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


Monday, October 15, 2012

Disney Whirled: Highlights of a Nine-Day Adventure into Magicalness, PART 2: "First Impressions"

Sunday, September 16, we checked out of the Days Inn in Lake City, Florida, and pressed on to Disney World, a mere 3 hours away.  As I've shared, I had little idea of what to expect from Disney World.  But I must have constructed some expectations, even if subconsciously, because there were some characteristics of Disney that surprised me.  Here are a few of my “surprising first impressions”:

I don’t know why I was so surprised at the enormity of Disney World, especially since there is a clue to its size hidden right within its name.

It’s not quite as big as a "the world," but the entire complex is much more like a city than it is like any park or attraction I’ve ever been to.  Bear with me if this is old news to you, but “Disney World” is partially comprised of:
- 4 separate “main” parks: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.  Six Flags, The Hungry Preacher’s local amusement park, could probably fit into the land covered by any of these parks.
- a water park (or maybe 2)
- a large outdoor shopping area (like a mall)
- multiple golf courses
- 20+ self-contained resorts
- 100+ restaurants
- lots and lots of undeveloped land
- well maintained roads connecting everything

The "land" and "roads" were most striking.  Even if I could have grasped number and scope of the attractions, I kept picturing them bunched together.  They weren't.  Which makes me think: Remember how I said Disney World was like a city?  It’s actually more like a state.  When you enter, there’s a large, road-spanning sign, but no other manmade or geographic delineation between “Disney World State Limits” and where you were 2 seconds before.

The 4 big parks are like cities within the state.  The resorts are like suburbs.  Yes, it’s like a state.

We stayed at the newest resort on the property, the Art of Animation Resort.

This tiny sliver Disney World was comprised of 4 or so guest-suite buildings, each of which was about the size of the 5-story dormitory I lived in during my first year of college; 3 pools; a sprawling cafeteria-style restaurant; and lot of walkways and guest-relations areas to spread out in if you felt crowded.

Even their statues of Ursula are huge.

I had two thoughts about the 4-story Ursula statue.

First, I love that someone decided that a 3-story statue wasn't big enough.  Because I actually can imagine seeing a 3-story Ursula statue and, in my more critical moments, thinking, "Yeah, that's fine.  But 4 stories would have really driven the point home."  I really do feel like that 4th story is the one that ensures that if anyone thinks it's too small--well, the problem is with them, not with the statue.  It's the epitome of going the extra mile, of removing any doubt about your drive for success.  I'll have to remember this if I ever coach youth sports and have the chance to psyche everyone up with a pre-game speech ("Today, you need to dig down deep and build your 4-story Ursula statue.  Know what I mean?")

Second, I kept imagining myself being part of the resort-planning team, and having the team leader saying, "And Rob, you're in charge of the 4-story Ursula statue."  What would I do?  Who would I call?  That the folks at Disney know how to get one of these built (who to call, how to negotiate a fair price, etc.) is almost as impressive as the statue itself.

So everything was big.  Moving on...

Our resort had only been open a few weeks when we stayed there, so you would expect it to feel new and clean.  Even so, I was struck by just how clean and well-maintained it was.  I’m pretty sure I've never used either of these phrases, but here goes: “they really outdid themselves” and “they thought of everything.”

For example, the folks who built this new resort realized that suites (as opposed to one-big-room-plus-one-bathroom) are the wave of the future.  Also,“things that change into other things” are always popular.  Hence, this fancy-schmantzy table/bed:

It's just a table, right?

I was really lucky to get a completely candid shot of these tourists transforming the table into a bed

Whoa!  Where'd this bed come from?  Wasn't there a table here a second ago?

Less exciting to Beth and me, but not to our children, was the hide-a-bed sofa.

No, I didn't cut this out of a Disney brochure.  This is actually my child.

(True story: My friends and I used to take turns folding each other into our families’ hide-a-beds.  I always felt cozy and safe folded up in a hide-a-bed, like a sardine with the can all to himself.  But one time, my friend couldn't open up the couch to set me free.  I was big for my age, and he was small, and the couch was old, heavy, and awkward.  Also, his parents were out, and we weren't sure when they would be back.  I was staying the night at his place, so for all we knew, it could have been several hours.  So my friend ended up calling another friend who lived about a half a mile away, who set aside his annoyance and dutifully came right over.  The two of them together were able to open up the couch and set me free.  I know what you're thinking: "Rob, this story would make a great verse for one of those 'remembering old times' songs, like 'Never Say Goodbye' or 'Summer of '69'."  Great minds...)

Other shiny, new stuff:

"When I was a kid, we played in junkyards.  If we wanted 'tunnels' and 'coral', we used old refrigerators and empty, rusted-out, lead-based paint cans."

Not sure how this will look on your computer, but on mine the girls look photoshopped, like in the old vacation pictures in "The Truman Show".


In addition to the bells and whistles in our room, Disney World was just so clean (this is a way it is different from a state).  Apparently, the folks at Disney World don’t want the gazes of guests to fall upon trash even if it is where it is supposed to be; a source tells me that the trash cans in the parks are emptied from the bottom, from tunnels running underneath the park.  These tunnels, says my source, smell very bad.  I believe it.

