Monday, August 29, 2011

Sweaty Buses and Fairy Dust

I just spent a week in Walt Disney World. I'm an admirer of classic Disney movies and even of the new Pixar movies. What I am not a fan of is the Florida sun, waiting in lines and putting in twelve-hour days of running from place to place, in that sun, when I am on my vacation. With this in mind, I left for Florida, last week, less than excited. I was doing it for my kids.

Warning: Don't expect a major turn-around. Don't expect me to end this with: "but then, I discovered, in the magic of Disney, my inner child." Still, there is something to be said about the place. (If I heard the world "magical" one more time, however, I was going to find the nearest Mickey, tear an ear off of his head and feed it to Captin Hook's crocodile.)

How did my kids react? Well, they complained a lot; they laughed a lot; they complained some more; they jumped with joy; one of them wailed in fear; they complained some more and then they raved about how great a time they had.

How did I react? First, I bought a big Aussie hat for the sun. Then, I walked mile upon mile without complaining. I rode rides with glee. (I love rides, especially roller coasters -- as you might know from an earlier post -- and I love "Pirates of the Caribbean," which I would ride for three hours straight if they would let me.) I spent 98% of my mental energy keeping sight of my kids in the crowds. And, most of all, I spent lot of money.

What I get is that Disney is still about creating a nostalgic, fantastic getaway. They do it better than anyone. The workers are friendly; the place is wonderfully clean. (When we took a trip out of Disney to Universal Studios, it took me about ten minutes to exclaim "We're not in Disney anymore, Toto." In fact, walking into a bathroom in Universal, I was struck with the smell of urine -- I had almost forgotten, after a few days in Disney, that public bathrooms can smell that way.) It is almost culture shock, stepping in and out of the resort. In Disney, you get actual customer service with a smile. You get atmosphere and beauty and you get technological and, often, artistic excellence.

What I don't get is why ninety-percent of the shows and rides are spooky (I suppose a lot of the darkness is about making things look more realistic) or downright horrifying. My younger son wailed with fear during "It's Tough To Be a Bug" -- a 3D show in which an evil animatronic roach threatens to kill everyone in the room for revenge over eons of bug genocide, at which point the room falls into total darkness and spiders drop from the ceiling . . . we left by a side door.)

But, you know, I did come to tears watching that same son's excitement over the live Indiana Jones stunt show (Indy is his absolute favorite). And, my nine-year-old did spend a lot of time voluntarily holding my hand, which he never does. (No -- Disney didn't heal a dysfunctional relationship -- he and I are very close. He just never holds my hand, so you have to give the place some credit . . .)

In all, I'm glad to be home and I am glad my boys saw what is a real part of American popular culture. Is Disney magical? Sometimes, it is -- but like a piece of music with long stretches between the sections that make your heart pound.

There's "magic" there, but it's not crackling with the stuff. Not even for kids -- not always. I mean, for every Tinkerbelle fairy-sprinkle, there is a sardine-can bus ride with a load of sweaty, exhausted families. I do have a feeling that we will all remember the "magical" stuff longer than we'll remember the little girl who wailed "I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded; I'm crowded" . . . all thirty minutes of the bus ride home at eleven p.m., after a day in nintey-five degree heat.


  1. My husband absolutely REFUSES to bring Louis to Disney World for many of the reasons you describe above - the money, the crowds, the money, the long lines, the money, the heat and humidity, the money. Oh, did I mention the money?

    I'm somewhat mixed about this. While I absolutely cannot tolerate crowds and do feel the cost of a Disney trip is a bit high, many of my fondest memories from childhood are the trips to Disney that our grandparents took us on. Looking back though, while I do remember having a great time at the parks, what I remember most fondly is the giant blue Pontiac land boat, stopping at every single battlefield between NJ and FL (Grandpa was a big history buff), swimming in the hotel swimming pools, and Nanny making us hot chocolate (with marshmallows!) before bed. The "magic" isn't so much the destination, but the experience.

  2. Hi, Kristen. I guess it follows the old cardboard box theory: kids throw the toy away and have more fun with the box. My kids' favorite part of the trip? Staying in a hotel. They love hotels.

  3. Chris, As a Disney enthusiast, I have to say, Yeah for you! However, going in August is a bit much. We went there a few years ago in August and my husband said never again! I agree too hot and too crowded. We usually go in November for Teacher's Convention since it is a time of year that kids can miss school without missing too much school. It's a beautiful time of year down there and it is not as crowded on the bus rides to and from the parks. I am glad you had a great time, though it was hot and sweaty.

  4. Tracy -- it was hot, but not really too horribly crowded in the end. November would definitely be my choice, but my duties at school sort of force me into summer . . . alas.

  5. Chris, two particular points that you touched on that keeps bringing me back to Disney is their customer service and cleanliness. I don't know how they manage to do it, but every single employee is pleasant. You never see a trash can overflowing, the concession stands and souviner shops are always stocked, while at the same time you never see anyone emptying, refilling or re-stocking anything. Disney gets it right each every time. I have never been there in August, but I have made a few trips to the parks in mid-late November, the weather and crowds are just perfect! With my kids getting a little older, and their old man looking for more of a "relaxing" vacation, I can recommend one of Disney's other resorts. Disney owns two properties located in Hilton Head, SC and one in Vero Beach, FL. Now you are not going to get the rides, shows and overall "magical" experience, but you will get the Disney experience. They do offer some character interaction, but its limited. However, one thing that is not missing is all the things that make Disney magical for us adults. I highly recommend the Vero Beach resort especially if you are looking to head down there during "Jersey Week", otherwise known as Teacher's convention.

  6. Thanks, Jeff -- as a big fan of the relaxing vacation, I will certainly keep your experienced advice in mind!