Seeing the world, one Disney park at a time
The rain was pouring, the skies were a murky gray and Mickey's magic wasn't working on the visitors cursing and scampering for cover at Hong Kong Disneyland.
But Keith Simpson and his six friends from Sydney — all Disney fanatics sporting matching polo shirts that show Mickey ears over Australia's map — couldn't have been happier.
The group was in Hong Kong on the second leg of their Disney-themed round-the-world tour, realizing months of planning for a 32-day trip that takes them to every Disney park in the world — from Tokyo to Hong Kong to Paris, to the U.S. flagships, Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and Walt Disney World near Orlando
It was a dream come true for the "Down Under Disneyana" fan club members, who have all been to one or more Disney parks before but have never done them all at one go. The idea of a world tour was especially appealing for Australian fans because they live so far away from all the Disney parks, Simpson said.
"We can't go to Disneyland every week. We can only go once every year, and that's if we're lucky," said Simpson, 36, a fraud investigator for a bank. The nearest park — Hong Kong — is more than eight hours' flight away.
The fans also organized the trip so that it coincided with several important dates for Disney. The group was in Hong Kong for the first anniversary celebrations at Disney's newest theme park on Sept. 12. They planned to finish on Sept. 30, the last day of 50th anniversary festivities at the original Disneyland in Anaheim.
Along the way, members expected to mark the occasion with group photos in front of all the iconic Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella castles, said Wayne Godfrey, the organizer of the trip.
They also planned to spend minimum time sightseeing outside the parks, while trying to go on every single ride at every single park they're visiting. In fact, discounting time spent onboard flights and transfers from airports, virtually every minute of the month-long trip was to be spent in one Disney park or another.
"It's the first time for all of us. I don't know anyone who's done quite what we're doing," Godfrey, 48, said. None of the seven traveling members had been to Paris before, so that was the most eagerly anticipated park, he added.
Godfrey, who describes himself as a "pretty big" Disney fan, founded the Down Under Disneyana Club 13 years ago.
"I grew up watching the 'Wonderful World of Disney' on TV, with Walt Disney narrating," he said. He now shares his passion for all things Disney with about 200 Aussies, whom he meets regularly for themed parties and to share trip reports.
The finance manager has been collecting Disney memorabilia like books, magazines and DVDs for more than 20 years. He "got hooked" onto Disney parks ever since he visited Disney World in the early 90s, he said, and has since been back to the Orlando park seven times, and to Disneyland in California nine times.
Simpson, meanwhile, didn't get his first taste of Disney parks until he visited Anaheim last year. The fan said the "Beauty and the Beast" movie and its soundtrack initiated his Disney obsession, and he has now collected so many Disney movie posters he's "run out of wall" for them at home.
Simpson, Godfrey and their friends agree that doing Space Mountain and spinning teacups over and over again at every Disney park is anything but repetitive.
"Every time you go to a park there's different things to do, and you get out of it what you put into it," explained Simpson, who said he's sure he will enjoy every moment of the world tour.
"I don't think I'll ever get tired of going. What I like about Disney parks is that once you go through those front gates you sort of leave the real world behind you. That's why it's so appealing."
The world trip cost about $4,661, inclusive of discounted rates for hotels, transfers and passes to the parks, Godfrey said. The Tokyo leg cost an extra $526, because the air miles went over the prescribed mileage limit in the round-the-world airfare, he said.
"Coordinating the airfare was the trickiest part," he said. "But once we decided to go with a regular round-the-world airfare, it all came together really quickly."
Godfrey has a word of advice for anyone trying to organize a similar trip. "I would book a round-the-world airfare. I would try to stay at the moderate (Disney) hotels. I'd also make sure I go out of season, not on holidays when the parks are crowded," he said.
Members all groaned when asked how it would it feel when the trip's all over. "It'd be sad when you have to go back to reality," said Della Whitton, 41, Simpson's girlfriend and fellow Disney addict.
She didn't have to despair — Simpson said the couple has opted out of the Tokyo leg of this trip so that they could "save" it for later. A Disney cruise and repeat trips to the Florida park are also in their future.
"It feels like we're saving up all our holidays for Disney trips," he said.