The last year of my life in the Disney community has been an amazing ride. Oh sure, I’ve been around for a while, being one of the original fans of all the podcasts that going back many years now – remember the first Podfest? I do. Some of my oldest friendships within the community as we know it today date back that far. But before that I’d been on the DISBoards and gone on DCL cruises with groups from there, and I’d lurked on the RADP news group for years before that. MagicMeets, MouseFest, TentFest, various New England meets, etc. I’ve been there.
Looking back, I think the turning point for me was the morning of the Reunion 2009 Kim Possible Adventure Challenge when Matt Hochberg introduced my wife, Cheryl, and I to Katie and her then fiance, Ed. Katie and I bonded on a few levels, but most importantly on our inability to put down our iPhones for any extended length of time. Had you told me at that moment in time that I’d be blogging here at TouringPlans, working on C++ code for the TouringPlans Engine, managing the website for The Disney Driven Life, and being rich with friends, I’d have probably scoffed. And yet here I am.
It’s been a little more than a year since that point, and Reunion 2010 has come and gone. Now, as I indicated in my last blog post, I had an amazing time. One event that I imagine a lot of people have been wondering about is the Reunion Team Challenge (a.k.a, “The Mouse Fan Team Challenge: Community Edition”). There are probably a lot of questions surrounding this like how many teams there are? How you get picked to participate? What it’s like? How does it work? etc. I had a lot of the same questions last year.
For starters, you need to know what Reunion is, how and why it got started, etc. The answer is actually quite simple. After MouseFest 2008 ended, the planning committee decided to terminate the event, the logistical planning of it had become too much. The problem was that many people in the Disney community, myself included, had gotten used to visiting Walt Disney World during the beginning of December. So, this left a void waiting to be filled.
The WDW Today Podcast teamed up with MEI & Mouse Fan Travel to create a new event to fill that void. That event became simply known as Reunion. And behind all of this is one truly amazing woman in the Disney community, Beci Mahnken. For two years now Beci has coordinated this event along with the help of her travel team. And I will say that after experiencing how much better 2010 was over 2009, I can’t wait for 2011. If you have any doubt about joining the event next year, don’t hesitate – just plan to go.
Now “the boys” and Annette, the hosts of the WDW Today Podcast, are a fairly close knit family. And families tend to need to have an opportunity for one-upmanship over each other. Beci recognized this and during Reunion organizes a Team Challenge allowing for them to sort this out on the field of battle. However rather than being fought with swords or missiles, this is a battle of wits as it is designed to test both your knowledge of the Disney parks and of Disney trivia. This is also charity event where MEI & Mouse Fan Travel will make a donation to a charitable organization chosen by the winning team.
Each of the five show hosts gets to pick a team to be associated with their organization: All Ears, MEI, Mouse World Radio, Studios Central and TouringPlans. This year, I had the distinct pleasure of being asked Matt to participate on Team Studios Central. And, when asked, I jumped at the opportunity. Now truthfully, I had no real clue what I was getting myself into. But I figured, “Hey, it’s for charity, how bad could it be.” In addition to Matt, the other team members were John, Sarah, and Glenn. You can find out the members of the other teams here.
At this point you may be thinking, “But wait Todd, you work here at TouringPlans. What gives?” To be fair, I got a lot of that going into this. I had to apologize to some really close friends of mine from BETAMOUSE since I would not be able to attend their Sum of All Thrills meet. As I’ve mentioned previously, this is a very special ride to me as it and I share the same birthday. That made it doubly hard. In the end, Matt asked first, but I would have said yes to any of the teams.
So in addition to agreeing to participate I’d also been asked my T-Shirt size, and told to show up outside the gate at Magic Kingdom by 8:45am. Next thing I know we’re told to go to Saratoga Springs at the same time instead. I told Matt that I thought this was odd, but went along with it. Turns out that a certain boss of mine was trying to pull a fast one on the other teams to give himself a leg up in the competition (shenanigans!). The matter was rectified though when the final rules were delivered as they directed us to the real starting point of Beach Club lobby. They also included one very important rule:
“Anything Len says or does or tells his team to say or do… is considered illegal & could result in deductions and/or expulsion and/or time out for the amount of time and in a corner of the facilitators choice for him and his team.”
So we met in the lobby of the Beach Club. A “check in” picture was recorded of each team. Some costumes were more creative that others, all teams had organization themed shirts that unified their teams. For our team, Matt designed them to be like team jerseys where Matt’s had a “C” for Coach. We were: Hochmania (Matt), Wichita (Sarah), Boilermaker (John), It’s A Trap (Glenn), and 01110100 – the first letter of my name in binary. Each of us also had a number, mine was 42 – I was the team geek after all.
After pictures we were bussed from the Beach Club to the Magic Kingdom. On the bus we got additional rules from both Beci and a Disney castmember – no running, pushing, shoving, trampling, etc. Some more anti-Len clauses were added to the mix. And two additional things were added. First, while the challenge started in the Magic Kingdom and was predominantly to be done there, we had to finish in at the Wonders of Life Pavilion in Epcot. 3 hours, a crazy amount of trivia to be completed, and objects to find for pictures now had to include travel time as well.
However, to spice up the contest, Beci plussed the event. This was no longer just a charity event, the teams now had some additional incentive to win. She threw in two free nights at any deluxe resort on Disney property to each member of the winning team. Honestly though, my teammates and I all looked at each other and agreed just to do our best not to come in last place.
The bus went into the side entrance of the Magic Kingdom between Main Street and Tomorrowland and we got to enter through the castmember entrance by Tomorrowland. We were given some final instructions including the warning about how difficult crossing the park would be that way due to the taping of the Christmas parade. Then we were handed our first challenge, a fairly simply word puzzle. Well except that it was really two word puzzles, one you must complete and the other optional but worth extra points.
