Opening the park at Disney World: being family of the day

posted in: Blog, North America | 63

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.

Opening the Magic Kingdom in Disney World, Florida
We opened the Magic Kingdom!

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.

In Front of the Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, Florida
We got to take pictures in front of the castle with no tourists around!

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!

Before the ceremony started
The family with all of the cast before the ceremony started

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!

Brian and Mickey
Brian with Mickey Mouse when the park was opened

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.

Opening the Magic Kingdom

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.

Mickey Mouse at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World, Florida
With Mickey Mouse!

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.


Read about our trip to the Harry Potter studio tour – and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando…



63 Responses

  1. Christine

    Wow that must have been an amazing experience which I’m sure you will all remember for years to come. I went to Disneyland for a day many years ago whilst I was travelling in America but I’ve never taken the kids. One day maybe, before they’re too grown up!

  2. Penny

    Oooh! Congratulations Sarah – I love it when I see a bit of ‘Disney magic’ happen!

    I see you opened it with Scoot Sanderson, the Main Street Reporter. Spoke to him years and years ago as he is, or at least was – a big Pin Trader and he used to hold little pin meets in the MK. I even wrote about him recently when doing a little piece about the Streetmosphere actors in Magic Kingdom – ironically the photo I posted of him was opening the Magic Kingdom! I better go check that wasn’t you in the photo, hehe (Seriously, could you just imagine the coincidence if it was?!)

    So glad to hear you had a great day though – a memory I’m sure you’ll treasure forever 🙂

      • Penny

        Scoop was really nice when I spoke to him (I wrote his name wrong before, silly fingers), he’s been there for years and years – I was there when they first started the pin trading in 1999/2000, think the MK pin trading meets were happening in 2001, perhaps. So yeah, he’s been there at least 14-15 years that I know of at least.

        We always look out for him on our visits as it’s nice to see a familiar face (that’s not a mouse 😉 )

        • Sarah Ebner

          How amazing!! We would love to find more about the man who drive us around on the fire engine too, as he was really lovely. It was all so wonderful, honestly.

  3. Trish

    As Jess has said, this is an experience money can’t buy. How thrilling for you all. I’m excited for you just reading about it 🙂

  4. Anda

    What a treat, Sarah, to be actively involved in the opening of the park. I bet your children had a blast and they will remember the experience for a very long time. I’m sure you enjoyed it too.

  5. Michelle

    Awwwww, this is so lovely! What an amazing, amazing experience! I’m not in the slightest bit jealous! I often wondered how they picked the family to open up the park, and it really is completely at random! What treasured memories, and on your very first visit to Magic Kingdom too – wonderful! I burst into tears every time I hear the opening theme to Magic Kingdom, I don’t know why – it feels so overwhealming – I’d be a state if I were in your position!! Thanks for sharing! xx

  6. Liz Burton

    What a fantastic trip!! My daughter’s been asking about going recently too and I’m trying to get it through to her that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip that we’d have to save up for!

  7. Mums do travel

    How wonderful! I didn’t know that this was a thing – when we went to Disney’s Magic Kingdom we were there at the opening of the park and I didn’t even notice that there was a family in amongst the dancers!

  8. Sarah Bailey

    It sounds like you had an amazing time, I went to Disney in my teens and I would love to go again one day – I am such a big kid.

  9. North East Family Fun

    Wow what an amazing once in a lifetime experience! Such special memories – I think I might have had a few tears. Thanks for linking to #traveltales I’ve added this post to our pinterest board x

  10. Lori

    What a great experinece to have and such amazing memories to give your family. I’ve been thinking about taking our boy for a bit of Disney magic! x

  11. Brenda

    I absolutely loved this story! I think they felt your excitement Sarah, waiting so many years to visit the land of magic. You were so smart to wait until the kids were 7 and 11 because they’re both old enough to remember that special day for the rest of their lives! Disney is magic!

  12. Robin

    Wow, this stuff really gets me. I am wiping a few happy tears for you. I did the same when I learned my nephew was chosen at Olivander’s Wand shop at Universal. I am thrilled for you all and how special that must have been in that moment. Amazing.

    • Sarah Ebner

      That must have been amazing too. We went to Olivander’s so we can imagine how fantastic that must have been as well.

  13. Tonya

    What a magical experience for your family! It would be hard to top a surprise like that.

  14. Kara

    What an amazing experience you lucky things. We really want to take the kids to Disney

  15. Kirsten

    What a wonderful experience for your family! I had no idea they even did this. That’s definitely a memory that will be hard to surpass!

  16. Shell Louise

    What a wonderful experience. It’s my biggest dream to take my kids to Disney world. I don’t know if we’ll ever make it to Florida but I reckon we’d be able to go to Paris in the next couple of years 🙂

  17. Carolynne @ Mummy Endeavours

    Aww what an amazing experience! How utterly special to be chosen! I love the photo’s you all look so happy! I haven’t been to Disney either and would absolutely love to take my children, but having four of them it’s a bit too out of our reach at the moment! x

  18. Letzflyaway

    Omg, how lucky are you? I didn’t know about this opening family thing. It must have been a lifetime experience for sure! #globalkids

  19. anne

    Loved reading your story! We just returned from Disney a few weeks ago. It was my third time there and my husband and children’s (age 9 and 10) first. Many families we know go every year as we are just a short plane ride away. I am so glad that they picked your family to open the Magic Kingdom. This was not just your average vacation, it was the vacation of your life. You deserve it, and THAT is how you got to be the family to open the park!

  20. Jennifer

    Just saw this on Pinterest and clicked on it to read b/c we were chosen to be the family of the day a couple years ago! It was definitely very random and unexpected. I had gotten the time wrong on when the park opened and we ended up arriving 2 hours early and spent lots of time chatting with the attendant who turned our misfortune into something pretty cool. We certainly loved the extra fast passes!

    • Sarah Ebner

      Wow, how nice to “meet” someone who had the same experience! It was great, wasn’t it? So glad your early start worked out so well 🙂

  21. Heather

    We had the almost opposite experience! We got to close magic kingdom! We had our three daughters 3,7 and 10… We stayed through magic hours – I asked our daughters which ride they wanted for their last ride. They all wanted the merry go round… So off we went. We got on, picked out favorite horses and waited for the ride to start. And waited and waited. The worker smiled at us, the only people on the ride, and said you are in for a treat. Then.. All of a sudden, every single character arrived and got on the ride with us! They those horses next to all of my girls! I have pictures with my three yr old with Mickey. My seven yr old with Donald and my 11 yr old with Minnie! It was the most memorable part of our trip! 7 years later, even our youngest remembers! I have awesome memories of them all holding hands and skipping through the park after! Best Day Ever!!

    I will say we never made a park opening. We slept in and made every park closing! Always something magical at Disney!

    • Sarah Ebner

      Wow, that is fantastic. I didn’t even know they did that. What a fabulous story. WE’re both very lucky!! We were jetlagged so we were up early every day.

  22. Tina donegan

    What is the status of the possibility of the family being consider for the opening or closing of the park? Tina donegsn

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