Sunday, May 15, 2011

August 2010 Walt Disney World Trip Report - Day 5

9-1 Our Quest to be Family of the Day

This was the day we would do everything we could to be the Family of the Day at Magic Kingdom. But first, a little back story…

Before our trip to WDW in February, DW called around to different Disney Reservations phone numbers, to see if she could “schedule” us for being Family of the Day as a surprise to me. Of course, she quickly found out that you can’t reserve that magical experience – you kind of have to get lucky. But we all really wanted to do it. So between our Feb and Aug trips, I did the research and decided that if we were going to try, we were going to give it our best shot.

I found a number of trip reports where families had been chosen as the Magic Kingdom Family of the Day (or “First Family,” as it’s officially known). The experience sounded incredible. Allowed into the park before it opened, greeted in ToonTown by a dozen or more characters. Riding the train with all of them to the front of the park, where the dancers would be singing “Zip a Dee Doo Dah,” awaiting our arrival. Helping Mickey countdown from ten to one to mark the opening of the park.

All of the families had apparently been chosen at random. But I noticed some common threads between them all and started making a list of little things we could try to improve our chances at being selected.

First – they were mostly families with children. Some families without children are selected once in a while, but in most of the stories I read, there were children as part of the family. Some were older, some were toddlers – no consistent pattern there. But already we had met one of the criteria.

Second – they usually wore matching outfits. Now, in August I always, always, always wear a performance-type wicking shirt. The breeze blows right through them and they never get sweaty. But for our mission I agreed that I would forgo comfort for the (potential) experience of a lifetime. I scoured the DISigns thread on and found animal-print mickey heads (we love animals and were staying at AKL). We each got a yellow T-shirt on sale from Target, and using transfer paper from (which I had bought for a previous trip) I made the shirts – leopard for DD, tiger for DW, giraffe for me.

I figured the worst case (and most likely) scenario was that we would not be chosen, and I could change after we got into the park.

Third – they were all super friendly and outgoing to all cast members they came in contact with. This would not be a problem. DD is one of the most outgoing, cheerful and friendly people you may ever meet – child or adult. DW and I can be pretty friendly ourselves, but we made a mental note to strike up conversations with any CMs we came into contact with on the way to the park.

I can see where this third point could be crossing a line for some people. Faking interest in someone in order to get them to do something for you is manipulative and wrong. We would be sure that our interaction with cast members would be genuine, not merely being nice as a means to an end.

Fourth – they all got to the park really, really early. One family specifically said that, on a day the park opened at 9:00am, they arrived at 7:45 (having walked over from the Contemporary) and were chosen. Another report (two adults) stated they were the first to arrive, before 8:00, but that the second people to arrive (family with kids) were chosen.

So, with those four principles in mind, we finalized our strategy.  As I said from the outset – if we were going to try, we were going to go all the way.   Knowing that the resort monorail opens at 7am, we planned an early night the night before, woke up at 5:30, changed into our matching shirts, and drove to the MK parking lot, arriving before 7am.

As expected, the express monorail wouldn’t open until 8, but the resort monorail was scheduled to open at 7. However, due to safety checks or whatever, we didn’t actually board until about 7:10 or 7:15. We were the first people in line, though, and for about 10 minutes, had a great conversation with Charlie, an intern from Central Michigan. He told us all about how much he loves working there, and the different type of intern positions Disney has (basically, every position you see, and many you don’t). He was really nice.

Once we got on the monorail, it stopped at the Poly and GF, and it waited a long time at each. I was starting to freak out a little, because I was afraid if someone took a bus from their resort, they would beat us there. We arrived at the MK around 7:30, and we were the only family NOT going to breakfast (big sigh of relief).

After we went through security, we noticed 2 CMs outside the turnstiles talking. We said a cheerful, “Good Morning” to them and as we made our way to the non-breakfast turnstiles, one came over and started chatting with us. She first asked us if we were here for breakfast, and when we said no, she asked why we were here so early. We answered that we wanted to be sure to see the Rope Drop show (we didn’t want to appear over anxious, so we had decided in advance not to mention our desire to be Family of the Day).

Her name was Awilda, she’s been on the turnstiles for 21 years, originally from Puerto Rico. She had been hired to work at the Tomorrowland Speedway, but she was pregnant at the time, and they thought it would be better for her to work at the turnstiles… and she never left. We had a great conversation about working at Disney, the area she lives in, her commute… just a friendly chat.

In the middle of it, she shouted something over to the handful of CMs working the turnstiles for breakfast reservations. People were lining up for that now, and it was getting close to 8am (the earliest ADR is at 8). DW said something to her like, “I’m sorry if we’re keeping you from your job, we don’t want to get you into trouble,” and she replied that it was OK, someone else could work the turnstiles for her, and we continued chatting. A little later she asked us if we wanted to be the First Family and help them open the park. DD put her arms up in the air and started jumping up and down and DW and I were just about speechless.

So, what happens when you’re chosen as Family of the Day?

First, they invited us through the turnstiles, and asked us to wait on one of the park benches on the left hand side as you face the Mickey floral. Several CMs passing by introduced themselves to us, and a manager-type came out of the nearby office. He gave DD a little envelope of pixie dust, and confirmed our name and hometown.

Then another Cast Member, Barbara, introduced herself, and invited us for a drive down Main St. USA in the old fire truck.  There were several CMs out, waiting for the crowds when the park opened, and they were all waving to us as we drove by.  Barbara stopped many times along the way for pictures (a lot of which that she took with our camera for us).

