“closer to amusement”
This is not a newsflash, but what the hey…
Multi-billion dollar amusement park conglomerates are overrated. We’d all be better off going to the state fair or the local school carnival. Seriously.
THE SICKEST PLACE ON EARTH
The first amusement park me and the family attended while stuck in Florida on our ongoing two-month trip* went to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Technically, Disney World is located in its own little fiefdom, closer or on Buena Vista than Orlando. Don’t quite know why I and many of my brain-addled brethren keep pointing Orlando’s way, but we do and we’re wrong. Once on Disney property, drivers need to pass a rigorous map- and mind-reading course to understand the juxtaposition of contradictory and/or missing signage pointing to, well, maybe Orlando, but certainly not the intended destination. We must’ve passed Downtown Disney twice before doing a U-turn toward the vicinity of the Polynesian resort in the Magic Kingdom area, going a respectable 35 mph while others on the Autobahn pushed 80. Mickey would not approve.
There, I felt a wave of the inevitable cornball wash over me, the kind that made me reach for a soap on a rope and a wash cloth (and probably contributed to some of the OLTL actors at November’s SSW to cop attitude). And it wasn’t my grown-up age. I felt the same wave as a too-tall-for-my-eight-year-old child the first time I stepped foot in California’s Disneyland (which, my boss Katrina, tells me, pipes in its own oxygen), heard that perky piped music and waded through a crowd of zombies. But at least back then, in 1972, I could run up to any number of cartoon characters roaming Main Street and beyond, to give any number of them a hug. In this the year 2005, I have to wait in these long impromptu lines that form wherever the cartoon character deigns show up with human escort in hand – even the lesser-known ones. I saw a purple bear in a doofy hat acting like he was Britney or something.
There were lines forming everywhere. At the entrance, I mistook the place for the L.A. Coliseum, with some hot new boy band hitting the stage. In the middle of January, no less, shouldn’t 3/4ths of these idiots be at school?, and what’s with all these high schoolers slumming it in their Paris Hilton jeans and rhinestone Ts, wouldn’t they be more comfortable at a rave, flouting authority or something?, how utterly irresponsible of their parents to drag them all out of school to litter my pathway! I tried to imagine it being in July, the humid, unbearable heat of Florida summers, and nearly shuddered a load in my shorts.
When we entered the front gates, after enduring practically a full body cavity search and a two-finger scan, my husband Eddie yelling in frustration, “You guys gotta get rid of that f’n thing!,” the crowds had gathered along the sidewalks up and down and around Main Street, otherwise known as the 2nd Shopping Mall of America, waiting for a scheduled parade. You know, I’ve never seen one of those things ever, in the entire three, five times I’ve been in any Disney park. I’ve maybe caught a light show at Epcot from far away, and we did watch some fireworks later that day from the distance of our Polynesian resort (before our son James, 3, begged me to go back to the hotel, “too scared, mom!”). I wasn’t about to start now, so, as the panic that we’d be stuck in this people traffic crept over me, I tried to maneuver the husband and the son around and away toward the rides a little kid would enjoy, nothing too advanced, no roller coasters, no theatre shows where he’d have to sit around and be bored.
Next Up, Rolling Joints
As I pushed the rented stroller with James inside, feeling the 80-degree heat of what should’ve been a crowd-less, cool winter excursion, the panic firmly set in, because I could not remember if there were any rides resembling my criteria. If there were, I could not remember where. I knew of Frontierland and Pirates of the Caribbean, my least favorites from childhood; at the time, I wanted to be on the It’s A Small World ride, but there was too much of a crowd waiting in line so I had to settle for these lame singing bears and the stupid jam-packed like sardines boat ride looking for plastic jungle animals.
We passed a section of Frontierland, headed toward Mickey’s Toon Town, when I noticed a group of grown-ups smoking like chimneys. They were sitting on top of a wall, puffing away, happy as clams, with the backdrop of Cinderella’s castle, like some nightmare on Elm Street. I’m surprised they weren’t doing crack out in the open. Smokers littered the park, the hotel we stayed at, and I could’ve sworn there was absolutely no smoking allowed at Disney. I mean, they fire employees for less, and the bathroom we were stuck with had this annoying ventilation fan which kicked in by motion sensors, staying on for 15-20 minutes, can’t have any unpleasant smells from farts, diarrhea and loaf-pinching… and yet they allow smokers now?
I’m not kidding. Disney used to have a no-smoking policy, and not just for its staff, I’m sure of it. Now, apparently, anything goes. The facilities, from the faulty monorail (we were stuck between the Grand Floridian and the Magic Kingdom for what felt like hours, with no air conditioning) and the dilapidated park restrooms (I must’ve sampled a dozen in the two-day trip), to the $80-a-night at best-feeling motel amenities in our $300-a-night resort stay and the always craptastic fried snacks available for quadruple the price of a movie theater menu on the premises … just added to the let-down. The rides were too short, the lines – even in January when no one’s supposed to be there – were too long, my son caught a stomach virus from this nasty, sneezing butthead (thanks mom) while waiting to get on a spinning teacup, two of the bigtime rides James was looking forward to were closed for “refurbishment,” a word I grew I loathe. More refurbishment in the lobby of the Polynesian resort… I thought I was at a Best Western with a miniature golf course next door in Alabama.
