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Practical tips for Walt Disney World travel
How Not to Spend the Night in the Magic Kingdom
Friday, April 18, 2003
About a month ago I was talking with some friends about Walt Disney World when one of the children mentioned how she had fantasized about spending the entire night in the Magic Kingdom. I'm sure she is one of many who have often wondered about that.
I don't have to wonder. Because it happened to me.
And there were lessons learned that I should pass on to everyone. So let me start from the beginning.
A few years back, my wife, my son, and I took a trip to Walt Disney World without my daughter. She had to do an internship and thus couldn't make the trip. During our stay we had some car problems. On the day the car was being repaired we spent the day in Disney-MGM Studios. It was a long and rain-soaked day.
We were staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort that year and upon our return from the park that day, we enjoyed dinner at Old Port Royal.
We kept talking about the rain. Usually the rain would dampen about one or two hours of vacation time maybe every other day. However, for the last five days the rain consumed about four hours per day... not good.
We got back to the room around 9 p.m. and my wife and son looked forward to relaxing and watching television. Not me.
The park calls
I kept on looking out the door and noticed that the rain had stopped. I thought about some things I hadn't done yet and told my wife that I was thinking about going to the Magic Kingdom to tape the Spectromagic parade. Both she and my son were too tired to go, so I loaded up the camera, checked the battery, and took off for the Magic Kingdom.
When I left the room I noticed that the sky had cleared up but the ground was still somewhat damp. It normally would take me about 10 to 15 minutes to get to the Magic Kingdom by car... about seven minutes to get to the Contemporary Resort to park and another five minutes to walk to the park turnstiles. The bus picked me up at 9:30. As the bus made its loop around the Caribbean Beach Resort, about five other people got on the bus. Tonight the bus took 20 minutes to get to the Magic Kingdom bus terminal.
Better Late Than Never
I had visions of taping Fantasy in The Sky from the train station. C'mon bus... 9:45... 9:50... C'mon... It's almost 10 p.m. and I think I can make it. I hustle to the turnstiles and hear the music begin. Only two turnstiles are open for entering the park and there are 20 people in each line. I can't get in the park to tape so I run out to the dock and line myself up with the center of the train station next to a speaker. I taped Fantasy from this spot. I wished the fireworks were a bit higher.
After the fireworks I entered the park. What an eerie feeling. I had never entered the Magic Kingdom after 10 p.m. Plus I was going solo. The mass of humanity was pouring down Main Street U.S.A. and I was plowing against it in search of a spot to tape Spectromagic. Due to the crowd I opted to cut through the stores on the right side of the street and made my way to the front of the castle.
I could have taped the parade here but I thought that this position was not good enough. I walked around the castle hub and found what I had thought was a good spot. I stood there for a few minutes and then said, Wait a minute. This goes to Adventureland, I wanted to be along the route that flows into Liberty Square.
Chatting with a cast member
I then got a brainstorm. Why not find a location just after the bridge? I did. I found a nice little spot right near the Sleepy Hollow Refreshments. I asked cast member Ed if anyone would be allowed on the bridge. He said, Nope...not on my watch! and chuckled. He said I had a great spot to tape. No kidding. I was facing the front of the park. On my left was the bridge, behind me was a trash can, and a rope was in front of me. The only place where someone could stand near me was on my right and since the parade came from the left this was perfect.
Ed had to do some crowd control. When he came back, he and another cast member, Dave, asked me if I was writing a report on them, since I was jotting down notes for my trip report. I told them what I was doing and related stories of how cast members often thought I was writing them up. I mentioned how I received extra special treatment from the cast members who thought I was evaluating them, especially in the restaurants and attractions. Ed and Dave loved my stories.
Well, Ed introduced the parade for me by addressing the camera and saying hi to my daughter, who was back home. The next time you are in the Magic Kingdom to watch the Spectromagic parade, keep your eyes on the cast members. About five minutes before the parade reaches your area, Jiminy Cricket introduces the parade and says a certain phrase and then some of the cast members wave their arms and the lights go out. Some fun.
Well, that spot was great. The only better spot would be across from where I was standing. That would give the castle as a backdrop to the parade.
