MagicMeets: One Man's Dream
by Mike Scopa
AllEars® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the July 22, 2008 Issue #461 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
It started in 1998.
That was the year in which newlyweds Renee and Fred Block spent their honeymoon at Walt Disney World. It was their first time in WDW and Fred acknowledges that it put him "immediately into the magic." They both knew that it was only the beginning of so many more trips down the road.
How much of an impression had WDW made on Fred? Upon returning home he immediately checked the internet to look for others who felt the same way as he did about the WDW resort. He found a Disney internet community and soon he was posting threads and connecting with people he saw as his first "Disney family."
Although there was that connection, Fred wanted more. Fred wanted to meet his fellow Disneyholic brothers and sisters. One day Fred came across a thread that mentioned a local Disney meet where Disney fans would get together and share their love for WDW. This meet was slated to take place at a food court in a New Jersey mall. Fred Block was one of about 25 people who showed up that day.
It was hardly what Fred had expected. The distractions of restaurants and stores sorely interrupted the whole objective of the meet, which was to talk in-depth about everyone's love for all things Disney.
This left Fred wanting more.
Fred started thinking about how to get people in one place for a set period of time where you didn't have a choice of leaving or the distractions of stores or restaurants. He decided to create an event... book a hall... get conference space... create an itinerary... set up a buffet... and give everyone who was passionate about Disney a chance to meet and share this passion. But as Fred recalls it "had to have pizzazz and people needed to commit to it." He decided that the event would require payment to attend... that would insure commitment.
So Fred posted the idea in his Disney internet community and the response was quite positive -- the replies kept remarking that it was "a great idea." In fact, the thread generated over 300 pages of discussion about the event. Obviously people were excited. A total of 44 people said they would attend the event and would be willing to pay to attend to cover the costs of renting space and a meal.
So in 2004 what was then called DisMeets was held at the Victorian Manor in Edison, New Jersey. A buffet was provided and WDW Trivia author Lou Mongello and John Rick of the Central Jersey Disney Pin Traders were the special guests attending the event. Everyone had plenty of time to talk to one another, receive prizes and have a great time. Following the meet those who had attended posted rave reviews about the experience. Fred received email from people far away asking if he could do the same in their community. Holding such an event some 10 times a year was next to impossible, so Fred decided on an annual event in a centralized area.
In late 2004 Fred started looking for such a location and settled in on Allentown, PA for the 2005 event. 2005 would be quite significant. The meet would be held in a hotel and conference center; the buffet would contain better offerings; the ballroom space would be increased; and Deb Wills of AllEars.Net and Len Testa of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World would be added as ballroom speakers to the list of special guests. But most importantly, Fred would add the Dream Team Silent Auction to the event. This auction would benefit Lou Mongello's Dream Team Project which supported the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Fred brought in sponsors to, in his words, "boost the event," and to help provide better prizes. He also developed an automated MagicMeets registration system.
In 2005 DisMeets drew 177 attendees, including people from as far away as Wisconsin. Then came 2006.
DisMeets 2006 was also held in Allenstown but this time the whole ballroom was needed as the event was sold out in two months and the number of attendees had doubled from 177 to 350 attendees. This required more sponsors; more speakers; and more space. It soon became crystal clear to Fred that for 2007 he needed to move the venue. He had turned away 100 people from the 2006 event. He needed a bigger ballroom.
THE BIRTH OF MAGICMEETS
In the fall of 2006 Fred reviewed over 20 different convention centers in search for the proper venue. His search focused on Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The search involved checking out hotels and facilities and doing this fast. Fred settled on the Radisson in Harrisburg. He had room for over 500 people as he was now looking at a 15,000 sq. foot ballroom. A change in venue was in order and so was the name... DisMeets became MagicMeets and sold out in 10 days... the previous year it had taken months to sell out.
Fred expanded his volunteer staff, realizing that the volunteer effort would be a key to the success of the event. All along Fred never had intentions of growing his event... it grew on its own.
In 2006 breakout sessions were introduced and their success bred even more sessions for 2007. The 40 attendees per breakout session in 2006 was now close to 100-125 per breakout session. 2007 went to 100 apiece in the breakouts. What had started out as one man's yearning to find others to share and discuss their love of all things Disney had evolved into quite an event. However, no one, including Fred Block himself, was prepared for what MagicMeets 2008 would bring in terms of excitement, emotion, and what his attendees have come to know as "Disney Magic."
A PORTRAIT OF LOVE
It's always somewhat of a challenge for me to put into words what leaves me speechless and in awe of the human spirit. Once again I am reminded of the limitless boundaries of the human heart. It happened again at MagicMeets 2008 and I hold everyone responsible for placing me in a state of shock while giving me one of the warmest and most memorable weekends one man could ever hope to experience.
I went into MagicMeets expecting to witness many people smiling, having a good time, and most of all enjoying each other's company... but, oh boy, I was not prepared in the least for what was in store for me.
