Howie's Angels, Part I
One man's desire to help others turns into a big project
Friday, May 7, 2004
by Mike Scopa, staff writer
Let's say that one day you come up with an idea that results in making
a young child's dream come true. Would such an idea be heralded as an
act of kindness or instead be looked upon as a nasty practice that invokes
the ire of many Walt Disney World fans?
Some of you may have heard the saga of Howie's Angels, but for those
who have not or been privy to the whole story, this one's for you.
In this session, let's look at the story of Howie Ditchek and how his
penchant for helping people, especially children, ended up in controversy
that seems to never go away.
Howie's First PC
Howie Ditchek is a veterinarian who lives in Long Island, New York, with
his wife, Susan and daughter, Sarah. The Ditcheks are like most of us:
Bigand I mean bigWalt Disney World fans. Howie himself has
always had a passion for all things Disney, and this passion took a major
step in June of 1997.
In that month, Howie purchased his first personal computer. One of the
first things he did when he went online was to search the Internet for
Disney sites. He found major sites like Deb Wills' Walt Disney World Information
Guide (now AllEarsNet.com) as well as the rec.arts.disney.parks Usenet
As a collector of WDW guidebooks, Howie was familiar with a number of
names associated with Disney. One of these authors was Rita Aero, who
happened to mention in her WDW guidebook about Disneynationlater
Reader's Clubhouseher Disney site. It wasn't long before Howie became
a frequent visitor to the site.
As Howie recalls, There wasn't much to it back in 1998; only one
or two rooms [forums] at most, and the chat was in its most rudimentary
stages and took minutes for a sentence to appear after typing it.
Howie called this site his favorite because it was small, very warm, and
inviting. I began to post some info, usually answers to questions,
and was immediately welcomed by other members. You see, I was already
well-versed in the ins and outs of visiting WDW and had many tips to share,
And share he did. As the months rolled on, the site grew. Pretty soon,
more rooms (forums) were added to the site. The main room was called the
Salon. It was in this forum that the majority of questions on WDW were
posted and answered by the members.
You might say this was where Howie's story truly began.
Cinderella's Royal Table
Howie remembers, I think it was back in 1999 that I noticed a couple
of posters expressing their frustrations in attempting and failing to
acquire a priority seating for the Character Breakfast in what is now
known as Cinderella's Royal Table.
Howie had always had success in acquiring priority seating for the Cinderella's
Royal Table breakfast. So I thought a nice gesture would be to help
a frustrated mommy make her princess' day, he said.
The next morning, as Howie read one of the frustrated posts, he decided
to go forth with his idea. He successfully made it through to the Cinderella's
Royal Table priority seating request phone number. He then posted a reply
in the Salon that said something like, Guess who is going to Cindy's?
and contacted the member who had posted her frustration over getting the
priority seating. Howie had put the priority seating in his name and gave
the poster the confirmation number.
He did not think of this as being anything but a nice gesture. I
wasn't really aware of any policy WDW had about non-transferable priority
seatings, and I thought I was doing a nice thing.
Other sites Howie frequented also had frustrated people who had problems
getting priority seating to Cinderella's Royal Table, and Howie helped
them. Most of his help, however, came on Reader's Clubhouse, his cyber
Howie found himself helping more and more people, and he would put his
name in for their priority seating. Since most of those who frequented
these sites had usernames such as Tink, Cruella,
and other Disney-related names, Howie said, It was the quickest
and easiest thing to do and I didn't know anyone's real name so I had
The Birth of Howie's Angels
Over the course of about a year, Howie helped several hundred people
secure priority seating for Cinderella's Royal Table, and they expressed
their gratitude in many ways.
From Connie L: I'm a lurker in the clubhouse, but your magic has
touched me over and over again as I read how your generosity has made
so many princesses (and princes and kings and queens) so very happy.
I wish there was some way I could repay you for this special favor. You
are truly a gift to this world. From the bottom of my heart, Thank
From Chris L: Thank you so much! We had three people calling and
we didn't get them. You are the best, Howie! You just made our year! I
can't wait to tell my daughter; she's going to flip. Thanks again!"
And then there was Nancy, whose two daughters dubbed Ditchek, King
Uncle Howie for his help in getting them priority seating for Cinderella's
Royal Table. This moniker came about because on their very first visit
to WDW and Cinderella Castle, the young girls heard their mother had telling
the cast member at the gate that the girls' Uncle Howie had made reservations
for them. The girls were so excited about seeing the castle for the first
time and knowing that an Uncle Howie had helped them get priority
seating at Cinderella's Royal Table, that they felt he should be called
King Uncle Howie. To this day, many of his cyber friends refer
to him in this way.
After returning from a magical trip to WDW, Nancy sent an e-mail to Howie,
What can I say? You are the 'king' to my children and
a living hero to me. Yes, hero!
You give of yourself unconditionally, dedicating your time and
effort to people you don't know to make dreams come true and happiness
Thank you for all you have done and all that you will continue
to do and thank you for making me see what a terrific, giving place
the clubhouse can be.
People like these were touched by Howie's efforts, and decided they wanted
to give back to Howie and help him help others. Priority seating requests
were approaching as many as six or seven requests a day, and those who
Howie had helped were now part of his Breakfast Angels.
A request would come in for a specific day and time, and the angels would
work together to help secure that request by staffing the phones and calling
with the hope of making someone else's dreams come true.
What had started out as an idea was now pretty much a crusade by several
people to help others fulfill a dream.
So this sounds like a nice little tale of someone who reaches out to
help others and eventually is joined by others seeking to do the same.
Is everyone happy? Are there smiles all around?
Not exactly. The Internet is a powerful communication vehicle. And soon,
Howie's efforts became known within the Disney Internet circle. The reaction
to this practice of calling up to make priority seating for others drew
a mixed reaction. For some, it gave hope in making reservations for the
hottest character meal in WDW. For others, it brought anger as many felt
that this was not a fair thing to do, since it provided better odds for
those who happened to know about this project.
We'll look at how an Orlando Sentinel article, combined with an
already growing number of angry Disney Internet fans, caused quite a situation
for Howie Ditchek and his beloved cyber home.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.
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:
Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)
Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)
Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)
Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, The Trip Planner for more travel planning information.
Get the latest info about the resort at Park Update: Walt Disney World.