|Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World Resort’s towers over the Magic Kingdom.|
Luxury Travel Advisor recently traveled exclusively with Fischer Travel Enterprises to Walt Disney World in Florida to experience the resort’s ultra-luxe offerings that can be organized by The Disney Event Group and the Disney Signature Dreams team.
Fischer Travel is known for organizing over-the-top, money-is-no-object trips and Disney is aiming to prove that it can provide that level of experience for high-end clients. If your clients have always dreamed of joining Alice for tea in Wonderland, flying with Peter Pan or chasing Captain Jack Sparrow all over the Caribbean—specialists at the Disney Signature Dreams team can make it happen.
Three levels of experiences are available, depending on what the client wants. “Intimate” events can be as simple as a meal with a favorite Disney character or access to the first safari ride of the day in the Animal Kingdom. A “Premium” experience would involve more customization and might include a backstage pass or a private dance party in the evening. Both of these include pre-arranged elements, but can be customized as needed.
The “Signature” experiences, though, are the most elaborate and high-end and are all completely created from scratch for each client. One notable event was created for a child who loved the Pirates of the Caribbean films. His dad was “kidnapped” by Captain Jack Sparrow, and the child followed clues all over the resort throughout the day until he was led into a private dinner, where he found his father singing onstage with a band. For clients who prefer the darker side of Disney, the team creates a “Club Evil” in one of its spaces, with Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty), the Evil Queen (from Snow White) and Cruella de Vil (from 101 Dalmatians) as hostesses. (Cool Touch: The Disney team even got permission from the head execs to alter the characters’ costumes to suit the evening.) Even Cooler: New characters can be created for any group. Case in point: We saw a “tour operator” named Bambi, who was very happy to meet the Fischer team and knew all about all of its travel advisors. Naturally, established Disney characters are always ready to meet with guests and interact with them as needed or desired.
Guests can have a personal guide to escort them from attraction to attraction and park to park (no buses or monorails necessary), and can even enter each resort from the employee entrance rather than waiting in line with the common throng. (Few people outside of the Disney cast ever get to see the backstage areas, so this is especially exciting.) Special bespoke treats can be arranged for guests’ hotel rooms (anything from a personalized bag filled with treats to a fully custom-themed design—think pirates or mermaids or cars, or whatever the client likes the most).
Dennis Wirzman, managing director of The Disney Event Group, said that the overarching theme for Signature Dreams is “What If?” and that they encourage agents and their clients to think as big as possible. With a cast of literally thousands at their disposal, the team can create any sort of bespoke experience, sometimes in as little as two weeks. (While we were there, we watched rehearsal footage of a flash mob that was being planned for an upcoming client. It was hard to count, but it looked like hundreds of dancers were involved.)
“Just about anything is possible when you have creativity,” said Chuck Salvo, The Disney Event Group sales director. “It’s not about a package or a program; it’s about sharing your wants, your needs and your dreams. And this team has the ability to make all that come true.”
Luxury travel advisors looking to reach out to the Signature Dreams team should contact Event Consultant Jeff Hurst ([email protected]; 407-824-1580).
On arrival, we met up with a cast member (as Disney employees are called) who served as our host and guide during the weekend. If your clients want a dedicated guide to escort them throughout their stay (or only part time), it can be easily arranged through the VIP team.
We stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, a lovely recreation of lodges in the Serengeti. Giraffes, zebras and other wildlife wander outside guest windows, and specialists are around to talk about the animals and various African countries. Top Tip: The highest floor has a dedicated club area with drinks and snacks available throughout the day. Be sure to book your clients a room with access to the lounge. Close to Epcot, the theme park, the Presidential Suite at the Beach Club Resort is a super-swank option and should be a top consideration for high-end clients. Bonus: From the Beach Club, guests can take a ferry across the lake for a scenic entrance into Epcot.
Over at the Animal Kingdom, we sampled a new excursion called the “Wild Africa Trek,” a simulated safari that begins with a tour of the resort’s recreation of an African town and eventually leads into the expansive (and remarkably authentic-feeling) game reserve. (Note: While guests can go on larger safaris in larger groups, this experience is much smaller, more exclusive and immersive.) Adding a bit more adventure into the excursion than we’ve experienced on most game drives, the first half of the trek involved a hike that took us to a private ledge over the hippo pool (a specialist told us all about animals while we snapped pictures) and walking over crocodile-filled waters on rickety-looking suspended bridges (with full harnesses, of course). Just as we were getting winded, we hopped into traditional jeeps for a proper game drive. Animals wander around the reserve freely, and just as on a real African safari, there’s no saying when guests will see what. (Cool Touch: To keep predators like big cats away from their natural prey, Disney’s “Imagineers” created clever—and usually hidden—barriers between zones, guaranteeing that kids won’t see anything traumatic, and that the recreated savanna never feels like a zoo.) A light lunch of very tasty snacks, representing a range of African cuisines, was served on a lookout platform, and we watched elephants and ostriches wander by while we dined alfresco. Good to know: The trek takes about three hours and does involve a good bit of walking as well as crossing a (very secure) swinging bridge. If your clients are interested, make sure they bring good hiking shoes.
|The Beach Club Resort has a Presidential Suite that is ideal for top clients.|
A benefit of booking with the Event Group is that clients can have meals in places where they wouldn’t normally—whenever and wherever they want, in fact. For example, we met up with the Fischer team for a private meal at the hidden-in-plain-sight Terrace Des Fleurs pavilion right by Epcot’s France area, and had front-row seats to the evening’s fireworks display. Good to know: All represented countries at Epcot have private facilities available for meals or events, and these can be rented out for large or small groups. If clients would rather not be in sight of passers-by, other venues off the beaten paths are available and can be customized. The next day began with a private breakfast at Jiko, an African-themed restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge that is generally open only for lunch and dinner. Later, we had a private lunch in a room at Hollywood Studios created just for us—a recreation of Andy’s room from Toy Story. A green plastic soldier was our escort (and had us march into the dining room), and Woody and Buzz Lightyear came inside for photo opportunities. (Bill Fischer himself stepped into Woody’s boots for some prime photos.) We were serenaded by a cappella vocal group while we ate, and were offered toys to take home with us.
Another perk is that guests have direct access to rides that usually require waiting in long lines…sometimes, lines that last for well over an hour. In Hollywood Studios, we entered through a side door to hop right onto “Toy Story Mania,” a popular 3-D video-themed ride that, admittedly, is a lot of fun and very addictive and over far too soon. (Several people admitted feeling a little guilty when we saw all the people still waiting outside...but only a little.)
|A Ride on The Breathless is just one of many excursions and experiences the Disney Event Team can coordinate.|
At Epcot, we wandered around the different countries’ pavilions (the annual Food & Wine Festival was in full swing—encourage foodie clients to visit while this event is taking place) before we were brought through a private back door to Soarin’, a simulated flight experience that is one of Epcot’s most popular attractions. Again, no waiting in line (which can often take hours) and no hassles. We just walked right in and sat down.
For dinner on our final night, we walked through the Animal Kingdom Lodge after it had closed, and several Fischer travel advisors got to try a private ride on the Mount Everest roller coaster. (Just imagine having a whole resort to yourself after dark, with no crowds and everything quiet and peaceful. It was just lovely!)
For a grand finale, we had dinner in an actual theater used for performances at the Animal Kingdom, and got to see a private performance of “Festival of the Lion King,” a Broadway-style, in-the-round concert of songs from the movie. We were invited up to dance with the performers, and had the whole theater to ourselves.