blank keycard to the Dreams Suite (the same one that Dreams Suite guests receive, except that ours hadn’t been activated, of course). Jill and Heather noticed the Cinderella Castle stationery on the desk and thought to ask for a piece, and were each given one sheet and an envelope. Smart!

We left the castle through the front archway just before a show started on the promenade. I stepped through the archway to find bright lights in my face and a huge crowd before me, waiting expectantly. Instead of hurrying down the stairs, I walked forward towards them and waved, and they cheered for me. If I’d had more presence of mind, I would have taken a picture. πŸ™‚

The remainder of the evening was taken up by Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, usually an added expense but β€” nicely! β€” included for us as part of the D23 event. Our hospitality location for the evening was the Liberty Belle steamboat at dock, where hot cocoa, apple cider, cookies, and rice krispie treats were provided for us. I kicked back for a while on the bow of the steamboat, watching the Frontierland crowds across the water. The family who had been chosen as Grand Marshals were there also, and Jill and I talked with them for a while.

We returned to the D23 parade viewing location to watch the Very Merry Christmas parade; the staff handed out candycanes to us. The Christmas parade really is a lot of fun to watch. Then we rode a few more rides, bought a few more souvenirs, ate a few more cookies, and finally returned to our cars to end the weekend.

The Dream Suite tour and the dinner on the set of Lights, Motors, Action! were, for me, the highlights of the weekend. Don’t tell Jill this β€” but I’m actually kind of glad she got a D23 membership.

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