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Scoping the Parks
Practical tips for Walt Disney World travel
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Mike Scopa

The First 100

Mike looks back at his five years of MousePlanet articles

Friday, June 3, 2005
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

Milestones have always been important to me. They represent a lot of things like commitment, success, and acceptance. On this, my 100th column for MousePlanet, I ask that you indulge and also join me in reflecting upon some of those articles which I look upon as being special to me.

I think it's only fitting that I also salute some individuals whom I would also describe as special, as far as having quite a lot to do with, well, what you're doing right now… reading my words.

First, the articles.

Unheralded Treasures (link)

Published December 21, 2001

Too many times we tend to overlook the important things in life. Sometimes we have to be reminded to stop and smell the roses and not forget some aspects of our lives that we sometimes take for granted. This article was written in the hope that it would help add a special flavor to your trip… to help you discover another side of Walt Disney World. I think that I was also trying to say that sometimes our lifestyles are too hustle bustle and life will pass us by before we realize how much we miss.

Trip Report Writing (link)

Published January 18, 2002

You would not be reading this if I weren't so anal–rententive about writing everything I do on my WDW trips. Anyone can write a trip report, and this article was put together to try and give hints on how best to capture those thoughts and preserve them so you can enjoy them years later. Trip reports not only help you reflect on past trips but also help in the planning of future trips. I'll tell everyone later how trip report writing was responsible for me being here.

A Visit with a Trip Specialist (links: part 1 | part 2)

Published March 1 & 15, 2002

For years, I would book my trips myself. Who needs a travel agent? But then, I sometimes found that I did not have the time to wait patiently on the phone to book the room. I thought that doing an article would help those who weren't sure about the pros and cons of using a travel agent, and that's how I met Sue Pisaturo of Small World Vacations (link). Not only did Sue help me tremendously with this series, but she continues to help me with information and insights that I have used to help my readership. I also got a bonus out of writing this series with Sue… her friendship.

The WDW Bibles (links: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4)

Published April 19, May 3 & 17, June 7, 2002

I know there are a lot of guidebooks out there. I thought that it was my responsibility to profile what I considered to be the best of the best, and in the long run help people choose the best book for their needs. I tried to be as objective as I could and pointed out what each book brought to the table. Of course along the way I've gotten to know some special people and understand the amount of work that goes into putting together a book that helps people plan and enjoy their WDW vacations. It was an education for me, and one that continues to this day.

Disney Web Sites (links: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 )

Published February 7 & 21, March 7 & 14, April 4, 2004

You know the saying, “We know you have choices”—and there are certainly plenty of Disney Web sites on the Internet. I wasn't sure how the MousePlanet staff would take to me discussing another Web site, but it turned out that they were OK with it. I realized that most of the readers would be familiar with these sites so I concentrated on the founders and webmasters, and got them to tell me what makes them tick. Again, more bonuses for me in the form of building more friendships.

The Unofficial Guide Review (link)

Published May 16, 2003

This may have been one of the most important columns I have ever written. In talking with Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa, I was absolutely floored by the amount of research compiled between the covers of this book. As a result of my research, I discovered just how much work and dedication it takes to create a guidebook so accurate and as complete as The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Along the way, I developed a truly special friendship with Bob and Len that continues today. The Unofficial Guide is without a doubt the most technically sound and reliable guidebook on the shelves today.

All Alone (link)

Published August 1, 2003

Some of the best articles are spawned from the many messages I receive from the most important people… you, my audience. I remember one message from a Disneyland cast member who talked about his first visit to WDW and how special his impressions were. I asked if I could share those impressions with all of you, and before I knew it, I had a special kind of article. One of the draws of writing this article was the fantasy we all have of being in the Magic Kingdom theme park after hours… that fantasy is always with me.

The Mousefest Articles (links: article 1 | article 2 | article 3 | article 4)

Published November 21, December 19, 2003; November 30, 2004; January 7, 2005

When I wrote my first article on Mousefest, I had no idea that the subject would eventually grow to represent the most popular event of the year for the Disney Internet community. To this day I am in awe of the popularity of this event. I think back to what my expectations were for the first Mousefest and they certainly were left in the dust… pixie dust. If you get a chance, you must experience Mousefest.

Magical Moments (link)

Published February 20, 2004

This is the column that talked about the making of Carrousel of Progress during the 1964 New York World's Fair and how Joanne Stolberg–Alger's father served as the model for the father figure in the attraction. If you haven't read the article, I won't spoil it for you here. It's one of my favorites because it exemplifies how magical Walt Disney World really is—and it's all due to those who work there.

The Disney Zone (links: part 1 | part 2)

Published March 19 & April 2, 2004

This could very well be my most favorite article. I wasn't sure how it would be received because I wasn't sure if I could come up with the right words to describe what the “Zone” was all about. This article not only allowed me to tap into a theory regarding the lure of the Disney culture but also ended up generating the most mail from any other article I have ever written for MousePlanet.

