I just returned (as in this past Saturday morning) from a trip to Disney World with one of our two Girl Scout troops. We had bribed the girls to stay in scouts with the promise of this trip when they were in 8th grade. For the past year or so, we’ve been researching different ways to save money for our group. My co-leader (who also happens to be my mother) came across a great program that Disney provides for youth groups of 10 or more. It’s called the Youth Education Series or Y.E.S. program. Basically Disney offers different types of educational classes for youth groups to participate in…everything from energy and physics to marine science conservation…only with a Disney spin. (Disney also offers individual enrollment options as well as homeschool days at both Disney World and Disneyland. Check out all of the details and different programs here.) Our girls voted on the different program options, and we ended up registering for Discovering the American Spirit. The Y.E.S. website gives the program overview as follows…
Students grades 4-9 will journey into Liberty Square to get better acquainted with our country’s great leaders and understand the impact of their influence. Then explore Frontierland to learn about sharing our cultural values and traditions from one generation to the next. In this 3 hour academic adventure students will also act as American pioneers to study the Gold Rush and the challenges of settling the western frontier.
As part of the program, Disney offers discounted park tickets for all participants and (at the time of our trip) offered two free chaperone tickets. That’s right! Our tickets were free! It didn’t really affect our trip budget since we didn’t pay for our leader costs out of the troop funds, but the fact that the girls’ tickets were deeply discounted helped immensely to the tune of about $110 per girl. The tickets we chose were four-day base tickets (one park per day) and included the Y.E.S. program class. Groups can also choose to participate in more than one class and simply pay an additional charge. (At this time, additional classes add about $26 to the cost of each ticket. STILL a big discount!)
About our program…(lots of spoilers included here so if you don’t want your kids to know what’s coming, cover their little eyes)…
As I said, our girls voted to attend the Discovering the American Spirit program. We met our guide at the Ticket and Transportation Center at 7:15 AM on the morning of our class. We were required to use our own transportation since Disney transportation does not run that early. One of our girls ended up getting sick the night before and was unable to join us for the program. I was worried that since there was a 10-person minimum, and we had exactly 10 girls, we might have a problem with being able to complete the program. But as is true Disney fashion, the magic remained and we were able to keep our program plans. We were each given nametags and a few instructions such as we needed to speak up and were given permission to actually be loud. We were also informed (much to my dismay) that we weren’t allowed to take pictures until after the park opened at 9:00 AM since there would still be people working inside the park. We all boarded the monorail and headed over to the Magic Kingdom where our class was held. (Different programs are held at different times and locations.) We had our bags checked and walked past the few people that were there that early waiting in line. WHAT A FEELING! When we rounded the corner under the train station and saw that empty Main Street, I think I got a little teary-eyed. (MAN, do I wish I had an empty Main Street picture to post right about now.) It was pretty cool to see cast members putting the final touches on everything in preparation for the park opening. As we walked up Main Street to Frontierland, our guide Mr. Rick started talking about the general history of America and what we would be focusing on that morning.
After veering left at Cinderella’s castle, we stopped at the entrance to Frontierland. Mr. Rick pointed out the boxes marked “Tea” (which I don’t think I had ever noticed) and briefly discussed the Boston Tea Party with the girls. We then headed in toward The Hall of Presidents. We were informed that Disney obtained special permission to display the official seal of the United States within the hall. It can be found in the carpet surrounded by a gold railing to keep people from walking over it.
(Photo courtesy of Thomas Mottola of The Disney Point)
Once inside we were led through a very narrow door that led down a hallway and up ONTO THE STAGE where the animatronic presidents were! We were asked not the touch them, but we were inches from them as we passed by. The detail is amazing! (There’s a large vein on Barack Obama’s right temple.) After exiting the hall, the girls were each given cards with different presidents’ pictures on them with details about their contributions to American history. They read the cards aloud to the group, and Mr. Rick elaborated on that period in history.
Then he shifted gears and started talking about the gold rush and westward expansion. He divided the girls up into groups and gave them cards with pictures of items on them such as a tent, candles, coffee grinder, etc. that represented things they had in their possession. He also gave each group a list of things they needed (which they may or may not currently have). The girls were given five minutes to “barter” with the other groups for what they had on their list. None of the groups ended up having all of their necessities but they were working hard at it and really seemed to enjoy that activity!
Mr. Rick then talked about the history of generational storytelling and led us over to Splash Mountain. I mean Br’er Rabbit is storytelling at its finest. The girls were first in line for the ride at 9:00 when the park opened and were so excited to ride. We were given a complimentary copy of the picture that’s taken during the ride. Once the park opened, we were allowed to take our own pictures as well.
Don’t you love those shirts?!?
Once we headed away from Splash Mountain, Mr. Rick mentioned railroad expansion, and the girls went crazy. They were led into the line for Big Thunder Mountain and walked right on since the park had only been open for about 15 minutes. Once they came off the ride, he talked a little bit more about the westward expansion, and then we headed back over to The Hall of Presidents to watch the show.
After we exited the theater, Mr. Rick took us out to the Liberty Bell in Liberty Square. He pulled a large leather strap from his backpack and attached it to the bell. We were each allowed to ring the bell once along with Mr. Rick for a total of 13 times, once for each colony.
Then the girls all signed the bottom of a copy of the Constitution which we were given as a souvenir.
Overall, the program was a great success. Not only did it allow us to meet our budget for this trip, but it was a chance to experience a different side of Disney than I’d ever seen. Given the chance to do this again, I wouldn’t do anything differently. The program was great, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is taking a youth group to Disney!