My husband says that I’m obsessed with Disney World. I would not agree with the word obsessed, but I am more than a little intrigued by their entire operation as a hospitality company. This is all because my husband and I went to Disney World on vacation last year (one more time just the two of us before we have kids – I swear!) and I probably over-prepared and planned for the trip (Hey – I am a planner by profession), and in doing so learned so much more than most visitors do about the company and their philosophy surrounding hospitality.
I recently had the opportunity to tour some of the meeting space that Disney has on site. I was only on a site visit, so I didn’t have the opportunity to experience the service and execution, but I wanted to write about the space.
The first thing to know about hosting a meeting or event at Disney is that they will treat you differently based on whether you are hosting your entire meeting on Disney property, or just part of it. Meaning, if you are hosting a large conference with sleeping rooms at one of the resorts and you want to host a welcome reception, you will have many more options available to you because you have those sleeping rooms at a Disney resort. However, let’s say you were hosting an event at a nearby hotel not on Disney property, such as the Hilton or the Omni, but you wanted to host a welcome reception at Disney because it’s so close. You will still have several options available, but not as many, since they prefer to reserve some of the prime event locations for their on-site guests.
The majority of the event space at Disney World is located in the resort hotels, not the parks themselves. There are no private event spaces in Magic Kingdom at all, there are some spaces in Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, but the most common option for theme park events is in Epcot. That’s great for me because Epcot is my favorite Disney park and always has been. Ever since I visited the park as a little girl, I’ve loved Epcot. Now as an adult, I could ride Spaceship Earth over and over again. Soarin’ is my favorite ride in all of Disney. I could spend days meandering around the World Showcase. Long story short: I love Epcot!
The spaces that I toured in Epcot were the ones that are available to groups without sleeping room blocks. There are many other exciting places to hold events beyond these if you are hosting your entire meeting at Disney.
The Odyssey Pavilion is located right in between Future World and the World Showcase, specifically between the Test Track attraction and the Mexico pavilion. The building itself has an interesting history – it used to be a restaurant and then it became a multi-group event space, now it’s available for meetings and events and is sometimes used for special programs.
The space is a bit dated looking, but if you’re concerned with that, Disney is happy to use some Disney magic to transform it with lighting and decor. The food and beverage options for this space have an international flair owing to the proximity to the world showcase. The best part of this venue would be only having to step outside to be able to view the Illuminations nightly fireworks show.
I assume this looks much better without the house lights on!
The other space I toured in Epcot is the Norway Lounge which is located above the Maelstrom ride (who knew?!). Again, this space is rather dated as well (and much smaller – maximum capacity is 120 for a reception or 80 for a seated meal), but it’s pretty neat to be in one of the world showcase buildings. While there are windows that overlook the rest of the park, you wouldn’t be able to view the fireworks from the building.
Neither space is really all that impressive on its own – you are paying for the opportunity to have a private event inside Epcot. Don’t forget, there are plenty of other options available if you are hosting a meeting or event with sleeping rooms – in Epcot alone you can host an event in nearly every world showcase pavilion.
But if you are having your event at one of the non-Disney hotels and want to have an event inside the park, this is a great option, especially if you want your group to eat together and then go out and explore the park on their own.