My team was still waking up, but we banged our way through the puzzle, I remember about halfway through that I solved the actual puzzle for us, but the rules of the puzzle said all the keywords had to be circled. And we agreed to complete it that way. We tried to get the secondary puzzle for a short bit, but then decided to head to where we thought the puzzle was trying to send us: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. And look for the “Facilitator”.
We cut across the parade (not much choice really), past the Crystal Palace, across the secondary bridge to Liberty Square, and along the boardwalk to Frontierland. We kept trying to figure out the secondary puzzle, but could only discern it had to do with Toontown. Once at BTMR we walked around the ride looking for someone to whisper the secret phrase to. We then walked through the queue, skipped past riding the ride and out the exit.
It was then it hit us. The Facilitator wasn’t a thing, it was the Disney castmember who handed us the packet initially. Who was back over by Tomorrowland. <insert big *sigh* here> We’d made our first big mistake and lost about 15 minutes of our precious time. We quickly backtracked, found the castmember, and whispered the phrase. He allowed for us to consider the secondary puzzle once more. We gave ourselves 3 minutes, and then gave up. Getting our second clue.
Sarah got this right away and we headed to the Mad Tea Party. On the way we made the promise to take things more literally for the rest of the game, and not make assumptions. We also re-iterated our “no last place” mantra. We get there and find Beci who immediately asks us who our 2 best trivia folks are, and the team picks Sarah and I. Beci tells the two of us to go ride the teacups while the rest of the team has until we get off the ride to solve the trivia pack she’s handed them.
At this point we have no idea which teams are ahead of us, but we do come to find out that Team All Ears is behind us because they show up to the teacups about 5 minutes after us. The line had already wrapped twice. And then it breaks down. Beci holds us for 10 more minutes, and then releases us. She hands our team our trivia and picture guidebook for the rest of the challenge along with a digital camera. We really are feeling the hit to our clock, we’re a half hour in and feel that we’re doing terribly.
We look over the guidebook, and do some planning as to how to tackle the challenge. We fill in a number of answers right off the bat, including a bit of Lost trivia. And then we determine that a large chunk of points is to be had in Toontown. We spend a bit of time in there and get all but two of the basic trivia answers, but make that up with getting a bunch of the bonus questions. We get a few of the pictures, and later realize we missed a few too.
We headed into Tomorrowland, as there were a number of questions to be had in there, and we determine that for the points to spend some time riding the Carousel of Progress. There’s not a lot of questions to be had in there, but each is worth a lot of points. We decide that between the answers that we’ll do more of the basic trivia and strategize. We got through quite a bit, and were starting to feel more sure of ourselves not coming in last.
It was at this point that I started memorizing all the pictures we had to find – its a trick I can do with pictures (not words). Suddenly locations and a route came before us as we discussed the pictures and all started saying where we thought things were (gah! Snow White! Just remembered one that we missed now!). We finished off at least a half dozen along the path between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland.
We wound our way though Fantasyland trying to avoid and then ditch Team MEI. More pictures and trivia, and then on to Liberty Square. At this point, looking at the time we decided to completely skip Frontierland. There was no way we had the time to get back there. So we finished up Liberty Square, and headed into Adventureland. We got a few obscure items that I knew from a prior Mouse Adventure mini-challenge I had done. And then started heading out along Main Street as we were cognizant of the time.
Along Main Street we must have picked up about another dozen pictures including a few at Casey’s and others like the sign of the Confectionery. We finished out at the Main Street Railroad Station, as this was another area with a lot of points. Our final trivia in the park was from the Magic Kingdom sign out in front, the last thing we did before we hit the exit gates. And on our way to the Monorail we caught a bonus picture of the sign for the old Polynesian boat launch.
On the Monorail we did more trivia, making sure pretty much everything had an answer of some sort. We also decided that we couldn’t afford to ride all the way to Epcot as it would take too long. Instead we headed down the ramp to take a taxi, knowing that with a good driver we could be walking into Epcot in less than 10 minutes. We managed to get an SUV for $18 that fit us all comfortably. The driver was awesome and he listened to and followed my directions to get us as close to the gate as possible, and allow us to go through the smaller of the two bag checks.
At this point we made our way to the Wonders of Life with minutes to spare. When Beci showed up we lined up to turn in our packet, and the challenge was over. Woot! And then, later on, a funny thing happened. As Beci was eliminating losing teams, we were immediately exited that we weren’t eliminated first. We weren’t eliminated second, or third either. Matt was left standing with Len. It was a surreal moment, we really didn’t ever consider that we could beat Len. And then there it was, Team Studios Central had come out on top.* Matt Hochberg gets bragging rights. Go Team!
What I loved about our team was that no one took control. Everyone held the camera, everyone got to ask people to take our picture at some point, everyone held the trivia book, the pen, the extra items we had to return in tact at the end, etc. We all participated, we got along great, and despite all the running around we were having a ton of fun playing the game. Or at least I was. Sure it was tiring, and I was tired, hungry, and thirsty by the end. And going into withdrawal from not having my iPhone. But I couldn’t have asked for a better set of teammates, and I’ll get to see them all again during Star Wars Weekends, as we’ve made a pact to take our Deluxe stays then. Woot!
What about you? Have you ever done any sort of trivia challenge and/or scavenger hunt at WDW before? Is this something you’re interested in doing? Do you like trivia? Photo hunts? Just running around the parks in a mad dash? To my team, *boom* *POW*!
* and because I work here at TouringPlans, I didn’t just come in first, I also came in second No guys you can not sleep on my floor for Star Wars Weekends.