It seemed clear time was going to be of the essence, so I requested that Nick drop me off at the Custom House. Sarah offered to take my camera bag to the room, but I declined. As I walked to Bell Services, I hoped for the best, knowing that anything was a possibility. Surprisingly, they found the costumes in about 2 minutes, and I was on my way. Looks like there wouldn’t be as much of a time crunch as I originally expected!
Unfortunately, the costumes were far heavier than expected, and extremely awkward to carry with the garment bags. I was beginning to realize that these costumes might be quite unbearable to wear in the Florida heat, something I didn’t contemplate when I made the order on a cool fall day in Indiana, which, apparently, has different fall weather than Florida.
Of course, along the way, I kept noticing the beautiful sunset that was poised, at any minute, to give way to the evening dusk. It was one of those amazing 360 degree sunsets, where the light from the sunset on one side of the sky hits clouds on the other side of the sky, maybe them look like large, fluffy, lightly toasted marsh-mellows.
At this point, despite the bulk of the costumes that I had slung over my back (on top of the camera bag, thus making me truly look like a pack mule), I decided to pick up the pace so I could make it to the beach while the sun was still setting. When I made it to the beach, there was more light left than I expected, so after taking a couple of shots, I decided to quickly head to our room (only a 3 minute walk from the beach) to grab a different lens. I grabbed the lens, dropped off the costumes, and headed back out, hoping the sunset hadn’t left.
It hadn’t. I was surprised that it was sticking around so long, but I certainly wasn’t complaining. Sunsets aren’t normally easy to photograph. You usually have some really strong highlights and the intensity of color isn’t uniform across the frame. This causes some hot spots in photos that are really hard to control. This sunset was about the worst I have ever seen for this, and I still haven’t managed to completely tone down some of the colors. Here are a couple quick-edits.
After a few minutes of photographing the sunset, it was gone. This was probably for the best, as I doubt I would have headed inside until the last bit of light was gone, but I needed to head inside, because I really had to get ready for the event.
The Disney Parks Blog team encouraged Guests to get into the Halloween spirit by dressing in costumes, and many Guests were doing exactly that. Sarah had taken a peak at the female costume I had purchased, and really wanted to wear it that night. Previously, she had told me that she wasn’t going to wear this particular costume. I bought it anyway because the seller gave me a package deal on it with my costume, and I figured she might need a backup. Sarah had originally planned a pretty awesome costume, but due to a delay on Amazon.com’s part (a rarity), it wouldn’t be possible. So she was partly “forced” into wanting to wear this costume, but I could tell she also liked it.
The problem was that I had planned on wearing another costume this evening, and once I get my mind set on something, I sometimes put blinders on to alternatives. So I really wanted to wear my other costume that night. Eventually, I caved. I realized that the Parks Blog event would be shorter than Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, so it was probably better to wear the hot costume to the shorter event, and I also conceded that my other costume was a bit “out there” (although I maintain that it’s still awesome), so maybe it wasn’t something of which I’d want photo and video on the Disney Parks Blog. Plus, most importantly, a wise man once told me the two most important words a man will ever learn are, “yes, dear.”
So we suited up in the costumes of Sarah’s choice. Even though we were running late, we spent probably five minutes looking at them in the mirror, and laughing. After we had our laughs, I grabbed the sheet with our pickup information to see where we needed to go.
Clearly, I should have looked at this sheet more than 20 minutes before we needed to leave our room. The information that Disney provided was that we needed to be at the “main bus pickup” at our resort. Was this at the Custom House or Old Port Royale?! I called the front desk, and after a few minutes of asking around, they said, “probably Old Port Royale.” Not exactly reassuring. At the bottom of the email, I noticed the contact information of the Parks Blog Cast Member who contacted us about the event. I tried her office. No dice. Reluctantly, I decided to give her cell phone a try.
After several rings, she answered. I apologized profusely for calling her on her cell phone (she didn’t seem to mind the call, so all was well), and she said that the pick-up should be at the Custom House.
