by Cara Richards
During the weekend of 9th to 11th August 2013, thousands of Disney fans from all over the world descended on Anaheim in California, for the biennial D23 Expo – a huge event celebrating all things Disney. I was lucky enough to secure a ticket and on 7th August, I flew over to Los Angeles from London and prepared myself for a weekend of magic with friends who were also travelling to Anaheim from various places around the US.
The Expo, as expected, was three full days of fun, pixie-dust and a few celebrities thrown in for good measure. As with past Expos, there was way too much going on to be able to see everything that was going on, but one thing my friends and I did take part in was The Optimist scavenger hunt, which took place out of the Disney Cartography booth.
Over the past few weeks, many fans have been glued to the Disney ‘Optimist’ blog, which has been a ‘fact or fiction’ reality game, researching Walt Disney’s legacy as a visionary of tomorrow. Several followers have been given unique opportunities to take part in special experiences within Disneyland, as they solve clues and gather evidence based on articles that have been uploaded on the site. We were told that the entire experience would culminate in a scavenger hunt of sorts at the D23 Expo.
Not being one to turn down a challenge, we decided to take part in the quest ourselves. In fact, my friend Denise was the first of our group to jump on board, setting off on the hunt on Saturday morning. I accompanied her for part of her quest and was intrigued enough to sign up for myself the following morning, along with the rest of our group.
Our first stop was at the Disney Cartography booth in the Collector’s Forum, where we met with Wallace – a fellow Optimist, who shares his love of Walt’s visions of tomorrow through his art. Eagle-eyed Expo guests would have seen the hidden code around the border of Disney Cartography’s advertisement in the official Expo guide-book, which indicated that we had to give Wallace a password – ‘Progress’.
Sure enough, upon uttering this special word, Wallace sat us down in his office and told us all about a challenge, that would take us through the Expo, in to Disneyland itself and would rely on us working with others in order to find the answers we sought. We were each presented with a map, which was covered in strange symbols, icons representing park attractions, and boxes which needed to be completed with (as yet unknown) letters and words. After giving us a business card each, we were directed to the silent auction preview area on the show floor, where the World Clock would provide our first clue.
Upon arrival, we read the back of the business cards Wallace had given us, which said we need to put our maps together in order to solve the problem. The maps we had been given, at first glance looked identical, but we soon discovered that the front cover was either red, blue or green. By putting two different coloured maps together and lining them up on the clock’s plaque, a message was revealed telling us to go to the Parks and Resorts Pavilion.
We made our way inside as instructed and discovered that there was a picture in our map that matched an artifact on display in the pavilion – an early concept piece for a space pavilion. Blank squares on the maps indicated that we were looking for two letters and after much hunting around, we realised that we were able to line up patterns on our maps with the plaque in front of the exhibit. Arrows pointed to the letters ‘L’ and ‘N’.
The next section was more challenging. We had to find blue prints for ‘Progress City’, which would allow us to match up the next blank sections on our maps. However, this was more tricky, as there were many lines and symbols to line up and the smallest millimetre to the left or right would leave us with the wrong information. After much perseverance, we ended up discovering the second set of letters, which spelt out ‘SHAW’. There was also a short sentence, which said ‘VIEW WITH YOUR NEW FRIENDS MAP TOGETHER’.
It didn’t take too long to realised the letters ‘L’ , ‘N’ and ‘SHAW’ referred to Peter Ellenshaw, who was the legendary Disney artist responsible for the beautiful UV reactive map of Disneyland. That very map was also on display in the Parks and Resorts pavilion and upon our approach, we noticed that a small black-light was positioned outside the exit door, which was clearly there for our benefit.
We took turns to hold our maps under the light, scouring the pages for any hidden messages. It didn’t take long before we started to see an image appear – a half circle, with writing around the outside and an arrow. We referred back to the clue retrieved from the ‘Progress City’ blueprints, which told us to put our maps together. After a short while of working with other ‘questers’, we were able to match the half-circles together. The writing around the outside said ‘RENDEZVOUS WITH OUR AGENT TO RECEIVE FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS’, and depending on what map we each held, the arrows pointed to various Disneyland attraction icons. Within our group, we were directed to either the Fire House on Main Street, or the Opera house. It seemed that our next destination was the parks itself!
Upon arrival at Disneyland, we split in to two groups, with James and Vonn and heading over to the Opera House (where their agent was waiting to meet with them). Myself and Rachel walked across the way to the Fire House. Denise had the important job of securing lunch reservations at Carnation Café!
As Rachel and I approached the fire house, we saw a cast-member sat opposite the stables, wearing an ‘Optimist’ logo t-shirt. She welcomed us and we explained that we had been sent to her via the clues on Wallace’s map. After a short time talking about what we had discovered so far, she circled two locations on our map and told us that we had to work with other Optimists to discover where our next location was. We then met up with Vonn and James, who had also been given the same information at the Opera House, but had different locations circled on their map. We spent some time looking at the information and trying to make sense of the circles on the map. Then, James had a brain-wave and suggested that we fold our respective maps in half, hold them together and then draw lines between the circled locations to form a cross. Genius! ‘X’ marked the spot in the form of Esmerelda at the Penny Arcade.
