Bon Festival! What started with a French greeting on a freezing February day in St. Boniface ended with a Mickey Mouse meeting on a brilliant April day at Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom in Florida.
We're always looking for a way to go back to Disney, my 15-year-old daughter Beverley and I. We're not afraid to speak out loud about our deep-rooted love for the Happiest Place On Earth.
After reading online about Disney World's Give A Day Get A Disney Day volunteer promotion earlier this year, we decided it was the perfect way to get involved in our community and tie that into a family vacation.
Basically, we registered and volunteered our time with one of the WDW partner organizations. We received a voucher via email, printed it out, presented it and our identification at a Disney World park and we each received a free one-day, one-theme park ticket. In true Disney fashion, it was as easy as that.
Angela Saclamacis, the Walt Disney Company Canada Ltd. manager of public relations and broadcast programming, said the promotion was Disney's way of encouraging people to give back to their communities by sharing their time.
"We reached our goal of inspiring one million people in 2010 to get involved in their communities, it's been wonderful," Saclamacis said of the promotion, which began Jan. 1 and continued until the goal was reached in mid-March. Volunteers have until Dec. 15 to redeem their vouchers.
We now take you back to Feb. 13 when Beverley and I volunteered for eight hours at Festival du Voyageur, Winnipeg's famous winter festival.
Volunteer co-ordinator Réal Sabourin told us the Disney promotion had significantly increased the volunteer base for Festival du Voyageur this year and he assigned us several jobs during our day. With our green volunteer arm bands and notre ceintures flêchées, we greeted Festival guests at the main gate at Whittier Park, helped out at the toboggan hill, kept the fire going at one of the warming stations and provided directions and security at the park's back gate. It was there in the late afternoon that a tiny white dog raced by us and scooted through the park. After we saw it a third time, looking cold and confused, we determined it was lost. At great personal peril, Beverley chased it under a fence, around some hay bales and over a snowbank before successfully capturing it. It had no licence tags or tattoo so Beverley kept it warm in the volunteer trailer until a kind soul from the Winnipeg Humane Society came to get it. We found out later it was reunited with its owner, who had phoned looking for it.
We volunteered from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. so we met beaucoup d'amis et s'amuser through two four-hour shifts. My French got a workout and took a beating as most people passing through the gates wanted to speak French.
"Parlez lentement, s'il vous plait (speak slowly, please)" became my mantra for the day. If the conversation lasted past three sentences, I was lost and had to get Beverley, a French immersion student at Garden City Collegiate, to step in and assist.
We welcomed visitors to Festival in the bright midday sun into the chill of the evening when our breath was freezing on our faces. We took turns with notre ami Guillaume going to the volunteer trailer pour une tasse du chocolat chaud.
When our day was done and we said au revoir, we jumped in my truck and raced over to nearby Notre Dame Arena where Beverley got to put on her frozen hockey equipment, which had been chilling in the back of the truck all day, just in time to play hockey with the Deer Lodge Lakers.
Fast forward to April 28 when we walked up to guest services at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom and redeemed our volunteer vouchers. We each received free one-day park passes and were given volunteer buttons to wear for the day.
The temperature soared to about 31 C that day and we did it all, from visiting Mickey's house to riding Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We went on It's a Small World and Peter Pan's Flight and we checked out the Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! street party and later the Wishes fireworks celebration. We had a stellar lunch at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe. We finished the day off by taking the monorail to the Polynesian Resort where we had supper at Ohana's, where they bring the buffet to your table. "More steak, cousin?" was my husband's favourite saying of the day.
Now that we're back to real life, I still often think of Beverley and my eight-year-old daughter Maslen dancing with Donald Duck during the street party in front of Cinderella's Castle at the end of Main Street, USA, and I actually tear up. Our youth goes by so quickly and I am so happy my children could dance at Disney during theirs.
That day at Festival my eyes also watered, but from cold, not emotion. But I am so very grateful for both experiences. He Ho! We'll be back next year at Festival, they can't get rid of us now. Hopefully we'll also go to Disney World once again.
IF YOU GO
WALT DISNEY WORLD: In Lake Buena Vista, Florida about a 30-minute ride from Orlando International Airport.
HOW TO GET THERE: We booked direct flights on WestJet to Orlando because of a seat sale at the time ($169 one way). It was our first time flying direct and it was a great experience. It was a shorter travel day, no airport transferring and TVs on each seat back. We've travelled from Winnipeg on other airlines before but this was the fastest and cheapest.
WHERE TO STAY: My favourite WDW reference book - Kim Wright Wiley's Walt Disney World With Kids - notes that time and money have an inverse relationship in WDW: "You have to be willing spend one in order to save the other," Wiley wrote.
I highly recommend staying on property at one of the 24 WDW resort hotels if the focus of your trip is all things Disney. You have access to bus, boat and monorail service at no charge to parks and resort hotels. You can get everywhere in about 20-40 minutes. You can also have access to Extra Magic Hours when the main theme parks are open for extended hours for resort hotel guests only. Twice during our stay we were able to go to Magic Kingdom until 2 a.m. and walk straight onto major attractions.
You can easily take day trips to other Orlando area attractions from any of the WDW resort hotels. Go by taxi or hire a car service, as we did for a day trip to Sea World. We paid a pre-arranged flat rate of $35 each way for a family of four. We were picked up at the front door of our resort hotel then dropped off and picked up again at the Sea World main gate at a pre-arranged time, in a Cadillac Escalade.
We booked our accommodation package through CAA Travel. We chose 14 nights at a WDW moderate resort hotel with 10-day Magic Your Way Tickets with Park Hopper. For the first time we also tried a meal package with the Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining - this included a counter service meal, a table service meal and a snack each day per person. This was a great value.
WHAT TO DO: You can do everything any day with the Park Hopper option as you can go to one or more of the four main theme parks during each day. As soon as we booked our trip, we checked the WDW website for daily Extra Magic Hours during our stay. We booked our table service meals online for each of our 14 days in whichever park had evening Extra Magic Hours. That way, we were already in the park and ready to take advantage of later hours and reduced crowds right after supper.
Prior to going, each person in the family made a "Must Do" wish list and we made a "Things We've Never Done" list. It gave us a focus and helped us decide which attractions to obtain a Fast Pass for when we would arrive in a park. A Fast Pass, free to anyone with a park ticket, allows you to return to the attraction at a certain time when you either wait in a much shorter line or often go straight onto the attraction. For example, one day at Animal Kingdom we obtained Fast Passes as soon as we arrived in the park for the popular Kilimanjaro Safaris. We continued on to two other attractions. When we came back to Kilimanjaro Safaris at our designated time, we had about a five-minute wait. We noticed the walk-up wait time was 70 minutes. One of our favourite "Things We've Never Done" was "The Hall of Presidents" attraction in Magic Kingdom which featured an amazing display of Disney's Audio-Animatronics. A "Must Do" on everyone's list was "Soarin'" in Epcot, a breathtaking film tour of California that makes you feel like you are actually flying over and through different locations in that state even though you are safely strapped into a seat.