Gifts of a Lifetime: The Ultimate Personalized Walt Disney World Event

Lisa Fritscher April 19, 2014 No Comments

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Dad's Amazing Race at Epcot

Dad’s Amazing Birthday Race took place at Epcot.

For my dad’s birthday in 2009, I arranged for my cousin and her husband to come in from out of town for a family reunion. We planned several days at the theme parks, rented a beautiful condo, and made some terrific dining reservations. Yet I wanted to do something really unforgettable for the actual birthday celebration. While combing various Disney discussion boards, I finally hit on the solution.

Gifts of a Lifetime is a private company made up of Orlando-area Disney lovers. Their “pixies” have been creating magical, highly personalized celebrations at Walt Disney World since 1997. They received excellent reviews, so I decided to give them a shot.

 

Planning and Preparation
The process begins with a highly detailed pre-event questionnaire, available on the Gifts of a Lifetime website. This questionnaire covers everything from the recipient’s favorite movies and television shows to physical limitations and recent stressful events. It also asks about the recipient’s personality, level of shyness and knowledge of the Disney theme parks. There is a box at the bottom of the form to give more information about the sort of event you envision.

In mid-February, I spent an hour or two filling out the questionnaire very carefully, trying to encapsulate Dad as fully as possible. Within a couple of days, I received an email from Jane, the head of Gifts of a Lifetime, explaining that she would be working on proposals for May (Dad’s birthday) in March.

True to her word, in mid-March, Jane sent me an email proposal with two different ideas: a Survivor themed event complete with an immunity challenge, a reward challenge and a tribal council, or an Amazing Race through Epcot. After consulting with my cousin, I selected the Amazing Race option. The total price was $345, not including park admission or Dad’s present. I paid $100 immediately to reserve the date, with the remaining balance due two weeks before the event.

Jane offered to work with me to select a birthday present, which I would pay for but she would purchase and hold until the event. However, my cousin found the perfect present—an engineering manual for the now-defunct Horizons ride at Epcot—online. So we split the cost and she had it shipped to her house, where she held it until they arrived. Since the book was heavy, we opted not to carry it to Epcot for the event. Instead, Jane gave Dad a personalized certificate at the end of the race, with a note stating that his present was waiting for him at our condo.

Jane remained in regular contact with me throughout the planning process. She answered questions, envisioned possible snafus and proactively addressed them, and generally helped me through what turned out to be a very trying time. In April, both my dad and his younger brother (the father of the cousin who was coming down to join us) were diagnosed with heart disease and had stents placed. Planning the trip was stressful, especially under the circumstances. It was very reassuring to have Jane on my side, helping me relax and trust that if nothing else, the birthday event would be a total success. She even had me email photos of everyone in our group to her, to ensure that the pixies running our event would recognize us.

 

Swine Flu Changes Everything
In the category of Murphy’s Law, the trip was only a week away when swine flu arrived in the United States. Of course, as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, the Orlando area was hit hard. Dad had a follow-up appointment with his doctor on April 29, before the Gifts of a Lifetime event was scheduled on May 3. The doctor placed him under strict orders to avoid the theme parks for at least a month, due to the swine flu epidemic!

Fortunately, my cousin was able to cancel their flights and we received refunds for lodging and other prepaid expenses. I emailed Jane to ask about rescheduling the event, and she could not have been more kind and understanding! She said that Dad’s health comes first, and we could reschedule for anytime within the next year at no additional charge, except during December (it is an extraordinarily busy month for them, and December events incur an upcharge). Normally, rescheduling requires forfeiture of the $100 deposit, and payment of a new deposit for the new dates, but under the circumstances she even waived that additional fee. It was June before my cousin and I were able to coordinate new dates in September, and Jane immediately put us on the schedule for September 29.

 

Finally, Dad’s Gift of a Lifetime!

Fountain of Nations

The Pin Trading Station is across from the Fountain of Nations. Thanks to Michael Gray for the excellent photo!

