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Mike Scopa

Mike's Surprise

A father–son bonding experience makes Mike the happiest dad

Friday, April 15, 2005
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

This article was not planned. Originally today's article was going to be about someone named Aronda Parks, but we'll be running that piece next time. Instead, let me tell you a story that began a long, long time ago.

Sometime in July 1992, my family and I visited Walt Disney World and met many friends there. You might say it was the first time I had ever gone to WDW and enjoyed what is now commonly referred to as a “meet.”

It wasn't any special meet. About 20 of us piled into Pioneer Hall at Fort Wilderness on the night of July 12 for a night of Hoop Dee Doo.

We were calling our meet the “birthday bash”—that day happened to be my birthday, and of course, the entire place sang “Happy Birthday” to me and several others during the show.

And wouldn't you guess, when it came time for the Hoop Dee Doo Pageant, my 19 “friends” were calling for me to be the Blue Fairy.

With a rousing crowd on one side of the floor egging me on, it was no surprise that one of the performers grabbed me by the hand and said, “C'mon Mike! We're gonna make you a star.”

As we headed up the stage, I had visions of me in a tutu and did my best to convince the cast member leading me up the stage that I knew the brave Indian part like the back of my hand. As we headed backstage, I saw all the costumes on hooks—but the one staring me in the face was the blue tutu.

We headed right for that blue tutu, then took a left as I noticed a big burly man with a handsome beard in stark contrast to his follicly challenged head come in from the right. He was the answer to my prayers. He was the Blue Fairy. And I got to be the brave Indian.

The pageant went on as planned, and I guess I performed my lines right on queue. It was quite a thrill to contribute towards the entertainment and help make this a memorable evening for the guests.

This was an early show, so afterwards, we left for the Magic Kingdom for some nighttime activities. But we weren't in the park for more than an hour when Carol, my wife, and Holly, my daughter, couldn't stop yawning. We'd started the day real early, and they were absolutely pooped.

We decided to call it an early night and headed back to our room. We were staying in the Martinique village at the Caribbean Beach Resort. When we got there, Holly and Carol were quick to hop into bed and were fast asleep in no time.

I was still wired from my birthday bash, so I asked my son, Mike Jr., if he wanted to take a walk to Old Port Royale to see how their soft-serve ice cream goes with one of their giant soft oatmeal raisin cookies. I didn't have to twist his arm.

As we walked to the center of the resort, my son mentioned how much fun Hoop Dee Doo was, especially enjoying it with so many people.

Actually, hold on.

This is not the way I should be telling this story. Let's rewind the tape. A few weeks ago, I recounted this story to a group of people. Just to be sure I didn't miss anything, let's start over so you can read exactly what I said at the time. It sort of went like this…

“Although my wife and I started going to Walt Disney World in 1975, we did not start family vacations until 1990.

I recall one night in July 1992, in which my daughter and wife were very tired from another magical day in Orlando.

We were at the Caribbean Beach Resort, and my son and I weren't tired. We strolled down to Old Port Royale and grabbed an oatmeal raisin cookie and soft-serve ice cream.

We sat at the grand pool and watched what little we could see of Illuminations. My son was enjoying his second WDW vacation and learning what Disney magic was all about. He admitted Walt Disney World was not what he expected. It was better.

I thought that was a pretty good father-son bonding time and I found this to be a special moment… a Disney moment. That night convinced me to become an Annual Passholder.

We visited WDW many times over the years. In 1997 we were at the Wilderness Lodge. One day, my son and I went out for an early run. We ran to and around Fort Wilderness and back to the Wilderness Lodge and had the spa pools all to ourselves. Again the conversation turned to what we had done on our vacation and what was left for us to do. More lessons in Disney Magic.

A few years later, my son entered college. And on one particular phone call in mid-winter, we talked about the challenge of freshman year and how each day is a struggle.

Out of the blue, my son said, “Y'know Dad, I want to go back to the Caribbean Beach Resort and just sit outside and talk with you and eat oatmeal cookies and ice cream.”

At that moment, I knew my son had not only been touched by Disney Magic, but understood the priceless value of a WDW vacation.

Over the years our vacations have been filled with wonder, smiles, and most importantly, family bonding that is not realized anywhere else.

On the last day of every trip, I stop at the Partners statue in the Magic Kingdom and whisper, “Thanks Walt.”

If we hadn't purchased annual passes in 1992 and gone so often, I wouldn't have these great memories that pull me through my toughest days.

