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A Magical Gathering
by Bonnie Joy Dewkett, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the June 5, 2007 Issue #402 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Who knew that gathering together with 13 family members in a high energy, fast-paced vacation could be so much fun? About a year ago, my husband's aunt approached the whole family and asked us to be part of a Magical Gathering, a group of eight or more traveling to the Walt Disney World Resort. Some of us had been to Disney before and for some of our party it was their first time. Admittedly, some of our party had no desire to go to Disney World; however, we convinced them with promises of fun and magic.
Throughout the year, reservations for our hotel, meals and travel were made. All of us were anxious about how we would all interact, find time to do what we wanted to do and keep track of all of our party.
When we arrived, the Yacht Club checked us in one room at a time and, as promised, they had us in a block of rooms, all in a row. Some of us had rooms with a door in between them. Even the family with the largest amount of luggage got settled in right away thanks to the bell staff.
On our first night at the resort we took advantage of one of the events offered only to Magical Gatherings, the Magical Fireworks Cruise. After eating dinner at the Contemporary's Concourse Steakhouse, we gathered on the bottom floor of the Contemporary with other Magical Gathering groups. We were led into a large room decorated with a pirate theme. There was plenty of booty (food) and we were told to eat all we could and we could take anything we wanted on the boat. There were chocolate gold coins, cotton candy, granola bars, brownies, and lots of other small yummy snacks to take on the boat. Cans of soda, coffee and water were also provided. Alcohol was not permitted on the boat. While we were all preparing to board and stuffing ourselves full of sugar, Captain Hook and Smee arrived. They posed with us for lots of photos and signed tons of autographs. Before we could say "AHOY!" our pirate captain led us down to our boat. We boarded and immediately the comedy began. The pirate leading our tour took roll call just to make sure all the families were present. All the families were asked to account for themselves and it was an honor to finally be in a place where being the loudest family was an asset! The large pontoon boat held about four families, and was quiet and comfortably sat three to a seat. Once we were all accounted for our pirate then took note of any event that a family was celebrating. In our case, it was my aunt's 45th birthday. She mistakenly put her age in the title of the Magical Gathering not knowing that it was going to appear EVERYWHERE over our eight-day vacation!
Our pirate had us rolling in the aisles with trivia, prizes and threats to make us walk the plank. We were having such a good time that we almost forgot about the Electrical Water Pageant and the fireworks we were there to see. The Electrical Water Pageant went by quickly and because you cannot stand on the boat it is slightly difficult to see for those on the starboard side. After this we proceeded to the Magic Kingdom where we anchored and waited for the fireworks. Just a few minutes later, the music from the fireworks began and the show was amazing! The water view of the fireworks and the Magic Kingdom at night can't be seen from any other vantage point and it's beautiful. The music from the fireworks is played over the boat's sound system so you don't miss a note!
When we arrived back at the dock none other than Peter Pan greeted us! Again, the kids were able to take photographs and get autographs and Tinker Bell was around as well.
With such a great kick-off to our vacation we all wondered if we could top it. However, we were well on our way to a memorable vacation. Prior to leaving home we were all provided with (courtesy of my aunt) a color-coded, printed schedule of all of our meal reservations, as well as park hours that day, Extra Magic Hours and any special events. This became our guide for the whole week. Armed with this information, we could attend any meal, or skip any meal and still meet the family at the next stop. We were all able to see the sights we wanted, get on the rides we were dying to ride and make it to the next meal to have a great time telling the stories of the day. Without this we would have been calling each other constantly to locate everyone, and find out when and where to meet next.
During our time as a Magical Gathering we ate many, many meals together. The planner of the Magical Gathering wanted us to be able to meet as many characters as possible. Every restaurant that we had reservations at had tables set up for us in advance. Even though we were a large group and sometimes didn't all fit at one table, we were always close together (certainly within laughter range!). Cast Members were always helpful in putting kids with adults (or alone depending on moods!), and often our tables were decorated with birthday items before we even arrived. We visited a lot of buffets so that everyone in our party would have their choice of food, but even when we were presented with a menu, the Cast Members took care to make sure all of our food arrived together. Characters were especially patient with us. We had three kids in our group and lots of big kids who were equally as excited to have their picture taken. It did help to have cameras ready, as well as group configurations, so that the other patrons didn't feel like we were hogging the characters. Most of the time, a special someone would come over to say Happy Birthday to our birthday girl. (Again it was very helpful to have the camera ready right away.) Sometimes members of our party elected to sleep in or skip lunch to ride Space Mountain one more time. Cast Members were always quick to adjust our table and it was never a problem to have a few fewer in our party.
The most enjoyable part of having so many breakfast, lunch and dinner reservations was that everyone could go their own way and do their own thing. Whether it meant Expedition Everest, It's Tough to Be a Bug, or just shopping, we all knew where and when we would meet up again. It took the stress out of always trying to have a meeting spot and time for 14 people. And if someone was running a little bit behind, they just missed the appetizers!
For the adventurous ones in our party we decided to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours in the parks. The parks were somewhat crowded during the day, as it was a spring break, so we left some of the rides with longer waits for the evening Extra Magic Hours. This was a great idea! Disney's website tells you what rides are open during morning and evening Extra Magic Hours. They are not always the same rides during the morning and evening hours so make note to avoid disappointment.
Although evening Extra Magic Hours can go until quite late at night, many families were still out with their children and some popular rides, such as Space Mountain were still quite busy. However, as the night wore on, more and more families headed back to their hotels, leaving the teenagers and the brave souls behind. It is worth the wait to stay! As 2 a.m. approached, we were able to ride Space Mountain three times in a row. Likewise, we were able to ride Kali River Rapids seven times without even getting off once. (After a few times you just can't get any wetter, so why not?)
Keep in mind that the lights may shut off in certain areas as it gets later, and many gift shops will be closed. Also, many of the snack bars and restaurants are closed making it difficult to obtain a midnight snack after working up an appetite on the rides. (Your hotel may have 24-hour room service to satisfy your hunger once you return.) Also, if you are driving and using valet services you will need to enter your hotel to obtain valet service during these hours of the night.
So how do 14 family members from the ages of 2 to 83 get along for a week at Disney? Perfectly! Disney is the perfect place to entertain all ages and to satisfy everyone's vacation desires. The key to a relaxing vacation is information. By knowing the services offered, some of our party could relax by the pool or get a massage while other members were on the Tower of Terror screaming for their lives and even others were taking in a quiet afternoon with Finding Nemo. Make sure all members of your party are armed with park hours, meal reservation information, hotel information and the opportunity to have a great time together!
About the author: Bonnie Joy Dewkett makes Danbury, Connecticut, her home, where she is the owner of The Joyful Organizer, a professional organization service company. She visits Disney as often as possible, and her next trip, planned for next March, is another Magical Gathering!
Magical Gatherings: http://allears.net/pl/magath.htm
Planning a Trip for a Large Group: http://allears.net/ae/issue256.htm
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.