Thursday, February 7, 2019

Our Magical Goodbye To IllumiNations

Because I live here in Orlando it's easy to take Disney for granted. To focus on the crowds and annoyance and forget all those magical moments - cliche as that phrase can be - that take your breath away.

In fact, I've been SO focused on the negatives that I convinced John to let our passes lapse this year. We haven't been going as much, and even our weekday passes (the cheapest option) aren't cheap, you know?

Ahh, but then the Festival of the Arts started up at Epcot, and I really wanted to go.

Enter our friend Scott, who has the kind of job at Disney that makes me beg for stories every time I see him. He manages behind the scenes magic, and is in charge of the kind of private park parties you only hear rumors about. So yeah, total rock star, AND the sweetest guy. (Also single, ladies. Just sayin'.)

Before I turn this into a dating profile for poor Scott, let me tell you about the unexpected magic he made happen for us last week.

We made a date to see the Festival together one weeknight, and to save us paying parking, John and I picked up Scott at work - a building tucked way back behind the Magic Kingdom. As we were waiting in the parking lot, Scott texted to ask if we wanted a quick tour. Um, YES PLEASE.

I'm sad to say I have no photos to share of this, gang, but imagine a video montage of me silently (and not so silently) fangirl screaming in every doorway we walked through for the next 20 minutes. The costuming room took my breath away: more of a small warehouse, really, with racks stretching all the way to the rafters, and incredible showstopper costumes displayed on mannequins along the walls. Many were from special private events, so nothing you'd recognized from the parks - and one was even from this TV commercial!

We walked through the heavenly scented floral department, where workers at giant tables were assembling the most lush bouquets and centerpieces and gift baskets. Here's a small example from the lobby:

This was the most public part of the building, but I still asked before taking a pic, just to be safe.

We peeked into offices (including Scott's, of course) stacked high with the most drool-worthy collectibles, props, and concept sketches, plus we got to say hi to a few people still there. I'm sure I looked like a crazy person, grinning and waving at everyone we passed and trying to look everywhere at once.

Ahh, but the place I REALLY lost it was the Wig Room. There were work benches down one wall, storage aisles, fantastical displays of custom commissions (one wig was shaped like a Thanksgiving turkey, complete with little paper leg cuffs!) - and there, neatly display on a lower shelf just inside the door: a wig that looked a LOT like Dreamfinder's iconic 'do, including the handlebar mustache, beard, and spectacles.

I have no idea if they were original park-worn items, but they looked it, and I could NOT have been more gobsmacked. Just sitting there! On a shelf! No glass, no label, JUST SITTING THERE.

After a few seconds of flailing I was happy to note that my own styling attempts on John's wig are pretty close, though the cheap beard we dyed is nowhere near the quality of the Real Thing. This one was a lot curlier, and even had some gray hairs mixed in. Just... amazing.

 Just a reminder of how John & Figgie look in their Christmas overlay, because I love it.

Ok, now let's move on to stuff I CAN show you pictures of:

We headed to Epcot for the Festival, and spent a fantastic night touring the Showcase. I finally got to meet Ashley Taylor, who is just as warm and delightful as everyone says she is, and since the crowds were low our little group got to chat for a good 20 minutes. (Keep an eye on your local Box Lunch stores; she has some exciting stuff in the works!)

I didn't buy much, just one postcard print by June Kim:

Then we all tried some Festival desserts:

I've been making fun of the "Pop t'Art" for years now, but then a CM gave John one for free, and hold up, it's actually a really good pop tart. Lots of filling, and more like a sugar cookie crust.

Scott reported his flan & chocolate cake was just Ok, so I think my Almond Cake (the colorful Mondrian-inspired thing) was the clear winner. WHY have I never tried this before?! It's an incredibly dense  - like, hard to cut dense - almond cake with a thin layer of cherry filling between each layer, then thick chocolate ganache around the edges. Oh. MIGOSH. I've been dreaming of this cake every night since, you guys. My life now has hole that only this cake can fill. Am I overselling this? NO I AM NOT. Hnnnnnng.

Gotta show some Figment love while we're here:

That painting cracks me up.

There's tons of merch, of course, but this was my favorite for the art:

And here's John on one of the sidewalk chalk photo opps:

Now let me tell you about the second magical thing Scott did for us - with a little help from his castmates, of course.

He'd mentioned early in the evening that he'd arranged a VIP fireworks viewing for us, which I assumed meant the kind of preferred viewing you can get with a Fast Pass sometimes.

I'm pretty sure this wasn't that, you guys.

