Living vicariously thru other people’s Walt Disney World vacations has become an ongoing pastime for me. Just this past week, I noticed on Twitter that a friend was about to ride Journey into Imagination. Suddenly, a blur of plaques, park maps, team outfits, and pages of questions flashed thru my head. The flashback was from the 2011 D23 Scavenger Hunt at Walt Disney World. Being a member of the Hidden Mickey Team, it made me laugh when I remembered Steve Barrett, Vickie Barrett, Marc Lorenzo and I riding the attraction in order to answer the question about what color the tennis shoes were on the ride. On May 12-13, 2011, we had trekked across all four parks plotting, sweating, thinking, laughing, scrutinizing, and maybe even worrying.
Let’s look back at those two days.
Prior to arriving at the scavenger hunt, our team had discussed our strategy for this event as well as our “outfits”. Steve and Vickie had participated in the D23 Disneyland Scavenger Hunt. Their experience was tapped into several times in our preparation. Marc and I learned from them that the questions were layered and difficult to study for. We asked other friends as well who had fared well in Disneyland what their strategies were. The response from most was nominal. It seemed like most people were not willing to give up any trade secrets, nor were they willing to admit sadly that it was possible to organize or strategize for this event. Matter of fact, we were jokingly told when the scavenger hunt started to just run and start answering questions as fast as we could.
The D23 Walt Disney World Scavenger Hunt incorporated hunts in all four parks with a 3 hour time limit in all of them, but Epcot. In Epcot, we were granted 4 hours to answer the questions. Before the event started, we knew that we had been assigned to start in the Magic Kingdom. After that park, we could go to any park we chose. The hunt hours for the first day were from 10 am to 9 pm. And the hunt hours for the second day were from 9 am to 5 pm. Since we had more time to work with on the first day, after Magic Kingdom, we would break for lunch and then hit Epcot for our 4 hour hunt. We wanted to start at Epcot by 4 pm so that we could end in daylight hours.
Once we were checked into the hunt at the Magic Kingdom on the first day, we had decided it would be a wise choice to read thru the booklet quickly, get an idea of where the questions came from and then plot out a strategic starting route. In the Main Street Bakery, we sat down and analyzed the 5 point and 10 point questions. There were many 1 point questions as well, but we didn’t dwell on them too much. We had all the color highlighters and post-it notes you could dream of, but we really didn’t have all day to contemplate the complicated color key that we had talked about. Instead, we decided to just write what land each question had to do with and go from there.
The Magic Kingdom’s questions had lots of references to Main Street windows, as well as plaques and signs around train stations, attractions (Tom Sawyer Island and Stitch’s Great Escape) and the hub. We discovered that few to none of the questions actually required you to ride an attraction. Either you were forced to look at something outside of the attraction or possibly in the pre-show area, as with the Hall of Presidents. During the first park, we had to additionally learn how we would work together. Who would hold the book? Who would determine where we would go next? And what question would take up too much time to figure out? All of these had to be addressed. The learning curve was huge. And our score in the Magic Kingdom probably reflected that. Thankfully, our team worked together graciously and we were capable of taking the blows in stride. This hunt was just for fun, right?
Another component to the hunt was the use of electronic devices. Nowhere in the rules did it state that you could not use them. Even though we double checked this before the hunt, we were a little apprehensive to use them. We eventually found taking a picture of plaques where the words and letters of those words had to be counted would be beneficial. Once we got the picture of the plaque or sign, we could move on to another location. While Marc and Steve worked on a question in the Hall of Presidents pre-show area, Vickie and I would sit beside them and determine the answer to the former question with the help of the picture we had taken. Not only did we use our phones, but we found that the iPad was useful as well. It occurred to me that the application on an iPad where you can write on pictures would have really come in handy.
Upon check-in at Epcot, I noticed that the cast member checking us in was Mary Jo. This had to be a sign of good luck. After getting our booklet, we went to the Electric Umbrella and mapped out our scheme. We noticed that many questions had components in Future World, as well as World Showcase. This park was going to take some stamina. Another thing that we noticed right away was that we would have to ride some attractions. As you remember from the beginning, one of those attractions was Journey into Imagination. The attractions that needed to be ridden were attractions usually with little to no wait times.
