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Old 02-18-2011, 10:41 AM   #1
lurkyloo
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How to Plan a Tower of Terror Anniversary Party

There's not a lot of info here on planning anniversary/honeymoon special events at Walt Disney World (except FigmentFan814's excellent report on her private anniversary dinner at the Grand Floridian and my exhaustive/exhausting report on an IllumiNations dessert party for two), so I wanted to share all the info I gleaned while planning the one we did a few weeks ago.

Initially, I contacted the planner of our first anniversary party to set up our third anniversary party, even though we were not staying at the Disney resort where she now works. She checked to see if she'd be allowed to work with me, but it was determined that since we were staying at the Beach Club, I should work with the Senior Catering and Convention Services Manager at the Yacht & Beach Club.

Our event date was February 4, and since most private events can't be contracted till 6 months or sometimes even 90 days out, I waited until late November to initiate the process. In this case, because of the location of the event, I couldn't sign a contract until 30 days out. Most of the major planning took place about 3 weeks before the event in just a few days' worth of emailing back and forth.

The Plan
The idea was to start the evening with an IllumiNations cruise, then have the boat drop the four of us at Disney's Hollywood Studios for dinner on the terrace at Tower of Terror. Since our event couldn't start until about 2 hours after the park closed, the cruise would help us kill time till our late dinner and be a great way to reference the IllumiNations party we had at the end of our wedding day.

The Venue
I was on a tour of wedding venues in Hollywood Studios when I asked if the terrace at Tower of Terror—my absolute favorite spot in the whole park—could be used for a private event. The rep was pretty sure it had been done before for small groups and got back to me later with complete info. Here's where they initially told me the event space was:




















The cool thing about Hollywood Studios is that practically every nook and cranny can be used for events—even, like, pathways! So if you have an idea for an event there, just ask.


The Price
While I like to go on about how inexpensively you can do a dessert party in Epcot, I'll admit that this event required a bit more saving up. Still, dinner for 4 at Tower of Terror costs less than a Fantasmic dessert party, two hours on the Grand 1 Yacht, or brunch at the Attic!

Tower of Terror Terrace - Capacity: 10
Venue Rental Fee:
$500 + tax
Food & Beverage Minimum: $45/person + tax and service charge

Things I Added
To give the event a little more oomph, I added a basic IllumiNations cruise for $346.13 (incl. tax) and an elaborate anniversary cake with light-up fondant topper for $180 (+ tax and service charge). If you want the Grand Floridian Bakery to make your cake, tack on another $75 for the delivery fee. I wish I'd done this.

Things I Skipped
These include transportation, music, floral & décor, and keeping the ride operating so we could go on it.
  • We could have hired a town car to pick us up backstage at the end of the night and return us to the hotel, but I wanted to walk back out through the empty park at the end of the night. (Our guests kindly parked their car at DHS beforehand so we had a ride back.)
  • I asked about getting an iPod setup so I could play the Tower of Terror area music loop I'd downloaded online, but they wanted $450. Instead I bought a tiny $10 speaker case for my iPhone. As it turned out, the area music was still playing when we got there. It was a wonderful touch but it would have been nice to know in advance…
  • We used the cake as our centerpiece (it did light up, after all!) and had them arrange the included votive candles around it. As usual, when I got there and saw the hideous convention chairs, I wished I'd sprung for covers or replacements or something.
  • The cost to actually ride the ride would have been $6,500. Not worth it!

The Menu
I customized our dinner menu from generic theme park menus sent by my EM.

Originally I'd asked about creating a menu with items from Jiko, but the chefs came back with a jaw-dropping estimate of $180/person. I tried paring down the menu and having just two entrees to split between the two couples, but it was still $150/couple. So instead I tried to approximate the Jiko dishes using theme park menu items. The final menu:

(1) Custom Plated Dinner - $80
California Greens with Choice of Lemon Vinaigrette and Avocado Cream Dressings
Beef Fillet with Red Wine Demi, Mashed Potatoes, Asparagus, and Roasted Tomatoes

(1) Custom Plated Dinner - $80
California Greens with Choice of Lemon Vinaigrette and Avocado Cream Dressings
Pacific Salmon with Lemon Butter, Mashed Potatoes, Asparagus, and Roasted Tomatoes

(2) Custom Side Dish – included in menu price
Jiko White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese

(4) Vanilla Ice Cream (for cake!) – included in menu price

(2) Walt Disney World Soft Drinks, Assorted (BOC) - $4++ each

(3) Pitchers of Ice Water – free

Splitting the dinners was interesting. I thought we all got plenty of food (especially factoring in cake and ice cream!), but it was strange that while we each got our own salads, we were just handed extra plates and forks for splitting the main courses.

