Last last spring, I found myself agreeing to an August trip to Walt Disney World.
Totally insane, I know. Central Florida, in August. Bring on the Vitamin X!
A bunch of my favorite cousins from Adrian's family were making the trip, which is the only reason I even considered it. I really love spending time with them, for one thing, and for another, they are even bigger Disney geeks than we are. I just couldn't get into the idea of the heat. And the crowds. Then I looked at the crowd calendars, and realize the dates we were considering were just after the last of the majorly crowded summer days. Hmmmm.
What really tipped the scales for me, though, was the announcement of the Villains Unleashed party at Disney's Hollywood Studio. Max and I have been fairly avid character hounds for awhile now, and the chance to meet some favorite but rare-to-the-parks characters was too enticing to pass up. So we booked a trip that overlapped with family on the front end, and ended with the villains party, and started talking to the kids about "not seeing everything this time, and swimming, A LOT."
I might write another post about the trip itself, and how we managed in the ridiculous heat of late August, but for now, I'm going to focus on Villains Unleashed, because it was the source of much controversy and criticism on social media, after the fact, and I feel like sharing my two cents.
Disney presents several different events throughout the year, what they call "hard-ticket" events. Unlike, say, the annual Food & Wine Festival, where you can experience the event just by having a ticket to Epcot, a hard-ticket event requires the purchase of an event-specific ticket, usually to the tune of about $60-70 each, and is the only way you can enter the park where the party is held during party hours. The two big hard-ticket events that are offered annually are Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. Both of these events are offered on multiple nights each year. MNSSHP will be held on TWENTY-EIGHT nights in Fall 2014, followed by twenty-three nights of MVMCP. Villains Unleashed, I feel it very important to mention, was offered once. ONE NIGHT ONLY. The end. August 23, 2014, or never.
The first time we went to a hard-ticket event was in September 2008, when we went to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. The previous January (2007) we noticed that the Magic Kingdom closed early one night we were there, for a Pirate & Princess Party. When planning our 2008 trip, I remembered I wanted to find out what that was all about, and discovered MNSSHP instead. We loved the idea of dressing up in costumes and enjoying a somewhat exclusive event, and bought tickets right away. And I have to be honest with you....the party was fantastic. We dressed as Dash Incredible, Syndrome and Edna Mode, and had a terrific time taking in all that the party had to offer: trick-or-treating, characters in costume, a special parade and fireworks display....but the very best part was that no one was there!! We rode Big Thunder Mountain four times in a row, without having to get off the train! We rode Pirates of the Caribbean ALONE! It was magical, we really felt like we were at some sort of exclusive event.
I returned the following year, 2009, for a quick weekend with my sister, mother, and assorted children, specifically to attend MNSSHP. It was still a great time, but definitely more crowded than the year before. The secret was out!
In 2012, we found ourselves at Disneyland in October, and decided to take in Mickey's Halloween Party while we were there. Pure, unmitigated disaster. You can read all about it, here, if you really want to experience me criticizing my beloved Disney....
Finally, in 2013, we decided we'd had enough Halloween fun, and timed our trip to coincide with Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party instead. We chose the week before Thanksgiving for our trip, and went to the party on our second-to-last night there. By then, Max and I had really started to get into character collecting, and we were excited at the possibilities for autographs and photos on offer at the party. We weren't disappointed, we collected a bunch of new, and even rare (the Seven Dwarves, Bert and the Penguins) characters, but the party was very, very crowded. It was even a rainy night, but that did not deter the crowds. Collecting autographs involved a lot of strategy (thank you, Kenny the Pirate!) (and a fair amount of me waiting in line by myself while Adrian and the boys did other things), but even if that had not been a priority, I feel like we might have been frustrated by the long lines for rides. That magical first experience at MNSSHP back in 2008 really left us with high expectations, I guess....but let me just say, this was the night we finally rode Stitch's Great Escape, for the sole reason that it was one of the only things that didn't have a 30+ minute line. For the record: Don't bother with Stitch's Great Escape. It's horrible.
