By Erica Colmenares with contributions from various MFL MouseFest attendees
I got back from Disney World last week. Since then, like a good Disney theme park enthusiast, I’m planning my next visit. I flirted on the edges of MouseFest this December, and had a ball. So next year’s event is definitely in my plans, and I want it to be in yours, too.
As part of MouseFest, a group of MouseforLess list members, led by list mom Binnie and organizer Gracie, planned ten meets for MouseFest 2005. These meets were open to anyone who was interested in meeting old cyber-friends or making new ones. MFL list members as well as folks from other Internet communities attended this year’s MFLFest meets. We think it was a success, and are already discussing how to improve the MFL offerings for next year.
Which brings us to you. Now, go get out your 2006 datebook. Got it? Next year, MouseFest is officially from December 3-12, starting with a cruise on the Disney Wonder from December 3-7, followed by the Walt Disney World events from December 7-12. The December 9 Mega Mouse Meet is your opportunity to meet authors like Jennifer and Dave Marx of Passporter fame, or exchange trivia with Lou Mongello, author of The Walt Disney World Trivia Book.
You are probably writing this all down, lightly, in pencil, so that you can erase it later when your spouse objects, or your innate shyness rears its head. “What if my family isn’t interested in meets?” you ask. “What if no one talks to me?” you worry. “Will my child be welcome?” you wonder? “Can I afford to add all these meets to my budget?” you fret.
Never fear! I had all these challenges, and none were insurmountable. The easiest is the last concern, as most of the meets cost nothing. Yep, zip! People meet to ride big attractions together, or to find Hidden Mickeys, that kind of thing. Any costs are clearly identified up front, like for the Wishes Fireworks cruise or the Grand Gathering event.
As for how to fit Mousefest into your holiday, I had planned my family vacation before I decided to also attend some of the MouseFest meets. As my husband was not (at all) interested in coming along, he and our son toured a park during one of my meets, and during another my son joined me while his dad went and got a massage. My son had a ball during the two meets he attended; there aren’t many kids, but those who came were welcomed, even pampered. And as for worries about being a wallflower or not having anyone to talk to, this is one friendly group of people. At my first meet, I was made to feel right at home. Couples attended, as did single folks, younger adults as well as older, parents, grandparents, and people without kids. Everyone fit in.
The organizers of MouseFest create a pocket guide of all of the activities sponsored by all of the groups. I’ll use the term “pocket guide” loosely, because you would need big pockets to fit it. There are just that many activities. The great thing, though, is that you can decide what you attend. Some make the trip to Walt Disney World just for MouseFest and try to attend as many meets as possible (like out own Mike Corbo, who amazingly attended all of the MFLFest meets). Some just try to include one meet into the plans they already have for their trip. And some, like me, do a mix of the two. Participants can attend almost any event, whether they are members of a particular community or not. Some events were a small extra cost; some were in the parks and some in the resorts. All of that was clearly mapped out in the planning stages.
Carol, another Magically Speaking editor, traveled to Florida with her husband just for MFL Fest. Normally, meets aren’t a part of their vacations and her family doesn’t get as interested in meeting people she knows online. But they quickly found out that this isn’t work to attend the meetings. They were welcomed, even the husband who doesn’t spend hours a day talking about the Mouse. Her husband is already coming up with plans for the 2006 MFLFest, since he enjoyed meeting so many new people at this one.
Now, to give you a better idea of what goes on at MouseFest, here’s the run-down of the meets sponsored and co-sponsored by theMouseforLess.com.
Festivities began on Thursday, December 1, with a Soarin’ Meet and a Welcome Meet. You won’t be surprised to learn that the Soarin’ Meet was crowded, with MFLers and other Disney guests alike. But who can argue with the aerial tour over California and its sites and smells? Not me!
The Welcome Meet came next. We gathered at the Contemporary Resort with a goal of seeing the decorative highlights of all three Monorail resorts. Hostess Joyce gave all attendees original handmade tags, sporting our names in letter beads and a handsome Mickey Mouse. At the Contemporary, we spotted hidden Mickeys in the holiday workshop, then we hopped on the monorail to the Poly where we were so busy chatting we forgot to look at gingerbread long house, complete with encircling monorail. The Grand Floridian wowed us all with just how elegant and beautiful a hotel can be. The life-sized gingerbread house looked and smelled amazing. Everyone left this meet much better-acquainted, and in the holiday mood.
