Friday, November 16, 2012

Disney Whirled: Hightlights of a Nine-Day Adventure into Magicalness, PART 7: "Why So Sad?"

The Disney Whirled series isn't quite over, but after today's post, I am going to hold off on the final post or two.  The final post of this series will be called something like, "Lasting Impressions," and I want to give our clan another month or two to make sure that the impressions I deem "lasting" are, indeed, lasting.  I may slip in one more "on site" post as well, if I am inspired to do so.

This is a fine time to summarize where we've been.  Here is a summary, in convenient link-form.  I'll give you a second to catch up.
PART 1: "Preparations"
PART 2: "First Impressions"
PART 3: "Pretend People, Real Autographs"
PART 4: "Mac and Cheese and Legos"
PART 5: "Rides and Attractions, Volume 1"
PART 6: "Rides and Attractions, Volume 2"

So, we've covered the future and the past.  Here in the present, today I will be writing about those not-quite-Norman-Rockwell moments experienced by the family of the Hungry Preacher during their time in Disney World.  After all, even in the world of magic, the girl sometimes accidentally gets sawed in half, right?

Without further ado, he is photographic evidence of a few times during our trip that the magic wore off.


The Monkeys were mostly just tired at this point.  While Monkey 1 is not quite as unimpressed as McKayla Maroney, there is definitely a vibe of "Oh, a giant Lego version of the Loch Ness Monster that is actually partially submerged in water?  Meh."


I don't remember exactly what the problem was at this point, but judging from the expression of Monkey 2, we can conclude that she was just told that Disney World would be permanently closing, effective immediately, and that all positive memories of the Disney World experience would be wiped from her memory, a la "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."  Oh, and that movie title was actually a typo: It was supposed to be "No Dogs Go to Heaven."


Not to be outdone, Monkey 1 here was just told that she would not get to play with her new Lego set until we set the world record for most consecutive times riding the "It's a Small World" ride.

The thing I'm NOT sure how to interpret in this picture is my own expression.  At first, I thought maybe I was just oblivious to how miserable my children were.  Then I thought, "No, I know how fried they are, and that half-smile is one of determination NOT to let family morale be dragged down by the grumpiness of an 8-year-old and a 6-year-old."  Then I looked even closer--at my eyes--and am now thinking that I myself was about to snap.


Monkey 2 had found this little branch on the ground and decided that she wanted to keep it as a souvenir.  At first we were like, "That's fine.  No harm in that."  After about ten minutes, we realized that letting her carry around the twig was going to inconvenience everyone in various ways.  So we told her the leaves had to go, but we could take a picture of her holding them in front of the Disney Princess castle so that we could always remember them.  The half-smile means she's only half-happy with this plan (or half-unhappy with it, depending on your outlook on life).


From the "you should have seen her a few minutes before" file, here we have Monkey 1 pleasantly sitting, waiting for the Light Parade to start.  Notice how there is no one else around her?  It's because she was banished.  After lot of whining and antagonizing of her sister, we finally told her to go over and sit on that little wall until she's ready to be with other people again.


This is the only picture of the bunch where the person being asked "Why so sad?" is not in our family.  Random out-of-context expression, or seething disdain for happy little girls?  We'll never know.


I snapped these gems just as we were arriving to Hollywood Studios, which means we had experienced all the stress of getting up and getting ready and getting to our destination for the day, but none of the payoff of actually doing anything fun.  Beth wanted a picture with the girls in front of the Micky Mouse hedge.  Hey, you've got the girls, you've got the Micky hedge--mission accomplished, right?


The classic "Now hug your sister" pose.


The existence of this picture explains its inclusion in this post.  See, Beth asked Monkey 2 if she could hold the camera for a second.  Monkey 2 promptly dropped the camera on the ground.  So the next few seconds were pretty tense, until this test picture turned out just fine.  Big, magical sighs all around.

All things considered, the magical moments far outweighed the "Why so sad?" moments.  But they were all memorable, and I can't think of any that I regret.

