Memories of Mousefest 2003

By ALL EARS® Editor-In-Chief Deb Wills and
Senior Editor Debra Martin Koma

Feature Article

This article appeared in the December 16, 2003, Issue #221 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Walt Disney once said, "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."

MouseFest, a recent gathering of hundreds of Internet community members at Walt Disney World, is a real-life example of Walt's quote.

Several years ago, Deb Wills, Editor-in-Chief of ALL EARS® was attending the annual December gathering of the Usenet newsgroup RADP (rec.arts.disney.parks) at Walt Disney World. In talking with meet attendees, she realized RADP was not unique -- that there were other similar Disney Internet communities, such as those on CompuServe and MSN, that also had well-established followings. She thought to herself how incredible it would be if someone could bring the various Disney communities together somehow. Over the next few years Deb saw Internet groups devoted to Disney blossom, and even more communities, such as DIS and Intercot, held their own gatherings at WDW throughout the year.

As Deb met these folks, she found that many of them participated in several different groups -- as one reader told her, "There is a lot of cross-pollinating!" Some of them were torn, wanting to attend the meetings of each of their cyber-groups, but unable to travel to WDW multiple times a year. After mulling it over for some time, Deb decided to try to make her dream a reality. She began by talking to a few unofficial Disney webmasters about coordinating the Disney Internet community get-togethers for one weekend in December. After a long lunch one day last year with Jennifer Watson and Dave Marx of PassPorter WDW, the concept of MouseFest 2003 was born.

Many phone calls and emails were traded, and as things fell into place the MouseFest idea expanded to include a four-night Disney Wonder Cruise. More webmasters and communities across the Internet joined in the planning and soon everything took shape.

Fast-forward to today -- it's now December 16, and MouseFest 2003 is a thing of the past, an event whose happy memory will bring smiles to our faces and remain with us for a very long time.

As Deb Wills had initially hoped, hundreds of Disney fans from all over the world participated in MouseFest 2003. Nearly 100 folks cruised on the inaugural MouseFest Cruise, put together by MouseEarVacations.com. In addition, more than 25 unofficial Disney website representatives and eight unofficial WDW guidebook authors attended a variety of get-togethers throughout the week, most notably the huge MegaMouse Meet held Saturday, December 6. More than 400 Disney-lovers stopped in at the MegaMouse Meet, visiting with the webmasters and authors they have read about for years, as well as meeting up with others just like them from other Internet communities, many meeting in person for the first time friends they had made in cyberspace.

One hears many ominous warnings about the Internet in the news media. We thought you might enjoy hearing about the positive aspects of this technology that unites people from around the world. Here are just some of the highlights of MouseFest 2003:

MouseFest 2003 Cruise: Nearly 100 cruisers, including Allears.net® founder Deb Wills, PassPorter guidebook authors Jennifer Watson and Dave Marx, Hidden Mickeys Field Guide author Steve Barrett and WhatWouldWaltDo.com founders Allison and Tom Keaney were all aboard the Disney Wonder for the official start of MouseFest 2003! In the warm Florida sunshine, everyone on board enjoyed the Sail Away Celebration with hosts Mickey and Minnie, as the Wonder prepared to set sail for Nassau in the Bahamas. Cruisers participated in a total of 11 MouseFest events, highlighted by our very own "Bon Jovi" Nate at the Battle of the Bands, a Hidden Mickeys tour aboard the Wonder by Steve Barrett, a PassPorter Treasure Hunt, a Sand Castle Contest on Castaway Cay and our Farewell Party (for MouseEarVacations.com clients), which included a slide show of photographs taken during the four-night cruise!

Kilimanjaro Safari Meet: "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" Oh wait, that was over at the Great Movie Ride. More than 100 people from an assortment of Disney Internet communities awoke early enough on Friday morning to gather in Animal Kingdom's Africa for the 4th Annual Safari Ride. As they posed for the "group photo," they sang Happy Birthday to one of the attendees, Donna. The Cast Members were very helpful and tried their best to keep the group together, although it took quite a few jeeps. The lions weren't out and about, but the safari-riders did spy the cheetahs, okapi, bongos, ostrich, rhino, elephants and many more wild animals.

The Ask the Experts Meet featured Allears.net® founder Deb Wills and the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World author Bob Sehlinger. After brief introductions, Deb and Bob opened the floor for questions. Well, OK, they bribed some folks with free Disney trinkets to get the questions started -- but then a great hour of conversation followed. More than 90 attendees entered a drawing for some special prizes that included items from the October WDW Press Event and a Pal Mickey! There was even a special gift for the person in attendance who traveled the furthest, an honor that went to Andy from the United Kingdom, who has joined in the fun and attended numerous meets over the years.

