Cinderfella visits Disney's fairytale castle
Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — Hundreds of strangers have snapped my photo — the bewildered guy in the sputtering truck at the front of the Walt Disney World parade. I'm sitting next to Daisy Duck and wearing mouse ears embroidered with my name.
That's the first place they put you when you've won an overnight stay in the three-room suite inside the Cinderella Castle. It's the crown jewel in Walt Disney Co.'s "The Year of a Million Dreams" sweepstakes, the squeal-inducing fantasy of millions of little girls — and my home for the next 17 hours.
Each day, Disney randomly chooses one family to spend the night in its new Cinderella Suite. I stayed there by invitation from Disney to The Associated Press. (Families stay there for free, and the suite cannot be rented, but my employer paid $587 for my stay, the estimated value for the overnight.)
Staying in the suite also means being grand marshal of the parade, the honorary guest in an event called the "Dreams Come True Dinner," created by Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, and the front-of-the-line guy at anything I want to ride.
Twenty-something guy finds himself here
I am a tattooed 27-year-old guy with Buddy Holly glasses and no children. To enhance my appreciation of the Cinderella Suite, I've adopted a family with two little girls (ages 5 and 2) to stay with me.
The Magic Kingdom is designed so you can see the castle from just about anywhere. We enter a side door into a small room with stone walls.
Our guide, dressed as a 17th- century castle guy, swipes a card to call our elevator and takes us four stories up.
Each of us is given a swipe key with our name and "Cinderella Suite" written on it, and before long there are bite marks all over 2-year-old Emily's. Her sister, Hannah, has the honor of opening our door the first time.
There are golden flecks in the floor and ornate squares on the ceiling, making the whole room feel gilded. The desk in the corner is a 17th-century Dutch antique with velvet-lined shelves that Disney has retrofitted with a high-speed Internet hookup. There are two queen beds with headboards and a canopy and a fireplace that can't burn anything, but holds a fiberoptic display of flame and pixie dust.
The television in the sitting room is a mirror that converts at the touch of a button, while the "royal bedchamber" TV changes from a framed electronic portrait of Cinderella. There is a television with at least five channels in foreign languages, an array of DVDs (all Disney, of course) and free calls on an antique-looking phone.
Perhaps most impressive is the bathroom, which features a 4-foot square Jacuzzi jet tub with a waterfall faucet, a separate shower that could comfortably fit three and a square toilet. Over the tub are three sparkling mosaics made of hand-cut Italian glass.
Much of the royal family's day — like the parade and dinner reservations — is preset, so there isn't a lot of time for rides. Emily isn't tall enough for the roller coasters, which basically leaves the the rides where you sit in a car on a track and watch animatronic pirates or fish or jungle people sing and dance.
But because we're staying inside the park and Disney provides us a front-of-the-line escort, we've got to ride something. We end up on Peter Pan's Flight and then the ride whose name Disney refuses to capitalize, "it's a small world." When it's over, the girls' father and I are yawning. It's only 5:30 p.m. but we've been on the go nonstop since the parade at 2 p.m.
We have dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table, a place where the Fairy Godmother and other Disney characters weave between diners performing songs. It's expensive, but the cost is included in our stay.
Before dinner we finally meet Cinderella. In blond wig, powdered cheeks and lilting voice, she is convincing, and poses for pictures with us.
The restaurant serves everything from hot dogs to prime rib, but not booze. I found out the hard way after asking for a Sam Adams when I thought our waiter said they have "great beer." Root beer, it turns out, but there is no alcohol at the Magic Kingdom.
I guess that explains our juice-box minibar.
Godmother identifies our table as the lucky suite winners during dinner, and the rest of the restaurant offers applause.
Our Disney escort is waiting when we're done with dinner, which is starting to become a pattern. It almost feels like we're being watched. The pretty girl dressed like a stewardess who guides us around reports into a hand radio whenever "The Royal Family" is on the move. It's kind of creepy.
Disney has left princess wands, crowns and Minnie Mouse dolls for the girls back at the suite. They have also turned back the covers on our beds and put out a tray of cookies.
We watch the fireworks show that closes the park through the suite's stained-glass windows, and everyone tries out the Jacuzzi. Separately.
At about 9:30 p.m. I press 0 for the concierge and ask for an after-hours look outside the castle. You can't really leave the suite without asking, but it somehow doesn't feel like you're trapped. Someone is posted round-the-clock just to handle our requests.
I do literally have the park to myself, but there's not much to do in it because the rides are closed. Everything remains lit up as if it were packed, and piped-in Disney music fills the air. Most striking is the number of trash cans I see — dozens within a few feet of one another — that I never noticed before. They blend in when the whole place is cluttered with people.
Back at the suite, Hannah has fallen asleep clutching her Minnie doll but little Emily outlasts her usual 8 p.m. bedtime. She finally crashes at 10:30 in her parents' bed, and the grown-ups follow shortly thereafter. The bed and comforter are soft and thick, and I don't stay up long.
I'm awakened by a 7:35 a.m. call I didn't ask for, to prepare for 9 a.m. breakfast reservations Disney made. I spend the next hour trying futilely to go back to sleep as Dad plays with the girls in the sitting room.
They don't want to leave the suite, and frankly neither do I.
To enter the sweepstakes, go to disneyworld.disney.go.com and click on "The Year of a Million Dreams" under "Plan and Prepare."