It's these memories that have convinced me that I'm the Happiest Annual Passholder on Earth.”

You may have felt a light bulb going on just above your head while reading this last sentence.

If so, then you have an idea as to whom this story was written. Well OK, but let's not say anything yet. Let's keep it between ourselves for now.

About a week ago, I went out to get something from my shed. As I exited out the side door I almost tripped over a FedEx box. It was about the size of a huge telephone book.

I put it aside and took care of my errand in the shed. On the way back into the house, I grabbed the box and brought it into the living room where Carol was sitting and reading.

“What's that?” she asked.

“…Well it's from Orlando,” I replied. “Maybe it's my marathon stuff.”

It wasn't.

I opened the box and felt a book-like object inside. It was a case that held a book containing holograms of all the new attractions in Walt Disney World, such as Soarin', the new stunt show in Disney/MGM Studios, Lucky the Dinosaur, and Cinderellabration. Also included was an acrylic hologram that contained a composite image of all the Disney theme park castles from around the world.

There was also a piece of paper, a letter.

I started to read it, and Carol then asked, “Are you OK?”

I guess I had turned a few colors.

I started thinking out loud. “Huh? No way!”

“What?” she said, “What?

In large bold letters, all I saw was…

YOU'RE A WINNER—CONGRATULATIONS!

“I won! I actually won.”

“Won what?” Carol asked.

I had never told her that about a month ago, I had entered WDW's Happiest Passholder on Earth contest.

I guess the cat was out of the bag.

My entry was chosen as one of the best 50 entries submitted, and I was now invited to the festivities that would kick off the Happiest Celebration on Earth at Disney-MGM Studios on Wednesday, May 4.

I could not read more than the first few lines of the letter; I had fallen into an enchanted trance. Carol kept asking, “What else does it say?”

In a semi-comatose state, I had no idea what the heck she was asking me. I handed her the letter and continued to stare out the window.

I just never expected to win. I didn't prepare for this. I was thinking, “Obviously, only 50 people entered this thing.”

Carol said, “You can bring a guest!” I'm sure Carol was less than thrilled that she worked for the town school district and was in no way able to sneak away for a few days.

“So who are you going to bring?” she asked.

I grabbed my phone and dialed a number.

Unfortunately, no one answered and I had to leave a voicemail. I didn't want to spoil anything, so the message was cryptic, short, and urgent: “Please call me at home.”

About 15 minutes later, the phone rang. I knew who it would be.

“Hello!” I answered, knowing who would be on the other end of the line.

“Hi Dad! What's up? You scare the heck out of me when you call me and just say, 'Please call me at home' and hang up.”

It was Mike. Now 25 years old, he's a general manager for the local Gold's Gym, and was working late.

“Hey, remember a few weeks ago I was waving an envelope one morning and told you I was entering a contest and that if I won you and I were going to Walt Disney World?”

There was a moment of silence on the other end.

“You're kidding? Oh… my… God!”

“That's right,” I replied. I told him we would get together later and talk about the details.

So now you know the rest of the story, of why you are reading about a boy and his dad instead of Aronda Parks.

Your humble servant will be your eyes and ears as I take in all the festivities on May 3. You can be sure that I'll do my best to report back about this special time.

On that night, all the winners will attend the grand opening ceremony for Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show. This is supposed to be the very first time the entire show will be shown.

Everyone in attendance will also see “live entertainment” (which I'm sure will not include a wardrobe malfunction—after all, we're talkin' Disney here). The next item is not that appealing to someone who is training for the WDW Marathon Weekend next January and trying to lose enough weight to equal someone the size of Stitch: An unlimited dinner feast. I talked with Michelle Holt of WDW Special Events and she gleefully said, “It will be a catered affair and will be in buffet style.”

Did I mention I was bringing my running shoes to Orlando?

The letter notes that the winners will have access to selected attractions. Since this all starts around 6 p.m., my guess is that by the time we are done with our “feast,” the park is closed to the general public. Michelle did point out that not all the attractions would be open. I can pretty much guess which ones will be open for business.

I am sharing the words from my winning entry with you because I had written them in the same manner that I write my articles; I wanted to reach out and touch the judges in the way I do with my articles I write for you.

So thank you. Without the inspiration of you, the audience, I cannot constantly strive to improve upon the craft of writing.

I am not a stranger to trip reports and their importance. This one will be special, and I'll do my best so that you and I will always…

…Remember the Magic!

Next time

Aronda Parks…I promise.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

OTHER LINKS

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.”

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