The Howie's Angels Series (links: part 1 | part 2 | part 3)

Published May 7 & 21, June 4, 2004

I knew I was taking a risk when I decided to try and tell the story of Howie Ditchek and the whole scene about his “Angels,” and how they secured Priority Seating requests for others at Cinderella's Round Table for breakfast. Boy did I get mail… from both sides of this story. For those of you who took the time to write me, I salute you. Your letters really helped me to keep an objective vision.

I also received some encouraging mail from some very special colleagues who wished me luck.

The best piece of mail I received, however, was from—well I cannot say—but her comment was that unless I tell the story right down the middle, I will be known as “Mr. Light Magic.”

Smiles Across the Miles (link)

Published August 6, 2004

This was one of those feel–good articles that showed how to take the magic of WDW and deliver it to those not so fortunate to be able to visit WDW. This article would have never been possible with out the help of the real hero of Smiles Across the Miles… Nancy Jeschke.

Charley and Mike (links: part 1 | part 2 )

Published September 3 & 17, 2004

So was it good luck or bad luck that I just happened to be in WDW when Hurricane Charley came a knockin'? All I know is that it gave me even more respect for how the WDW resort is proactive in preparing for just about anything, and always with the guest's well–being at the top of the list. Oh, by the way—yes, I plan to be in WDW during the 2005 hurricane season… waddya think?

Mike's Surprise (link)

Published April 15, 2005

What can I say? It was nice to be recognized and it was nice to hear from so many of you who took the time to send me a note congratulating me on this honor. I think I was most moved by all the dads who wrote to me and told me of their own special moments with their sons and those they hoped to experience in the future.

The First 100

That's the article you're reading right now… it has to be a favorite of mine because it is a milestone. Sure, the words are mine and the column ideas are mine, but my words and ideas would not be here if it weren't for so many people.

I thought about naming 100 people who are either responsible for me being here, for helping me along the way, for inspiring me, for teaching me a lot of things along the way, and just for being special friends… but 100 falls way short of those who have been a part of this journey.

I think many of you know who you are… and I thank you.

But you know… there is no way I can leave it at that. I need to acknowledge some very important individuals who have played an important part in this so bear with me as I pay thanks to some special people

Of course my wife Carol has always been supportive of me and she is my own personal Disney princess. She has to be a princess to let me jump up in the middle of the night and run to my sanctuary room with inspiration. Oh how so many nights she would hear me pounding, pounding, pounding on the keyboard until the wee hours… but never complained. She's my best critic… “You're gonna say that?” is my queue for a rewrite. Thank you dear for all your support.

Sue Pisaturo comes next. Sure I mentioned her earlier in this column. But let me give her another plug. Sue runs Small World Vacations, and she and I have had countless discussions on what people need for information on WDW. Many of my ideas have come from those late night phone calls. Sue actually had a lot to do with talking me into going to the first Mousefest to represent MousePlanet. Thanks, Sue.

Okay, if I mention Deb Wills I can see all of you nodding your head. And saying, “Oh yeah, AllEarsnet… WDWIG…” But it's more than that. Deb is quite the lady. And is there anyone who doesn't love her for all she does to bring the magic to everyone? I remember the first Mousefest when Deb had us all together and thanked us for making the effort to make it a successful event, and she became very emotional. Heck, she was the catalyst. She does so many things for so many people and—gee—may I make a plug for her book that she and Deb Koma have written for WDW vacationers with special needs? The title is PassPorter's Walt Disney World for Your Special Needs (Passporter Travel Press: 2005. ISBN: 1–58771–018–8).

Deb and I are friends, and we share information. I have had the distinct honor of appearing on AllEarsnet and that pretty much made my day. Deb is the best, and I thank her for everything she has done for me… hopefully I can return the favor over the years.

You may not know who Dave Card is, but I certainly do. Dave Card has created the purest Disney community on the Internet. His community is known as Tagrel.com (link) and it is basically a site that has Disney discussion forums. I believe that Dave has created an atmosphere that Walt Disney himself would enjoy. It is one of several communities I frequent and is my favorite. It is not only an informative community but a caring and fun place to be. It's a great place for me to find out what's on everyone's mind and has inspired many an article. You will never find any bad karma on that site… you will, however, find some amazing people… some of whom have become some of my dearest friends, especially in recent trips. I would love to name some but there are so many I fear I will leave some out… but I need to pay tribute to Dave. It all starts at the top. Dave has set the tone and it's perfect. Thanks Dave… and thanks to all the Taginators.

I can say “I knew Jim Hill when…” and by “when” I mean back in 1989. Yeah, that's right. Jim happened to be working in the same company as yours truly, and we met on the company Disney board that I was moderating at the time. It was on that board that Jim made mention of things that took years to arrive on Disney theme park soil. He was the first true Disney dweeb I ever met. That's a compliment, Jim.

Jim was very generous with his information. He would meet with my fellow moderators and bring the most wonderful things. I got an Aladdin script, and one time Jim sent me artist conceptions of what a Russian Pavilion in World Showcase would look like.

However, the one piece of artwork that really intrigued me was about an attraction that was being planned for Epcot's Future World. This attraction/pavilion was to somehow give guests the feeling of weightlessness. I think the name of the attraction was constantly changing. Back then the name was something like Journey into Inner Space or something like that. We're talking 1990… Those plans finally came to fruition last year. You guessed it: Mission: Space.

Jim lives but 20 miles from me but would you believe the only time we run into one another is in Orlando?

Jim is an outstanding writer and serves as an inspiration to me. He's a friend and colleague, and I think that those days on that Disney board kind of served as a training ground for me… and maybe for him as well. Thanks for the inspiration, Jim.

It's real hard to say what I need to say about Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa. Both have befriended me in such a way that I feel I have known them for years. You haven't done a theme park until you've done it with Len. You know you've met your match when you ride the Tiomorrowland Transit Authority and Len recites the script word for word. I think we sort of push each other to help our respective audiences. I know Len and Bob work extremely hard to get the best data for their books and especially for their TouringPlans.com site (link), which I use myself.

They don't have to work any harder to gain my respect and friendship. I look forward to those days when maybe Len and I can once again pin an Imagineer up against the wall, look him straight in the eye, and say, “You mean to tell me you think this Stitch's Great Escape is kid–friendly?” Oh the rush.

Of course number 100 would not be possible without all of you out there who have welcomed me with your many letters. I appreciate all the feedback you have given me and the faith you have in me to help you when you write me a personal note and ask me to help you plan your vacations. The door is always open.

Without an audience a writer's words are never heard. So I thank you for listening.

We are heading down the home stretch and it's time to give a huge thank you to the MousePlanet staff, who have accepted me as a colleague and have done so much to empower me with ideas and confidence in all that I submit. At the top there's Alex Stroup, Adrienne Vincent–Phoenix and Tony Phoenix, and Sheila Hagen, and my partner in crime Mark Goldhaber, of course Sue Holland and everyone else. I thank them all… but I need to throw a special salute to one person in particular.

That special someone is Lani Teshima. Lani is my editor… or as I like to think of her, as my own personal plastic surgeon. She makes me look oh so good… that's what plastic surgeons do. Lani is responsible for the title of my column “Scoping the Parks.” If Lani wasn't such a good editor, then in most of my columns you'd be reading, “mouse… duh… fastpass… dole whip.”

OK, maybe I appear to be overdoing it here but you all should know that Lani “is” MousePlanet. She is the glue that holds me together and without her support and hard work my words would be mush. Actually when I write my articles my main audience is Lani. I write to make her smile, to make her laugh, and sometimes I try to make her cry… in a good way.

Of course I'm probably making her wonder right now when this column will ever end. Be patient, Lani.

My fondest time with Lani was watching the Christmas parade at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas party last December at Mousefest. She got into it and I saw some Disney zoning going on. So Lani, thank you for being so important in keeping me on my toes… and for being a great friend.

So it's been quite a ride and… there is one last piece to this 100th column… not only is it the last piece but the most important one of all… without it I definitely would not be here.

I'm not exactly how far back this happened… maybe as much as 15 years back.

I had just secured an AOL account and I happened to be looking through the AOL chat listings and discovered a Disney chat room. There were several stage names I can still remember today.

First there was the chat host. Her name was Laura237.

But the one person I remember the best… the one who seemed to contribute the most to the chat was someone with the moniker DVClubber. That belonged to a fellow by the name of Brian Bennett.

That AOL Disney chat was pretty special. It was held once a month and so I had to wait every four weeks to get my Disney fix… but it was worth it. One year I posted my 1994 trip report in the trip library and Brian found it.

Brian read my report and found that trip recaps of sojourns to Walt Disney World were great tools for those planning future trips. Eventually Brian came up with an idea of putting together a Web site that focused on trip planning, and in 1995 launched his Disney Trip Planner on AOL's Trip Planner Forum.

In 1996 Brian launched a Web version of this Trip Planner Guide and it soon became the largest Disney trip report archive on the Internet.

Then in 2000, Brian was part of the group that started a site we know as MousePlanet.

In early 2001 Brian contacted me and asked if I would be interested in joining MousePlanet as a Walt Disney World content provider. I was very flattered and nervous. What could I possibly bring to the site? Who would want to read my stuff?

We discussed this opportunity and Brian convinced me that I could add value to MousePlanet. I had been delivering some Walt Disney World trip planning seminars so Brian thought that would be a great start.

Brian can be very convincing and I agreed to give it a try. Mr. Bennett must have been right because I'm already starting my 5th… that's right 5th year with “Scoping the Parks."

The last several years have been the most Disney–filled years of my life and I owe it all to DVClubber.

It is with deep appreciation and heartfelt thanks that I dedicate this column to Brian. If it were not for him I would not have such a huge Disney extended family as I currently enjoy today. I can't tell you how delighted I was that Brian had returned to doing a regular column for MousePlanet because it seems that the universe was out of order unless I saw his byline.

Brian is responsible for making this journey possible… a journey that has brought so much fun, so much joy, and so many friends.

So Brian this one's for you… my colleague… and most importantly… my friend.

Next Time

It's time to roll up the sleeves and start working on #101. In our next discussion I need to talk about a trend I'm seeing that has convinced me that the powers that be down in Orlando want you to stay longer, spend more money, and never, ever leave the property.

I'll tell you all about it next time.


Send Mike your thoughts, questions, or comments 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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