Best Chanukah Ever

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For the past several years, the first week of December (or thereabouts) has been a time for my wife, Cheryl, and I to travel to Walt Disney World.  This is not a family trip, and this is not a true vacation.  In fact, it’s a trip that is far from relaxing, but believe me when I say that for this trip, each year, that is not a real issue.  I’ve already planned well in advance for the madness and sleep deprivation that ensue when hundreds of Disney fans descend together on WDW at the same time.  I love getting together with my family for our October trip, but it is this trip to WDW that I look forward to each year with the most anticipation.

It used to be that I’d be heading to MouseFest, but now I go to Reunion – same kind of thing, different name.  Well, that’s progress for you. This event is put on by WDW Today Podcast and MEI / Mouse Fan Travel, and while it is a mere 2 years old, it is, without a doubt, my favorite fan driven Disney event.  It is not jammed packed with events that overlap and make you have to pick between them.  Instead there are a few key events each day with some impromptu things thrown in as time merits.  Most of the events are free and opened to all, but there are some plussed events that will cost you some additional money to attend.

One of the interesting facets of this event for me is that it for the past two years it has coincided with the Jewish holiday Chanukah, the Festival of Lights.  To many non-Jews this is the Jewish version of Christmas, but the truth is that there is very little religious significance to the holiday.  It’s entire purpose is to celebrate the miracle that occurred when a small amount of menorah (candelabra) oil that should have only burned for 1 day instead burned for 8 days.

To celebrate, we bring decorations and an electric menorah with us each year to decorate the windows of our room.  At last 2009 Reunion we met our friend Lori because of this.  She tweeted that there was not a decent display of Chanukah decorations in all of WDW and she and her daughter really wanted to find some.  I suggested they head to the Pop Century resort and check out our room – they did, and we’ve been friends ever since.  Much of the friendships that Cheryl and I have made through Disney have a story like this.

Being Jewish, we generally do not attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, but for both years it’s been a part of the Reunion schedule.  I’ve got nothing against this, but it does leave us with an opened evening.  This year however, to compensate, Cheryl and I decided to plus our Chanukah a bit by throwing a Chanukah party the same night as the MVMCP at Roaring Fork in Wilderness Lodge.  We brought our electric menorah, latkes, M&Ms, chocolate gelt, and dreidels.

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who came out to our cozy little event: Karen, Shelley, Dave, Zoe, Sarah, Tim, Lori, Lynne, Megan, JL, Betsy, Shane, Scott, and Nicole.  It means a lot to Cheryl and I that you all came out to support us, be with us, and celebrate with us.  Teaching and getting to watch you all play dreidel was a high point of my trip, plus teaching Shane to spin a dreidel upside down was also fun.

Now to say it was a night to remember would be an understatement.  Scott “cashed out” his M&Ms to take a break.  In the hallway he ran into a castmember and they started talking.  Turned out the castmember was a Wishes Fireworks Cruise Skipper and his family for the evening had cancelled.  He was in the lobby looking for a family or group of up to eight people to take out, and Scott was the first person who had talked with him.  Scott took the castmember down to Roaring Fork, and announced our good fortune.

The next several moments were quite surreal.  I remember Shelley saying it was too cold to take Zoe and that she’d make sure everything was cleaned up.  I remember telling Betsy to go, and she looked back at me, said “Happy Chanukah” and told me to go. Scott couldn’t go, and Tim, Sarah, and Karen had already left.  So we had our eight.  Grabbing the menorah, remaining M&Ms and remaining latkes I packed them in a bag and off we all went at a brisk pace toward the Wilderness Lodge boat dock.

On board, we were presented with blankets, hot chocolate, chips, and soda.  I’ve been on fireworks cruises before, but there was something super-special about this one.  And I mean beyond the whole free thing.  Everyone was laughing, and very excited, and having a blast.  Our skipper was amazing and he reflected our own excitement for the cruise.  Amidst the cries of “Best Chanukah Party Ever”, and our dubbing it the “inner mouse Chanukah Fireworks Cruise”, Shane had asked me if Chanukah was always like this.  I jokingly told him that there were six more nights, and that it only keeps getting better.

We got to see Holiday Wishes from the Seven Seas Lagoon, and then the boat turned around allowing us to see the Holiday “tag” on IllumiNations.  Our skipper then took us to see the old wave generator back in the Seven Seas Lagoon that was used for the Wonderful World of Water Ski Show.  Heading  back to Bay Lake, he then got us to about 250 feet from the Electric Water Pageant.  He followed this up with a great tour of all the key points of Bay Lake. Afterward we all warmed up by the fire in the lodge and posed for a group pic.

