“It's a world of laughter, a world of tears
It's a world of hopes and a world of fears
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all”
A Delaware man and 19 of his friends, ranging in age from 12 to their 60s, embraced the challenge of riding the “it's a small world” attraction 23 times in 13 hours and lived to tell about it. And the cruise on August 17th was all for a good cause.
Organizer John Rigney has run marathons and half-marathons in support of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Delaware. The Wilmington resident who serves as a trustee for the Delaware chapter of LLS says he came up with the idea a few years ago while on a family vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. Rigney, his wife and son got stranded on the boat ride for over an hour late at night. “When I told people about us getting stuck,” Rigney laughs, “the reaction was sort of visceral. We heard things from 'this is my worst nightmare' to 'I don't know how you stayed on that ride for an hour' to 'I would go crazy.'”
That is when Rigney had that light bulb moment and thought maybe this can be done as a fundraiser to benefit LLS. He adds that “this sounded like something that could be fun and at the same time tough, and hopefully raise money.”
When he embarked on this endeavor he thought he would get a handful of people to join him in the challenge. “I assumed it would be myself and two other people. Two people signed up pretty quick when I announced it on Facebook that I was going to do it,” however Rigney says he did not anticipate the outcome with participants and total money raised.
As word of the challenge spread via social media, some of Rigney's runner friends signed on and then friends of friends, and family members took the plunge with the goal of participating in something for a good cause. He even had one lady sign up as he and his teammates arrived at Orlando International Airport. Rigney recounts, “she met one of our participants in the airport, the day before the event and said 'hey I want to do that.'”
Fashionably attired in captain hats and purple shirts touting the phrase “cruising for a cure,” the event day started at the food court at the participants' resort hotel. After boarding a bus to the Magic Kingdom and arriving as the park was opening, the group posed for photos before heading up Main Street to Fantasyland. There the fundraisers began their journey on “the happiest cruise that ever sailed.”
That is where the real challenge began. “We had to follow park rules,” Rigney outlines, “we did not get any special accommodations from Disney, nor were we expecting any. We were regular park guests who decided to ride Small World all day.” That meant “we would get on the ride and get off,” Rigney says “and get right back in line again.”
While the park did not afford any special privileges to the troop, Cast Members stepped up to make the day more pleasant and manageable. Some Small World castmates escorted some of the challenge riders across the walkway to Peter Pan's Flight and into the FastPass line so they could catch a ride there to break up the monotony of the day.
“We didn't think it would be as long as it was through the day,” Rigney concedes. “We had waits up to 50 minutes at times.” Rigney says they monitored ride times for the attraction on Saturdays about a month leading up to the challenge and they did not see wait times as long as they had experienced on the day of their event. When he started to plan the journey Rigney says, “We were assuming we could get anywhere between 30 to 40 rides completed.”
In the end, the group rode Small World 23 times in 13 hours and raised more than $35,000. They clocked their actual total wait time for the ride at eight-and-a-half hours. “We had a blast,” Rigney adds that “we weren't even three-quarters of the way through the day and the concept of next year popped up independently from a few different participants.” He hinted that “more than likely you will see something next year.”
When he first started fundraising for LLS years ago he had no personal connection to leukemia until he found out that a friend died from the disease.
Proving that it is a small world after all, Rigney said he met a five-year-old leukemia patient named Korbyn, who happened to notice the group's shirts while they were waiting to set sail on their boat ride. The youngster's mother struck up a conversation with Rigney and said her son was undergoing treatment for a form of the blood disorder. The mother and son did a cruise with the group, with Rigney saying that lap of the voyage was extra special. Rigney says he is gratified that his group was able to raise money for the Delaware chapter but is equally happy about raising awareness of the blood diseases.
The day after his successful event, Rigney and his son were back in the Magic Kingdom and hopped a ride on, what else, “it's a small world.” A week after the event, Rigney says he has finally been able to tune the endless loop of the song out of his head. For now, he will bask in the success of this trip and navigate the possibilities for next year. For more information on the fundraiser, you can visit Facebook.com/SmallWorldChallenge.