One thing that we noticed at Epcot was that the questions were not too difficult, but often would lead you from one end of the park to the other side of the park. Some questions were also very time-consuming. Take for instance a question that had you look at the Inventor’s Circle in Future World. For some people, these circles located in the esplanade between Innoventions and the Land Pavilion may have gone unnoticed until then. The question had you find the 1st letter from the 1887 invention, 2nd letter from the 1895 invention and so on. The question continued until you had 14 letters. These 14 letters had to be unscrambled to find another discovery in the circle. The answer was the year in which that discovery was invented. During the time of the hunt we worked on this question, there were about 20 other people scrambling around these discoveries, counting, calculating and reconfiguring. Now that I look back, I know that we spent a lot of time on questions like this. Could we have just gotten a few letters and just looked for a discovery with 14 letters that had those letters in it? It is easy now to ask these questions. At the time, we worked carefully and did what we could.
The biggest thrill during Epcot for me was not actually being a part of the scavenger hunt. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how lucky I was to be on a team with Mr. Hidden Mickey. It makes me smile when I think about leaving the Mission Space pavilion. As we walked over the stoned courtyard, I just happened to notice a perfect Hidden Mickey in the stone work. Of course, I screamed with delight. You can’t imagine the joy when Steve told me that it was a hard one to find and I just happened to see it. The second treat was when Steve showed us his favorite Hidden Mickey of all. Inside the Garden Grill restaurant there is a mural that has one of the most elusive Hidden Mickeys on property. It is a Hidden Steam Boat Willie. Stopping during the hunt despite the ticking clock of the hunt to catch a glimpse of this Hidden Mickey showed me a lot about his passion for Hidden Mickeys. Steve explained that it was one of his favorites because of how difficult it was to see. And indeed, I couldn’t see it and still have not seen it to this day.
After the Epcot hunt was complete, our team met up with some other scavenger hunt participants that had just finished in Epcot to have dinner at Teppan Edo. We laughed and lamented over what had ensued that day.
Day two began with the Animal Kingdom hunt and finished with Disney’s Hollywood Studios. With each park, our team was doing better and better. Utilization of time and organization was getting better as we went. There was a huge difference in the number of questions that we were getting answered from our first park at the Magic Kingdom to our last park of the Studios.
It can be assumed that the average guests of Walt Disney World typically do not notice the finer details of the parks that are so carefully created by the Imagineers. By the third park of the scavenger hunt, it seemed that this could be true even for some seasoned guests. We were all astonished by the details of the parks that the questions were forcing us to notice. There were several instances where one of us exclaimed that we didn’t realize something related to an attraction, a sign, or a restaurant. Take for instance a question that had you find the red-colored seating pavilion featuring blue lanterns at Flame Tree Barbecue. We were then told to find the creature on that pavilion depicted hunting its meal. I had never noticed the different predators and their prey on the beams of each of the pavilions, even though I had sat under them many, many times.
After a delicious lunch at 50s Prime Time Café at the Tune-in Lounge bar, Disney Hollywood Studios was our last park to conquer. At this point, we had learned how we worked together best. Every team member had a certain role and we worked hard toward the end of this mad hunt. At no time did anyone ever give up despite the blazing temperatures or the knowledge that we had no chance to win. We had learned that other teams were answering every single question in the booklets and we hadn’t answered half of them in a few of the parks. This did not stop us from completing the challenge. Matter of fact, we had our best showing in our very last park. We had survived and completed the challenge with our heads up.
When it was all said and done, we had done our best and had played fairly. Due to my competitive nature, I had originally been left with a sense of inadequacy (especially after finding out our final ranking). It was just recently that I have been able to recognize what a positive, indelible impression this event has left upon me. Matter of fact, reminiscing about the hunt has made me realize that we indeed won. YES, WE WON! We may have not won the cruise (not sure how we would have worked that out anyway), but we had won a new appreciation for the art of scavenging, the details of the parks and for each other. And to this I would say the experience was priceless. Thank you, Steve, Vickie and Marc, for two days that I will never forget.