The next morning was the Reunion Team Challenge.  Matt Hochberg had asked me to be on Team Studios Central.  It was something I was very excited to be participating in, and I had been looking forward to it.  Most of you are probably wondering why I wasn’t on Team TouringPlans, I think it’s because Matt asked me first.  Now I’m not going to tell you all about it just yet as I plan to do that next week, but I wanted to just touch on it briefly.

I met back up with Sarah in the morning as she was also on Matt’s team and we decided to head over to the event together.  She was telling me how her and Tim felt like “The Blitz” after walking out of the Chanukah party.  When Beci explained the rules to us she let us know that we were playing for two free nights in a Deluxe resort of our choice.  Honestly we all just sort of felt that our only goal was to not come in last.  I’ll put it like this, Sarah is so not “The Blitz” because *boom* *POW*! Team Studios Central won.  Have I mentioned best Chanukah ever?

That night after another highly successful TouringPlans.com meet where Len once again fed the world (seriously there were 80 orders of Fish & Chips!!!), we all migrated over to the Italy Pavilion for an IllumiNations dessert party for Mouse Fan Travel customers.  There’s little cooler on the planet fireworks-wise then IllumiNations with the Holiday “tag”, and let me tell you it only gets better when you’re right up against the fence at World Showcase Lagoon with a Mickey head shaped Rice Krispies treat.  Dancing, sugar, and fireworks – oh my!

The next day, after riding some rides and finally getting to log some time in the updated One Man’s Dream (I always cry during the movie), we headed over to the Butterfinger Cupcake meet.  Not long into it my friend Shelly shows up and I immediately steer her away to the Frozen Coke stand so we can get our fix.  It’s our thing, don’t hold it against us.

There was a child in front of us who got a half Fanta and then half Coke, but what caught our eye was that the castmember used the red Fanta to make a hidden Mickey on the top of the brownish Coke.  I immediately ordered two Frozen Cokes, but asked for the hidden Mickey on top of each.  We got to talking with the castmember about how cool we thought it was, and how we loved the creativity of it.  When I went to pay she said they were on the house.  The Chanukah gifts just kept on coming.

And then it was on to a final party Mouse Fan Travel style with “DE-serts and DE-lights”.  Prior to Reunion I sort of thought this was just going to be a dessert party on the Streets of America.  However, this party gave us a one, two, three punch of Disney wonderment.  We started off with a Fantasmic dessert party – more crying and more Mickey head shaped Rice Krispies treats.  This was followed by a ride on Toy Story Mania! (my 3rd time that day)  And then afterward we were shuffled to the Streets of America, however the Osborne Lights were off.

The Disney castmembers had us pose for some group pictures, and then with one final picture they had us count backwards 3… 2… 1… and *boom* *POW*! (still not getting old) the Streets were lit up.  There we were only about 100 people roaming around, this allowed us to get to see the lights with plenty of room to spare.  I walked around, soaking it all in for a bit, watching the lights dance to a few songs – getting to enjoy it from various spots with friends both new and old.

And then I did something I’d always wanted to do for the lights, I went to San Francisco street and laid down right there, in the middle of the street.  I was on my back looking up with my head resting on my backpack.  As a song began to play, my friend Tom came over and asked what I was doing and I told him to trust me and lay down too.  Soon more and more people began joining us.  It was totally amazing to watch the lights in this new way.  I’m welling up with emotion right now just thinking about it.  Gotta love Chanukah.

For Cheryl and I, the last day of Reunion started with a breakfast with AJ of the Disney Food Blog at the Captain’s Grille.  The breakfast itself was pretty good.  Sure it wasn’t Tonga Toast or Crystal Palace, but I had a really good omelet. Getting some face time with AJ was great.  She is one of my favorite bloggers in the Disney community.  Her passion for food, especially Disney food shines.

After breakfast I spent the rest of the day at meets – an aspect of the Disney community I really love. First was a Boardwalk Bakery meet that due to rain turned into a Bellevue Lounge meet.  First thing I did upon arrival was to give Beci a huge hug and thank her for the party the night before.  The MEI / Mouse Fan Travel team went above and beyond with this one, I really can’t wait to see how they top it next time, and they deserve a ton of praise for bringing it all together.

Then after chatting with friends for a bit it was time to head to Jambo House with Nicole, JL, Cheryl, John, Scott, and Jackie for a Disney Driven Life / inner mouse meet.  The meet was a huge success, it was bigger than we all thought it would be, and despite some technical difficulties in the beginning with streaming – I feel that it went amazingly well.  The turnout was close to three times what we were expecting.  We had the Sunset Lounge filled to capacity if not more – definitely a Chanukah surprise.

Afterward we all packed up and headed over to Ariel’s at the Beach Club to catch the tail end of Lou Mongello’s 200th episode of WDW Radio celebration.  The podfather of the Disney community himself has reached yet another milestone in his extraordinary Disney journey.  He’s really earned all the accolades he gets. If ever there was a Disney mensch, Lou is it without question.

