The whole evening was designed to be a sort of progressive surprise for my husband, with each new revelation building on the previous one. I was going for an Old Hollywood Glamour theme, so the first surprise was that I rented him a tux (MW Tux in Winter Garden) and me a fabulous sequined gown (RentTheRunway.com). I also hired Patricia LeJeune to do my retro hair and makeup around the time I realized there was absolutely no way I could learn to do finger waves in just 2 weeks!
The next surprise came when we got to the lobby of the Beach Club and Patrick discovered that our pals the Roots were in Orlando and would be joining us for the party!
We walked over to Bayside Marina, where I’d had to rent a less-than-Old-Hollywood-glamorous pontoon boat for our IllumiNations cruise because it turns out Disney has sold the retro-fabulous Breathless II runabout. Our driver was anxiously pacing the dock when we got there—the next surprise of the night was that our event manager gave me the wrong time and we were super-late for our cruise! Usually they take you all the way down to Hollywood Studios and around by the BoardWalk before tying up for IllumiNations, but he turned back when we got to the Swan and booked it for Epcot. It wasn’t a big deal cuz we were headed back to Hollywood Studios later anyway.
We’d been on an IllumiNations cruise before and were not impressed. They tie up directly under the bridge between the UK and France pavilions, and while you are looking out toward the fireworks, it kinda seemed like they were at the end of a tunnel because of the bridge overhead and the waterway beyond. However, two nights before, Patrick and I had seen pontoon boats docked all the way up at the mouth of the lagoon, by the edge of the lower French Island terrace. When I asked our captain about it, he said it was a brand-new policy in the last month, and that they can only do it if they get the OK from higher ups (it has to do with wind and drifting ash from the show). He also said he’d only seen it happen about four times since they started.
So we were thrilled when he got the OK and moved our boat up to the very front, right at the edge of the lagoon. The view turned out to be SO much better there—almost inside the show, with shells exploding overhead and reflecting on the water below.
We were also very fortunate to be in one of the two boats in the front row—two more were parked behind us—which, our captain said, is assigned before the cruises depart. Obviously, the whole show is overhead, so it’s not like there would have been people’s heads in our way, but it was nice to just turn slightly and have this entire show practically in our laps!
Now, I was thinking it would be fun to have some photos of us smooching in front of IllumiNations like at our wedding dessert party, but I hadn’t accounted for the fact that we would be, you know, ON A BOAT, which does not mix well with low light and camera tripods, it turns out. So after a couple of shots we looked at the Roots and the Roots looked at us and we all said, “Let’s just enjoy the show, shall we?”
You’ve all probably seen IllumiNations a bazillion times, so I’ll save most of the photos for my full anniversary trip report and just put in some favorites here.
…OK, that was kind of a lot of photos… sorry! But at least it shows what kind of views you get from the new parking spot for cruises.
Because our boat was at the front, we got to hang out for a little bit as the park was emptying. Then the driver announced that we were going back to the dock to switch boats before cruising a little longer. I shot him a frantic look—earlier I’d cornered him and explained that the drop-off at Hollywood Studios was to be a surprise. But I think maybe the boat we were on wasn’t big enough to dock there or something, so back we went to the Marina, traipsing up over their little portable bridge in our finery and around the corner to another pontoon boat, this one tricked out with sweet neon “ground effects” (or whatever they call them when it’s a boat not a car) like the nautical equivalent of Tokyo Mater. Finally we were off to Hollywood Studios!
Waiting for us at the dock were an event guide, a park event manager and a couple other people who all welcomed us to Hollywood Studios and lead us into the park, down Sunset Blvd., and up the stairs by Tower of Terror’s gift shop exit.
To my surprise and delight, the event staff had set our table up right in front of the open lobby doors, instead of back in the dark corner where the event space technically is. Guess I didn’t need a light-up cake after all!
And then yet another surprise: One of the event staff invited us to step into the lobby, unhooked the velvet rope, and told us we could go take pictures on the set!!! Again, I’ll save most of these for the full trip report, but here’s a sampling:
Dinner was interesting. Our wonderful server was there when we needed her and gone when we didn’t. My hopes for the food soared when she brought out four beautifully plated salads, each bursting out of a hollowed-out tomato and garnished with a flower made of vegetable shavings.
However the entrees had not been split for us and came out looking more like your typical convention-center food.
We found the food pretty underwhelming. Granted, it had been made in the Hollywood Studios’ central kitchen and shipped out to Tower of Terror on a cart, and then it sat around waiting for us to arrive and finish taking a bazillion photos. But the fish was dry and bland, and its accompaniments had been steamed into a soggy, homogenous mass. The “Jiko” macaroni and cheese tasted like it had come out of The Blue Box. Jensey very diplomatically compared their filet to the passable fare at Applebee’s, which made me smile because I use that name as a culinary insult.
I think we may have been running behind schedule, because there was only time for two photos of the cake before it was whisked backstage for cutting. Detail freak that I am, if I had known this was the last time we’d see it with fondant on, I would have insisted on time for more close-ups.
I thought they did a great job with the cake decorations, it was just the topper that didn’t come out quite like I’d imagined. I think if I’d had Patrick helping me with the concept illustration things might’ve been different. But I also wish I’d known that it wasn’t the Grand Floridian Bakery making the cake as they did for our last anniversary party. Our pieces came out sans fondant, just like at our wedding. What surprised me was receiving a totally naked cake in a box at the end of the night—all that work on the decorations and we didn’t even get to take them with us to admire later!
As the last fork hit the plate, our dishes vanished, our cake turned up in a box, and our chairs seemed to pitch us out of them as the park event manager looked at his watch and muttered into his radio. Guess we overstayed our welcome!
As we walked back down Sunset Blvd., our guide seemed to come up with as many ideas for photo ops as we did, and who were we to argue?
When they finally dragged me kicking and screaming out of the park, the event manager sighed with relief and radioed that the park was clear of guests. We were left to straggle out to the parking lot like tourists we were, but it was worth it not to have a town car waiting backstage in order to squeeze in a few more photo ops!
All in all, it was a wonderful evening and such a fun way to incorporate elements of our wedding with something new for our anniversary. I’d worried that, without a fireworks show during dinner, sitting around eating convention food in an empty theme park would be kinda, well, boring. But it actually felt really special and fun! And the very best part was that we got to share the occasion with the dear friends we’d made on our wedding day. I just don’t know how I’m ever going to top it next year. I wonder if they do private events at Applebee’s…