So, yes, apparently there are people who inhabit those tunnels, with non-animated mice, and spend their days hoping that the bag they are standing beneath doesn’t rip and bury them in dirty diapers and germs from 100 different countries.  But I bet that those workers seem pretty happy.  Why?  Because Disney World employees all seem pretty happy.

They seemed happy.  Very happy.  Happy to work at Disney, happy to make the guests' experience as magical as possible.  Most impressively, the happiness of the employees stopped just short of being that creepy kind of happy.

I can only speak to the perceived happiness of the employees with whom I interacted.  Of those 100 or so, almost every single one not only followed whatever corporate mantra they were ingrained with, but they really, really seemed to believe it.  There must be behind-the-scenes bureaucracy and bickering.  And believe me, I was looking for cracks.  I maybe saw one or two minor cracks.  That's it.  I genuinely tip my cap to the employees and their trainers for the sincerity with which they seemed to fulfill their roles.

The day we left, our daughters wrote "thank you" notes for Disney.  We decided to hand-present these notes to a Disney employee.  I scanned the employees at our resort's gift shop and picked a smiley and outgoing one.  I approached her apart from my kids and told her that we needed a Disney employee to whom we could present these notes.  I told her she seemed friendly.  She seemed legitimately honored, and even said, "Oh, dear, you're going to make me cry."  The girls gave her the notes, and she complimented them and let each of them pick a toy from a bucket of toys that is stashed behind one of the check-out desks (think "10-ticket prizes" at Chuck E Cheese).

Next up: PART 3: Pretend People, Real Autographs.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Disney Whirled: Highlights of a Nine-Day Adventure into Magicalness, PART 1: "Preparations"

Friday night, September 14, The Hungry Preacher and his family pulled out of our driveway destined for Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  The driveway?  Metaphorical.  The destination?  Magical.  The account?  As follows.

Disney World had been a place I felt I knew everything about, yet nothing about.  I knew it as an icon, but not as someplace where I could actually walk around in my physical body, spending actual hours of my life experiencing.  It was like the Kremlin, or the moon, or how “going to college” used to be.

Not understanding the nature of Disney World made preparing for the trip all the more daunting.  Come to think of it, it was a little like applying to colleges: my preparations were an exercise in cooperating with my destiny, but it was a destiny I didn’t understand and felt overwhelmed by.

Beth had taken care of much of the heavy lifting.  We would be meeting up with Tim & Angie, friends of ours flying in to Orlando from Seattle.  Beth worked with Angie to nail down dates and accommodations.  With about a month until departure, I was tasked with things like figuring out the driving route, making arrangements for our dog (who only looks like an animated Disney character), and figuring out exactly where were would spend our days within the World that is Disney.  Oh, and when and where we would eat.

goofy, but not Goofy

Of course, the first thing that popped into my head was, “I need to buy a mattress.”  See, back when we bought bunk beds for our daughters, we let them use the roll-up mattresses that were included.  Within the past few months, we realized—what with them being vertebrates and all—that they might need something more supportive.  The search became urgent when I realized that one of their rollable mattresses might be able to lay flat in our minivan, providing a more comfortable sleeping experience for non-driving grown ups on their way to Disney.

I closed the deal on a real mattress for our older Monkey, experimented with seating configurations in our van, and tested the fit and comfort of the roll-up mattress.  The result:

From left to right: right ankle, left foot

Everyone zonked out pretty quick...

...though one little girl did not zonk out quite as quickly as I thought.  If only I had taken my eyes off the road, I would have seen she was still awake.  What was I thinking?

Meanwhile, I worked within certain parameters to construct a schedule.  The considersations were:
-the “light parade” would take place Monday night at Magic Kingdom
-Angie had made lunch reservations for Thursday at Epcot
-we would not leave a park just to go eat, then come back to the same park
-we would spend 2 days at Magic Kingdom, and it was preferable that they not be consecutive days
-many restaurants did not have reservations available for groups of 9 (the 4 members of The Hungry Preacher's family, plus Tim and Angie and their 3 kids)

I created a calendar and got to work.  It was like a logic puzzle, like when you are told that 5 different people played 5 different sports on 5 different days, and you have to figure out how to match them all up based on a few clues.

Angie and I sent drafts of a schedule back and forth, until we ended up with this:

To quote Fletch: "If this were at all legible, you'd see what I meant."

I arranged dog-care from 2 friends, my mom, and the professional dog-boarders at Kennelwood pet resorts.

All that was left to do was drive. Do we leave Saturday morning or Friday night? After much consideration, I decided Friday night was the way to go. We made super-duper time. I made it all the way to Atlanta by morning, and Beth drove the morning shift all the way to Lake City, Florida, the self-proclaimed “gateway to Florida.” I like a city that knows its purpose. And the girls liked having a long afternoon in the hotel pool with mommy, while daddy caught up on some sleep.

I call this one: "Feet protruding from the Day's Inn Swimming Pool in Lake City, Florida"
Sunday morning, we would get a leisurely start and still reach Disney World by mid-afternoon.

Next up: PART 2: First Impressions