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That Disney Magic
 
Bernie Edwards with Mickey and Minnie Bernie Edwards with Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Credit: Walt Disney Company
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The Edwards family The Edwards family gets in the spirit of things. Image courtesy: Bernie Williams
Bernie Edwards, a communications engineer for the Constellation Program Office, has always liked all things Disney. The son of a military father, he grew up all over the world but summered at his grandparent’s chicken farm located about two hours north of Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida.

“My first job in life was collecting dead chickens every morning,” says Bernie, “Instead of going to the movies on the weekend or to the beach, we’d go to Disney World. A vacation from collecting dead chickens made going to Disney World all the more fun.” It’s no wonder Bernie went from liking all things Disney to loving all things Disney. In addition, all that hard work inspired Bernie to further his education so that he would not have to spend the rest of his life picking up dead chickens every day.

From childhood until now, Bernie explains that “I never stopped visiting the Disney parks. I have visited the parks in California, Florida, and even Paris a total of more than 100 times, although most of my trips were only for one day.” Bernie further explains that Disney has parks in California, Florida, Paris, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, and is building another in Shanghai, China. Disney, in association with Best Friends Pet Care, is even opening a luxury pet resort at Disney World, which will be in addition to their already superior, non-exotic pet boarding facility. He should know. Bernie, the father of two, had the privilege of being appointed to the 2010 Walt Disney World Moms Panel effective January 1, 2010. The 21 new panelists were selected from approximately 20,000 applicants.

The Walt Disney World Moms Panel was established in 2008. Walt Disney World Resort’s Social Media Manager, Laura Spencer, describes this panel as “an online question-and-answer venue that serves as a free resource for families looking for a touch of pixie dust to add to their Disney vacation. The panel is led by everyday parents who have mastered the art of planning a vacation for their own families and are excited to share their pearls of wisdom with others.”

Bernie notes that “Disney wanted parents to answer the questions of other parents.” Some panelist specialize in the Disney resorts while others focus on the Disney Cruises Line or Adventures by Disney vacations, which involve organized tours of interesting places both within the U.S. and abroad. The panel includes a total of 43 members of which eight are dads. As Bernie notes, “even Mothers Against Drunk Driving includes fathers.”

All panelists attend five days of training at Disney World on topics including using the computer systems to answer questions and public relations techniques. As a panelist, Bernie spends about an hour a week answering at least eight questions. He selects the questions he wants to answer and prefers those from military families, although on occasion individuals have directed questions specifically to him. His specialty is planning vacations at Walt Disney World, which is not a surprise given that the Magic Kingdom theme park at Disney World, with the theme of fantasy, is his favorite park. Bernie also notes that Walt Disney World, at 43 square miles, with four theme parks, two water parks, two entertainment and shopping districts, golf courses, 17 themed hotels, and over 200 places to eat, is the physical size of San Francisco.

Bernie says that “typical questions are ‘I’m overwhelmed, where do I start planning my family vacation?’ or ‘How do I make a celebration vacation extra special?’” The most interesting question he has heard was from someone who wanted to know if they could bring their hermit crab to the resort. Bernie diplomatically notes that “they were discouraged from bringing their hermit crab.”

Panelists are not paid. However, panelists who serve for a full year receive one free trip for their family including travel, hotel, and food. Those who serve only a quarter of the year, including Bernie, receive free park tickets for the family for one visit. According to Bernie, “I applied to the panel because I love Disney and I love helping people plan Disney vacations.” Most continue on the panel the next year although the few who do not often become travel agents specializing in Disney vacations.

Bernie explains what attracts him to the Disney magic as follows: “It’s the people. What makes Disney World special are the people who work there who are called Cast Members. Walt Disney said that the employees were on stage and as such should interact with the guests. Also, the service. Even my kids recognize that the quality of service and cordial atmosphere are just really high.”

By way of further explanation, Bernie notes that there are two kinds of Walt Disney characters. The first kind is “fur characters” such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse and the Big Bad Wolf. These characters are in costume and do not talk. Bernie says that his favorite fur character is “Mickey Mouse because I love his good natured attitude and friendliness. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. I’m still a kid at heart I guess.”

The second type is “face characters” like the Disney Princesses and Peter Pan. These characters look human and are encouraged to speak to and interact with the guests. Bernie explains that his favorite face character is The Mad Hatter because “he’s pretty crazy. I like his antics. He’s entertaining.”

Even Bernie’s kids get in on the act. Bernie chuckles that “my kids think I’m in love with Minnie Mouse. But my wife is not jealous. My five year old, when he sees Mickey Mouse, will tell him I’m in love with Minnie Mouse.” Although Bernie takes his family on a Disney vacation once or twice a year, he does not collect Disney paraphernalia. He has a lot of Disney shirts and his kids have many Disney toys, but the only Disney object in their home is a two foot statue of Mickey Mouse dressed as The Sorcerer’s apprentice.

However, come October, Bernie and his family are taking their next family trip—to Walt Disney World, of course.
 
 
Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.