Like I said earlier, I'll add a closing post or two for this series in a few weeks.  In the meantime, I've got a bunch of posts in blogatory, as well as plenty of "from scratch" ideas to tide us all over through the holidays.  Thanks for reading, and enjoy your weekend.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Disney Whirled: Highlights of a Nine-Day Adventure into Magicalness, PART 6: "Rides and Attractions, Volume 2"

In case you missed Volume 1, you can read it here.

Space Mountain:
It’s a completely enclosed roller coaster.  Pretty fast, lots of turns, almost completely dark throughout the ride.  The problem was that the cars sat one person per row.  This meant that Monkey 2, who has a history of being utterly terrified on roller coasters, had no one to sit next to her.  I ended up sitting behind her and spent most of the ride stretching my arm forward as far as I could so she could cling to my wrist for dear life.

Since you asked, Monkey 2’s roller coaster trauma stems from riding the Screaming Eagle at Six Flags near St. Louis.  Frankly, I was pretty shocked that the minimum height for that ride was only 42 inches.  Monkey 2 measured 43 inches.  Within about 4 seconds of being on the ride, she was crying and screaming “No, no, no!” and was clutching the lap bar with both arms (which meant she was almost sideways in her seat, causing her trembling little feet to stick out of the car).  Meanwhile, I communicated as calmly yet urgently as I could that she was doing great, and that it was almost over, and so on and so forth.  I didn’t tell her this at the time, but I was also thinking, “You know, it really does look like you’re going to fly right out of this thing.”

Space Mountain wasn’t quite this traumatic, but Monkey 2 decided once was enough.  Monkey 1—who loved the Screaming Eagle—was initially only lukewarm to Space Mountain.  She gave it another try, though, and ended up liking it enough to ride several times over the two days we spent at Magic Kingdom.

$14.95 or "free" if you don't mind having "$14.95" superimposed over your picture.

Anticipation builds

Astro Orbiter / Dumbo the Flying Elephant / Magic Carpets of Aladdin:
I’m not saying that coming up with new and different ideas for amusement park rides is easy.  It’s probably pretty hard, especially when you have guidelines like “people can’t die on this ride, not even every now and then.”  That eliminates a bunch of my ideas right away.  So if you’ve got a ride that is unique, thrilling, efficient, safe, and has a small footprint, you may as well make a thousand of them.  If you have a ride with maybe half of those characteristics, then you make three of them.

Which brings us to the "bike wheel on its side" design.  But instead of a tire at the end of the spokes, there are cars that you sit in.  As the wheel is spinning, the spokes (and attached cars) can go up and down.

The Astro Orbiter was obviously the first of the three.  It has that rustic “this might fall over” feel to it.  It is on the roof of building, and it is accessible by—get this—an elevator.  It’s kind of adorable.

If the subject is slightly off-center, it is artistic.  If the subject is literally as off-center as they can possibly be without ceasing to be the subject, does that make the photo infinitely artistic?

I suspect the Dumbo-ized version of this ride was the next to open.  What sets this ride apart from the others is that while you are waiting in line, you can play in a large, Dumbo-themed playground to pass the time.  When you get to a certain point in line, you are released into the playground.  After a certain amount of time passes, you are summoned to return to the second half of the line.  The girls loved this.  In fact, Monkey 2 later said she wanted to go on the Dumbo ride again.  When pressed, she admitted that she really just wanted to play on the playground.  Pretty clever, Disney, turning “waiting” into the fun part.

The side-by-side seating lent itself to close-up photography

The original script of "Dumbo" didn't have a magic feather at all.  Instead, Dumbo "flew" by skewering himself through the side with a giant steel beam that was attached to the ground.  It was a much darker movie.

Carpets of Aladdin is smaller than the other two.  That's its unique contribution to the "wheel and spoke" family of rides.  I think one of both of the Monkeys rode this while I was not around.

It's a Small World:
Yes, we rode it, but I'm still trying to get the song out of my head, so please don't ask about it.

Main Street Electrical Parade:
Some disclosure: I'm not a big fan of parades.  This might stem from the time that my Cub Scout troop got to march in my hometown's parade.  It was then I realized that people in parades are usually at least as normal as I am.  That strangers would line up on sidewalks to watch me walk seemed pretty arbitrary; I could just as easily stopped walking and started watching them, and it would have made just as much sense.

