By ATD’s Florida Experts, Susan and Simon Veness
Eerie apparitions waltzed in a haunted mansion’s courtyard while gravediggers wearily dragged their shovels behind them, fear written all over their faces. The heavens opened up in a torrential reminder of their role in filling Earth’s oceans. And then, a world of wizards showed up.
This past week, Orlando played host to IPW, the massive annual travel trade convention which brings together journalists and delegates from around the world in a showcase of U.S. destinations, and while the four day convention is among the most intense networking events in the travel world, each evening provided more than enough entertainment to keep Jack from becoming a dull boy. This being Orlando, it was obvious where the nightly venues would be: the Big Three of Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando. Come along with us to ‘experience’ the fun!
The first night’s event was at Magic Kingdom. Having been to many Disney events we knew we were in for something special. Past highlights included an Epcot event where the fountain in front of American Adventure was loaded with ice and cold beverages; an autograph session with Joe Rohde, lead designer of Disney’s Animal Kingdom; and a Hollywood Studios red carpet lined with Cast Members begging for journalists’ autographs and clapping like we were real celebrities. This night, however, was filled with celebrities of a different kind.
Fantasyland offered interactive experiences, starting with an elaborate tea party with Alice and the Mad Hatter from the Alice in Wonderland story.
The Seven Dwarfs greeted us outside their mine for a coveted photo with the whole crew. And it’s not often guests are invited to sit down with Mary Poppins, Bert the chimney sweep and a slew of penguins for a tête-á-tête over tea and biscuits.
Nearby, dress-up opportunities with Cinderella and Prince Charming in the courtyard outside Cinderella Castle, and the chance to be a pirate or Lost Boy with Peter Pan, Wendy and Captain Hook made for some more hilarious PhotoPass pictures.
Tomorrowland was home to Guardians of the Galaxy, Hiro and Baymax meet-and-greets and photo ops, putting an edgier emphasis on the evening.
But Liberty Square was the jewel in the crown, with rare character encounters including the grave-diggers, ghostly bride and tightrope walker from the Haunted Mansion story, plus a wonderfully eerie waltz featuring ethereal beings engaged in a surprisingly beautiful dance-of-death. We could have spent hours watching them, and a treasured memory was created when Simon was chosen to dance with one of the lovely spectres.
As always, food stations and lounging areas were set up around the park, but one station was a big hit with all concerned. In keeping with the theme at the Haunted Mansion, dry-ice-popped popcorn created a sensation when guests discovered we could blow ‘smoke’ out of our mouths and noses when we bit into each kernel.
From dancing with Pinocchio as marionettes, to being kissed on the hand by The Beast, to sipping wine while watching an all-surround-version of Wishes, Disney once again Wowed us with the unexpected—and did what they do best by creating magical memories of a lifetime.
The next night’s event was held at SeaWorld, and true to their theme of an ocean of fun, the evening was filled with water, much of it rather unwelcome. Rain threatened all day, holding off until the moment we reached the park. But a little rain isn’t going to dampen the spirits of networking-weary conference-goers, so we donned heavy blue ponchos and set off into the park.
Now, we’ve been to many, many events at SeaWorld and we know how spectacular they are. This time, however, nature took her duties seriously and sent a superb thunderstorm, complete with lightning that sent us scrambling for cover. But no matter. There was plenty of food and drink on offer, and the chance to talk to our fellow conventioneers, including our good friends at Mousesteps who were huddled down in the same Quonset hut in Antarctica as us. With a light show going off all around us, we were warm, dry and comfortable, enjoying the sound of rain in place of the live music and character encounters planned for the event.
But the best part of the evening was talking to SeaWorld’s team members, who braved the deluge to make sure we were all having a good time. From the bartenders to the animal ambassadors’ handlers, everyone without exception had a smile and a friendly word for us, in spite of nature’s mischief. Massive kudos to each and every one of them for a job well done!
The next evening was open, freeing us up to enjoy several of the parties offered by private companies, in preparation for the final evening’s event at Universal Orlando. There was little doubt about where this party would be held, and sure enough Diagon Alley, Hogwarts Express and Hogsmeade were the star attractions.
But first—a red carpet, lined with just about every character in the Universal stable. Here was the Cat In The Hat crew, there the Simpsons, Woody Woodpecker, Beatle Bailey, Popeye and Olive Oyl, Optimus Prime, Spongebob and Friends, Doc Brown, Dora the Explorer, the Blues Brothers, Scooby Doo and the Gang and, of course, the wildly popular Minions, who never fail to make us smile because they’re just so ridiculously goofy.
We headed straight into Diagon Alley for those precious we-have-the-place-all-to-ourselves pictures, (momentarily waylaid by team members handing out Baileys shakes, pina coladas and margaritas) and were greeted by wizards and witches who obviously didn’t mind being up after dark.
Fantastic food, friendly bartenders, and brilliant live music? Check! Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts as a walk-on? Yes, thank you! The kind of party that makes you forget how tired you are, urging you to put business behind you and party as hard as you work? You bet!
Universal can’t put a foot wrong and, although we suspect they prayed hard or paid big money to whatever powers control the weather for the absolutely perfect evening after two days of rain, the event was a massive hit, even with jaded journalists who sometimes feel they’ve seen and done it all. It was the ideal finale to a hugely productive week, and a reminder of why we love the parks so much. We’re proud of what Orlando offered IPW’s 6,500 attendees from 73 countries, and we’re proud to call this wonderfully creative place home.
Want to see more pictures from the events? Check out our Facebook album, here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.835961413139630.1073741846.197979340271177&type=3