So we had one vote for each. We decided to err on the side of trusting the person who organized the event, although we were still a little concerned. What ultimately swayed us was that the Custom House also had taxis, so if the bus didn’t show up by 7:45, we would just grab a taxi and have it take us to Blizzard Beach, which was the meeting place. When we arrived, we immediately drew the attention of a few Cast Members. One asked us where we were going, and we explained. He hadn’t heard anything about it, and wasn’t expecting a bus for the particular event, but he assured us that he’d take us in a van if a bus hadn’t arrived by 7:45 or so. Phew. That was a huge relief.
Luckily, a bus did arrive, right on time at 7:30. We didn’t notice it, at least not until the bus driver came up behind me and asked, “are you Tom Bricker?” I responded affirmatively, and he said, “your chariot awaits.” I’m guessing our costumes were the dead giveaway to him.
We boarded the Disney Cruise Line Mears bus, and the bus took us, and only us, to Blizzard Beach. At Blizzard Beach, we ran into plenty of others who we knew, each seeming to laugh and shake their heads when they saw our costumes. My rough estimate based upon viewing the crowd would be that there were around 250 attendees, all of whom gathered at Blizzard Beach for registration prior to being shuttled on Disney Cruise Line buses to the Magic Kingdom.
Other Guests were dressed up in some pretty cool costumes, many of which were better than ours. I think ours were neat, but there’s something to be said for a homemade costume. Now, time for the big reveal (although I’m sure many of you have already seen the photos). Sarah and I chose to go as a classic Disney couple: Beast and…errr…Mrs. Potts? Like I said, the guy from whom I bought the costumes gave me a deal on the Mrs. Potts one. He only had a Belle costume in a child’s size. When we looked for Belle costumes, we discovered that nice Belle costume isn’t exactly so cheap to make or purchase, so Sarah opted to go as arguably the most important story in Beauty and the Beast, Mrs. Potts!
After getting registered for the event at Blizzard Beach, we stood around and chatted with other attendees while listening to the loud beats of the DJ and a trivia contest going on somewhat simultaneously. It was an amusing way to pass time while everyone got registered.
Shortly thereafter, we all boarded buses headed to the Magic Kingdom. Along the way, the buses played Halloween at Walt Disney World videos, detailing how the parks prepare for the season. The video also included a humorous face-painting tutorial to make your child look like a pirate.
We arrived near Splash Mountain, in a backsatge area. This must be where they store parade floats, as a few from Main Street Electrical Parade and Celebrate a Dream Come True parade were visible. Some of the MSEP vehicles even had their lights on!
Once we made it through the bag check (for some reason, I elected to bring my huge camera bag and tripod–not exactly easy to access with huge paws and while wearing a cape), we walked through Frontierland to the Hall of Presidents, where we would hear Walt Disney Imagineer Jason Surrell explain some of the history behind the Haunted Mansion. As we entered the Hall of Presidents, legendary Disney Yellow Shoes photographer Gene Duncan stopped us to take our photo.
Once inside, we were seated in the Hall of Presidents while Disney Parks Blogger, Gary Buchanan, dressed as a large brown object entertained us. At first, he appeared a bit…lewd…but once he explained that he was a turkey leg, the light bulb went off and we thought, “oh yeah, turkey leg!” I don’t think we were the only attendees who initially thought he was something else. I wish I had taken a photo of him, but I think you can imagine what the “something else” might be.
Disney’s Social Media director Leanne Jakubowski took the “stage” after the turkey leg, and introduced the rest of the Disney Parks Blog team. It was nice to finally meet many members of the blogging team whose work we had been reading for the last couple of years. Overall, they seemed like a cool bunch who were certainly enthusiastic about Disney.
Next up was the star of the show: Jason Surrell. As I mentioned in our Part 16 of our May Trip Report, Jason Surrell, along with Alex Wright and Jason Grandt, hosted the presentation at Destination D that was by far the most humorous and enjoyable. Absent were his partners in crime on this evening, but Jason was just as funny as before.