Cheryl and I closed out our Reunion 2010 adventures and our Best Chanukah Ever with a nice quiet dinner at the Turf Club with friends.  I had a fantastic time, just like I did last year, and I look forward to next year.

What about you? Did you make it to Reunion this year?  What’d you think?  What was your most memorable part?  Are you planning to attend again?  How was your Chanukah? Nes Gadol Haya Sham.

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Posted on December 9, 2010

27 Responses to “Best Chanukah Ever”

  • Thanks for being a part of Reunion Todd

  • I’ve been struggling to write a blog about the holidays at Disney.. this post pretty much sums up how I’ve felt, but with an awesome solution! I love that you’ve created your own celebration.. maybe some day we’ll get there to join!

    • I’m the sort of person who tries to make the best possible outcome with what’s been given to me. I realize that Christmas is the pervasive holiday in the US, so I try to plus my holiday instead. With a blog post I usually find those first two or three paragraphs are the hardest, from there it tends to write itself.

  • Wow Todd! I just relived the Best Chanukah all over again. :) Thanks for sharing our fantastic firework cruise story, it was so magical. Love ya buddy!

  • *Boom* *POW*! (Not old to me yet.)

  • Todd,

    Thank you for posting this. It was an incredible read, and I’m so happy to see that other people also had such a terrific time while we were down at Disney. I only attended a couple of the events you were at – the TouringPlans fish-and-chips meet (Thanks, Len!) and the WDW Radio 200th (Congratulations, Lou!), but I too had a marvelous trip. There is nothing like being in Disney for the holidays, and being there with fellow Disney obsessed fans makes it even better.

    Happy Hanukkah,
    Paul Lalli

    • Thanks Paul. It really was just a great time, hard to believe it was only a few days. I’m glad you got to join us for the TouringPlans meetup, I know that it was a bit hectic. Great that you had a good trip, and I agree, being in the parks with other Disney fanatics is awesome.

      • If you don’t mind me asking, Todd, did you get a chance to hear the Hanukkah storyteller at the American Adventure pavilion? We heard her while taking the Yuletide Fantasy tour, and I thought she was fantastic. I understand that Hanukkah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday, but the way she told the story of the Macabees and the destruction and re-dedication of the Temple that led up to the miracle was really very interesting.

  • What a nice story to read as Hanukkah wraps up. I enjoy reading your blogs. Hopefully we’ll be visiting WDW next year again, and your Jewish spin on things will help me to plan as we have recently begun keeping kosher. Thanks!
    P.S. I lost my last games of dreidel bad today–too many Shins! :)

    • Sorry about those shins. Did you maybe have a defective dreidel?

      I’m glad you enjoy my blogs. If there’s any way I can help out with your trip just let me know. I’m tperlmutter on Twitter & Facebook.

  • The dreidel was not defective, but my daughter probably wished all four sides of my dreidel were a shin!
    Thanks for the offer of help. I don’t think we will be down there until the fall, but will definitely keep it in mind, especially for planning ADR’s.

  • Great story! Amazing free stuff at Disney! It truly was a miracle! So, when is Reunion 2011 so I can tell my Wife I have a business trip in Orlando those days!

  • Hey Todd – I don’t believe we actually met during Reunion (I was the short, blonde British guy, if that’s not a terribly inadequate description) – but I was pretty much the last person to come and lie down with your little group during the Osborne lights, before the song finished. I’ll never forget Reunion, and all the little details – the fish’n’chips tasting almost as good as our homegrown stuff, but probably mostly because Len paid…the magic of IllumiNations with 50 of your new best friends, and then the even more extreme magic of Fantasmic!, Toy Story and Osborne with all those amazing people – I’d almost forgotten about the spectacular moment when the camera flash ‘switched on’ the lights, but your article made me miss it all over again.

    Also, thanks so much for shedding a light on the Jewish side of December, it sounds like you had an amazing night, and I’m actually a little envious of the instant camaraderie your group obviously enjoyed – although there was plenty of ‘instant camaraderie’ to be enjoyed throughout Reunion. I’m really hoping to make it back for next year, and there, hopefully, I’ll actually remember to say hi.

    • Are you sure we haven’t met before though Mike? But yes, Reunion is a hectic time when you’re trying to meet up with everyone imaginable, make new friends, and see old ones. I look forward to meeting you all over again next time around :)

      • Eh..we probably did meet at one point; I remember thinking, by Sunday morning, that far more people knew my name than I’d thought, and in fact than I knew theirs, and I guess that’s part of the magic of Reunion.

  • Nicole and Megan told me about your free cruise. Thats so awesome!! :) Not often you get something free at Disney

  • I’m still disappointed I missed the party! You’re quite the lucky one, reading this makes me miss everyone and the fun times a little bit more.

  • Any plans for Hanukkah at Reunion this year?