ANYWAY, all of this is my way of making the point that if you went into Villains Unleashed and somehow did NOT think that it was going to be very crowded, and that the lines would be very long, then I don't know what to say. Do better research, I guess. One night only, over 50 villains on offer, most of them incredibly rare, in Disney's Hollywood Studios, the smallest park. Who didn't think it would be a madhouse???
The party began at 8pm, but you could enter the park with your party ticket beginning at 5pm. We arrived just before 7, after a relaxing day at the pool. We entered the park with ease, and received our lanyards identifying us as party-ticket-holders. We picked up a stroller for Milo, and set off down the street toward the Sorcerer's Hat, where there was a big count-down clock installed.
|Less than an hour until party time!|
Our next stop was Toy Story Midway Mania, which, as you know if you are a regular WDW visitor, ALWAYS has a very long line, and is ALWAYS the first Fast Pass everyone goes for in this park. We were delighted to wait less than 15 minutes for a ride. By the time we finished, it was getting very close to 8pm, so we decided to cut around to the far entrance of Streets of America, to figure out where our top-priority characters would be meeting. We took a bonus detour into Wandering Oaken's Trading Post, the Frozen-themed store that I didn't think we'd get to check out during the party, and the boys were happy to enjoy some Olaf-y treats.
Our number one, must-get, whole-reason-for-coming-character was Bowler Hat Guy, the excellent villain from the lesser-known Disney movie Meet the Robinsons. That movie holds a special place in my heart, as Max was obsessed with it when he was about three, and it was the very first movie he ever quoted at us ("I know you're not a pigeon!") We immediately found Bowler Hat Guy's line and jumped on the end of it, even though it was about twenty minutes before he would start meeting.
42 minutes later, this happened:
|YAAASSSSS! I met Bowler Hat Guy. Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?|
|Shan Yu is super creepy.|
Now, I know some people would frown on my place-holding in lines. I get it, I do, but I have two thoughts on that. The first is, do you really want to stand in long lines with antsy kids? No. You don't. I don't, either. So if my husband wants to entertain them while I wait? I feel good about that, because, and this is my second justification....I don't take a picture or get an autograph, myself. I'm just the place-holder. I got a photo with Bowler Hat Guy, yes....but the kids stayed in that line with me. I waited in the line for Shan Yu, but Max got the meet. As a group, we didn't take up any more time with the character than I would have, alone. Would I be irritated if the person in line in front of me was all of a sudden joined by three friends, and they all proceeded to take individual photos with the character? Yes. But anyway. That's how I justify what I do. You can disagree with me, and we can still be friends.
By this time, it was almost 11pm. If you're keeping track, we entered the park at 7pm, but the party didn't start until 8pm. The characters didn't start meeting, for the most part, until 8:30pm, so in 2 1/2 hours we had met 4 characters. Maybe that doesn't seem like a lot, but they were our top four characters, and we were thrilled to meet them. But at this point, we decided to stop meeting characters and hit a few more rides. Max and I did the Great Movie Ride again (no wait, and what can I say? We love it! And we got the gangster version this time, so that was extra fun, seeing both versions in the same night), while Adrian hung out with the sleeping Milo, and then we traded off so that Max and Adrian could ride Rock-n-Roller Coaster (10 minute wait).
With one kid already asleep, and the other fading pretty quickly, we chose to skip the fireworks (which I hear were spectacular) and head out. I was disappointed not to see any cast members handing out the printed autograph cards we had been looking for (in an effort to keep things moving at the character meets, none of the characters signed autographs) but that was really my only disappointment of the evening. So I was very surprised to log on to Twitter and see so many negative reviews of the event, and even more shocked to see that so many people were requesting refunds. To be fair, we didn't try to purchase any of the event merchandise (I thought it was ugly) so we weren't affected by that line or that they apparently ran out. We didn't care about eating a hot dog with a villain's face printed on the bun, so we didn't care that they ran out of those, either. We didn't go to any of the shows or dance parties, because....meh. So I can't give you my opinion on whether Oogie Boogie's Freak Show was fantastic or horrible. But overall, I just can't figure out why so many people seemed so upset that the event was crowded, and that the lines for characters were long. What on earth did they really expect? I don't get it.