We slowly made our way to ToonTown, where we posed for a number of other pictures…

…and after our family picture, Barbara had DD pose by herself in front of Mickey’s House – but she was surprised to see someone coming out…

…and the princesses and other characters just kept on coming…

It’s kind of hard to see, but DD is holding an autograph book that all of the characters had signed before they came out, so no time was wasted while we were mingling.  It was all so amazing that DW was actually getting a little misty-eyed!  DD was loving how every one of the characters wanted to spend time with her (and how they, of course, all called her “princess”). It was really incredible!

And finally, the group shot!

The character handlers were getting antsy so we knew it was almost time to open the park. We boarded the train with Mickey.

We could just barely hear the music playing as we arrived at the front of the park.

Now, up until this point, all of the pictures were taken with our camera, mostly by Barbara. It’s not until you get off the train that they have a PhotoPass photographer on hand to capture the moments. Here we are being introduced…

One of the dancers gave DW and I each a special kind of streamer to throw that is folded up inside of a little plastic cup that attaches to your middle finger. Here she is helping us put them on.

DW and I were so in the moment we only noticed afterwards, looking at the pictures, what a great job DD was doing waving at the waiting crowd.

Believe it or not, someone we knew from the TourGuideMike message boards (Kara_K)was in the crowd that morning, and recorded the entire show. When she found out we were the Family of the Day, she sent us a copy, for which we are eternally grateful (if you skip to about the 3:30, that's when the train arrives).

After we counted down from ten to one, we stayed to wave a while longer as the crowed filtered through and into the park. We then walked through the train station and headed for Main St. USA, Mickey and DD hand in hand.

We stopped on the down ramp for a few posed pictures.

And finally, one last hug from Mickey before we had to say goodbye.

We were given a PhotoPass card, which was loaded up with the pictures of us at the train station, and were told we could choose one picture for a free 8x10 print. And that was the end of our Family of the Day experience.

Along the way, Barbara shared some other insight about how families are selected for Family of the Day:

  • You never know what Cast Member will be the one looking for the family. Sometimes it will be a CM who’s up and bright and engaging, other times it will be a CM who is keeping to themselves and kind of checking things out on the sly.
  • You have to get there early. She told us that many, many times. You are rewarded for waking up early. She made a big point of this, and used the word “rewarded” many times. She also made a point of taking a picture of me by myself in ToonTown so DW and DD would remember that I was the one who decided to get up so early (even though it was a group decision).
  • You should NOT say that you’re there early to be Family of the Day, or that you’re hoping to be Family of the Day. She strongly implied that doing so would lead them to pick someone else. CMs really like to maintain the feeling that they’re spreading magic, and if you’re there with a sense of entitlement, that’s not really magical.

So, with the tips we got from other people’s experiences, and the few we got from one of the CMs, that should be all you need if you’d like to be selected as Family of the Day (oh, and a little bit of pixie dust)!

Coming off the ramp, who should we see but Barbara and her Fire Truck, once again. She invited us for a alow ride up Main St. USA. Our “Dumbo at Rope Drop” plan was out the window, so we figured, “why not!”

As we reached the castle and said goodbye to Barbara one last time, we realized it was only 9:10am. There was so much we had experienced, it felt much later than it really was. We decided to give Dumbo a shot anyway, and the line was so short, we only had to wait a couple of cycles before it was our turn.

We hit the rest of the Fantasyland rides after that, including Snow White, Peter Pan and Pooh. Our timing was a little off, but the crowds were so small it didn’t really matter. We were recognized a couple of times in the lines by people who saw us open the park. It was kind of neat.

We wanted to get some FastPasses for later in the evening, when DW and I would be coming back by ourselves for a bit, so it was off to Tomorrowland. We rode Buzz a few times:

And DD got locked up with Zurg…

After a few rides on Buzz we realized that our FastPass window for Splash Mountain would be opening up in about the time it took to walk over there. Since we’d be back to Magic Kingdom in a couple of days, with plans to spend more time in Tomorrowland, we headed over, grabbed FastPasses for Splash (with a return time just 20 minutes out!), and rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad standby. It was basically a walk-on, so we went around and rode it a second time.

After that, we used our Splash Mountain FastPasses and joined in a hoedown.

DD had absolutely no idea what the steps were for this dance, and didn’t really mind. She made up her own moves, and when it was done, got a big hug.

We ate lunch at Columbia Harbor House, and sat in one of my favorite places. If you go upstairs, you’ll find what looks like a little side room. It’s actually the bridge that marks the border with Fantasyland. We like to grab a table and look out the window at the people below.

We were quickly running out of steam, with the early morning and all of the excitement draining us pretty thoroughly. We decided to head back to the hotel for a nap, swinging through Tomorrowland for another set of Space Mountain FastPasses to use tonight. While there, DD touched base with her old friend, Push, the talking garbage can.

After a nap and some swimming, we dropped DD off at Simba’s Cubhouse for a few hours.  It’s one of the Child Activity Centers on site where they’ll watch your kids for about $11 or $12 an hour. While there, the kids can play videogames, watch movies, do arts and crafts, dress up in costumes – there’s a ton to do, and DD would probably love to spend an entire day in there.

We had a little time before our Kona Café reservations, so we took the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom to use our Space Mountain FastPasses. We wouldn’t have needed them – the ride was a total walk-on. We rode twice before we had to head back to the Poly for dinner.

I got my arms coordinated for the second ride…

We had a great dinner at Kona Café – I think it’s really underrated. We’ve eaten there on every trip, gotten the same entrees on every trip, and thoroughly enjoyed it each time. We replayed the day and went over all of the magical experiences we had been a part of.

I retrieved DD from Simba’s Cubhouse (as per usual, she didn’t want to leave) and we called it a night. We had a “sleep in” morning scheduled for the next day, so we turned the alarms off.

1 comment:

  1. With these pictures, it seems that you guys definitely had a fun time together! I can't wait to have a chance for my family to go there! But first I need to save up lots of money of course.