’But it’s a theme park…’ – Justifying a performance trip to the Walt Disney World Resort

Todd Rogers • Travel/Festivals • September 15, 2015

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It doesn’t look like much on paper, and if you have never been there with a student group, explaining that a trip to a theme park is educational can be quite a challenge. We know that the terms “fun” and “educational” are not mutually exclusive, but you may encounter an administrator, parent or school board member who sees your endeavor as a waste of resources. This couldn’t be further from the truth, especially if your plans are taking you to the Walt Disney World® Resort. Here’s what you should know to help you justify a performance trip to The Most Magical Place on Earth:

First, it’s important to remember that every performance trip has educational value. Whether you choose some of the world’s most beloved theme parks in Central Florida, a regional park closer to home, or a trip which doesn’t include theme parks at all, your students will come away with life experiences that can’t be delivered in the classroom. Performing in a new, unfamiliar venue shows your students how to adapt to changes and deliver results. The experience fosters a sense of teamwork and camaraderie within your members.

Taking your students “out of the bubble” of their day-to-day lives expands their horizons beyond what is familiar to them, encourages them to build stronger bonds with peers (and with you, their educator), and exposes them to a performance audience beyond the doting families to which they are accustomed. The responsibility of showing up on time, remembering black socks, and managing one’s own souvenir or meal money is a significant step toward the independence your students will need in their adult life.

While nearly every destination – across the country or around the world – provides these learning experiences, there are certainly destinations which deliver a top-quality educational travel experience consistently. Topping my list: the Walt Disney World® Resort.

If you haven’t been to Disney World before, know that it is more than a typical theme park. In the same way that a finely crafted performance is more than notes and rhythms, Disney parks are immersive experiences that provide much more than rides, shows and turkey legs. Witnessing the attention to detail and the way Disney delivers a “show” for guests is a learning experience in itself. That’s not enough, though – you have to be part of it. And that’s exactly what you’re invited to do with Disney Performing Arts programs throughout the resort.

It’s difficult to find a better place on earth to be welcomed for a performance any day of the year, and be guaranteed an international audience of thousands. That fact alone is enough to justify the trip – but Disney takes it further. From the moment you are accepted to the performance program, you are educated about the requirements for your ensemble and prepared to be a part of the show. This is where Disney takes the experience beyond a typical well-attended performance – they integrate your students with the show that they are delivering their guests. Your students are no longer witnessing the show in the park; they are helping to create it. You’ve just expanded your ensemble to include a cast of over 60,000. That’s teamwork at its finest, and a huge life lesson for your students.

The staff at Disney Performing Arts has perfected their process to ensure that your performance is given the respect it deserves: the background music fades as your marching unit passes, the professional sound techs ensure that your concert ensemble is appropriately amplified and balanced (often so well that your audio tech at home will wonder, “how did they do that?”), and your performance specialist – working closely with your travel planner – gets you where you need to be, when you need to be there, with the items you need to perform at your best.

Outside of performances, the workshops and educational programs Disney provides are top-notch and standards-based. Remembering that “fun” and “educational” are not mutually exclusive, Disney has successfully integrated their strength for storytelling with core standards, while keeping it all relatable to your students. I always get a kick out of watching students complain as they leave the park to go to their workshop. “Do we have to go? I want to stay in the park. ” I hear it every time, and every time I am greeted afterward with, “that was SO awesome!” The Disney professionals leading the workshops – many with advanced music degrees of their own – guide the students through creating, rehearsing, and analyzing their own performance, helping them “connect the dots” between their current abilities and their potential. The experience reinforces what you do in the classroom each and every day, in a meaningful way.

 “Music has always had a prominent part in all our products, from the early cartoon days. So much so, in fact, that I cannot think of the pictorial story without thinking about the complementary music which will fulfill it.” – Walt Disney

Two points are often forgotten when explaining the educational value of a performance trip to Disney World: music is everywhere in the parks (it’s literally coming out of the shrubbery), and the performance quality is much higher that what you find in a typical theme park environment. When our team is leading groups at Disney World, it is fun to share these unique opportunities with your students. Take in a swinging street band, ragtime pianist, barbershop quartet, Mexican mariachi, American a cappella, African rhythms, Japanese taiko, British rock, or jamming percussion ensemble – all performed live by professional musicians daily.

A music group favorite is Finding Nemo: the Musical at Animal Kingdom® Theme Park – a 40 minute mini-musical featuring live singer/actors performing 14 original songs by Tony award winners Robert & Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Avenue Q, Frozen) to an orchestral track. Taking this concept a step further, you can incorporate listening and analysis projects into your “free time” at the parks.

Students can pick out quotes from jazz standards like Caravan in Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom® Theme Park, catch many of the orchestral pieces featured in Fantasia at Mickey’s Philharmagic in Magic Kingdom® Park, or analyze time changes in the score for the nighttime spectacular, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth at Epcot®. Quite a few of the themes you will hear at Disney parks are also arranged and published for student ensembles, allowing you to prepare your students at home for what they will experience on their trip.

Finally, if you are still fighting the justification battle, start asking around for stories from other directors or musicians who have performed at Disney parks before. You’ll find a veritable treasure trove of life-changing experiences. I look no further than to my own story – as a middle school student with my dad as he accompanied one of our high school bands in 1986. As luck would have it, I was invited to step in and march snare with the group on their performance. I was an eighth grader “playing up” with the high schoolers – talk about pressure! I donned a uniform and was welcomed by my elders with open arms. Afterward, the high school drumline even let me teach them a new cadence! Nearly 30 years later, I have logged hundreds of days in the Disney parks, met some amazing educators and helped tens of thousands of students experience that same thrill. Each trip brings new memories, but each time I step onto Main Street, U.S.A., I’m reminded of Todd Rogers the eighth grader, making his “Disney debut”. That feeling is forever with me.

There is immense educational value in a performance trip to Walt Disney World® Resort.

Between the integration of Disney’s “show” with your own, the organization’s attentive approach to your ensemble, the standards-based programs available, and the plethora of musical experiences to be found as a guest in the parks, the resort has developed a 40 square mile classroom for your students. Our team at Bob Rogers Travel is here to help, so if you’d like further tips for your journey, or if we can make your performance travel experience turn-key and meaningful, please let me know. Safe travels!

Todd Rogers is Vice President of Sales at Bob Rogers Travel, where he and his sister, Tami, have continued their father’s original vision to make performance travel meaningful and worry-free for music educators. Under their leadership, BRT has grown to become the Top Producer for Disney Performing Arts OnStage Programs at the Walt Disney World® Resort and a Disney Youth Programs PremEar Travel Planner. In 2007, they accepted Disney’s prestigious Partners Award for exemplary leadership and achievement within the student travel industry, providing quality experiences and demonstrating business integrity. Reach Todd at 800-373-1423 ext. 202 or visit bobrogerstravel.com.

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