WRITERS' CORNER

Planning a Business Meeting
at Walt Disney World

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by Len Testa
Researcher for Bob Sehlinger's The Unofficial Guide to WDW


Introduction

My sister Linda was recently asked to put together a four-day meeting of about a dozen people in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The people attending the meeting would be flying in from different parts of the country. The cost of round-trip airfare that didn't include a Saturday night stay, however, was prohibitively expensive. As an alternative, she began checking the cost of flying into other airports, including Miami and Orlando. She was surprised to find that flying into Orlando was much cheaper than either other city. Here are some reasons why airfare to Orlando may be less expensive than other destinations, according to Sue Pisaturo:

1. The demand for air travel to Orlando is relatively consistent throughout the year. Other cities, such as Fort Lauderdale, exhibit more variation in demand, especially during seasonal or holiday periods. Airlines take advantage of these periods of high demand by charging higher prices.

2. Airlines typically charge higher fares on tickets normally associated with business travel (i.e., those that do not include a Saturday night stay). Orlando has a relatively high number of "leisure" travelers, however, who would drive to Orlando if the cost of airfare were too high. Airlines know this, too, and it helps keep airfare prices low.

Linda was fully prepared to book a large van to transport everyone to Fort Lauderdale when her boss asked "Why can't we have the meeting in Orlando? And can we include a fun 'team-building' activity, too?" Fortunately for her professional reputation, my sister was able to restrain herself from yelling "Woo hoo!" or jumping up and down!" She also asked if I could help with some of the details. Here's what we learned.

Step 1: Start Planning As Soon As Possible

My sister's meeting was small, so we felt confident we would be able to put together a complete package of hotel rooms, meeting space and activities in about six weeks. We've heard from other folks, however, who have started detailed planning three years in advance for groups of over 1,000 people. If you've just been asked to organize your company's annual Big Event, the first things to find out are how many people are attending, when the meeting will take place, and what your budget will be. Then, call the folks at Disney Meetings (Phone: 321-939-7129 or www.DisneyMeetings.com), a dedicated group of Castmembers who help plan corporate events and meetings at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The website is one of the best we've seen, and includes full multimedia presentations of each resort.

Step 2: Rates Are Negotiable

The next step in organizing my sister's meeting was to find hotel accommodations below the $120 per night limit set in the corporate travel policy of her employer. We enlisted the help of the folks at Disney Meetings to help find the best rates. Tip: The rates for almost everything (e.g., resort and conference rooms, transportation and food) are negotiable. For example, the room discount is determined based on the location, number of rooms needed, and time of year. A minimum of six rooms is needed to qualify for a discount.

We were quoted a rate of about $129 per night (excluding tax) for a standard room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, saving about $60 off the lowest rate we could find elsewhere. As that exceeded the $120 per night corporate rate, we had to keep looking. The fact that the meeting was being held the week of the Columbus Day holiday meant that all of the discounted rooms at the moderate hotels (e.g., Coronado Springs, Caribbean Beach, etc.) were gone. The best rate we could find was using my sister's Annual Passholder discount available at the All-Star Music resort, at around $94 per night including taxes. Tip: For reservations up to 20 rooms, the Annual Passholder, or Mousesavers.com discounts may offer better savings that going through Disney Meetings.

Getting sample rates from Disney Meetings was difficult, due to the number of variables involved. We asked the folks on the Rec.Arts.Disney.Parks newsgroup to share with us the rates they received. Here are some of their responses:

Rooms
Resort
Time of Year
Meeting/Convention Facilities Used
ApproximateHotel Rate
20 All Star Music Mardi Gras 2003 None $104/night(5% off rack rate)
175 Boardwalk Fall 2000 Boardwalk $210/night(25% off rack rate)
8000 Epcot Resorts Winter 2001 Yacht Club $245/night(25% off rack rate)

Disney also offers special "half-day" single-park passes to conference attendees (starting around $25 per person) that are good from around 2 p.m. to park closing. Discounts on Park Hopper passes are also available.

Step 3: Meeting Space Available

After getting hotel rooms, our next step was to find meeting space for the group. Five resorts within Walt Disney World are well equipped to host meetings and conventions, not counting the Swan and Dolphin resorts. The following chart shows the amount of meeting space and rooms available at each resort. For each resort, links are provided which contain much more detail.