Mesmerized by the Castle
After the parade, I walked around the castle and took some close footage and all its splendor. This was during the time the castle had been decorated like a cake. I made my way to Fantasyland and went on Peter Pan... too dark to tape. There was a family in front of me on Peter Pan who was extremely excited about being in the park at this time of night with light crowds. They got off Peter Pan and ran to it's a small world. Like a Spectromagic lemming at the end of the parade, I followed them blindly. I got halfway down the ramp to Small World when I realized what I was doing. I slapped myself and asked, Mike... what are you doing!?
I left Small World and walked over to Mickey's Toontown. It was pretty quiet and a few security-type cast members were there. They didn't bother me as I shot some video of the structures. I walked from Mickey's Toontown to the carrousel. There were some mechanics there and as the ride finished, the ride operator asked, Didja hear it? I did. A small noise, that once the park closed would be most likely addressed and removed.
Fantasizing my first mistake
I taped a bit in Tomorrowland, then made my way back to Fantasyland. By now this portion of the park was getting real empty. I had a great idea. Isn't it every Disneyholic's fantasy to stow away in a Disney theme park to see what really goes on after hours? As I stared up at the windows to Cinderella's Roundtable, I wondered if it was possible to hide somewhere in the park. Is there a hidden area where a guest could conceal himself or herself and then actually see what goes on overnight?
I could be like the Hunchback of Notre Dame but instead call myself the Disneyholic of the Magic Kingdom. I could climb on the castle and hang out singing to the tune of Out There:
You can fill in the rest.
My thoughts ran back to 1992 when we were going from Fantasyland to Liberty Square and we were cutting behind the castle through that winding path to where I had just taped Spectromagic. I remember some workers early one morning replacing a park bench and had taken the old bench behind some shrubs. I walked over to where I thought these shrubs were located.
Now, remember that I was trying to recall something that I had seen about five years ago, so it was not easy to find this place. Also I had watched this episode in the late afternoon, not at night.
I walked down the path and stopped at what I thought was the spot where the bench was brought. I looked around and didn't see anyone around me. I stepped over the fence and looked around the shrub. Hidden from the view of the path were a number of things, trash cans, benches, some type of carts, and a path that lead to the back of Sleepy Hollow Refreshments and the shop where the Civil War souvenirs were sold.
Resting my second mistake
I found a small area back here that was sort of secluded. I even found a nice chair to sit in. Hmmmm, I thought. Opportunity is knocking. I thought about the pros and cons of trying to hide in the Magic Kingdom overnight. I could see maybe the top 25 feet of the castle. As I stared at the castle and weighed my options, I yawned a bit and found my eyes to be somewhat heavy. I didn't realize how tired I was. I leaned back and thought about the whole vacation... about Holly not being with us... about the rain... about the trouble with the rental van.
This proved to be a dangerous thing to do. I didn't realize how dangerous it was until I woke up and checked my watch.
It was 3:15. Make that 3:15 a.m. Oh *#^#*$&#!
You know that feeling you get when you realize you forgot to do something like picking up the kids at school, attending an important meeting with your boss, or paying your taxes? Well that's nothing compared to waking up in the Magic Kingdom at 3 in the morning!
Dream sequence - not!
At first I thought I was dreaming. But then I remembered what I had done the night before and I didn't recall going back to the Caribbean Beach Resort. I also pinched myself, hoping I'd sit up in bed back at the Caribbean Beach Resort.
Ouch! Nope! That pinch hurt. Uh-oh!
At this point, I was both nervous and excited. I probably would have been more excited had I not thought, Omigod, Carol must be a nervous wreck!
I walked back to where I had climbed into this area and poked my head out of the shrubbery. I could hear only soft music playing. The tune was vaguely familiar but I couldn't place it. I figured that the music is played to keep the night workers company.
Well, where were the workers? I looked around and didn't see a soul. Then again I remembered talking to a cast member who said that during the high-volume months, the only work that goes on at night is cleaning, repairing, and restoring flowers and trees. Also, a lot of this work (at least the cleaning portion) is done during the first few hours after the park closes for the evening. It gets pretty expensive to have a large work crew at night.
Apparently most of that work was done because there was no one around. I'm getting a bit more excited. Hey, maybe I'm the only one in here! Cool.
