Have you ever had one of those trips that you planned, but nothing seemed to go the way you had hoped? This couldn’t have been a bigger understatement to describe my family trip in December of 2007. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Let me set the stage a bit. I have a background in hospitality management and used to work for one of the better known and respected hotel chains in the country. One of the greatest things about working for a national chain like that is you are typically entitled to discounts at the same brand and affiliates under the parent company’s umbrella of hotels. This afforded me the opportunity to travel to Orlando (again I live in Bradenton, about 100 miles away from WDW), once or twice a month since I was able to procure rates of $29 a night at hotels where it would usually cost well over $100 at rack rate. Because of this, I only stayed on property once in 1998 at Caribbean Beach Resort, and then a handful of times at the value resorts from 2000 – 2006. It was not until the end of 2007 that I was able to revisit property and stay at another one of the moderate resorts, and subsequently my favorite, Port Orleans French Quarter.
On this particular trip, I was accompanied by my mom, who was going to share a room with me to cut down costs, since this was the week of Christmas, and my brother, Andrew, was getting a room to himself. Andrew had just returned from 18 months of serving in Iraq with the Army and was looking forward to unwinding at the parks. We were just going for the weekend and returning Monday since it was Christmas Eve. I wish we were able to stay longer since I was off four days in a row, but we had family commitments at home for Christmas.
We started off the trip by checking in to French Quarter, unpacking, and then decided we would head to Universal’s City Walk to have dinner and visit Pat O’Brien’s. Due to lack of planning, and partly due to my affinity for the music, we ended up having dinner at Bob Marley’s Tribute to Freedom. The food was good and we enjoyed a couple adult beverages between dinner and listening to the dueling pianos at Pat O’s.
We returned to Disney property to catch the midnight showing of National Treasure 2. Now the movie really isn’t an important detail of the story, but in my mind it is inextricably linked with this trip. I still can’t watch it to this day without being reminded of this night. During the climax of the movie, my brother got sick. We didn’t see the end of the movie, needless to say, and were on our way back to French Quarter, now at about 2:30am.
The next day was at a snail’s pace around Epcot due to dealing with Andrew who was still not feeling well. He couldn’t even stand to be around food yet, so we snuck down and grabbed some beignets before leaving the resort mid morning. Eventually we convinced him he should eat and had a nice late lunch at Les Chefs de France. Kindly Andrew bought me a new WDW hoodie and even renewed my mom’s and my pass as a Christmas present (and out of guilt I think). We hopped over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to enjoy the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights for our first time. We were planning on dinner at 50’s Prime Time Cafe, but had canceled our ADR when we realized it wasn’t worth it. By the time dinner rolled around Andrew seemed mostly human again and wanted to eat so we ended up get a walk up and eating in the Tune In Lounge.
Sunday was the last day of our trip, as we were scheduled to be in church Monday evening for Christmas Eve with family. We checked out of French Quarter and spent our last day in the Magic Kingdom. For the first time we saw Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade, which has a totally different feel during the day as opposed to at night during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The day was enjoyable, but rather uneventful compared to the two previous days. Dinner was going to be at Citrico’s at the Grand Floridian at 8pm, so we left MK shortly after seven to give us time to admire the decorations at the resort. As soon as we stepped off the monorail and into the second floor of the hotel, Andrew asked why we hadn’t stayed there. I reminded him it was two days before Christmas and the most expensive pricing of the year and he had wanted his own room, so the $250/night at French Quarter was rich enough for our blood. At this point, none of us had stayed at a deluxe resort, so it is understandable that he was impressed.