MagicMeets Thursday: The Thursday before MagicMeets is a wonderful day for those of us who are an integral part of this event. We get to greet wonderful friends and work together to begin transforming a ballroom into something that generates a sense of warmth, love, and an appreciation for the Walt Disney legacy. Such was last Thursday and many of us found ourselves working well into the wee hours of Friday morning to start this ball rolling.
MagicMeets Friday: For this year's edition of MagicMeets Fred Block introduced the Meet before the Magic, a get together during which attendees could mingle with each other and perhaps win some gifts. Following the Meet before the Magic was MagicMeets' first attempt at a most interactive breakout session called "MagicTunes." MagicTunes, based on the old television game show "Name that Tune" offered attendees the opportunity to display their knowledge of Disney music from television, movies, and theme parks. Friday night's Celebrity MagicTunes, a charity event, raised $650, divided evenly between the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer (a cause supported by Deb Wills) and Lou Mongello's Dream Team project. Little did we all realize that Friday night would prove to be a harbinger of what the weekend would bring.
MagicMeets Saturday: There is always electricity in the air during MagicMeets Saturday and this year was no exception. The energy the attendees brought to the event as they entered the ballroom was felt by all who were there waiting to greet them.
Imagineering consultant Dave Anderson started the day off with a presentation focused on Walt Disney's penchant for inspiring his Imagineers with perseverance. Prizes were handed out through the day and oh yes -- there was the matter of the silent auction for Lou Mongello's Dream Team Project.
In recent months the woes of the economy has cast shadows over any efforts to raise funds for any good cause. All who were involved with the silent auction conceded that the price of gas, as well as everything else, would hamper any efforts to come close to last year's total of just over $9000.
Saturday's breakout sessions brought topics of cruising, DVC ownership, and how to be a Disney Chief Magic Official to the forefront as well as another MagicTunes session and discovered hidden treasures of Adventureland and of course the always popular look into the latest regarding Hidden Mickeys. As the afternoon went by the Silent Auction activity continued and as always, Fred Block would from time to time award prizes to lucky attendees. Finally it was time.
What has come to be known as the "Golden Moment" had arrived. The attendees were about to be told how well the Silent Auction had done, as well as efforts by Mouse Fan Travel, the WDWToday Podcast, and Tim Devine's Magic In Pixels to supplement the Dream Team Project.
One by one the subtotals were read by Justin Muchoney, Chief Magic Official for the Disney theme Parks. The entire ballroom, 550 people to be exact, was still. As Muchoney started reading the subtotals, you could sense not just the excitement but also the welling of emotion as all in earshot began doing the calculations, including Lou Mongello who began to slowly turn his back on the audience. He was suddenly realizing what was happening here -- Disney Magic -- and his emotions were overwhelming him.
As Muchoney read the final tally you could see others joining Mongello in the same state of an emotional override. Those of us near and on the stage were also overwhelmed with joy and as we hugged and embraced each other we too were victims of our own hearts -- tears flowed.
The total was just over $19,000 which more than doubled the 2007 effort.
Some of us knew what was coming next. Knowing the boundless generosity of one Lou Mongello, hardly anyone was surprised when he stepped to the microphone and announced that he would throw in whatever was needed to make the day's take a solid $20,000. We knew that gesture was coming, still it drew more tears; more joy.
The rest of the weekend is quite a blur to me. Sure, I got to spend time with wonderful, dear friends, all of whom were part of such a tremendous, inspiring weekend... but there was gravy added to that main course. One's energy seems limitless during MagicMeets preparation... long hours, late nights. It doesn't matter. We all realize that MagicMeets is a special time, that special things happen.
For those who were there this weekend, the memories will linger of a special time when the human spirit and acts of kindness took the forefront.
To all who attended and to all who contributed to my experience and others and especially to the Dream Team Project I thank you for making this one of the most memorable weekends of my entire life.
To Fred Block, who some six years ago found himself frustrated in a NJ mall's food court, you should be proud of yourself as we, your friends, are proud of you. When you and your lovely wife Renee honeymooned in WDW little did you realize that your decision to visit Orlando would not only have an impact upon your lives but on so many others who would have the opportunity to experience your event -- an event in which you managed not only to show us in your heart how you feel about Disney but also an event that taught us about our own hearts and how when special people with special hearts get together they can do very, very, special things.
At the end of the weekend Deb Wills was heard to say, "Where else can you find grown men crying and hugging one another as their are filled with joy?"
I have the answer: Nowhere else.
Here's another question: Where do I sign up for MagicMeets 2009?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mike Scopa has been a huge Disney fan for as long as he can remember. He first visited Walt Disney World in 1975 and has returned many times (how many? he's lost count!) since. Mike is a contributor to the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and Cara Goldsbury's Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World, and has served as keynote speaker for the 2006 and 2007 MagicMeets. He is also co-host of the WDWTODAY Podcast and writes a regular blog, The View from Scopa Towers, for AllEars.Net: http://land.allears.net/blogs/mikescopa
Other AllEars® articles by Mike Scopa: http://allears.net/btp/mikescopa.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.