Then what the heck are the lights on for? I thought.
Honey I'm not home!
My next thought was to get to a phone and call Carol. I did not have a cell phone. Luckily I had some change but thought about using the calling card instead. I didn't want to make any noise and dropping a coin in a pay telephone at night in an empty theme park would certainly make a sound.
I slowly walked along the trees and made my way to the Mad Hatter Shop. There was a phone along the back side of the shop, giving me an opportunity to make a call and hide behind a barrier while I talked on the phone. My trip notebook I had with me had numbers written on it. I usually write important numbers on the back page.
Yes! I had written the Caribbean Beach Resort's number. I had written the resort's number down because I had written it for Holly, my father-in-law, and my mother before leaving for Florida. I almost had it memorized: 934-3400.
I didn't realize how nervous I was until I tried to dial. Heck, even though it was a touch-tone phone I was shaking. To this day I don't know if my shaking was due to being nervous or being excited.
When I got the resort, I asked for my room number.
Hello? It was Carol. Hoo boy, didnŐt like the sound of her voice. I calmed myself.
Hi Honey it's me. I'm still in the Magic Kingdom.
What? Are you crazy? I've been sick worrying about you. It's (silence) 3:15? Are you nuts?
I heard her then tell Mike Jr. where I was, and her tone was not too pleasant.
OK, OK, I know. Listen. I'm gonna have to lay low and wait until the park opens to get out. I could try and sneak out but there's no way I'll get by any security on Main Street. Don't worry. I hope it's a surprise morning today.
Carol was not too confident about my plan.
I told her what happened, and how I had fallen asleep.
That's what you get for jogging at 5 a.m., she said. I did not need a lecture at 3:15 in the morning.
Talk about a crazy mixed feeling. On the one hand I'm like a child on Christmas morning and my heart is racing a mile a minute. At the same time, I had to be calm and convince my wife that everything would be OK and that I'd figure a happy ending. After all I was in Fantasyland.
Omigod Mike, if they find you they'll throw you in jail!
I don't think they'd do that...t his probably happens from time to... Oops...
I ducked. I noticed a security person walking around and checking everything. He I mean she hadn't heard me because even though the park was closed that soft music was being played. Now I was real happy I had decided to use the calling card. Imagine the operator coming on and saying, Please pay an additional 25 cents for the next 10 minutes.
This security guard walked around the carousel and towards Toontown. She didn't particularly look like she would toss me in jail. Besides, was that a real security guard or a cast member dressed as one? I thought about turning myself in, but how would I get back to the Caribbean Beach Resort? Needless to say, I was agonizing over what to do.
Meanwhile, I kept hearing Carol calling me over the phone. Finally the guard was far away so I felt comfortable enough to get back to the phone.
OK, honey, look. I'll stay low until the park opens and try to get out and get back to the resort. It's only gonna be another five hours or so. My words didn't even convince me I could pull this off, would my wife buy it?
Five hours? You've really taken this Disney thing too far! What if you're banned from the park? If they catch you this might happen! I'm gonna be sick!
Now I'm starting to think that I'll never hear the end of this one. She'll never want to come back to Orlando. All of a sudden I wasn't so excited anymore. Banned from the park? I tried to console myself by reminding myself of the great position I had gotten to tape Spectromagic. It didn't help. I kept thinking, Banned from the park.
Gee I never thought of that. I began to curse myself for getting up so early the day before to jog.
Huh? What was that?
It was the Carrousel making that noise again.
Wait a minute. The Carrousel? But it's 3:30 a.m., and the park is closed.
No it wasn't.
I looked at my watch. It read: 11:30 p.m. Huh?
I was standing and looking up at the windows to Cinderella's Roundtable. I must have had quite the daydream.
Boy, that was kinda realistic. For a minute I thought I had really fallen asleep and had awakened in the middle of the night with a big problem.
But in reality I was just playing an April Fool's joke on all of you.
Well it is still April, ain't it?
Our first look at the Walt Disney World bibles for 2003.
Contact Mike at email@example.com.
Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.
Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.
Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.
Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.
You can contact Mike here.
Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:
Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, The Trip Planner for more travel planning information.
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