The times that there is something interesting in a parade (like a fancy car), I can almost always make arrangements to see the interesting parading thing in a setting where there are no crowds, no possibilities of inclement weather, and no feelings like I just didn't get enough time to see what I wanted to see (like at a car dealership, or on the internet).

Finally--and this will be the most controversial part of this post--I feel like many (most?) people also aren't crazy about parades, but convince themselves that parades are great things to go to because, hey, what kind of grumpy old grumple-face doesn't like parades?  If that's you, I want to let you know that it's OK not to like parades.  Be liberated!  Wait, hold on.  I just realized that maybe there IS something wrong with us for not liking parades.  Maybe our feelings are not OK.  I hadn't thought of that.  So my new message is "You're not alone."  Just replace my old message of "it's OK not to like parades" with my new one.  The new message probably won't feel as liberating, but at least you can be sure of its validity.

So we were talking about the Main Street Electrical Parade as Disney World.  It was on Monday.  Monday was our longest "park day," and the MSEP started about an hour after the time the girls probably should have been in bed.  But the kids were VERY happy about lining up on the street to wait for the parade to start.  This picture really captures those feelings.  I'll pause for a few minutes while you count all the children's smiles.

Remember not to count grown up smiles
Oh, you're done already?  It doesn't take very long to count to "1", you say?  Yeah, I guess that makes sense.  Let's just move on to the actual parade-part of the parade.  There was a lot of marching.  I vaguely remember some sort of storyline being presented.  And there were vehicles with lights on them.  Here is a picture of one of those:

It was a lot like the parade that I marched in as a kid, only replace "Cub Scouts" with "vehicles decorated with thousands of Christmas lights and driven by mascots"

The parade was progressing rather uneventfully, when all of the sudden, Monkey 1 caught a serious case of "dance fever."  She just started dancing.

This move loses a little something when captured with a single frame photgraph.

At that moment, this became my all-time favorite parade ever (and I've seen the Rose Parade in person).  Here's the equation to show my work:  OK PARADE + SPONTANEOUS MONKEY DANCING = BEST PARADE EVER.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!:
Despite Disney's choice of punctuation at the end of this attraction title, I give you permission not to shout when you read it (especially if you're at work).

Had I gone to see this show by myself, I would have thought, "It's pretty cool.  It's neat watching how well-choreographed and controlled they can make the all of the chaos seem.  It's certainly more realistic than the last Indiana Jones movie.  Not life-changing, but still a good show.  B-."

But the truly engaging part of the show was watching my daughters take it all in, watching them see it for the first time.  "Was that supposed to happen?" and "How did they do that?" were the most popular questions for those 30 minutes.

Most endearing was the concern expressed by my younger daughter over the fate of the woman who was grabbed and thrown into a van, which then blew up.  You and I know it's all part of the show, but my younger daughter was very concerned until we walked her through exactly when and how they switched vans so that no one was inside the one that blew up.

This deep compassion for others is completely in-character for her, by the way.  Case in point:  The other day, she volunteered: "Daddy, you know what I hate most about the pigs in Angry Birds?  I mean, besides that they want to steal the birds' eggs?  It's that if you kill some of the pigs, but not all of them, the ones that are still alive smile, even though their friends died.  It's like they don't even care about their friends."

Pre-show shenanigans

The Monkeys trying to figure out how things work

Beauty and the Beast--Live on Stage:
The show was entertaining.  To Beth and I, the most amusing moment was when the narrator explained to the audience, "Through a series of circumstances, Belle became a prisoner in the castle of the beast in order to save her father."  Alrighty, then.  I suppose that's one way to transition from Belle singing with the town folk to Belle singing with Mrs. Potts and the castle gang.  Fortunately, most of the crowd wasn't there for the story development.

Better than the show itself, however, was the pre-show entertainment provided by our very own daughters, especially our younger one.  With 20 minutes to kill, and only a bag of Cheetos to kill it with, Monkey 2 invented the game: "What Do You Think This Cheeto Looks Like?"

The answer, of course, is "Cuteness.  This Cheeto looks like cuteness."

That is my summary of selected rides and attractions, and I'm sticking to it.

Next up: PART 7: Why So Sad?