 

Resort
Meeting Space
Conference Rooms
Amenities
Disney's Boardwalk Inn 20,000 square feet 14 rooms

**High-speed internet access
** 10,000 square-foot ballroom

Disney's Grand Floridian Resort 40,000 square feet 16 rooms

**18,000 square-foot ballroom
** Monorail access to Magic Kingdom and Epcot

Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resorts 73,000 square feet 21 rooms

**38,000 square-foot ballroom
** Walking distance to Epcot
** Water taxi to Disney-MGM Studios

Disney's Contemporary Resort 90,000 square feet 33 rooms **44,000 square-foot ballroom
**Monorail access to Magic Kingdom and Epcot
Disney's Coronado Springs Resort 95,000 square feet 45 rooms **An astounding 60,000 square-foot ballroom (more than two football fields in size)
** High-speed internet access
** Full business center
Walt Disney World Swan andDolphin 329,000 square feet 48 rooms plus two convention halls (Dolphin); 34 rooms (Swan) **High-speed internet access
** Four ballrooms including one 56,000 square-foot room

 

Step 4: Activity and Event Planning in the Parks

In addition to meeting spaces in the resorts, many theme park attractions and restaurants can be reserved through Disney Meetings. In the words of one veteran Disney event planner, "[E]very lobby, restaurant, hotel, pool, attraction and park sidewalk is open to some type of event." With enough money, it's possible to have dinner under the rotunda at the United States pavilion in Epcot, or in the dining room of the Haunted Mansion. Rates vary depending on the number of convention attendees (see the hotel section above) and catering options (see below), but we've heard that for a convention of about two hundred people, attractions can be rented for a couple thousand dollars per hour, not including catering. You can also arrange special parade and fireworks viewings, such as waterfront patios in Epcot for viewing Illuminations, or the clubs at Pleasure Island.

As noted, Disney is able to customize events for your company. When we did the Adventurers club, I provided them a list of attendees and something about each person. The 'act' was largely built on the information I provided. They would call someone by name and pretend to look into a crystal ball to see that they had an unusual hobby, etc. They did a great job of including the kids that we in attendance and using [our company's] 'lingo'. That didn't cost us anything extra; we just paid for the characters.

Tip: If you're lucky enough to work for a company that sponsors an attraction in one of the parks, it's possible to reserve that attraction for little or no cost.

Step 5: Catering Options

As one would imagine, many catering options are available at Walt Disney World. If you're looking for a customized menu, the folks at Disney Meetings will assist you in planning the perfect meal. Many standard catering options are available as well; the most popular ones are shown below. Other items, including sheet cakes, waffle and omelet stations can be ordered a la carte. Prices do not include 20% service charge, 6% sales tax or buffet setup costs. For sample menus and pricing click here.

Step 6: Other Details

A few days ahead of time, Disney will arrange for you to meet with the Castmembers responsible for supporting you during your event. Meetings typically include representatives from catering, facilities, housekeeping, audio-visual and computer support. Each of them will discuss their area's role and responsibilities, answer any questions you have, and note any special requests.

The Castmembers know each facility in detail, so they're able to make many valuable suggestions:

They explained why they would do things certain ways, like where to position the coffee break stuff (not near the room thermostat as the heating element under the coffee would give the air conditioning thermostat a false reading of the room temperature and make the room colder).

We think this group meeting is a great idea. Castmember support extends throughout your meeting, too:

During the meeting we had an issue with the AV equipment. I was prepared with overhead slides, which Disney knew, and as soon as the AV equipment stuck for more than a second, the AV guy appeared from nowhere and brought me an overhead projector while he worked on the AV thing. We literally lost only the time it took for me to pull out my slides. It was so cool that our group applauded the AV guy.

Finally, Disney knows how much effort you put into planning your meeting. For large conventions, planning the meeting becomes a full-time job in itself. Goodies ranging from customized gift baskets to concierge-level room upgrades have been handed by Disney to out to the folks responsible for planning a company's events.

Further Information

The Disney Meetings group will help you plan your next convention or meeting at Walt Disney World. Phone: (321) 939-7129 or on the Internet at. Even if you're not planning a convention, the website offers an outstanding multimedia presentation of some of the best Disney resorts