Dewayne Bevil on Attractions
Theme Park Ranger
8:09 AM EDT, August 23, 2012
Epcot could not have been feeling the love in early 2007. It was approaching a milestone — its 25th birthday — but a Disney World official was on the record saying that there would be no public celebration Oct. 1, the anniversary of its grand opening.
Disney fans were accustomed to big Disney birthday blowouts, which celebrated 18 months at a time or turned Magic Kingdom's Cinderella Castle into a big, pink pastry.
"That was something that caught a lot of people by surprise. We had been used to our castle cake," says Adam Roth, then a student at Orlando's Dr. Phillips High School.
On a Disney-fan website he saw a posting by Jenn Waitt that read, "Disney's not doing something. We should." Roth signed right up. And just to make sure that an unofficial celebration would be officially OK, he contacted Jim MacPhee, who was vice president of Epcot.
"I called the [Disney World] operator, and I said, 'Can you connect me with Jim MacPhee's office?'" Roth says. "Who knew that the operator would patch me through like there was no problem?"
He didn't mention that he was 16 years old.
That got the Epcot birthday ball rolling, eventually leading to media coverage of a teenager organizing a theme-park birthday bash called Celebration 25 with more than 1,200 registered participants.
"I was in the right place at the right time," says Roth, now 21.
It also led to WDW Celebrations, a not-for-profit group — unaffiliated with Walt Disney Co. — that still creates theme-park gatherings for what Roth calls "like-minded Disney fans." Next up is Celebration 30, four days of events tied to Epcot's 30th birthday.
In the end, there was a public celebration in 2007, including a daytime ceremony, expanded fireworks, a gallery presenting the history of Epcot plus sessions with legendary Imagineer Marty Sklar.
"A lot of people think we goaded them into it, which was never the intention," Roth says. "All we have ever wanted to do, and we still take this stance to this date, is that we are there to celebrate all that Disney World has accomplished."
Celebration 30 is the eighth event from WDW Celebrations, which is run by "core team members" including co-founder Jason Diffendal, Jackie Steele, Tom Corless, Marcus D'Amelio, Matt Pezzula, Jose Castillo, Jennifer Leveillee and Roth. They handle crowd logistics, logos, social media, high-tech scavenger hunts and more, Roth says. Two dollars from each ticket goes to charity.
Roth has entered his senior year at UCF's Rosen College of Hospitality Management with a focus on theme-park management.
"I obviously have my hopes and my dreams of where I'd like to be, but I'm open to where life takes me to the point where I know what my end dream is. The steps I need to take to get there are what I'm willing to be flexible on," he says.
Disney's official celebrations have continued to be low-key, including last year's 40th birthday for Magic Kingdom. D23, the company-run fan club for all things Disney, has had anniversary events since forming in 2009. Its celebratory Epcot event on Sept. 29 is sold out.
Disney has marked birthdays for Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios, Roth says.
"They've done something for the fans, for free, that day, and it's been great. As long as there's some sort of commemoration, we're happy to be there," he says "If there isn't, we're still happy to be there."
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5477
What: Four-day gathering with events tied to the 30th birthday of Epcot
Where: Epcot and Magic Kingdom, off Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando
When: Sept. 28-Oct. 1
Cost: $8 ($3 for ages 3-15)