Sunday, December 23, 2007
It's a little like the old joke about Grant's Tomb: Is the frozen body of Walt Disney really lying in the tower suite of Cinderella Castle in Disney World?
For 40 years, a peculiarly dogged urban myth has claimed that Uncle Walt is awaiting revival at the hands of science. And since the opening of Disney World in 1971, the mysterious tower has seemed the likeliest hiding place. However, the mystery is no longer. After a lavish refurbishment, the former apartments built half a century ago for Disney and his family (but never occupied) are now part of the theme park's Year of a Million Dreams giveaway.
Every day, hundreds of visitors at Orlando's Disney World and California's Disneyland who are tapped by the Dream Squad receive such freebies as ride tickets, costumes, special photo ops and limited-edition souvenirs. And since late January, this promotion has offered one party at Disney World the chance to score the most coveted gift of all: a night in Cinderella's boudoir. (There's a similar grand prize at Disneyland -- an overnight in Mickey's Penthouse suite atop the Disneyland Hotel -- but in terms of fairy dust, there's no comparison.)
Royal guests are chosen by a computer that randomly designates a different attraction, time and seat number every day; a squad of Disney cast members stands ready and waiting to do the bidding. (Because the apartment is cleaned and restocked for a new group every day, the process must go like clockwork.)
Among the hundreds of lucky Disney-philes who have lived the fairy tale are Joyce Weber of Alexandria and her family, who spent a night there earlier this year. For Weber, it was about time: She first went to Disneyland at age 7 and by her estimate has visited the parks about 30 times altogether.
Joyce and her husband, Bill; their three adult children, Bill, Karl and Natalie; and their grandchildren, 5-year-old Samantha and 7-year-old Matthew Brackx, were plucked from their honey pot at the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. They were whisked back to the Old Key West Resort just long enough to pack an overnight bag, then taken to dinner (complete with fanfare) at King Stefan's Table in the castle lobby and later given a prime viewing position on the bridge for the evening parade. However, the family elected to watch the climactic fireworks from inside the suite, even though some of the pyrotechnics directly overhead were obscured.
The next morning, they came down just as the Magic Kingdom was opening, "feeling as if we really owned the place," Weber says. Winnie, Tigger and friends escorted them to breakfast in the Crystal Palace.
The suite, which has its own semi-secret elevator, could satisfy even the most princessy princess, beginning with the 18-karat gold leaf in the foyer mosaics, molding carvings of mice Gus and Jaq, $18,000 life-size glass slipper and canopy-covered queen-size beds. One of the two flat-screen TVs -- the one over the fireplace -- turns into a portrait of Cinderella (a la the animated film) when not in use. Meanwhile, the fireplace screen plays fireworks, including a Hidden Mickey, if you follow that game. All of the bathroom fixtures look medieval, and there is one almost inevitable joke: An imperial canopy hangs above the bathroom "throne."
Other amenities include two DVD players and a library of Disney films (the Webers chose "Cinderella," naturally), an extravagant antique writing desk retrofitted for laptops, and an old-fashioned white-and-gold telephone with free service to anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the Webers were so discombobulated they called their other children on their own dime.
Round-the-clock concierges supply little surprises every time the guests slip out. For the Webers, it was their favorite dessert, Cinderella's coach and horses made of white chocolate and filled with strawberries. Samantha had been too rattled to pack her Sleeping Beauty nightgown but was consoled with a tiara -- and "not a dinky one," Weber adds. Matthew received a Lightning "Cars" McQueen replica filled with bubble bath.
Originally, the Year of a Million Dreams was scheduled to end Dec. 31. However, the giveaway has been extended another year, through December. So, if you have Cinderella stars in your eyes, don't give up the dream.
Incidentally, for those who've always wondered: Disney died of complications from pneumonia on Dec. 15, 1966, in a Burbank, Calif., hospital. He was cremated and, two days later, buried at Forest Lawn cemetery.
-- Eve Zibart
* For more info on the Year of a Million Dreams, click here.