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Disney Whirled: Highlights of a Nine-Day Adventure into Magicalness, PART 5: "Rides and Attractions, Volume 1"

Disney World isn’t renowned for its rides the way that traditional amusement parks are, but the rides are obviously still a major focus.  While we didn’t quite hit every ride in the three parks we spent time in, we hit most of them.  Here is our take on some of these rides and attractions.

Star Tours:
Everyone loads into rows of seats on a rectangular platform.  The lights go out, and the platform moves up and down and tilts in various directions.  The gimmick is that you feel as though you are moving more significantly than you are because the screen in front of you is showing Star Wars-themed, 3D footage “filmed from the captain’s chair.”  It’s a fun illusion.

More memorable than the ride itself were the 3D glasses everyone got to wear.

Monkey 2 working the "cool nerd" look

This picture came at a time when I was really starting to wonder if my "cool genes" actually made it to the next generation at all.  Turns out, they were just waiting for the right pair of shades before they manifested themselves.

Pirates of the Caribbean:
Maybe you’ve seen the movies.  I stopped after the second one, when I realized the filmmakers weren’t even pretending to maintain plot cohesion or believability.  The ride is unbelievable in its own right.  You ride in a boat on a lazy river, passing scenes of animatronic pirates engaging in all sorts of debauchery-themed hilarity.  Like when a pirate is torturing some guy to get information about a treasure, dunking him under water, then pulling him up to ask him more questions.  Oh, and there’s the part where women are tied up, then lined up under a banner that reads “Auction: Take a Wench for a Bride.”  I’m laughing just thinking about it.

In Disney’s defense, PotC first opened when moral outrage over traditional American slavery had mostly dissipated and moral outrage over global human trafficking was still in its infancy.  So, yeah, if you couldn’t make light of the buying and selling of human beings in the 1970’s, when could you?

On the other hand, it’s not like this zany take on raping and pillaging exists simply due to inertia.  It’s obviously undergone recent improvements (so to speak).  Case in point: Mingling with these less-than-completely-realistic animatronic creations of pirates and their victims is an extremely lifelike rendering of Johnny Depp—er, “Captain Jack Sparrow.”  Think “Chuck E Cheese” having a conversation with a real (but human size) mouse.  It’s a little out of place.  But so is this ride at a family amusement park.

The two best things about the ride?
-That neither of our girls asked what a wench was
-That I got to incorporate some themes from the ride into the next sweet nothing I whispered in Beth’s ear: “If you were a wench, I would pay 12 bottles of rum for you—at least.”
Swiss Family Treehouse:
I’m only kind of familiar with the Swiss family, but I gather that a while ago they crashed a boat and ended up on a deserted island.  Then they built a treehouse.  Here in the present, you can walk through an actual replica of their treehouse right in Disney World.

As a tourist walking through the replica, it’s easy to forget the hardship that the Swiss family went through leading up to the building of the treehouse.  But it’s kind of their own fault because, really, it’s a heck of a tree house.  Like, it’s really nice.  If the Hungry Preacher's family ever becomes stranded on a deserted island, I am not sure if we would be able to build such a nice treehouse.  Well done, Swiss family.


Tomorrowland Speedway:
Don’t let the steering wheel and four tires fool you: driving on the Tomorrowland Speedway is actually more like “walking” than “driving.”  That said, the ride does serve as a useful first step for parents to get used to the idea of their children driving actual cars (especially British parents, since the steering wheel is on the right).  As an added bonus, each of my children was just a tad hesitant to grab the wheel, even in this highly controlled setting.  Excellent.

I think Nascar telecasts have a name for this type of camera shot, but I don't care enough about Nascar to look it up

Monkey 2 doing her best "Where's Waldo?" impression

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin / Toy Story Midway Mania:
Two similar rides here.  But are they rides?  Or are they games?  Monkey 1 excitedly (and repeatedly) declared afterwards that they are “Both!”  For each ride, you load into a slow moving car that moves and spins on a track through a tunnel.  It's not that interesting by itself, but the fun part is that each rider has, mounted on the “dashboard” in front of them, a cannon you can fire at physical and virtual targets that are set up throughout the ride.

Buzz Lightyear’s ride seemed to be the first draft of this concept, while the Toy Story ride seemed to be the perfected version of the concept.  The trigger mechanism and the accuracy of the cannon is practically flawless on the Toy Story ride.  At the end of the Toy Story ride, you get a full report of how many targets you hit, and how your score compares to the scores of other people in your car and to the high scores of the day and of all time.

Even more impressive than the ride however, is the post-ride photography.  You know how a lot of rides have it set up so that after the ride is over, you can see a photo of yourself on the ride and, if you really like it, you can just have that photo for free?  What’s that you say?  “I don’t get them for free—I have to pay for them.”  Not any more you don’t.

I came up with the brilliant idea of using our own camera to take a picture of the screen that displays the expensive, official picture.  This idea is tied with “laying my daughter’s old mattress in the back of the minivan” for my best idea ever.  No, I didn’t mean to add “regarding our vacation” to that last sentence.  These are my two best ideas ever.  I’m obviously on a hot streak.

So here are our "free pictures" of "expensive pictures" from the Buzz Lightyear ride.  Bonus points if you can guess which one of the grown ups is participating with the most intensity.

Next up: PART 6: Rides and Attractions, Volume 2


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Disney Whirled: Highlights of a Nine-Day Adventure into Magicalness, PART 4: "Mac and Cheese and Legos"

Looking back, I am sure that our older daughter enjoyed her Disney World experience.  But we knew ahead of time that her enjoyment was going to take a different form than her younger sister’s.  Monkey 1 is a bit of a homebody.  The classic evidence of this is when Beth had run an errand with Monkey 1 in tow, and wanted to stop at Toys ‘r’ Us on the way home.  She asked, “Sweetie, do you want to stop at Toys ‘r’ Us?  There are a couple of things I need to check out for Christmas presents.”Monkey 1’s response?  “No.  I just want to go home.”  Beth tried some arm twisting—you know, to get our then-6-year-old to go to a toy store—but to no avail.

There are plenty of times when she is up for an adventure.  But we’ve learned that scheduling some time to decompress goes a long way towards helping her bounce back.  We knew that during our week in Disney World, these “decompression periods” would be A) harder to schedule, and B) more necessary.

So we proactively scheduled an “off day” for Wednesday.  No parks.  Dinner was the only reason we would need to leave the resort at all.  We also let ourselves plan for leisurely starts to our days.  Whatever magic we would miss out on in the first couple hours that the parks were open, we would replace with morale and sanity gained from our relaxed mornings.

These choices would pay dividends starting on Monday.  But you may recall that we checked into our resort on Sunday.  Thus, Sunday evening was a little bit of a danger zone in terms of how well Monkey 1 might deal with the stress of a new environment.

This is obvious to us now.  At the time, it seemed like a perfectly good idea to schedule our first sit-down, buffet-style meal for Sunday evening, and to schedule it at the restaurant in the Animal Kingdom resort.  This restaurant was African-themed.  It was large, crowded, and wide-open.  Picture a dark-ish cafeteria with a three-story ceiling, African decorations everywhere, and bongo music in the background.  Oh, and the food is “not weird—just different”.

Monkey 1 is hanging in there, but about to crash

Monkey 2 was loving this experience.  On the other side of the table, Monkey 1 started off with an adventurous spirit, but then focused more and more intently on her macaroni and cheese.  While the rest of us were devouring this new experience, Monkey 1 was gobbling up as much cheesy familiarity as her stomach could hold.  It turns out it could hold a lot.

Exactly how much, we’re not sure.  But after Beth and I finished our final trips through the buffet line, we asked the girls if they were ready for dessert.  Monkey 2 lit up.  Monkey 1 looked at us—bedraggled, zoning, and perhaps a little bit fearful—and declined.  This declining-of-dessert is just as strange as it sounds.  Even so, it still didn’t click for me exactly how difficult this evening was shaping up to be for our older daughter.  Fortunately, Beth clued in.  She walked over to her, shared a few words, then announced back to me that she and Monkey 1 would be waiting outside while the rest of us finished up.

So Beth and Monkey 1 got to spend some quality time together.  Later, I found out that Monkey 1 had eaten a lot.  Beth reported that her belly was rock-hard and protruding unnaturally from her tiny little torso.  Laying up against Beth on a bench in the cool Florida night, away from the chaos that is “Disney Africa”—turns out that was just what our little homebody needed.

And so it went: adventure, decompress, adventure, decompress.  I’m using “decompress” very broadly.  Ideally, Monkey 1’s decompression meant having time quietly reading in the comfort of our room.  But spur-of-the-moment decompression times happened any time she was able to hone in on something familiar and comforting.  Maybe my favorite example of this took place on Tuesday morning at the Hollywood Studios Park.  It was about 45 minutes until we were meeting Tim and Angie’s family for lunch, and it started raining.  We ducked inside the “Magic of Animation” attraction, not knowing much about it other than it would protect us from the rain.

Once we got inside, we realized it was basically an animation museum.  There were displays with pictures and videos documenting the process of animation.  All of this was fine and interesting enough.  Beth let Monkey 2 lead the way to what was most interesting to her, while I stood with Monkey 1 while she watched a looped-video of the progression of sketches of several different animated characters.  She loves to draw, and watching these figures take shape was engaging and calming.

As she was being hypnotized by this video, a door opened into the hallway a few feet from where we were standing.  A cast member announced that the animation class was starting in 5 minutes, and anyone interested should come in and find a seat.  It was a perfect and unexpected chance for her to further re-set, and we eagerly scurried into this dim, quiet classroom and found a pair of drawing desks.

For the next 20 minutes, the instructor walked us through the steps of drawing Goofy.  Monkey 1 was the perfect student, listening intently, carefully following each direction.  The fact that this 20 minute adventure seemed so special to her immediately elevated the specialness of the experience to me.  Here’s the evidence of our experience: 

No reason to post my drawing, but it's similar enough to Monkey 1's that it took me a second to tell them apart

A final “point of comforting familiarity” that Monkey 1 stumbled upon during our trip was one that I myself have used to unwind on more occasions than I can count: Legos.  Specifically, situated in the heart of Downtown Disney, is a Lego Store.

Monkey 2 outside the Lego Store in front of a Lego Snow White

Lego sea monster: real or hoax?

I have no idea where she gets her love of Legos.

I tried to photoshop myself a haircut, but to no avail

OK, let me rephrase that: Though I have encouraged her in her Lego pursuits, I have worked hard not to impose upon her the same Lego-values that I was raised with.  And I am proud to say that, even apart from my wants and desires, Monkey 1 likes Legos.

So, once we were in the Lego Store, it was a challenge to pry either of us away.  I treated myself to a plastic container of “pick a bricks,” cramming as many as possible useful-but-unusual bricks into a plastic container about the size of a Big Gulp.  (For the record, I make it a priority to only build with Legos during the times that one or both of my children are building with Legos.  It’s called “parallel play,” and it’s good for the children.)  Monkey 1 helped me with my brick-picking, but also browsed the inventory of city-themed Lego sets, searching for a souvenir of her own.  She decided on this one:

The banana (in the grip of the guy in green) is included apparently as a prop to set up an accident that would require an ambulance and/or helicoptor for the victim.  I mean no disrespect to those of you who have experienced banana-based trauma that necessitated you being airlifted to a hospital, but I'm thinking something like a trampoline or maybe a table saw would have been a more realistic prop to include.  That said, the banana was a significant influence for Monkey 1 picking this set; several times she mentioned how awesome it was that this set came with a banana.  So maybe the folks at Lego know what they're doing after all.

Yes, we went to Disney World, and Monkey 1 decided that her big souvenir of the trip would be a Lego set.  I don’t blame her: Legos are the mac and cheese of toys.

And, since even Monkey 1 sometimes gets full of mac and cheese, we bought her a "How to Draw Disney Characters" book.  On some days, I'm sure it will seem just as magical to her as Legos seem.

Next up: PART 6: Rides and Attractions, Volume 1


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Disney Whirled: Highlights of a Nine-Day Adventure into Magicalness, PART 3: "Pretend People, Real Autographs"

Monday, September 17, was our first full day at Disney World, and we went to Magic Kingdom (quick review of nomenclature: “Magic Kingdom” is one of the 4 main theme parks within “Disney World”).
Our 6-year-old daughter was excited to maybe see an actual Disney Princesses.  Weird, right?  Fortunately, Disney provides plenty of opportunities for children of all genders to meet with Princesses, old and new.  They are rarely just strolling around the park; they would get mobbed and hurt.  Seriously.  But you can visit them—or vice versa—in controlled settings, like carefully constructed attractions and something called “character lunches”.
Disney even sells autograph books so that you can collect the John Hancocks of Belle and the Gang.
On Monday, we attended a “Meet the Princesses” attraction (“attraction = something you have to wait in line to do).  The princesses du jour were Belle, Cinderella, and Rapunzel (thank you Microsoft spellcheck for helping me on that one—that was a nice surprise; I’ll try to stop being so angry at you all the time for everything).  Rapunzel happens to be the favorite of Monkey 2.

I love that you can tell that this is their first Princess photo.  They are posing with such care.

Rapunzel's parting words?  "Remember, never cut your hair."  Yeah, thanks for that, Rapunzel.  You wanna come over Monday morning and brush out the tangles quickly enough so that no one is late for school and carefully enough so that no one cries?

It was not until Wednesday that Monkey 2 warmed up to the idea of having an autograph book.  Beth bought one for her.  Though we were a little late getting in the game, the girls had reservations for a Princess character lunch at EPCOT on Thursday.  Autographs would be flowing.  Check it out:

Not sure if this Cinderella or the one at Magic Kingdom was the real one, but I get it; when I double-book, I often send a lookalike, too.

Imaginary conversation I had:
ME:  Hey, Sleeping Beauty, can I get your autograph?
SLEEPING BEAUTY:  Argh!  'Sleeping Beauty,' 'Sleeping Beauty'!  I have a name, you know.
ME:  Really?  No, I totally didn't know that.  Does that mean you won't sign 'Sleeping Beauty'?

Monkey 1 is kind of starting to lose it
The family of The Hungry Preacher voted this "Best Signiture"
Monkey 1 is definitely losing it

Notable absences from the EPCOT gathering were Rapunzel, as well as Merida (from “Brave,” which is one of the few princess movies that our kids have actually seen).  Fortunately, we would be spending Friday back at Magic Kingdom, where Merida had a semi-permanent lair where you could visit her after standing in line.  We also figured we could re-visit the “Meet the Princesses” attraction, and maybe land a Rapunzel autograph.

First up was Merida.  Monkey 2 and I went to visit her while Beth and Monkey 1 rode Space Mountain (don’t worry—I got to ride Space Mountain, too).  While waiting in line to meet Merida, kids (and possibly adults—I didn’t ask) could be trained to use a bow and arrow.

There's a large, angry bear charging right at them, but they really kept their cool.

I was a little far away, but it sounded like the Monkey trainer might have been speaking with a Scottish accent.  It didn’t surprise me that Disney would import someone from Scotland for this task.  I tried to position myself to read his nametag, which tells where cast members are from (cast members = Disney World employees).  I was too far away, so I pulled out our fancy new camera with its 20x zoom.

So, no—not from Scotland.  New Jersey.  It’s funny how differently I view kilt-wearing for someone from Scotland versus someone from New Jersey.  Anyway, after about a half an hour, a super-friendly Merida was signing our very own autograph book.

I actually met a "Merida" about 5 years ago.  I have thought a lot about how one would handle having a name that almost nobody even knew was a name to suddenly having a name that almost everyone knows and that is poised to become trendy and popular.  Would that mess you up?  Would it change how you see yourself?  Would you catch yourself explaining to people how to spell it, only to have them impatiently cut you off and be like, "I got it, I got it."
Beth was a little underwhelmed with the signature, but I felt like it was distinct and character-appropriate.  I haven't checked back with Beth to see if it has grown on her.  Maybe I'll include that information in "Disney Whirled: Highlights of a Nine-Day Adventure into Magicalness, THE APPENDIX"
Rapunzel was a little trickier.  Friday afternoon, I scouted the “Meet the Princesses” attraction and discovered Rapunzel was NOT making any more appearances.  I asked the nearest cast member if there was a way to track her down.  She pointed across the pedestrian walkway to a building labeled “City Hall.”  “They might know,” she said.