The Cake
This was yet another of my experiments in achieving the perfect Disney cake. For the cake design I found an inspiration picture on Flicker. I had a vision for the cake topper to light up (cuz it was going to be so dark at dinner!) and look like a cross between an Art Deco wall sconce and the light-up panel in DISer ColeV's wedding cake. However, since Patrick wasn't in on the surprise, I couldn't have him draw an inspiration picture for me, and I have the mad artistic skillz of a 3-year-old. I did the best I could, but I guess my photo communicated "tiara" more than it did "light fixture"…








I requested red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting rather than the cream cheese mousse we'd had in our wedding cake. It was definitely better-tasting than our wedding cake and closer to the "gourmet homemade" cakes I like at SoCal bakery SusieCakes, but using frosting instead of mousse between the layers made the cake kinda squat. Lesson learned.

Also, while the theme park bakery made a valiant attempt to re-create the effect of the elaborate inspiration cake topper, I wish I'd known they were the ones who'd be making it. Perfectionist that I am, I would rather have paid the Grand Floridian bakery a $75 delivery fee if it meant that the same team that made the inspiration cake would be making our version.

Read on to find out how it all turned out...
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Old 02-18-2011, 10:46 AM   #2
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Part 1

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.

See how fast we were going?




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.

Where the pontoon boats usually park




Where they park if you're lucky




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?"

"What's happening? Is something happening behind us? It sounds like something's happening!"







You've all probably seen IllumiNations a bazillion times, so I'll save most of the photos for my full 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!


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Old 02-18-2011, 10:49 AM   #3
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Part 2

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.



California Greens with Choice of Lemon Vinaigrette and Avocado Cream Dressings




However the entrees had not been split for us and came out looking more like your typical convention-center food.

Beef Fillet with Red Wine Demi, Mashed Potatoes, Asparagus, and Roasted Tomatoes




Pacific Salmon with Lemon Butter, Mashed Potatoes, Asparagus, and Roasted Tomatoes and a side of Jiko White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese




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.

At least Patrick was appropriately attired for dividing up our meal










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Old 02-18-2011, 10:51 AM   #4
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Part 3

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!

Farewell, Tower of Terror




Oh good—looks like they're finally fixing up the place!




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…
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Old 02-18-2011, 11:19 AM   #5
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Just WOW! Thank you so much for sharing! I love the ToT, so I'm glad to know that if we ever wanted to do something like that, we can! You made me LOL at your comments about Applebee's, because I can't stand that place either. Guess I'm a bit of a foodie myself...
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Old 02-18-2011, 11:51 AM   #6
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Wow Carrie, your event looks beautiful and like so much fun! You really fit the old Hollywood theme, and looked so glamorous. Your husband is a very lucky guy! How are you going to keep topping these anniversary celebrations though?! Congrats on three years of marriage to you both!
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Old 02-18-2011, 12:15 PM   #7
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Love it so much!! Can't wait to read the full trip report!
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Old 02-18-2011, 12:22 PM   #8
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That was awesome Carrie! Congrats on 3 years of marriage too. I bet your hubby was surprised. I absolutely loved your gold gown!

And the pictures...WOW! Thanks for sharing!
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Old 02-18-2011, 02:19 PM   #9
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Carrie, you amaze me. You and Patrick are absolutely adorable!!!
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Old 02-18-2011, 02:48 PM   #10
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Wow, fantastic! Congrats on your anniversary too!
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Old 02-18-2011, 03:33 PM   #11
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Your pictures are AMAZING!!! And congrats
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Old 02-18-2011, 06:10 PM   #12
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What an amazing night! Thanks for sharing!
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Old 02-18-2011, 06:14 PM   #13
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Thank you thank you thank you x a million!! I even had to get df to read this!! This is definately something we will be doing in the future!!!
I love the Hollywood theme you were going for!! Everything looked amazing!!!
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Old 02-18-2011, 10:32 PM   #15
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Fantastic Carrie! Don't you love Rent the Runway? I used them when I wanted a dress to change in to for our at-home reception, too bad I haven't had a reason to use them again
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