Except Phelps isn’t bringing his kids for a fun day at the park. The 43-year-old is hopping over to the Disney theme park for a few hours after work.
An interactive game that began in 2012 is what brings Phelps to the park so often. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, which is free with your park ticket, allows players to battle the likes of Cruella, Jafar, Ursula and Scar with special, collectible spell cards.
(L to R) Eliza Beauchemin, 4, Evelyn Beauchemin, 13, Gareth Bell, 11, and Finley Bell, 7, cast a spell while playing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. VISIT FLORIDA/Scott Audette
Briefly, here’s how the game works:
• Park guests pick up a free pack of spell cards, a key card and a map at either the Firehouse on Main Street or behind the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square.
• Guests begin by watching a short movie, in which Merlin asks the sorcerer recruit to help defeat villains that threaten the park. The map leads players to secret, hidden portals strategically placed throughout the park, and the goal is to use the spell cards to overcome the villains, who have been enlisted by Hades to cause mischief in the Magic Kingdom.
Each time he visits, Phelps brings a brown binder holding a highly coveted complete pack of Sorcerers cards.
Although the game started out appealing to young families, it has grown to include players of all genders and ages.
What Sorcerers offers is something extra for repeat guests and those who have aged out of Magic Kingdom.
“My friend and I come a lot,” said Becky Brooks, 35, of Eustis. “It’s something to do. I’m trying to collect all the cards.”
The cards – 70 in all – are a big draw, which is exactly what Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Director Jonathan Ackley said he was hoping would happen.
“We knew that if we created really beautiful cards, guests would have a great reaction to those cards,” Ackley said.
Guests cast a spell in Liberty Square while playing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. VISIT FLORIDA/Scott Audette
The card mania has yielded meet-ups, blogs, Facebook pages and apps that tell who is in the park with what cards at any given moment. On one particular night at the Tortuga Tavern near the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, an older gentleman had filled a tabletop with his duplicate cards, awaiting passersby who might want to trade cards on their way to the fireplace portal.
The cards prompted Florida Institute of Technology juniors Michael Lindnemayer and Casey Santilli to create the iSorcerers app (99 cents), which has been downloaded by about 400 people so far. The app allows players to keep track of what cards they already have and which ones they need to acquire.
“We would see people with big, old lists of cards, so we thought it would be a good idea to make an app to keep track of the cards,” Santilli said.
For Phelps, the card collecting – he has three binders with full collections, one for his niece, one for his nephew and one for himself – is only part of the fun.
“The stories are funny. They make me laugh. I like the different spells they came up with,” he said.
Three levels (easy, medium, hard) keep active players intrigued.
“For guests who come often to the park, the game just gets more and more interesting,” Imagineer Ackley said, noting the rules changed for the harder levels in late 2013.
“What’s cool about Sorcerers is we’re able to update it and make the game better. There’s nothing like it in the entire world.”
What also keeps the game interesting is the combinations of spells players can cast.
“You can play it as a family. It’s not just one person standing at a portal,” Ackley said.
Guests cast a spell while playing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. VISIT FLORIDA/Scott Audette
One mission usually involves a visit to four portals, which takes about 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the line.
“Guests can play as little or as much as they like,” Ackley said. “They always run the risk that they love it so much that they spend a good portion of the day going around trying to save the park.”
Find out more about Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom here.