I crossed the street and got in line.  It was like a bank, with “tellers” signaling their availability to help the next person in line.  After a couple of minutes, I was summoned by a young woman named Sandra.  I greeted her politely, then explained our situation as briefly and somberly as I could, concluding with: “So is there any way we can find out if Rapunzel will be making any more appearances anywhere in the park?”

Sandra was a pro.  Very understanding.  Seemed to really feel my pain, probably even more than I was feeling my pain.  She excused herself to the back room to check some information, then came back and broke the news: “Rapunzel won’t be making any more appearances until the park re-opens in the evening for the Halloween party, which you would need a separate admission to attend.”  Sandra continued, “But if you want to leave the autograph book here, and come back in about an hour, we can make sure that Rapunzel signs it.”

I wasn’t sure if she meant, “Rapunzel, wink, wink,” or if the actual Disney representation of the fictional character herself would sign it.  I also wasn’t sure if I cared.  Either way, I didn’t have the book with me.  I told Sandra I’d talk to my wife about it, and would come back with the book if we decided on this course of action.

I found Beth and the girls.  Turns out, Beth had talked with Angie (whose family we were doing the Disney thing with) and worked out her own solution to the problem of the Rapunzellessness of our autograph book.  Angie would meet up with us later and say something like, “Hey, I think I might know where Rapunzel is—if you give me your book, I can go see, and maybe she’ll sign it.”

Angie would head off for a few minutes and commit an act of forgery.  She’d return the book, and everyone would be happy.  Except for one little thing which I pointed out to Beth: this plan, technically speaking, involved lying.  Now, dear readers, please believe me when I say that I do not think of myself as morally superior to very many people, and especially not to Beth.  Even now, I see that this “lie” would have been more akin to “pretending stuffed animals can talk” than it would be to anything that most people would consider a “lie”.  But for some reason the idea made me cringe just a tiny bit.  I communicated my hesitancy to Beth.

Trying to be sensitive to my tender conscience, she gently wondered how her plan was any different from dropping off the book at guest relations where, for all we knew, it would be signed by some guy in a kilt from New Jersey.

I didn’t necessarily disagree with this comparison, except that at least in the “drop it off” plan, we ourselves could claim to be duped.  I was prepared to concede that the line between “asking someone to commit forgery” and “asking someone to commit forgery but not tell you that’s what they are doing” might have been a little fuzzier than it initially seemed.  Meanwhile, Beth tried to gauge how disappointed our younger Monkey would be if we weren’t able to get Rapunzel’s autograph at all.

I was not expecting her response: “Can’t you just sign it?”  Have me or Beth sign “Rapunzel,” right there, with Monkey 2 watching?  This would, by far, be the easiest solution.  And admittedly, I was already excited about the possibilities for blending the tail of the “R” into the bottom of the “z,” and trying to make the continuous line look like a flowing stream of hair.

But if the idea of asking Angie to sign Rapunzel’s name gave me pause, this suggestion rocked me to my core.  It was just too weird!  I pulled Beth aside.  “Having one of us unapologetically sign it right in front of her would contradict the foundational purpose of getting an autograph in the first place.  An autograph is a way of demonstrating that this signed item was once touched and held by this very person.  Think of the word itself: ‘auto’ means ‘self’; ‘graph’ means ‘writing’.  By definition, neither you nor I can legitimately provide the ‘auto-graph’ of someone else.”

OK, so that’s a more articulate paraphrase of what I actually said, but the feelings were real.  The bottom line was even if our child didn’t understand what an autograph was all about, it was our job to teach her.  If that meant getting her book signed by some guy in a kilt from New Jersey pretending to be the actual Disney representation of the fictional character, Rapunzel—well, as long as none of us saw it happening, the sanctity “autographs” would be preserved.

Taking the book, I headed back to guest relations with boldness and purpose.  I found Sandra, reminded her of her promise, and left the book.  About an hour later, I returned.  Lo and behold:

No way some guy from New Jersey signed that, right?  It's kind of girly-looking, right?  Maybe even from the hand of Rapunzel herself?  To that, I can honestly say, "As far as we know."

Next up: PART 4: Mac and Cheese and Legos