Here, I'll let John take over:

Here's a quick video to set the scene, so you know where we were standing. That's Spaceship Earth straight back when the video starts:

The second half with the boat pulling away is after the show. 

Now, prepare to see a lot of fireworks.

I don't know if it was a trick of the lens or the smoke bouncing light around, but there's a literal Reflection of Earth in this next shot:

See it just above the fountain? Wild!

These phone pics can't convey how awe-inspiring this view was. It felt like the whole show was just for us!

Don't ask how many photos I took. I lost count.

Illuminations is ending later this year, so I suspect this was our last ever viewing. One last time to hear the torches blown out, feel the Inferno Barge warm our noses, and sing along with the finale. I can't be sad, though, because dang, what a way to say goodbye.

Thanks for reliving this night with me, fellow Dizgeeks. It's one I want to remember. And don't worry, I'll still be visiting the parks from time to time, so I promise this won't be the last of the Pixie Dust. ;) 


  1. I need more friends that work at Disney. We had a friend who worked security at Disneyland for a while and was able to get us in for free, but that's the coolest thing that's ever happened to us. What a magical experience!

  2. I *may* have gotten a little teary reading John's account! Sounds like an amazing day.
    The coolest thing that happened to us was getting my John's Japanese cousins in the front of the Monorail going from the parking lot into Disney World. That was exciting for them AND us!

  3. Way back in the dawn of time, one of my sisters dated a Muppet-teer and got a back stage wander through Sesame Street's storage areas of Muppets. So yeah, Fan Girl all you want on the wig room. Those people work HARD on the wigs. And costumes. And props.

  4. I read John's account that day and was SO stoked for you guys!! What an amazing experience.

  5. My jaw is in my lap. Oh. My. God. That view. THAT VIEW. I couldn't be more envious if I tried. YOU LUCKY LUCKY DUCKS!!! :-D

  6. > So yeah, total rock star, AND the sweetest guy. (Also single, ladies. Just sayin'.)

    Now I need a picture of Scott, age range, and what type of person he would like to date. (Scott, you rock!)

    1. LOL - you get a quick glimpse of him in my video, though he's trying to hide. I'll let him disclose the rest, if he's so inclined.

  7. I don't know if I could have left the costume area... Also, the reflection of Earth looks like the other side, so maybe reflecting off the smoke somehow? idk weird but cool. Glad you both had such a good time.

  8. Jen, those are the best fireworks photos ever. I am not even a huge firework fan, but your images immediately pulled me right into the moment. AMAZING. I'm so happy you both had this incredible experience!

  9. I've been jealous since John's post, but so happy for you two; I know how much y'all love Illuminations. Brandon's and my one true love was always Wishes, and while I'll forever miss it, at least our goodbye to it was an incredibly special one: with two of our very favorite people at the Wishes Dessert Party (something we'd always wanted to do) we'd never managed to get a reservation to until that trip. Not too shabby. ;) <3

  10. One of my favorite experiences as a Costuming CM was walking through all the warehouses and cosmetology areas.
    I still remember how excited I was going into MK Ops Costuming for the first time.
    If I ever went back to work there, I’d go back to Costuming in a heartbeat. <3

  11. Illuminations is my son and husband's favorite fireworks show at Disney. We saw it THREE times when we visited last month, including the New Year's Eve version, which was the best ever! We will miss it!

  12. It's interesting that Epcots nighttime show is called IllumiNations. That's been the name of Disneyland Paris' nighttime show since the 25th anniversary celebrations started a couple of years ago. (I say started because they lasted over 1.5 years.) I wonder why Disney didn't aim for something more original for DLP. Clearly the Epcot show predates ours....

  13. One year we had a "this trip IS your Christmas present" trip and we did a few of the $$$ things we'd never do normally as AP/Fla Natives. The best thing was doing the Fireworks Boat party. It cost a couple of hundred bucks, but didn't actually require park admission b/c you got on at the Yacht and Beach Club dock and could seat probably 10 or more. We only had 7 at the time. They provided snacks (chips, nuts, granola bars) and drinks (soda and waters) I think it was also BYOB if you wanted. We got on before the sun went down and they drove us around the lake between Epcot and the Studios with some stories and a view of the sunset, and then after dark, when it was time, we went past the dock from the boat to the resorts and under the bridge between France and UK pavilions (What I've always lovingly called "The English Channel") and then tied off there. 2 or 3 other boats came along also tied up next to us and we watched Illuminations from there. We even got to see a proposal happen ABOVE us on the bridge! It was AWESOME! I can imagine that yours was even better! I'm sad I won't be able to say good bye properly to Illuminations b/c life has me too far away with not enough $$ to get to WDW on the regular anymore!


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