Thursday, December 02, 2010

Vacation (The End, Thank God): Ruminations on Mouseification And Scattered Pieces Of Paper

As much as I am made philosophically uneasy at times by DisneyWorld, I will never deny the genius of Walt Disney. Orlando is thickly treed, with heavy vegetation cover. It's not a jungle, but it's nasty, sweaty, and hot for much of the year. It's as if Cabeza De Vaca, while marching through the Florida swamp, decided to build a theme park.

There were a few things I didn't know about DisneyWorld that you should absolutely know before you go there. First and most importantly, the separate theme parks really are separate. You can't walk from one to another because they're separated by a 10-15 minute drive. Unless you want to rent a car, the first thing to do is figure out the Disney bus network, which is extensive and very well-organized (and free). Oh, and if you want to go anywhere outside Disney, you probably do want to rent a car.

Second, the Animal Kingdom resort is a tremendously nice place to stay (and quite lovely, really), and it's worth it to pay a little extra so that you can see giraffes from your patio. 

Third, and I know this sounds cynical, but the focus of DisneyWorld is not rides and entertainment--it's gift shops and restaurants. Think of it as an already-expensive game where's just an unbelievable shit-ton of DLC, much of which is so tightly wound into the game that it's hard not to buy it.

Fourth, you need help planning. Based on a recommendation from a nice person at work, we paid $22 to use the Tour Guide Mike website, which plans a custom itenerary based on your schedule. Everything they said was golden in terms of helping us avoid crowds and lines, so I highly recommend them.

Yeah--we had a fairly optimized experience and I still didn't really have that good of a time. Go figure.

I think most of my disappointment was created by my own expectations. Going to DisneyWorld is expensive, and reputation alone made me expect to be wowed. Really, though, I had about one "wow" moment a day, and as much of a grind as the trip was, that wasn't enough. And make no mistake, this trip is a grind for most grown-ups. It's work. It's not relaxing.

Remember how we went to San Diego two years in a row for vacation? We stayed at a "family resort," went to the beach, went to Lego Land, and generally just hung out for four days. It was great, so great that we went two years in a row, and wanted to go again this year (well, some of us, anyway).

On our last day at DisneyWorld, Eli turned to me and said, "Dad, I've had a really good time, but you know what? I like San Diego more."

"So do I, little man," I said. "So do I."

What that helped me understand is that there are different kinds of people, and they enjoy different kinds of vacations. For us, the relaxation is what makes it fun.

Now, under the "scattered pieces of paper" category, some notes that just turned up from the first day (basically, before we arrived at the hotel).

A sign I saw on the way to the airport: "Longhorn Fried Rice and Shaved Ice."

Gloria was trying to say something positive about her ancient cellphone, and I said, "Don't try to show off that phone. It's like showing off a 1985 Lincoln Town Car."

There was a positively enormous woman on our flight sitting on the aisle seat across from us, so enormous that she could only work on her laptop while it was opened in a "V" shape (there wasn't enough room to use it in the "L" shape). During the flight, the fellow sitting by the window in her row needed to get out to use the restroom.

She didn't move, and the reason this was funny is that it forced the guy to go all Bruce Willis in Die Hard to get around her, climbing and leaning and damn near mountain climbing. It was action hero deluxe.

It was a bit of a process to get from our exiting gate to the proper place to board the Disney bus:
To a line. To another line. To a counter. To a bus. Herded. Herded. This must be what the buffalo felt like.

As soon as we got on the bus from the airport to Animal Kingdom Resort, Disney videos start playing, with little children singing. I wrote this in my notebook: the indoctrination begins.

On the bus, as we started to reach the outskirts of the resorts, we passed a hotel with a gigantic pink swan on the roof. "I stayed there during a business trip," Gloria said. "It's tasteful for a peach-colored swan hotel."

"Little known fact," I said. "The toilets in that hotel are shaped like swans, and you have to pull their necks down to flush."

"Where do you sit?" Eli asked.

"That's none of my business," I said. He laughed.

When we reached the hotel, we were looking at a map of the entire scope of DisneyWorld. "What is the scale of this map?" Gloria asked.

"This is an imaginary world. There is no scale," I said.

We were all amped up about seeing giraffes and zebras outside our hotel window, but we didn't arrive the first night until it was already dark. Eli would walk out on the patio every fifteen minutes or so, though, hoping to get lucky.

When we went back in, I stepped out to take a look.

"Hey! I said. "Come over here, you guys!" They both rushed over. I pointed to a maintenanace truck, lights on, that was slowly driving across the hotel savannah. "Look! It's a lighted maintenance truck!"

They laughed.

"Man, we're lucky to see one," I said. "They're nocturnal. Watch out if that red tail is lit--that means they're angry."

The next morning, Gloria called room service to ask for something, and she was so soft-spoken that I could barely hear her. When she hung up the phone, Eli said "Come on, Mom! Confidence! Passion! Determination!"

Those words are the perfect description of how to survive a trip to DisneyWorld.

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