Anyway, one of the best parts of the night, for me, was seeing all the people in costume. This event, more than any other we've attended at a Disney park, really brought out a ton of people in costumes, and some of them were really outstanding! I really enjoyed the camaraderie of the costume-wearers, too. Everyone was full of compliments for each others' outfits, everyone was delighted when someone figured out what they were....it was just a lot of fun.
Of course, the Iapalucci Four were costumed. That's my whole raison d'être, no?
Milo, first. He refused to be a villain. He even refused to be a Disney character. He wanted to be, and he was repeatedly insistent and consistent about this, the blue Dino Thunder Power Ranger. (By the way, what in the hell is up with the Power Rangers? When did there get to be so many different kinds?????). Knowing it was going to be hot, I got him to agree to a t-shirt, but he insisted on long pants. I picked up a blue t-shirt and pants for less than eight bucks. The pants had white stripes running down the legs, but they were very easy to remove with a seam ripper. I cut out white diamonds from felt and glued them to the legs and sleeves, then made the footprint logo out of gold duct tape on black felt. I did not want him to wear a mask or even a helmet, due to the heat, so we agreed on a baseball cap with horns attached (the blue Dino Thunder Power Ranger transforms into a triceratops). The horns were made from rolled-up white felt.
|Milo as Blue Dino Thunder Power Ranger|
Max had a hard time choosing between Shan Yu and Jafar. I suspect he ultimately went with Jafar because it was more colorful. Now, Jafar wears a huge and very heavy robe, from his chin to his toes, and a large turban - definitely NOT what I was going to dress my nine year old in for traipsing around a theme park in the August heat. So I convinced him that Disney Bounding was the way to go, and he was really thrilled with his outfit. Black cotton shorts and a black t-shirt for the base, easy and cheap. I picked up an extra-large men's short-sleeved button shirt, cut the sleeves out, and shaped the bottom into a rounded cut-away-coat/cape sort of thing. I had some scraps of red fabric, so I lined the collar and created lapels with the remaining button plackets. I also made him a sash. The snake on his t-shirt was a quick appliqué I made from gold duct tape on felt, just like on Milo's costume. Duct tape sticks pretty firmly to felt. It won't stand up to the washing machine...but then, a LOT of things I do in costuming would never make it through the laundry. A black fedora in place of the turban, with a gold duct tape band and red feather completed his look:
Funny story about his hat - we left it at home. AAAAGGH. But I remembered that several years ago, I purchased a Peter Pan hat for Max at the Emporium on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, and that they kept the red feathers for those hats separate, and behind the counter. We asked them for a feather, and they gave us one! We picked up a black fedora in the gift shop at our hotel, and were able to recreate the hat, no problem.
I dressed Adrian as Dr. Facilier, primarily because he already had all the stuff he needed in his closet. Purple shirt, black pants, black vest, check. I made him the hat, and Milo helped him pick out the perfect necklace in Animal Kingdom earlier in the week:
|The Drs. Facilier|
He got a LOT of compliments on his costume.
As for me, I went as Ursula. I mean, of course I did. After shopping for corsets all summer long for Into the Woods, I was excited to buy one for myself, and found a great one on sale at Corset Story. I ordered fishnet stockings and a fishnet shirt in lavender from We Love Colors, naturally, and a short purple tutu from my favorite Pettiskirt Style. I was nervous but excited about my outfit, which was pretty well received, over all. I know my husband liked it!
|Too much boob for Disney??|
I finished off the outfit with silver hairspray, and a cool octopus pendant.
All in all, we had a really fun night. Like I said, our priorities and expectations may have varied from others who did not enjoy the event, but based on our previous Disney experiences, we were very satisfied. I hope Disney figures out how to make this a recurring event that meets everyone's expectations.
Oh! And on a whim, I emailed WDW guest services when we got home, and asked if there was any way they could mail me some of the autograph cards - and they called me two days later for my mailing address!! Magic!