Howie's Angels, Part II
Orlando Sentinel coverage fans flames of controversy
Friday, May 21, 2004
by Mike Scopa, staff writer
In Part I of this series, we looked at
how the saga of Howie's Angels helping people get Priority Seating requests
for the very popular Cinderella's Royal Table buffet at Walt Disney World's
Magic Kingdom took off and became a controversy.
Word of mouth and the power of the Internet fueled the fire on both sides
of this controversy, but it would be nothing compared to what a local
Orlando newspaper article would do to fan the flames.
In this session, we take an in-depth look at an Orlando Sentinel
article that detailed the activities of Howie Ditchek and his Angels,
and analyze how its words pushed this controversy to another level.
Ditchek recalls how it all happened.
I received an e-mail or a post on [Reader's Clubhouse] from a 'Dreamfinder,'
who asked for a phone number where I could be reached the following day.
I did not know what it was but it didn't matter. I had nothing to hide,
Ditchek said. This was in early April 2002, and things had already
gotten nasty on the Internet about what I did. I just gave my phone number
at work and didn't know what to expect.
The next day at work, Ditchek received a phone call. Ditchek thought
he would find Dreamfinder on the other end of the line. Instead, it was
a friend of Dreamfinder, staff writer Robert Johnson from the Orlando
Johnson had called to ask Ditchek for an interview, and the New York
veterinarian agreed. Ditchek, however, requested that the interview be
recorded in order to prevent being misquoted. According to Ditchek, Johnson
said that taping over the phone was illegal in Florida. I had no
clue about [it] one way or the other, and I accepted what he said.
Johnson conducted his interview with Ditchek, and described everything
from the beginning and also included the eventual war on the Internet.
After the interview, Ditchek posted on Reader's Clubhouse that the interview
had taken place. This resulted in both friends and detractors calling
up Johnson to express their favor or disfavor with Howie's Angels and
When the Orlando Sentinel ran its article on April 16, 2002, its
'Angels' Grab Cinderella Seats, and it started with: A
New York man snaps up reservations to a Disney breakfast. Some call it
Excerpts and Reactions
The Sentinel article caused quite a stir. At one point in the
article, Johnson refers to the point made by Ditchek on being as hated
as Osama bin Laden:
I'm more famous than Osama bin Laden, said Ditchek, a Valley
Stream, N.Y. veterinarian whose volunteer group calls itself Howie's
Ditchek, however, doesn't recall proclaiming to be more famous than Osama
Bin Laden. He instead recalls that he told Johnson, Can you believe
it, Rob? I am more hated and infamous across the Web on the Disney sites
than Osama Bin Laden for doing nothing more than helping some people get
[Priority Seating requests] at Cindy's [Cinderella's Royal Table].
According to Ditchek, he tried calling Johnson at the Sentinel
to ask that he print either a retraction or correction to the misquote.
Ditchek ending up leaving a message for Johnson but, according to Ditchek,
never heard back from the reporter.
Johnson found many detractors willing to express their frustration with
the actions of Ditchek and his Angels. Judy Fadala is quoted in the article
as saying, Ditchek and his helpers hoard a number of reservations.
It's almost impossible for anyone else to get through when he has a dozen
Her frustration is understandable, and she represents quite a number
of Walt Disney World fans who were very angry at Ditchek's band of Angels.
My guess is that Johnson could have filled up several Sentinel
pages with both detractors and supporters around this controversy. He
would have no problem finding strong feelings from both sides.
The issue was so heated, in fact, that even I received e-mailboth
pro and conabout this. There are two such comments in particular
that represent views from each side of this story: One individual, who
asked not to be identified, seems to have really thought about this whole
matter very deeply. At first when you read this message you immediately
think that this person subscribes to the If you can't beat 'em,
join 'em philosophy. However, it may be a bit more than that.
Towards the end of part 1 of your story about the Angels, you
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.
I gave that a bit of thought. Here is what I came up with.
- Would those others become angry when they find out that
you really don't need to pay sticker price for a car if you know where
- Would they become angry when they found out they could get more scholarships
for their child if they had researched it a bit
- How about a better rate for their car insurance?
Although I can understand frustration when you find out there is a
better way, but don't fault people who do their research.
Those are some very good points.
Then there is this message from Diane, who I think does a very nice job
of summarizing why Howie's detractors feel the way they do. Diane covers
it all when she says:
I was one of the people way back when who were not so happy about
Howie's angels. It was not fair that they had hundreds of people calling
for reservations that they would give away as they saw fit. They were
the ones making it so hard for everyone else to secure a reservation
at Cinderella's Royal Table. For all the princesses who
had their dream come true thanks to Uncle Howie (gag) there were many
others who missed out because of him. It was like a cult following on
Once Disney was notified about his practice he was shut down
and I for one was happy about it. It should be a fair playing field
and he has no right to twist the system like he did. I am looking forward
to the rest of your article.
Diane's message gives us the best example of how frustrated many people
were as a result of Howie's Angels. She sums up her frustration by basically
saying that Ditchek's Angels made for an uneven playing field. This sentiment
has been echoed by many of Ditchek's detractors.
At one point in Johnson's article, he quoted one upset mother, who felt
like she was up against an army:
The point is that if he and his people would stop calling, there
would be plenty of tables, said Maria Pepe, a registered nurse
from Voorhees, New Jersey, who has trouble getting a table for her two
children at the breakfast.
There are people on both sides of the fence. For every detractor there
is a supporter, and for every supporter a detractor.
As the controversy grew hotter and hotter, the Internet became quite
a battleground. There was much debate about this practice and many Disney
World-focused fan sites with discussion forums found themselves immersed
in threads debating the practice of Howie's Angels and how to stop them.
At the same time, Ditchek's supporters rallied around King Uncle
Howie and continued to support the actions of his Angels.
Would this controversy just continue with debate after debate? Would
it just continue to be a matter of one faction supporting this action
while another would continue to oppose it? Or would it go to another level?
In our next session, we look at the how the actions of Howie's Angels
and opposition to their practice led to some very unpleasant situations.
We also explore how all of this brought about a policy change to the Priority
Seating rules at Cinderella's Royal Table, and how this impacted Howie
and his Angels.
Finally, we reflect on the whole matter, sort it all out, and determine
if there were any lessons learned from all of this.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.
According to the American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU), Florida has an all-party consent Security of Communications
law, Sec. 934.03, passed in 1997. Basically, as long as both parties in
a phone call consent, it is permitted to make a recording of the call.
According to Howie Ditchek, this was not
what Orlando Sentinel reporter Robert Johnson told him when he
asked if he could record his phone interview. Mr. Johnson, who is currently
still listed as a staff reporter at the Sentinel, did not respond
to our attempts to contact him for confirmation regarding the conversation.
The Orlando Sentinel lists three
separate articles about Howie's Angels in their Web site archive, all
written by Robert Johnson. They are:
'Angels' Grab Cinderella Seats: A New York
Man Snaps Up Reservations to a Disney Breakfast. Some Call It Hoarding.
Robert Johnson, Sentinel Staff Writer; Orlando Sentinel; Apr 16, 2002
'Angels' Save Seats at Cinderella's Royal
Table: A New York Man Snaps Up Reservations to a Disney Breakfast. Some
Critics Call It Hoarding. Robert Johnson, Sentinel
Staff Writer; Orlando Sentinel; Apr 18, 2002
Reserving Seat with Cinderella Will Soon
Require a Credit Card. Robert Johnson, Sentinel Staff Writer; Orlando
Sentinel; May 18, 2002
To read the full articles, go to their Web
site archive [link]
Note: There is a fee to view each article.
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.