As always, Citrico’s was fabulous and beyond satiating. While splitting our dessert, Andrew and I declared we didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay another night, and I wasn’t really relishing the thought of the almost two hour drive home after dinner and a full day in the parks. My mom asked our server if they knew if there was any availability for the night and he insisted they were completely sold out. Coming back to that hospitality background, I know there are often reservations that are canceled last minute and dates are occasionally changed, so my mom went down to the front desk to investigate. After we paid the bill Andrew and I joined our mom in the lobby as she had found that there were actually two rooms available after she had been speaking to the front desk cast member, Christina, for a bit about my brother’s return from Iraq. We were given the option of a standard room in the outer building with a garden view or an outer building room that was club level. As we had just eaten dinner and were going to leave in the morning, we opted for the standard room as it was still $500+ for the one night (again this was two days before Christmas and we were thankful for the room).
We completed the check in process and were told by Christina that the manager, Stephan, would be escorting us to our room. We found this especially puzzling since we were staying in an outer building and it was almost 11pm. Stephan emerged from the front desk, greeted us and led us across the lobby to the elevator for guest rooms in the main building. Following unquestioningly, we stood behind Stephan as he allowed a couple to enter the elevator before us. We said hello and he had a brief conversation with the couple as they apparently knew each other. After letting the other guests get off, Stephan asked us if we knew who they were. We were clueless and he informed us that we had just met Mr. and Mrs. Jennings Osborne, as in the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights we had enjoyed the night before at the Studios. I never would have guessed! The guy was a millionaire many times over and was relaxing in cargo shorts and a Hawaiian print shirt. Still fazed by that, Stephan led us off the elevator on the fifth floor and to the other side of the landing. He stopped before a set of double doors and we stood there still confused.
Stephan turned and faced my brother and said that it was his honor to thank Andrew for his service to our country and this was Disney’s way of giving just a little back to him. He opened the door and we were stunned as we were shown into our two bedroom suite. It was like something out of a dream. I was pretty sure it was one of the suites Samantha Brown had shown in her visit of the Grand Floridian on her show Great Hotels. I tried to play it cool until Stephan left, but we were awestruck. To go from a standard room in French Quarter to the third largest suite in the flagship resort for our first stay club level, or even at a deluxe resort for that matter, was incredible. I about lost it as soon as Stephan left. The room was by far the nicest hotel room I had ever stayed in and I think that probably stands to this day.
My mom and I eventually realized my car was still parked at the Magic Kingdom parking lot with our stuff, so as Andrew decided to sleep, we went to fetch our luggage and to move the car. After swinging by the front desk to profusely thank Christina and Stephan for their generous upgrade (the suite goes for over $2,500/night), we returned to the room with new found energy. Andrew was exhausted, so we let him sleep as we opted to return to MK for Extra Magic Hours until 4am. We got back in the park around 2am and walked on to every ride we wanted to at that hour. The CMs were even asking us if we wanted to ride again since the parks were almost completely empty, but we kept moving. The euphoria and bewilderment still didn’t wear off after we got into bed around 5am.
We didn’t sleep a whole lot that night. We woke up around 9am and ordered private dining (Disney’s fancy name for room service) and then packed up and headed home to get ready for church. The day was kind of a daze, but like nothing we could have ever dreamt of in a million years. The trip that had started off so beyond horribly had done a complete 180 and made us so appreciative of the annoyances we had gone through to get there. I guess it all works out in the end. It really was the best of trips and the worst of trips all rolled in to one, but thankfully in the opposite order.
My mom and I stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge the following summer and ran into Stephan working as a manager there and he remembered us immediately. We spent quite some time revisiting that night in conversation with him. The next year, Andrew, my mom and I were staying at the Boardwalk Villas and ran into Christina from the front desk working recreation and she remembered us, even telling us that was still one of her favorite magical moments she was able to share as a CM. She was moving to transportation at the Magic Kingdom the following day and we ran into her on the docks working the ferryboat. Stephan is now a manager at the Yacht Club and I occasionally stop in and visit him there. It was really nice to be able to share the experience with my family, but I’d rather not have a repeat of the first half of the trip. Things like this are why I keep supporting the Disney brand. Making magical moments for guests is something that Cast Members enjoy and makes me appreciate every last bit of magic I come across.Follow us for more updates: