A Very Important Disclaimer: No matter how critical or sarcastic I get during this article, trust me, I still love Disney World. (And the great thing is that this doesn’t mean I can’t still hate Mickey or express fear at the size and scope of Disney’s hold on the world.)
I also love people from Florida, so before you scream at me for the first large image in this article, be aware that I didn’t think of it. It was actually created by a Floridian (but sadly, it looks like Evil Dead Pony’s website is the first Geocities site I like to disappear. ;_; )
So here’s another essay about Disney World by another 80’s kid with another cheesy website. And I wonder if I ought to start out with about a paragraph-long semi-angry, semi-nostalgic over-analysis of Disney World’s influence on both myself and on popular culture as a whole. It almost appears to be a requirement. Those of you who are sick of this kind of thing (and I’ll admit that I’m at once fascinated by it *and* sick of it, if that makes any sense) and just want to know how my trip went can meet us under the picture of a stuffed alligator in a straw hat surrounded by beer.
So well then. BLAH BLAH creepy controlled atmosphere. BLAH BLAH self-promotion up the tailpipe. BLAH BLAH wikkid expensive. BLAH BLAH appeals shamelessly to our childhood memories while replacing many older rides with whatever seems popular *now*. BLAH BLAH everything is strategically engineered to get a strong emotional reaction out of you. BLAH BLAH we’re all older and wiser and also -in kind of a Faustian bargain- more skeptical and disillusioned and we all need a big-enough target for our collective existential depression; Disney World will do nicely.
And I find that last one very interesting. I am, as mentioned earlier, an 80’s kid for whom Disney World was a very integral part of my own experiences and popular culture as a whole. And I’ve seen a lot of 80’s kids acting betrayed by the mouse. The thing is, Disney World never gave us anything that we didn’t eat up. What we all wanted even if we didn’t know to ask for it. What I’m really trying to say, paraphrasing the great philosopher Lisa Simpson, is that you can’t wake up Godzilla and then start complaining when he trashes a few cities.
Yes, Disney World unapologetically goes for our hearts and wallets, is an eerily *perfect* world, and is run by a giant evil corporation. And it is also a place where people are disarmingly polite, the bathrooms are clean enough to do surgery in, and all the “if you can dream it, you can do it” messages given to us by all those fictional characters over the years seem at least a little bit more attainable.
Take a look around as you enter EPCOT. The streets are immaculate, sweeping sculptures dot the landscape, people attending the stores and information kiosks are genuinely helpful, colorful flowers grow nearly everywhere they can be planted, and underlying the stylish silvers and blues is the heartfelt feeling that things really *could* be this nice in our real cities. And isn’t the underlying message of Disney World the idea that the real world could be a better and kinder place? That -with some effort- it REALLY could be a better and kinder place and isn’t it a tragedy that it is, in so many ways, a cruel and stupid place?
Yes, a Disney World visit is escapism. It’s exactly the kind of escapism that us fantasy geeks get accused of time and again. Well, you know what? I’m going to sit back and enjoy my visit to Disney World. Anyway, here’s that dead, drunken alligator:
That right there, that’s what I truly love about Florida. Not only the fact that some weirdo thought it’d be funny to see a dead animal wearing a straw hat and drinking a beer, but that he actually took all the time and effort to actually make it happen! Talk about “If you can dream it, you can do it!”
I might as well note, before we go on, that I had the camera with me at almost all times, but I hardly took any pictures. Bummer.
Sis-Ness and I were going to head down to Florida to visit our relatives who live down there. And by a happy coincidence, it turned out that some of our relatives had already planned to head down there as well, and they were taking their kids to Disney World for the first time. We decided to join them in Disney World, then visit our other aunts later in the week.
So in other words, I was in Disney World with little kids. And one of them was a baby. And the rest were around five years old. And I had sworn earlier that I’d never bring any kids to any theme park until they were old enough to handle the place. But let me tell you something, and I can’t emphasize this enough: my second cousins are remarkably precocious. This is very, very important. The five year old boy was bragging about taking *two* rides on the Tower of Terror by the time we caught up with them. These kiddies are braver than their Auntie Nessie.
And really, there’s nothing better than being a long-time Disney World fanatic and getting to show some Disney noobies around, no matter how old they are. But here’s something else that’s rather important. Our knee-high three had already been in Florida for about a weekend, and Sis and I toured with them on their last two days. We learned pretty quickly that we’re not that used to traveling with people too little to discuss and decide what they know for sure they want to see first. Actually, we’re not used to traveling with people with very short legs. I’m not sure that we would have lasted beyond a day or two of this. But we really did have fun, and here are some of the more memorable things we saw and did.
4/19 (and holding 8) ) – ANIMAL KINGDOM
This was my first visit to the theme park that, I swear, Jurassic Park prepared us for. Some of my friends had been and their reactions were mixed. Now that I’ve finally seen it, I think it’s a pretty awesome place.
I have to say that if you’re not going to stop for a few minutes and look at some cool animals and plants, then you probably don’t “get” what this park is all about. The rides and other typical theme park attractions really aren’t all that great. If you must satisfy your curiosity about them, go ahead and get them out of your system first, THEN make sure you linger over the animal exhibits. Really, most of the more typical attractions are instantly forgettable, but the animal-involving parts of the Kingdom are mesmerizing.
Seeing as I’m a creature of habit I’m going to do the ride-by-ride thing like with the California Adventures. Which brings us to the one notable exception to what I just said about the non-real-animal-involving attractions here being boring. But it sure as hell isn’t interesting for any reasons it’s creators intended…
* “It’s Tough to be a Bug!” – I guess this is an okay show. It’s way too much like “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” and it is also WAY TOO LOUD!!! (Honest to God, regarding the volume level on these 3-D shows, Disney, what the f__k?!?) The most interesting part is when you’re in line, because you get a stunning close-up look at the connecting animal sculptures that make up the Tree of Life. The kids loved this part. And then we went into the theater and watched the movie.
I blame myself. I had a momentary lapse of reason, forgetting that a Disney 3-D movie isn’t just a movie so much as a total sensory assault.
This is a movie that begins with a very large tarantula playfully shooting poison spikes at your head, with jets of air timed to the visual effects so that you really do duck, and goes right downhill from there. And I think this would have been about the point where the kids lost it. This generation finally has it’s “Snow White’s Adventures” (which, for those not in the know, has always been a sick, sick joke on kids expecting friendly animals and dwarves).
By itself, “It’s Tough to be a Bug” isn’t all that memorable. See it in a theater with a bunch of screaming crying children, especially if one of them is in your party and he’s jumped out of his seat and is racing up and down the aisle like, “Get me an exit!!!”, and the f__ker is unforgettable.
* Dinoland U.S.A. – The actual Dinosaur ride wasn’t working when we got there, and that’s assuredly a damned good thing after the “Bug” debacle. Here’s the weird thing about Dinoland, and I think that just describing this will point out one of my criticisms about Animal Kingdom as a whole:
Depending on what entrance you use to get into this part of the park, you’ll either see a replica of Sue the Tyrannosaur and a beautiful walk-though jungle populated with some nifty dinosaur sculptures and animatronics… or you’ll see a totally cheesy amusement park with silly carnival games and rides and (most distressing of all) many, many, many advertisements for McDonalds. Why?
* Kali River Rapids – This is a fun ride but it’s wet and short, and thank goodness the kids took the realistic forest fire effects in stride after (say it with me) the “Bug” debacle. I’d be less disappointed if we’d had a shorter wait, but here’s one of the nice things about Animal Kingdom: the waiting lines can be much more interesting than the actual rides. Here, you wind through a temple filled with gorgeous treasures and populated with colorful parakeets.
* Kilimangero Safari – THIS is what I paid to see. Fortunately for us, we went later in the day (this was our last ride before the park closed) and we saw lots of animals. This was much more well done than I ever expected (even though the plot -yes, this tour has a plot- is a distraction), and I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that all the other Animal Kingdom rides could be plowed to make way for more safaris.
4/20 (snicker) – DOWNTOWN DISNEY and THE MAGIC KINGDOM
We went shopping in Downtown Disney today before meeting with the kids in the afternoon. This gives me an opportunity to make an observance or two:
Firstly, Disney is the best place in the world to see some truly outrageous human behavior. Also, once you enter Disney World, they never want you to have to leave for any conceivable reason (read the title again). Keep that in mind the next time you go.
I’d like to also bring your attention to two aspects of the Disney World experience that used to be fun, but have gotten completely out of hand lately. First of all…
* Pin Collecting – When my dad started collecting Disney pins, they cost about three dollars and under, they were usually hidden in some remote corner of a few gift shops, and they only came in a few varieties and characters. Well, somebody decided to cash in on pin collecting. Your Official pin starter set (a lanyard and four essentially identical pins) costs around twenty five dollars, and each pin goes for about seven dollars.
I’d like to grab whomever it was that thought this up by the nape of his neck, drag him over to one of over a dozen *pin stores* that have popped up and gotten in the way at each park (most notably the Studios), press him against the window, and make him just look at what he has done. Better yet, get your kid a not-Official lanyard, stick a bunch of Looney Tunes pins in it, and tell him to throw a tantrum if people refuse to trade with him. Mwahaha.
Here’s an example of how freakin’ ridiculous this pin trading thing has gotten:
* Character Greeting – It used to be that you’d be walking around in a park, and every so often you’d run into some poor intern stuffed into a big, awkward furry suit. And, if you wanted to, you could walk up to the poor sod, ask for an autograph and pictures, and brighten up his day in the stifling Florida heat.
Well, nowadays, you’ll be in the park and you’ll see a line. A line that may stretch well across the streets, leading to a sectioned-off part of the park (this happens most often in the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom). And if you’re curious you’ll hop into this line, thinking it’s for a new ride or something. And at the end of the line, the payoff to your patience is none other than… some poor intern stuffed into a big, awkward fursuit!
Let’s ignore for the moment how completely insane it is to wait in line to meet the characters, who have all been herded into one predictable location. Let us instead imagine what it must be like to be wearing the costume of one of the characters nobody remembers now. Wouldn’t that suck? You’d be watching the kids run towards the popular characters – and you USED to be popular! I’d like to think I brightened this guy’s day, and if you don’t know who this character is, log off and watch a “Lizzie Maguire” rerun.
After buying a bunch of things that would later compel me to ask, “why?” as I unpack them at home, Sis and I met up with the little kids and spent the night at the Magic Kingdom. We arrived just in time to see the night-time parade and the fireworks.
* Spectromagic – Great fun! We staked out a viewing spot right on the train station’s stairs, and we barely moved the whole night; these kids are never going to have a better view of a Disney-staged nighttime event. This parade is especially awesome if you want to see Mickey and the gang looking very glam rock.
It alarmed me, however, the number of people who were halting the parade’s progress so that they could dash across the street and leave the park in the middle of it! You know, if you’re so jaded that you can’t watch and enjoy a Disney parade in it’s entirety, well, I guess you might as well go home then. Sheesh!
* Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks (or whatever) – “Illuminations” in EPCOT (which we didn’t get to see this year, so I’m just assuming that it still rocks) owns every other Disney World nighttime effects/pyrotechnics show. But this one was very well done. Great capper to the kids’ Disney experience.
Yes, the little kids and their families were leaving the next morning. And, yeah, I was bummed out.
At the same time, I have to admit that I was like, “No more little kids! We can go on all the thrill rides now!!!”
4/21 – THE DISNEY/MGM STUDIOS
* “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” – Play it! – I’m not a big fan of the game show, but this turned out to be great fun. However, I strongly doubt that it’d be as much fun if we’d had to wait in a very long line to join in.
* The Magic of Disney Animation Tour – This was utterly depressing.
This used to be the best tour at the Studios. It was fun, informative, and famously allowed you to watch the artists at work. Well, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Disney recently shut down their studios in Europe and Florida, leaving many animators unemployed. Our tour guide didn’t give us any explanation. And boy, did I feel sad for him; especially when he was trying to convince us that it was a good idea to have “Home on the Range” be the last gasp for 2-D Disney animation. (“It’s about how… um… dairy cows were… um… the real heroes of the… um… the old west… k…i…l…l… m…e…“) The museum of animation art is still there, and please make sure you linger over the exhibits. Lord knows what the future holds for this attraction.
And I have to go off on a tangent, if you will humor me. Open letter to the big wigs at Disney:
Guys, are you high?
We didn’t stay away from your recent movies because they were 2-D. Get that through your head. We stayed away because, frankly, they looked f__king stupid. And the next person who tries to tell me that CGI movies are guaranteed hits because traditional animation is passé must write me a four page long essay entitled “Why PIXAR’s Scripts Don’t Suck”.
Remember, PIXAR gave us the “Toy Story”s, “Finding Nemo”, and so on. And Disney gave us… “Dinosaur”.
* The Rock-n-Roller Coaster – A ride in Florida about Aerosmith traveling through Los Angeles. YeeeAH dood! Wikkid p_ssa! ^_^
Then again, this ride will only make sense if there is a roller coaster about the Red Hot Chili Peppers traveling through Florida built in Boston. And then there would have to be a ride about, I dunno, Tom Petty traveling through Boston built in Los Angeles.
* 50’s Prime-Time Café – This came highly recommended by my mom. I guess if you’re with a whole bunch of people who are willing to really get into this, and you get a funny waitress, then it is a lot of fun. Me, I think we’d have had a lot more fun visiting the Drive-In Diner again.
4/22 – Our Gung-Ho Disney Insanity Day, starring EPCOT, MAGIC KINGDOM, EPCOT again, and the DISNEY/MGM STUDIOS
Three parks. One day. From eleven in the morning to eleven at night. Twelve straight hours wedged deeply into the Mousetrix.
We parked our car in the Yacht and Beach Club resort parking lot, and from there we could walk to EPCOT, take the boat to MGM and back, and then take the Monorail from EPCOT to Magic Kingdom.
* EPCOT’s Flower Festival – Ha ha ha ha ha!!! Boy would this have made the little kids stupid with boredom. I’m a nature nut, so I liked it a lot. World Showcase was never prettier than during this gardener’s convention. I think it runs until the beginning of summer.
* Magic Kingdom’s Railroad Train Ride Thingie – Well, it’s still functional, but it’s not as much fun as I recall. And the bit with Pocahontas is hilarious for all the wrong reasons.
* Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – Has got to be more fun with little kids, or if you really miss Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. My score was okay, but I wonder if it’d be about the same -or higher- if I hadn’t bothered to aim and just randomly zapped everything.
* Philharmagic – We almost skipped this because it didn’t sound all that interesting, but we went ahead and saw it because the line was short. Go figure, I think this is my favorite recent addition to the parks! Great special effects, and darn it if I didn’t get a surge of emotion. Don’t miss it! Incidentally, this is about the only 3-D movie in the World that won’t scare the sh__ out of the wee ones.
* WedWay Peoplemover TTA (or whatever) – A sentimental favorite of my family. You probably don’t want to be on the same car as us, trust me. (Randomly shouts over side) “Hi, Tom!!!”
* The Magical, Fun, Fun Disney Daytime Parade What is Magic and also Fun!!! – And you probably don’t want to stand near me during a parade either, because I get into it. Cheering for the characters nobody remembers and whatnot. This particular parade was actually called the Walt Disney’s Creepy Posthumous 100th Birthday Parade or something, but I came to call it the Raging Historical Liberties Jamboree. If you see it, do what I did, and greet the guy on the first float who is supposed to be Walt Disney inventing Mickey Mouse with a hearty, “Hello, Ub Iwerks!!!”
(If you understand what the hell I’m talking about, I love you.)
* EPCOT’s Mission Space – I was too much of a sissy to go on so I sent my trusty guinea pig (Sis-Ness). She said it was alright. I appreciated the fact that they had a back-entrance so that us weenies could play video games as we waited. (I still miss Horizons.)
* Imagination! – Well.
If you’ve read everything on this website, you’ve probably suffered permanent brain damage. You’ve also learned that the original version of Journey into Imagination is a sentimental favorite of mine (take a look at my logo), and even more so of Sis-Ness’. The special effects really were special, and the characters were adorable. Yeah, it was more sedate and campy than anything else at EPCOT, but damn it, that’s how we liked it!
So for those of you who complained and made Disney change this into it’s current painful and dumb iteration, I hope you’re happy.
* MGM’s Fantasmic – It was a freakin’ miracle that we got here in time to see it, and boy do I wish we’d gotten their earlier so we could have sat down. It was obviously staged in such a way that the stadium seats had the most effective views. We had to stand, situated well above the best view, and that made the show a bit of a disappointment. BUT, and this is a serious BUT, I stood there with my knees locked, on my toes, and stretched as tall as I could get for the entire twenty minutes, transfixed.
Just one complaint and one truly insane question before I finish. The Complaint: Why the hell is the “Pocahontas” part allowed to go on for so damned long? The Truly Insane Question: I’m not the only one who was like, “YES! PLEEEEEEASE Burninate Mickey!!!” during the climactic scene, was I?
Well, once again, after sitting here writing this I have gotten very, very high off remembered Disney Magic (trademark, copyright, patents on magic and whimsy and childhood merriment still pending). Yeah, that’s it. Please stop transforming into Brooke Shields and tell those cute purple fairy-dragons to get out of my head and stop chewing on my brain. Thanks.
InterCOT – Excellent discussion board for Disney World fanatics. I might just have to join the fray myself.
Corey Doctrow’s homepage – Author of a terrific book I brought along to read while waiting in line, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (enjoy some of the terrifying international cover art). It’s about a team of Disney World “Cast Members” (the book’s Golden Moment comes early on, when it gives it’s theory as to why these people are so nice that they can’t possibly be normal humans) who are trying to rescue the last remaining classic rides from being turned into high-tech thrill rides. The ending is a bit of a letdown (and the finale screams “Hooray for Sequel Setup!”), but the bulk of the story is so much fun, and oddly touching at times, that I still say you have to check it out.
And Because I Love You, Here is a List of Unauthorized Ways to Have Fun in Disney World:
* – Wear clothes with lots of Looney Tunes characters on them. Heh.
* – Any time you pass by the castle, look up at the windows intently. Do this a couple of times, then finally shout, “I see it! I see Walt’s cryogenically frozen head!!!”
* – Memorize a chunk of dialogue from “the Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension”. Recite it in hushed tones anytime you ride the Monorail.
* – Buy and eat your favorite frozen treat from every snack cart you pass. Do whatever comes natural.
* – Wear a big, black coat and dark glasses. Scratch your occiput a lot.
* – Skip from ride to ride. Sing along to all the songs on every attraction.
* – Bleat while in the sea of people leaving the parks.