We asked a number of the attendees of the Wishes Fireworks Cruise meet how it went. Cold seemed to be the operative word, followed by beautiful, fun and cold. The cruise left from the docks of the Wilderness Lodge, which is a treat in itself to visit during the holidays. Once on the boat and covered up in an appropriate amount of blankets, we were off on a jaunt around Bay Lake. Then we stopped in front of the Magic Kingdom. The music from Wishes was piped in so we could hear the whole thing along with see the fireworks from an amazing vantage point. What a great way to spend an evening with new and old friends – and not have to fight the crowds after the fireworks!
Meet guests at the Good Morning Grand Gathering weren’t affected by the cold- they just had to battle the crowds that were there for the annual filming of the Magic Kingdom Christmas parade. Once inside Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, food was abundant, characters were everywhere, and Tony himself joined in the fun.
Saturday afternoon was the biggest meet of them all – the Mega Mouse Meet. Here, gathered in a large meeting room in the Dolphin hotel, are people from all over the Disney community. There are guidebook authors and webmasters. Even the woman from whom the original Tinkerbell was modeled attended and signed autographs. There is pin trading, an area for the kids to hang out, and lots of giveaways. As with all of the meets, everyone is friendly and lots of hugs where given and pictures taken. This is the place where the most online communities gather at once, so if you want to meet and greet a diverse group of Disneyphiles, this is the place. Other meets may be more intimate, but this one is the place to see everyone together.
It’s hard to top the Mega Mouse Meet, but Beccy and Tia succeeded with the Give Kids the World meet that followed. Give Kids The World (GKTW) Village is a non-profit resort that creates magical memories for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Wish-granting organizations (like Make A Wish) coordinate transportation to Orlando, then GKTW provides accommodations at its whimsical resort, with donated attractions tickets, and meals for a week-long fantasy vacation. Mike Corbo from The Magic for Less Travel described the meet in glowing terms: “I just returned from our GKTW MouseFest Meet, which was a tour of the village, with our very own Beccy, her 3 wonderful sons (my new best buds in Florida, hey guys!) and several others from the MouseforLess list. Words and pictures really can not describe it. The looks on the faces of the children as Beccy’s son Michael was handing out the gift bags that our very own Wendy made and Beccy filled with donations from the list was just amazing. The facilities they have available, if I were a ‘wish child,’ would make me never ever want to leave. It’s amazing what they do there for such deserving children and their families.” For more information on GKTW, see http://www.themouseforless.com/community/givekidstheworld.shtml.
Bright and early Sunday morning, a group met for a Virtual Magic Kingdom meet, completing the Fantasyland quest and finding the hidden 20,000 Leagues submarine in the process (hint: go to the new Fantasyland playground, Pooh’s Playful Spot). Sunday also saw a group of adventurers at Epcot’s World Showcase, for the “Eat and Drink Around the World” Meet. No one could remember what they did. Just kidding, as eating figured more centrally than drinking during this meet which took MFLers and friends around Epcot’s World Showcase. Organizer Grace summed it up succinctly: “Drinks good, food great, very happy.”
Sunday night’s host, Heather, went all out for the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Meet at the Magic Kingdom, bringing holiday gifts for all attendees. Partygoers watched the second showing of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas parade. Everyone ate cookies, drank hot chocolate, and enjoyed those cute marching toy soldiers.
All good things come to an end, and MouseforLessFest ended with a Final Farewell Breakfast at Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Boma. We met at the originally (and beautifully) decorated AKL tree. By now, we saw mostly familiar faces, and had stories to share. The food at Boma was excellent as always. One of the guests lead us in a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday to Walt Disney, whose birthday falls on December 5. Souvenir goody bags were provided for everyone (Thanks, Arlen!).
OK, to summarize. MouseFest is a great time to meet people of similar interests (Disney). It brings the whole online Disney community together. If you are at all thinking of attending in 2006, be assured that you will have a great time. You and other participants may walk into a meet as strangers, but you will always leave friends. Remember, the dates for the Walt Disney World meets are December 7-12. Maybe you are interested in the preceding cruise on the Wonder from December 3-7. For help arranging travel, consult your travel agent or http://www.themagicforless.com. Any questions?