I feel like such a shmuck every time I mention I've been to Disney World. I mean, it's so quintessential American, the epitome of indulgent entertainment consumerism, rife with an elevated pricetag and overly entitled patrons. It's practically a symbol of everything that's ridiculous about Western prosperity, while simultaneously acting as a powerful actor in American media. Bleck. Not hipster-halal at all. No sir.
But, oh! While it certainly our family's most expensive vacation ever, it was truly worth every penny. I kind of feel like Disney is the Apple of the theme park business; their customer service cannot be topped, and their innovative approach to their industry makes them champs at what they do. I look back at the experience with such fond memories, a small part of me even pines to visit again. I love what I desperately want to hate, because deep down, even though I know it's so evil, I also know it's so awesome.
And you know me: categorically opposed to any entertainment outlets that are not at least in part educational. (I'm going to make a great mom, you know.)
The very best part of it all was really the anticipation. We had a promotional video that we watched over and over. We compared it from the ancient one we still had from when my parents went before we children existed. We checked guidebooks out from the library and strategized about when we would see what. Would we book it to Space Mountain first thing through the gates, or would we hit up Adventureland? The guidebooks told us we'd be walking an average of twelve miles a day, so we started "training" by walking around all the neighborhoods each night. I even did a "practice packing" the night our parents told us we were going, which was hilarious because the trip was six months away! My family was so hardcore about the whole thing. I think we planned for every detail, which is a rarity for our family trips to this day.
We had decided to fly down, and this was Big News because it was our first time on an airplane ever. I didn't really know enough about flying to be terrified, though I remember having butterflies in my stomach, but in level-headed rationality I steeled myself against the novelty. I folded my hands tightly in my lap as we ascended, chewing madly on a piece of Juicy Fruit, until we surfaced above the clouds. I guess the flight was three hours, but I didn't even notice because I looked out the window the whole time, spellbound by the clouds that looked like a carpet. The whole experience was so smooth that I was caught completely unaware the next time I flew, which was in a thunderstorm. And yes there was lots of turbulence, and yes I cried. But anyway.
Once we landed we got on a bus, a Disney shuttle or something, and we drove for a looooong time. Despite passing the outlines of various resorts and parks on the horizon, I was entirely discombobulated by the time we reached our hotel, which was Disney's All-Start Movie Value Resort. Or something. All I know is there were giant statues of the 101 Dalmations. We girls got our own room that adjoined the room my parents and Cal were staying in, and being on our own meant . . . watching the Disney channel until midnight every night. [/cable deprived.] Eddy's Million Dollar Cook-Off? Still my favorite Disney channel original movie!
We had carefully crafted the order we would visit the parks in, and naturally we started with EPCOT, because it looked somewhat educational and would be a docile introduction. We geeked out over the new Test Track ride, which we rode twenty times in a row because there was no line. (We went in late September, the "off-season" and it was glorious. Who would go at any other time?!) A lot of the science stuff was tempered with constant warnings from our parents: "Of course, guys, dinosaurs lived at the same time as people," and "The complexity of the human genome is a credit to our Creator and not haphazard evolution." I'm not dogging this, I'm awfully glad my parents were so faithful, but it's funny in retrospect how I looked at things through double-lenses, a perpetual cognitive dissonance when it came to the modern interpretation of science. Also, the rose garden was fantastic, particularly by the light of fireworks.
That night we went to a buffet-style dinner with "character dining" and I ate a lot of corn chowder, because I had never had it before, and I thought it was just delicious, and I felt ill the rest of the night. Which is maybe why I came to dislike character dining, but generally it's awkward to have silent people in giant costumes coming up to you and pantomiming actions intended to be adorable. Sarah and I thought we were too old for such things, and Maggie and Cal were basically frightened, and it was generally, just, yeah, awkward.
The next park we visited was MGM, which I had anticipated would be my favorite but ended up being my least favorite. The eerie shadow of The Tower of Terror loomed everywhere you went in the park, and it was the very first ride we rode. Which is in itself a story. Maggie had a meltdown in the holding room after the lights went out and she grabbed a stranger's hand. Cal was tall enough to ride but too small to appreciate the fun, and hence refused to ride anything remotely unsettling the rest of the trip, not even the Bear in the Big Blue House show. Sarah and I emerged from The Tower crying. (The drop was fun, but I had nightmares about the accompanying storyline the rest of the week.) Dad had to ride it by himself, and the post-ride photo showed him apologizing profusely to the gentleman sitting next to him, whose arm Dad had grabbed on the way down. Mom thought it was fun, but couldn't convince anyone to go near it again.
Our benevolent parents had also set aside another treat for us: a day spent at Blizzard Beach, one of Disney's water parks. We had never been to a water park (and so for future visits to Water Country the bar had been set impossibly high) and we went out of our minds with the thrill of it all. We almost drowned. Repeatedly. And were totally okay with that. They also squeezed in a timeshare pitch, landing us a free supper at one of the resorts. We were treated like royalty (you know, before the pitch :P) and it was totally crazy town! It turns out Disney gets lots more posh than our value hotel, which even in my memory was preeetty nice.
It makes me sad that I can't remember more about the trip, just snippets here and there. Getting the high score for our batch in the Buzz Lightyear ride. (You know, after we convinced Cal to ride it.) Watching Beauty and the Beast while sipping grape juice in the AAA lounge. Playing in the fountains in EPCOT and sampling Norwegian pastries. Hide-and-seek on Tom Sawyer's island. Sarah and I getting separated from our parents after the fifth time around on Splash Mountain. Laughing at the automatronics that had been cutting edge in their time. The friendly squirrel outside of the Star Wars ride. Oh!-- standing outside of each 3D movie with a sheepish look on my face, praying that no one would try and abduct me. Babysitting Maggie and Cal in a giftshop while enduring the cross-examination of a clerk who wanted to know where our parents were and why my brother kept trying to play with the bouncy balls. Turning beet red in my seat as Cal screamed bloody murder at each attempt to enter a faintly dimmed ride. Sitting on the display porch outside of the Haunted Mansion with Cal, nodding at passersby who looked perplexedly at us. Lots of happy fun times, but I remember the interactions (dramatic, controversial, and otherwise) with my family the best.
Yeah, there were a lot of meltdowns. I think we each had several apiece. Sarah's bathing suit got lost in the laundered towels. Maggie was easily downtrodden by the heat and humidity and hunger and walking. I freaked out when we didn't stop to look at an exhibit I had really wanted to see. Cal was a quaking ball of fright after the Tower of Terror incident. And my parents are . . . my parents. All of us getting ill on the Body Wars ride. Annnd, the classic "The Making of Me" exhibit featuring Bob Saget. Definitely some bad attitudes associated with sitting through that one, for obvious reasons. But we were a family! Even though I remember a lot of the things that went wrong, I remember how funny or exciting those events were, any in many ways, those parts were the best parts.
It's funny. My parents decided to make the trip shortly after my dad's brush with death (oh, he's been silver-haired ever since!) in an effort to make the most of our time together as a family, and, maybe to indulge because they were always so frugal. I think that's one thing that made it so special, we'd never done anything like that before. We've been a bit more spoiled since, but Disney is still a hallowed memory, that once-in-a-life time family vacation, one I'll hopefully always remember.
Yeah. I still feel like a schmuck. (Seeing as how I managed to talk so much about it all this time!) But it was fun. Sue me!