I spent my childhood craving a holiday to Walt Disney World in Florida. But, although my parents were (are!) wonderful and took us on many lovely places, including a number of wonderful driving trips around Europe. We never made it to America, and I never met the most famous rodent on earth. It is the only time that I remember my parents telling me that it was simply too expensive – taking two adults and three children to Florida was way beyond our means.
I promised myself then that I would take my children and mentioned this to my husband even before we had them! We knew it would be pricey, but we saved up and up, and finally, when the children were of an age when I thought they would remember the experience, we told them it was happening. They were 11 and 7. And they were thrilled.
The magic of Disney is something which so many of you will know about. But our experience was particularly special because we were lucky enough to do something utterly amazing: we opened the Magic Kingdom.
Until we got to our first Disney Park, Hollywood Studios, I had no idea that a family was even picked to open the park. But then I saw a family do so, and they looked joyous and a little bemused. I thought no more of it as we added in Epcot and visited Universal Studios too.
We left the Magic Kingdom right to the end of our ten day visit. Knowing that the park opened at 9am, we got there just after 8am. It was a lovely day and we were right at the front of a growing queue, near the turnstiles.
We chatted away to the people behind us and the security guards and cast members too. My son was wearing a Donald Duck cap, but we weren’t doing anything special. Then, around 8.30am, a man came up to us. “We’d like you to be our family of the day and open the park,” he said. I looked at him in disbelief. Had he just said what I thought he had? Yes, he had.
We looked at each other in astonishment. I thought I was going to cry. I had waited my whole life to visit this park, the classic one with the Cinderella Tower in the middle and the It’s a Small World ride, and here I was, being brought in before anyone else, and with the people I loved most beside me. It seemed crazy.
The man who ushered us in told us that over a million people visit the park each year, but only 365 get to open it. He then passed us over to another lovely man called Scottie who took us over to an old 1915 blue fire engine and told us we were going to have a quick tour round the park. We drove around “Main Street USA” and Robert sat in the front, tooting the horn at different intervals. Scottie couldn’t have been more charming. He told some of the history of the park and made sure we got pictures in front of the castle – with no tourists anywhere near!
We were then taken into the Disney railway station where we were introduced to the cast members of the show and to the Main Street “Reporter”, Scoop. He told us that we were going to be in the opening show and gave us instructions: Brian needed to stand next to Mickey Mouse, Jess to stand next to Brian, with me next and Robert next to me. My task was to say “Good morning.” I immediately wondered how to say this – and think I ended up sounding as English as I could possibly be!
We had a picture with the dancers and then it all got very busy. The steam train came into the station and all the characters, from Mary Poppins to Chip and Dale, got off. We stood as we had been told and waved madly. We were suddenly part of a show, which began with “Good morning” from Singin’ in the Rain. We were introduced as “The Ebner family from London, England” and I said “Good morning”, while the music and dancing continued around us. Then, after a countdown from 10 to 1, some fireworks went off behind. We looked down and there were thousands of people below us.
The show didn’t last long, and then we were taken backstage. I felt quite tearful if I’m honest – what an experience to be part of, and a complete fluke that we were picked. The children were given some badges, plus a general fast pass for us to use and another for us to use to meet Mickey Mouse later on. He then said that we would be driven to the first ride we wanted to go on (the haunted mansion). It was strange to think that we hadn’t even started the day properly and yet we had already experienced one of the best things ever.
The rest of the day was brilliant, and the kids especially loved it when people came up to us and said “you were the family of the day.” We felt like mini-celebrities.
When we got home we Googled how to become “family of the day” and found that there were all sorts of tips on there, from getting there three hours early, to being advantaged if you were travelling with twins or a baby. We weren’t. We don’t know why we were picked and I’m sure that if we’d tried to be, it wouldn’t have worked.
All I can say is that it was utter magic. And wonderful to experience it all together. You won’t be surprised to hear that it made our holiday the best we had ever had.
Robert says: Just a few weeks ago I wrote a list of my favourite experiences and right at the top of it was opening Disneyland in Orlando, America. It was one of the best moments I have ever had.
It started off with getting to the park early then all of a sudden a man came along as said “You have been picked to be our family of the day and open Disneyworld with Mickey Mouse.” We got a guided tour of the park on an old fashioned Fire truck and got fantastic pictures of the iconic views without any people or crowds scuttling around us. We met up with more people and were told what we were meant to do when on the balcony. We then walked on and Mickey Mouse came off a train followed by all the other Disney Characters.
It was an utterly amazing experience looking down at thousands of people, who could have been in the same shoes as us. Afterwards lots of people thanked us being so great and rewarded us with lots of fast passes. It was BRILLIANT.
Jess says: Our family has been to some incredible places and participated in unbelievable experiences, but it’s not so often that we get to do something that money can’t buy, and that very few people get to do.
In 2013, the Magic Kingdom hosted 18.58 million visitors, yet only 365 families got to open the park. This is probably the reason that this event was so special; everyone was so lovely and we were able to do something unique! I can still remember my confusion at being asked to move forward and get through the gate early, and my giddy excitement at driving around the park with the wind in my hair. I loved walking onto the balcony with mum, dad and Robert, and gasped with exhilaration as the fireworks exploded above us! It truly was a day to remember, and possibly the happiest one of my entire life.