So a few weeks ago we FINALLY had our huge family Disney surprise for my Aunt. A little background…
Last year after my cousin’s wedding, when my family had left, I realized we all needed to get together for other things besides a wedding or funeral. This past December my Aunt turned the big 70! So after some discussing we thought why not surprise her for her birthday. She lives in Florida with her kids (my cousins) and we rarely get to see them. After a lot of Facebook messaging we decided we were going to surprise her in Disney, where she goes every year with my twin cousins (her granddaughters) for their birthdays. Once we decided where and when all the rest of the logistics had to be figured out.
When Cheryl and I were looking into ticket pricing for a week in Disney we realized that a season pass was roughly the same price. Also perusing the Disney website we saw all the fun runDisney events. So we decided that for 2013 we were going to get a season pass and attend all the runDisney events that year, ending in December with my Aunt’s surprise party!
It took a while to figure out where we were going to have the surprise dinner. It was originally going to be Saturday evening, but that would mean we would have to spend an entire day trying to avoid my Florida family. We then changed it to Friday evening, but had a very hard time finding a place that could accommodate us all! I have a very large family on my mom’s side, 53 people to be exact and we had invited everyone, not thinking most would go. Well we were wrong. 36 people in our family had decided they wanted to attend the event.
Now you would think that Disney is a huge place and they must have a lot of large groups that go there so they must have restaurants that can accommodate them. Well it wasn’t that easy. You can book your dining reservations 180 before your trip. Even before that I had called Disney Dining to find out what restaurants could even remotely accommodate us. I got a pretty small list and was told that I would have to contact each one separately because they could not book large group dining for me. So 180 days before our dinner I started calling restaurants. First I called Be Our Guest. They said they could not accommodate a party our size, even though they are part of the large group venues. They said if anything our party would be split at different tables all over the restaurant. No thank you. We followed that with Crystal Palace, Wolfgang Puck, Kouzzina, and the Aloha Dinner show. Most venues said they were either fully booked (how it’s 180 days before!), couldn’t really accomodate us on a high volume night like a friday or the Aloha Dinner show said we could but if it rained the event was cancelled and they didn’t have another place we could go to.
After talking it over we decided we shouldn’t try for an in park restaurant. Then everyone would HAVE to get a park ticket for that day just to eat dinner. Finally, after a coworkers suggestion, we called Il Mulino at Disney’s Swan. The girl on the phone was the sweetest thing and was so helpful. She said they would be honored to help us surprise our Aunt and they had an area our party could fit in that had doors so it would be like a private dining area. It was prefect! Over the next few months we went back and forth with food and wine selections. We had to do a pre fixe since there were so many people, but they had a lot of different options/prices and even offered to let us move stuff around depending on what people wanted to eat. When we went down for the Wine and Dine Half we stopped by to check out the space.
Finally December came and we could not wait to surprise my Aunt! We took an early Friday morning flight and my cousin (who just bought into DVC) used her points so we stayed at the Boardwalk. Friday was spent checking into the hotel, getting organized, going food shopping and getting ready for the dinner that night.
We got there around 6:45. We told family to be there by 7 and my Aunt’s family to be there by 7:20. Unfortunately there was a lot of traffic and flight issues so some of my family was late. There was a lot of texting telling people to stay in their cars so that the surprise wasn’t ruined. We had kept it a surprise for over a year we couldn’t ruin it now!
I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown towards the end hoping everything went right. Finally my Aunt got there and man was she surprised!
There were a lot of tears but she was so happy to see everyone, especially her sisters. Once we all said hi and got settled we had to figure out seats. The area was great, but because the size of our group and having waiters needing to get in and out, the tables were spaced out and two were in another room. It wasn’t far away but it was hard to talk to and see everyone. Once we sat down though the food started coming and we were all focused on that. The food was delicious! I had mozzarella salad and the red snapper. It was very filling and cooked perfectly. Everyone there loved their food. They even let some of the younger kids, who technically weren’t “kids” but don’t eat adult sized portions, get from the kids menu. Everyone had an awesome time.
After dinner they never tried to hurry us along or move us out. They let us mingle and talk until almost closing time! Then our main waitress was nice enough to attempt a group photo.