We still had a little time before our dining reservation came up at the Carnation Café, so we walked over to the Esmerelda (the fortune teller) and popped a quarter in the machine. A whir and a click later, our fortune popped out of the machine. It stated that our journey would reach a new beginning, with placed marked by the lucky Lilly and we should listen out for the tolling of the Belle. We all recognised this last part as a reference to the private train carriage named after Walt Disney’s wife. It’s normally used to entertain VIPs and is not often available to the public.
After finishing a delicious lunch, we headed off to the New Orleans Square train station and approached one of the cast-members there. They were aware of our challenge and advised that we would actually be getting to ride ON BOARD the Lilly Belle in person, which would form the next part of our quest. Excited, much???!!!
When the train finally arrived, all of us couldn’t help feeling just a little bit smug as we were escorted INSIDE the Lilly Belle, as the other passengers on board looked on. It was absolutely BEAUTIFUL inside, with deep red soft furnishings and richly lacquered wood throughout. A black and white portrait of Walt and Lilly sat in one corner, with books and flowers decorating tables and shelves down each side of the carriage. It was a huge thrill as the train pulled away, and we began our journey around the park railroad. We were all sat there with massive grins on our faces, feeling like the cats that got the cream!
As we approached ‘Mickey’s ToonTown’ station, a message began to play over the speakers in the carriage, congratulating us on making it this far on our quest. The train began to slow and stop, and we were told to look around the carriage and find the Optimist logo, which had thus far appeared in several of our clues already. There was a large wooden box on the table next to our seats, which had the logo embossed on the top in gold. We were given permission to open the box by the conductor who was supervising us in the carriage and found a pile of 15 cream cards inside. Each one was printed in gold and the reverse side of each card showed four letters. We had to work together to put the cards together and spell out the secret message. After a short while, we were able to decode the following sentence: “HOLD UP THIS TICKET WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT. THE CODE WORD IS STEAM BOAT”. Further instructions from the overhead speakers directed us to our next agent, which could be found on Main Street near the Mad Hatter, wearing a stripy tie.
The train began moving again a few minutes later and all too soon, our time on the Lilly Belle came to an end. We disembarked at Tomorrowland and took our cards with us, heading straight for Main Street to find the agent. He was fairly easy to spot and, like the cast-member in the fire station, asked us what we had learned so far. We told him about our adventures, gave him the password ‘STEAM BOAT’ and held out our cards (which were in fact tickets). Upon hearing this, the tickets were punched and we were handed over to another agent who asked us to follow her down Main Street. We were led inside the Main Street Cinema (which incidentally had a closed sign displayed outside). Black and white cartoons were being shown on the screens around the outside of the room and the agent asked us what time it was. Referring to the message decoded from the cards/tickets, we told her that ‘THE TIME WAS RIGHT’ and as if by magic, the screens changed and a special message/video was played to us. We were congratulated on completing our quest and were officially welcomed in to The Society of Optimists. Below the screen in front of us, a plinth began to raise-up in to view, with special ‘Tomorrowland’ pins there for each of us. After taking our pins, the agent led us back out on to Main Street and our quest was over.
Our final task was to get back to the Expo before it closed at 7.00pm (it was now already 6.10pm) and inform Wallace that our mission was successful. We hopped on the free shuttle bus which took us as far as the Convention Center parking lot – from there, we all had to walk VERY quickly back to the main building, negotiate the many guests who were still enjoying the show floor and join the queue of Optimist who were in line to see Wallace at the Disney Cartography stand. At first, it was touch and go as to whether there would be time to see us all, but after a short time, Wallace agreed that we would be the last group he would sit with and we were all relieved when we got to chat with him in his office. He was pleased that we’d all managed to complete our mission, by working together as a team and using our knowledge of Disney to solve the clues. He asked us what our favourite parts of the challenge were and seemed to get a kick from hearing how enthusiastic we were by the whole experience. As a final thank you, he offered each of us a poster of our choice – one of four of his designs depicting either ‘It’s A Small World’, ‘Great Moments With Mr Lincoln’, ‘The Carousel of Progress’ or ‘Primeval World’. We each chose a picture, which Wallace signed for us and then we posed together with him for a final memento of our day.
I can honestly say that The Optimist quest was my favourite part of the Expo. It was completely unexpected and the treats that we got along the way were wonderful – our trip on the Lilly Belle is up there as one of my favourite Disney experiences ever, and I’m so pleased I got to share it with friends.
Disney outdid themselves with this whole quest and I can only hope that it’s not the last time us fans have something like this to look forward to. The organisation was second to none and whilst the clues and tasks were challenging, they were not so difficult that we felt we were unable to complete them. It just took a little team work and patience. And best of all, we have our very special pins, which we all wore with pride for the rest of the day. Every time we saw other guests wearing the pin or concentrating hard on their maps in the parks, we offered an encouraging ‘Good Luck Fellow Optimists’ and felt proud to be in a special group that only a few Disney fans were aware of. Awesome!
Cara lives in Portsmouth in the UK and has had a passion for all things Disney ever since she first saw “The Rescuers” when she was about 7 years old. Her obsession started with Walt’s classic animated features, but expanded in to the theme parks when she spent her honeymoon in Walt Disney World in 2004. Since then, she has had many trips to Orlando, Anaheim and Paris, and is a proud charter-day member of D23, doing her best to attend fan events as often as her wallet (and husband!) will let her.