“If you can imagine it, we can do it. And if you can’t imagine it, we can do that too.” This may sound like a bold claim to place in an ad – until you consider that the ad is for those legendary magic-makers at Walt Disney World. This 43-square-mile resort in Orlando, FL, has everything meeting planners need, such as elegant resorts, convenient meeting places, transportation and dining options. But it also has a few things they may not know they need…such as safaris, haunted houses, gangsters and Indiana Jones.
ACORD Insurance Association has held its annual meeting at Walt Disney World for 11 years in a row, and Director of Conferences Linda Cutruti is a confirmed Disneyphile. “I love doing things at Disney because they make it so easy,” she says. “We’ve grown from 450 attendees a year to 2000 a year but this is such a huge resort that it’s easy to expand. It’s no trouble to pick up more rooms, find spill-over meeting space, or enlarge a party.”
The sheer size of Walt Disney World and the unflappability of the Disney Event Production team are major draws. Six on-property resorts offer meeting facilities, or groups can use the freestanding Disney Institute. When the meeting ends, the four theme parks, 99 holes of golf, world-class dining and lively nightlife of Pleasure Island are right on your doorstep. “It’s hard for conventions to find a place with enough different kinds of activities to suit all their attendees,” says George Aguel, senior VP for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “It simplifies things so much if a company can come to a place with a diverse portfolio of entertainment.”
If you think of Walt Disney World as exclusively geared toward family entertainment, think again. The ACORD meetings draw mostly CEOs and VPs from the insurance and financial services industries – not exactly a group of guys known for whimsy. “They’re used to sedate meetings,” says Linda Cutruti, “and these are working business meetings without a lot of free time. But obviously they love this location, because our numbers grow every year.” Part of the appeal of the Disney location is the chance to throw after-hours parties inside the theme parks themselves. Groups can take a private sunset safari at the Animal Kingdom or have a progressive dinner party inside the Great Movie Ride at Disney-MGM Studios. At the Great Movie Ride, guests board the attraction and begin the party by riding through scenes from famous movies. The tram “breaks down” on the gangster set and guests find themselves in the middle of a 30’s-era speakeasy with cocktails and blues music. From there they walk onto the cowboy set for dinner, and for desserts they just follow the yellow brick road to the Wizard of Oz.
The parties can be even more interactive. At the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, also in Disney-MGM Studios, guests can take to the stage with the actors and stunt doubles during the Cairo scene and have dinner while the explosive show unfolds literally all around them. Group VIPs may be pulled from the crowd and incorporated into the show. Or if you think your attendees might enjoy that ultimate childhood fantasy of an empty theme park all to themselves, after-hours parties can make it a reality. For the big Microsoft closing party each year, ACORD has held private parties in Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Adventureland. Special VIP dinners have been held inside the Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom, at the Living Seas Aquarium in Epcot, or among the audio-animatronic dinosaurs in the Exxon pavilion.
Talk about having your theme and décor built right into the party…it’s enough to have even insurance executives singing, “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.”
For more information, call 321/939-7221 or visit www.disneymeetings.com.