Though it was four months after his actual birthday, the Amazing Birthday Race was well worth the wait! I had instructions from Jane to corral everyone in front of the Pin Trading station across from the fountain in Epcot’s Future World at 11 a.m. Dad’s not an easy person to corral, and my cousin’s husband was overawed and overwhelmed by his first trip to Walt Disney World, but I managed to get the job done.

At precisely 11 a.m., a woman stepped out of the crowd. She was dressed like a regular tourist, with nothing unusual about her appearance at all. She walked up to Dad and said, “Are you Andy? I’m Pat. Welcome to your Amazing Birthday Race. You have two hours to complete the race. Here’s your first clue.”

After Dad picked his jaw up off the ground, Pat gave us a few quick rules and pointers. For example, we had to stay together as a team. Additionally, the annual Food and Wine Festival was underway, but Pat told us we would not have enough time to stop and eat. She urged us to keep an eye on the time and keep moving at a rapid pace.

With that, we were off. The first clue sent us to a specific monorail pylon number, where we had to search in a planter for our next clue. Another clue had us searching the shelves behind a pile of troll dolls in Norway. Some clues made us perform specific tasks. For example, in Morocco, I was required to belly dance for two minutes. As soon as the time was up, a different woman holding a large shopping bag appeared from the crowd to hand me the next clue. In the American pavilion, we had to search through coins scattered on the ground beneath some tables to count out Dad’s exact age in change.

We had a bit of a break about halfway through. Pat met us at an outdoor table in Japan. Remembering Dad’s diabetes, she gave Dad a sugar-free Japanese soda and invited him to sit down. She then quizzed him on Disney trivia, including asking him to name all 11 countries of the World Showcase in reverse order.

Japan Pavilion

It was nice to take a short rest in Japan!

One clue had two dollars taped to the back and instructed us to use it to buy a “dolce.” We correctly deduced that the word was Italian, but had no idea what it meant. So we ran into a shop in Italy, and asked the surprised employees what a dolce was. They explained that it was a sweet, and helped us select a piece of candy that was less than two dollars with tax.

The race ended in Canada with good, old-fashioned phone booth stuffing. We had to climb a set of stairs and pile our entire team into a red phone box, and then close the door. After that, Pat appeared from the bushes with Dad’s certificate and explained that his present was waiting at the condo. We finished just seconds before the two-hour deadline! Dad’s grin was a mile wide, and I knew his Amazing Birthday Race was a complete success.

 

Tips for Parents
As everyone in our group was an adult, and Dad is a Disney aficionado, I specifically requested an interactive adventure with a high level of difficulty. However, Gifts of a Lifetime provides events that are specifically tailored to the recipient. They can deliver surprise gifts, decorate hotel rooms and much more. You are limited only by your budget and imagination.

If you want a Disney character to appear at the event, be aware that beyond the price of the Gifts of a Lifetime event, you must also pay Disney’s fees, which include renting a private location and, often, food and beverage minimums. Character presence can easily push a $400 event up to $3,000. Instead, Gifts of Lifetime recommends implying the involvement of a character, perhaps by convincing the kids that presents were left by their favorite character.

Gifts of a Lifetime can organize events for single people, families or even small groups. Kids of all ages are welcome to participate, but Gifts of a Lifetime does not design events for those under five years old. The organization has found that kids under five generally do not have the attention span to participate in an event that is designed for them, and are often overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the parks.

Image Works

A kids’ event might ask the children to play in Image Works, located in the Imagination Pavilion.

The typical event lasts between one and two hours and involves a family group of four or five people. These events are priced between $295 and $375 depending on their complexity. Longer events, especially those involving private dining facilities or that take place over multiple days, are more expensive. Budget events, which last less than 30 minutes, cost $225 to $250.

Don’t be afraid to participate even if your kids are shy. Gifts of a Lifetime never separates children from their parents, and will put clients in the limelight only if this is specifically requested. Your pre-event questionnaire helps you fully describe the recipient to Jane and her team before they make an event proposal, but you are also welcome to communicate further by email even after accepting a proposal. The company’s entire goal is to create magical family memories, so speak up and be clear about your family’s needs and desires!

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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