He began the presentation rather innocuously, calmly discussing the history of the Haunted Mansion before pausing, and indicating that all of us fans probably already knew all of that. At that point, his presentation devolved (although the connotation is a little harsh there, as this is when the presentation really became good) into the Jason Surrell Comedy Hour, as he joked with the audience.
He started by mocking those taking photo after photo of him doing relatively the same thing (uh oh), then he mocked those transcribing his every action and sentence onto social media sites (double uh oh), and later inferred that Abe Lincoln (behind him) would be disappointed if he could see the country’s obsession with social media. Ironically, he had the crowd, myself included, which consisted largely of avid social media users, in stitches. He later offered to buy someone in the front a new hat, which I believe was a joke, although after seeing this person’s hat, maybe it wasn’t (says the man who wore the ridiculous Beast costume).
Jason Surrell’s presentation wasn’t entirely jokes, as he mixed in a good deal of information, and answered questions along the way. One of note to me was that he bluntly indicated that, at present, Disney felt it inappropriate to bring Haunted Mansion Holiday to Walt Disney World. This is because, compared to Disneyland, most Walt Disney World Guests were infrequent or once-in-a-lifetime visitors, and as such, Disney wanted to present the original Haunted Mansion to them. It was nice for someone at Disney (for once) to treat fans as if they’re rational and intelligent human beings capable of hearing an actual answer rather than the typical, “our Guests have told us that they want X.” I appreciate the honest answer, but I hope this same type of thinking isn’t applied across the board. I mean, management could easily use this same rationale to delay a needed refurbishment: “once-in-a-lifetime guests would rather get the chance to experience a Splash Mountain with a few effects broken than not experience it at all, so we should delay the refurbishment.” In the context of a Haunted Mansion overlay, I respect the rationale, but it is a slippery slope.
After the presentation I began wondering if Disney is on edge whenever Jason Surrell takes the stage for this type of event. Clearly most fans love his irreverence and wry humor, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Disney isn’t too fond of some of his comments. It’s not like he reveals any state secrets or portrays the Company in a negative light, but all it would take is for one social media hound to take a comment out of context for a potential problem to arise. Hopefully that never happens, and hopefully he never does tone it down, as his presentations are spectacular.
Surrell’s presentation was by far the highlight of the evening, but he wasn’t the only character at the event that evening. Minnie and Mickey Mouse were on hand for photos, decked out in their Halloween attire. After Surrell’s presentation, we indecisively wandered around for a bit, trying to determine where we should go.
We first headed over to the Golden Horseshoe, where it was stated that Surrell would be chatting with fans. We expected a decent crowd for this, which would allow us to belnd in with other Guests and simply listen to him ‘talk shop,’ but it turned out that there were only a few other Guests were there.
When I probably should have introduced myself and started talking, I merely said, “excellent presentation,” and froze. Nothing like awkwardly re-affirming some of his comments about the social media crowd. I have no idea why I couldn’t string a few words together to start a conversation, other than that I was a bit intimidated to be talking to an Imagineer, to say the least.
We quickly left the Golden Horseshoe and decided to head to the Haunted Mansion queue for the tour. Along the way we stopped for our photo with Mickey and Minnie. Based on interactions this handler had with other Guests (when someone asked him to retake the photo because it was blurry, he responded that it was their camera’s fault), we wondered why this guy was selected for what (we figured) would have had the creme de la creme of Cast Members. Unsurprisingly, all of the photos he took of us with Mickey and Minnie were also out of focus–and I know better than to have believed that it was “my camera’s fault.” Unfortunately, by the time we noticed this, Mickey and Minnie had headed off for a break.
Dr. Facilier was also out, as were The Cadaver Dans performed, and Madame Carlotta and Renata entertained attendees waiting in line for the Haunted Mansion queue tours, while Haunted Mansion butlers and maids were fully decked out as they dredged around, walking ghoulish dogs.
