It’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since EPOCT opened. I remember coming here a month after its bow and have been captivated with this vision of Walt’s utopian city ever since. And I cannot think of celebration the park’s 30th birthday with anyone else but the crew from WDWcelebrations.com. I first met this group of Disney enthusiast’s on April 22, 2008 when they hosted Animal Kingdoms 10thbirthday, an event they called “A Wild Decade”. And that is the main focus of the group, celebrating Disney milestones with like-minded fans at the parks, complete with fun activities, meets and a way for fans to connect and embellish their love of Disney with each other. I have been covering Disney press events and writing about Disney for the past seven years, and I cannot say enough about this group of personable and dedicated individuals. I wrote an article about the site in 2009 and before we review EPCOT’s festivities, let’s take a look again at WDWcelebrations.com.
I got a chance to interview the team here during a lull in activities. I asked Jason Diffendal, Co-founder, again to tell us about the beginnings of the group.
“This started as out as EPCOT’s 25th anniversary was approaching and then former Vice-President of EPCOT, Brad Rex announced that Disney had no official plans to mark the occasion,” Jason said. “Many fans were disappointed, and a message was posted on an internet Disney forum calling for fans to have their own celebration. Co-founder of WDWcelebrations Adam Roth decided to help organize the meet, and he and I worked on the plans.”
“The event was named ‘Celebration 25’ and gained momentum, the media soon picked up on the plans as well as Disney management.” Jason said. “We had 1200 people registered for this “first” event, had a dessert party, met with Jim Macphee, we even obtained exclusive tickets for speaking events with Marty Sklar. It was so successful the people were asking us if we would do more of these meets. We never considered it at first, but since interest was so great, it is when we formed WDWcelebrations.com and have celebrated Disney milestones ever since”
Adam Roth added, “We now have eight members on the team. When we founded WDWcelebrations, it was Jason and I and we worked on “Celebration 25″. About three days after the event, I came up with the idea of “WDWcelebrations” which would celebrate the magic of past, present and future, in fact Jason had the website up that night” He continues…”We went back to see who was instrumental in helping with Celebration 25. Matt Pezzula did our celebration 25 DVD; Jackie Steele did our graphics package for the logo.
Tom Corless (Planning and Logistics) got to know Jason after the event. “Our team started out like that,” Adam said. “Marcus D’Amelio was brought on; he was the first to show up at celebration 25, and we formed the core group.”
Adam said that as they planned a Wild Decade and World Wide Weekend, their first two events, “we found our niche.” Over the next events, the team included Jose Castillo (Tech specialist) and Jennifer Leveillee, communications specialist.
Although all the team members hold “titles” they all contribute to the team together, combining their talents. All members of the team live in the Orlando area, except Jason, who lives in Pennsylvania.
I asked if the Disney Company was a help in their events, and Tom replied, “Absolutely, they welcome us. Our goal is to work with Disney, if you are going to be in their parks, you have to take a professional stance. I started with the Wild Decade, and Disney provided registration tables, management came out to talk with us, they were very accommodating.”
Adam added, “We contact Park management either face to face or over the phone with our proposal, putting the schedule together for their approval, and make sure any changes that have to be made are done.”
If you have never attended any of the WDWCelebrations events, they are just a lot of fun. It’s all about “Unity in the Community” and their events are just that! The team does a fantastic job of planning; there is no rushing around, no missing anything. The meets are nicely spaced apart; there is plenty of free “on your own” time and everything goes smoothly. The whole team goes out of its way to make EVERYONE feel at home and welcomed. You feel like family with them, so no matter if you’re a first timer, or veteran, you’ll always feel at home.
The 30th anniversary of EPCOT was just amazing. WDWcelebrations had meets and events all weekend, from Friday September 28 until October 1. On Friday, fans who had tickets met at the Magic Kingdom for “Mickeys Not-so-Scary Halloween Party.”
Here there were group viewings of Mickey’s “Boo to You Parade”, the WDWcelebrations costume contest, group rides and of course, viewing the “Happy Hallowishes” fireworks. All weekend long, fans got to mingle during group rides, meets and one of my favorite activities, eating. On Sunday, a huge crowd gathered at Germany’s “Biergarten” for an “Oktoberfest” meal. In addition, there were amazing scavenger hunts planned, and group photos. And as always, great planning from the WDWcelebrations team ensured that everyone had a change to attend all of the festivities offered.
In addition to being held at the same time of EPCO’s Food and Wine Festival, The Disney Company had many official events planned. Several presentations in the World Showplace included a wonderful gaggle of Imagineers who actually worked on EPCOT and planned its attractions and shows. Imagineers such as Marty Sklar, Alex Wright, Jason Surrell, Tim MacAllister and Tom Roznowski shared many stories during the planning and construction of EPCOT, along with personal photos. Many of these humorous stories revolved around Disney Legend and Imagineer, John Hench who was instrumental in EPCOT’s planning and development. Another event titled “EPCOT, How it Changed the World” in World Showplace featured Marty Sklar.
Another amazing celebration was in the American Gardens Theater, “EPCOT, Anniversary Moment” featuring the 12 piece Mariachi band from the Mexico Pavilion, “Mariachi Cobre” and the amazing “Voices of Liberty” that have been performing here at EPCOT from the beginning. Other EPCOT milestones and personages were noted. In addition to these presentations, Disney had special merchandising for the guests, pins and anniversary maps of EPCOT. And the official Disney club for its fans, “D23” held special ticketed presentations.
To end the evening, both Disney and WDWcelebrations had memorable events planned. What better way to end a celebration than with fireworks. In addition to its incredible “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth” fireworks display, a special “Tag” was added for EPCOT’s 30th. This was one of the most incredible displays of pyrotechnics I have ever seen. Disney pulled out all the stops. I was a majestic way to celebrate any milestone. And WDWcelebrations had a resplendent “Illuminations” dessert party for its guests. Held in “Odyssey” we enjoyed a scrumptious dessert bar, and continued to view “Illuminations” at the private viewing area in front of the Italy Pavilion, then it was back to the dessert party for more goodies and a chance to talk about our amazing weekend.
WDWcelebrations celebrated the following Disney events… “Celebration 25”, EPCOT’s 25th Anniversary, 10-1-07, World Wide Weekend (First “Signature Event”) 9-26 thru 28, 2008, A Wild Decade, 4-22-08, Studio 20, May 1-2, 2009, Fifty-Five, Disneyland’s’ 55th anniversary, Holiday Hoopla, December 2-5, 2010 and Project XL, The World at 40, September 29th-October 1st, 2011.
If you love Disney and wish to be a part of the upcoming events planned by WDWcelebrations, and want to feel like being part of the “Family”, log on to their website at WWW.WDWcelebrations.com or on Twitter @WDWcelebrations and their Facebook page: Facebook/WDWcelebrations. Don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter; you’ll be informed of everything going on, delivered right to your inbox.