The MegaMouse Meet: Shouts of "I'm so glad to finally meet you!" rang out as more than 400 Disneyphiles from numerous Disney Internet communities gathered on Saturday afternoon at the WDW Dolphin's Copa Banana for the first-ever MegaMouse Meet. Greeters welcomed all comers with directions and goodie bags, and folks circulated at their leisure to mingle with (to name just a few): Disney guidebook authors like Bob Sehlinger (Unofficial Guide to WDW), Jennifer Watson and Dave Marx (PassPorter), and Steve Barrett (Hassle-Free WDW Vacation and Hidden Mickeys Field Guide), as well as Disney website owners like Deb Wills (allears.net), Allison and Tom Keaney (whatwouldwaltdo.com), Binnie Betten (themouseforless.com), and Scott Thomas (PSCalculator.net). It was also an opportunity for folks who have become "cyber-friends" through their participation in several different Disney communities like the RADP (rec.arts.disney.parks) newsgroup, OurLaughingPlace.com and Tagrel.com to finally meet face-to-face and make real-life connections. The turnout exceeded all expectations, and all those involved are already thinking of ways they can make MegaMouse Meet 2004 even better!

The Jungle Cruise Meet on Sunday drew so many friends of RADP that they thought they'd need to split into two boats. Never fear -- enthusiastic Cast Members somehow managed to squeeeeeeeeeze all *43* people on one boat, with some giggling folks sitting on others' laps in the very definition of togetherness. Despite a scary moment where the boat seemed to run aground in the ride's Asian tunnel, the meet attendees all survived and no Animatronic animals were harmed -- although the Skipper's awful puns did cause some painful, sidesplitting groans!

IllumiNations Cruises: All totaled, 200 Disney-goers enjoyed this year's IllumiNations Cruises as part of MouseFest! On Saturday, five pontoon boats of MouseFest folks set sail on a chilly but clear evening and discovered there's a reason these cruises are so popular -- they're lots of fun! The festers cruised the waterways for nearly an hour before settling under the bridge in Epcot to watch the fireworks and laser show. Although temps dipped down into the upper 30s, the boats provided warm blankets, and some of the cruise hosts, like Gloria from Miami, provided, well, a little something more in the line of "warmer-uppers."

A Special Wine and Cheese Reception, held at one of the BoardWalk's Grand Villas, saw just over 100 MouseFesters treated to a few hours of fine wine, tasty snacks and the chance to mingle in an informal, relaxed setting with Walt Disney World Guide Book authors and the webmasters of several popular Disney-related Internet sites. Co-hosts Deb Wills and Shontell Crawford (of dvcbyresale.com) kept the fun flowing with lots of door prizes, and attendees had the rare opportunity to spend some time in one of the largest and most luxurious accommodations the Disney Vacation Club offers, overlooking Disney's BoardWalk and Crescent Lake.

There were so many more scheduled, as well as impromptu, meets, dinners, gatherings, that we couldn't possibly include them all here -- we guess the best thing is for us to sum up with the very old cliche, "A good time was had by all!"

THANK YOU to everyone who participated in MouseFest 2003: the entire RADP Planning Committee, the MegaMouse Meet special guests and greeters, and the staff at MouseEarVacations.com for providing such great land and sea accommodations and extras. And of course our very special thanks to all of you who attended -- you are why we did this, and why it was such a great success! As MousePlanet's Mike Scopa put it: "We have created a Disney 'Learning Community,' and our collective mission is to bridge the knowledge gap... MouseFest has shown that our efforts are appreciated and that we have touched people's lives in a way that brings them joy with their love for Disney and Walt Disney World."

We have already begun planning for MouseFest 2004, which begins next December 5 with a four-night Disney Wonder Cruise! Take special note, Adventurers Club fans -- you won't want to miss the very special land package available from MouseEarVacations.com that includes a private party at Pleasure Island's Adventurers Club!

See you next year at MouseFest 2004, OK? Plan on it!

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Want to see some photos of the festivities? We're building a scrapbook -- check back here as we add more to it:

http://allears.net/btp/MF2003.htm

Also, for those of you who participated in MouseFest this year: Be on the lookout for our MouseFest Survey -- to make next year even better, we'll need your help and honest feedback! We'll be announcing the location of the survey here soon!


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.