Trick or treat bags were passed out so Guests could wander Liberty Square and the edge of Frontierland to collect candy. Light refreshments, including drinks and desserts were available. Tours of the new Haunted Mansion interactive queue were offered with Imagineers Pete Carsillo or Eric Goodman, the Haunted Mansion was also open for rides, and the lighting package used for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party was also utilized during this event.
Our next stop was the line for the tour. As we waited in line, Thomas Smith of the Parks Blog approached us, and gave us a Create-Your-Own Vinylmations as recognition for our costumes. Other Guests received these as well, so it wasn’t as if we received “first place” (which we would not have deserved–there were Haunted Mansion costumes that were easily better than ours!). It was really cool to win! We’re still trying to determine how to design the Vinylmation.
Clearly, we should have done the queue tour first. The line was fairly long, and with the small groups there were taking, we figured we’d be lucky to get through the line by the time the event ended. Luckily, it was entertaining with the Madames interacting with the crowd. The wait actually only took around 25 minutes. The tours by Carsillo and Goodman were very interesting, and pointed out details and rationale for why certain things were placed as they were in the queue. This all gave me new appreciation for the queue. As I stated before in our May trip report, I thought the new queue was neat, but I certainly wasn’t singing its praises (nor was I condemning it like most). This definitely swayed me towards being more of a fan of the queue. At the end of our tour, Carsillo pointed out a really cool detail that no one in our group had noticed before, and said, “see, people should really look at these things before they knock the queue!” Apparently, he knew his work had been vilified online.
If I were an Imagineer (assuming I had that kind of talent), I think the biggest difficulty would be ignoring the persistent criticism from the “fan” community. Every aspect of every project is scrutinized and criticized online by a fan-group that is hardly representative of the general public, and often can’t see beyond the end of their noses. They assume that every aspect of the park should appeal to them personally, and can’t seem to understand that the interests of casual Guests, Disney’s target demographic, is substantially different from their own interests. I think I would try to avoid reading criticisms of my own work, but you know there would be that lingering curiosity. I know if thousands of people scrutinized the work that I do on a daily basis, they would probably find some “serious” problems. I suppose at the same time, it’d be pretty awesome on one of those rare occasions when you were one of the people behind a project that was almost universally praised.
After the Haunted Mansion queue tour, we spotted Daisy and Donald, so we headed over to have our photo taken with them. It was the same less-than-friendly handler as Minnie and Mickey had, but this time we hedged our bets by not leaving the vicinity of the ducks until we checked the photos. They turned out this time!
Then, we saw Dr. Facilier again, so we stopped again!
As the night wound down, the Headless Horseman ran through Liberty Square. We had a decent view of the run, although my photos turned out less-than-stellar. Afterward, everyone just sort of stood around, maybe hoping that he was going to make another loop.
Finally, we headed back towards the Splash Mountain exit. Every Guest won, in a way, as we all received posters of the Hitchhiking Ghosts on the way out of the event, along with a “Nightmare Before Christmas” Vinylmation, plus wonderful memories.
Overall, we were very pleased by the event. It was a great experience, especially for the (free) price! There was plenty of entertainment, a great presenter, and great atmosphere throughout the night. It was thoughtful of Disney to hold the event over the weekend of October 1st, 2011, as it gave many out of town guests who would be in town for that weekend an opportunity to be a part of the fun. Thanks Disney Parks Blog team for a great evening! Now here’s hoping for a Christmas meet sometime between December 8th and 11th that we’ll be able to attend!
After we boarded the DCL bus back to Blizzard Beach, we got out and chatted with others for a bit, before getting back on our chariot to take us to Caribbean Beach Resort. As we re-boarded and headed off, we got some odd looks, probably as people wondered how we got a “private” bus to take us back to our resort! Once home, we immediately went to bed, knowing we had a big day coming in Epcot and at the Halloween party, the next day!
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