In case you haven’t noticed, my sister and I are twins. BUT we aren’t the only multiples in my family. We are the oldest identical twins. Then we have a set of fraternal twins, fraternal triplets and a new set of identical twins. I love us.
We arrived in Disney on Friday and had the dinner Friday night. Our whole family was there until Sunday. Then just a few of us were left until Tuesday. Cheryl and I thought the most stressful part of the trip, the surprise dinner, was over. Sadly trying to coordinate so many people would prove to be even more of a challenge.
The following day I had originally wanted everyone to go to Magic Kingdom to take a big group photo in front of the castle. At the time though not everyone had hoppers. A few people went to Magic Kingdom, some went to Animal Kingdom and we headed over to Epcot. Most of my family was staying on Disney property, but we did not do any Fast Pass+ scheduling before the trip because we weren’t sure where we would be every day. It made me a little crazy not having the trip preplanned like we had in the past, but I decided to go with the flow.
My cousin Patrick just recently had leg surgery so he had to wear a cast. He also had to use a wheelchair to get around.
I had recently read a post by Disney on Wheels about Disney changing the way they let people with disabilities onto rides. My cousin wasn’t expecting any special treatment with his wheelchair, but he did notice a lot of issues as well. When he got the wheelchair he inquired about which rides he could go to the front in it and which ones he had to leave it outside. They in turn asked him how many people he was with. He said around 30 jokingly and they handed him a one ride fast pass for 30 people. After a few rides we decided to go eat in Mexico quick service. I really did no enjoy the food, but I was hungry so it was ok. After we decided to head over to Animal Kingdom to meet up with more of our family before our Rainforest Cafe dinner reservation.
At Animal Kingdom my cousin’s key card wouldn’t work. They had an issue getting into Epcot with their key cards and I guess the lady that helped him inside deactivated his ticket. Not sure what happened. All I know is he was at customer service for almost an hour sorting it out. After they figured everything out they gave him another 20 person one ride fast pass. Luckily they let us split it up. Some of us went on Kalahari Rapids and then Expedition Everest. We ran over to see Festival of the Lion King with my mom and Aunt so they could see it before it closed.
Dinner at Rainforest Cafe was nice. It wasn’t crowded so they had a few big tables next to each other set up for us. The food was good too but it was pretty loud and the monkeys/rainstorm every few minutes got annoying after a while.
The next day we headed over to Hollywood Studios. The pervious night we had stolen all of our families Magic Bands and set up accounts and Fast Pass+ reservations so we didn’t have to wait in as many lines. We spent most of the morning/afternoon there and then went back to the hotel for a little and some of our family went over to Magic Kingdom. We had tickets for the Very Merry Christmas Party that night, but they wanted to get on some rides beforehand. They met us at ESPN Zone for dinner. Dinner took longer than expected so we got to the Christmas Party a little later than I had wanted.
BUT I did get my family photo in front of the castle. Even if it wasn’t everyone it was something…
I like going to the special events to see the decorations, special fireworks and parades and enjoy the treats. My family wasn’t really interested in that. They wanted to go on the rides. So while Cheryl and I were watching the fireworks and parade they were running around from ride to ride, loving that the lines weren’t that long since everyone else was watching the fireworks/parade too. I wish I had been able to spend more time with my family since this was most of their last night, but I don’t see myself going back to Disney for Christmas so it was a one time opportunity.
Monday morning most of our family had to leave to get back to work. My Aunt stayed and moved over to our hotel. We were able to take things a lot slower then. We went to Animal Kingdom in the morning with my mom to go to the safari and then we headed back to Magic Kingdom. That night we had dinner at Kouzzina at the boardwalk. The food was pretty good, but I am glad we did not have the birthday dinner there because my Aunt got sick from it!
On Tuesday we rented a car to drive my Aunt back home and leave from the airport by her house on Wednesday. Once we got there we took her to go see Frozen.
All in all it was a great family trip, but not something I would do again. I don’t think Disney is a place for family reunions or large groups. It is just so hard to keep everyone together and organized and also spend time together. I think if we do another family vacation it will be to the beach or a lake somewhere. This way we can all relax and spend time together.