The staff of Disney didn’t seem as cartoonishly happy from my last visit – mid-‘90s with friends, pre-kids – either, and I missed their plastic smiles and canned welcome. Instead, I got the Longs Drugstore in the middle of primetime weekend during the holidays at Ala Moana Center treatment. I half-expected one of the surly ice cream vendors to haul off and jack me for my whirly-twirly, lit-up Mickey Mouse ear thingie, or ask me for a smoke.
Anybody who’s ever been to a Disney recognizes the subtle and overt shilling that goes on the second the gates open onto Main Street, really an excuse to take as much of your hard-earned salary as possible. If you look closely, you’ll notice most of the attractions are designed to outright sell you on something, if not lead you to a prettily adorned, in keeping with the thematics, boutique done up like “The Music Man” in the ‘20s, or Tom Sawyer’s southern living. At some point in the journey, I knew I was there to buy Disney’s overpriced baubles, whether I wanted ‘em or not.
Maybe If Mickey Exploded
Usually not. I’ve no interest in Mickey Mouse. I’d rather watch the Power Puff Girls or that beer-bellied pervert in the [adult swim] cartoons. Why would I buy a doll in that mouse’s (he sounds strangely like another Michael) likeness? Just ‘cause the TVs in the hotel rooms tell me to? The latest purchase Disney was pimping happened to be the Mickey Pal doll, he speaks! he laughs! he jokes!, he offers you a doobie!... it’s like he’s real! But what is Mickey except a glorified, older version of Kermit the Frog, and he bores me too. If I wanted a boring, sissy emcee, I’d order a doll made in Michael Jackson’s likeness.
James doesn’t really watch any Disney programs either, preferring his TV entertainment from PBS or Noggin’. The only Disney show he digs is the Wiggles, and they weren’t there. Probably out for refurbishment (code for: it’s winter season, you’re not even supposed to be here, wait till summer when the prices are cranked even higher).
It disappointed me how many rides were closed for refurbishment, how hot it still was in the middle of January, how many people still showed up during school season, how the refreshments still sucked (who thought up a turkey leg, Atkins?), adding 10 pounds just staring at the burnt frying oil…
We’re at the Polynesian resort, supposedly authentic islander type food. But there isn’t a SPAM musubi, plate lunch or even a decent saimin in sight. Chicken fingers, day old fries, stale potato chips, an hour’s wait for Ohana, the main restaurant featuring skewers of meat sliced to order (?!), Kona Café, the substitute serving filet mignon and cotton candy, waffles, pancakes, eggs, chocolates in the shape of Mickey’s head
I forgot our swimsuits, which was a shame, because the two resort pools were heated, one of them had a slide and a beach shore entrance, with kids floating around in there till way past 10 p.m., when they weren’t sneaking a smoke, the man-made beach just beyond, probably heated too, littered with butts.
If it were up to me, I’d have a permanent mind meld about this commercial known as the Disney experience, and never return again.
Maybe Disney World pipes in a brain-erasing drug in the scent of secondhand smoke…
ALLIGATORS STOLE THE SHOW
When Eddie told me we’d be headed north of the coast toward Cape Canaveral to see the NASA space center, maybe even a launch, inwardly, I groaned.
I’m not into machinery, moving or immobile, not cars, not motorcycles, not planes and not space ships. Of course, I went along anyway, because little boys and their dads love this stuff. They did (up to a point, James balked when it came time to leave his little space capsule, aka a $5 postcard-making contraption made to look like the “I Dream Of Jeannie” rocket ship).
I prayed to God to leave me IBS-D-free, close to a restroom just in case.
We had to board a bus, after waiting in another interminable line with coughing, hacking immigrants pushing and shoving their way on board (one of these pushed and shoved me so hard she nearly catapulted me through a wall), to make two on-location spots, I assumed, for a closer glimpse of a genuine rocket ship about to launch.
No such luck.
Like Disney, NASA over-charges on everything. While we escaped the exorbitant entrance fee for kids by lying about James turning 3 next week, we couldn’t the exorbitant refreshment fees. A pretzel, a hot dog, a jigger of popcorn, $5 each, dippin’ dots, your second-born.
On the way, we spotted several baby alligators on the side of the road, climbing creeks, laying in the sun. It made me want to go to a zoo or something.
Otherwise, we just climbed these stairs to stare at one of three launch pads far in the distance, breathe in the smoke from a distant (intentional) wood fire, and listen to the narrator on the little TVs in the bus grow catastrophic about the labor-intensive means of cleaning and fixing up the rocket ship parts after launch, specifically a several million-ton crawler that carried parts of the rocket ship to the launch pad at 1 mph, taking up most of the day to get there. Ooh. Aaah. (I wondered if there was pizza available for under $25 at the next rest stop.)
At the various sites, we read the signs detailing little bits of history, set up next to models and replicas. I might as well have been at the library, doing research for a science paper. Such is the typical museum approach; this kind of entertainment’s everywhere, even in art museums, but at least there you get to look at pictures.
James, of course, went crazy trying to run around out of our sight, in and out of space suit replicas and space ship replicas and replicas of consoles in as close to a Disney ride as we could get, counting down, the upper ceiling windows turning an ashen-orange. By the time we hit the IMAX theatre to listen to Tom Cruise grow catastrophic about eating M&Ms in space, James was about ready to call it quits, loudly. I don’t blame him.
It’s Another $5, Not a Space Ship
I had to coax him into another space capsule replica back on home base after he’d gone off running toward alligator territory, screaming and wailing with fatigue, before he’d go along with one more attraction, in 3-d.
Halfway through the 45-minute, 3-d IMAX show, he conked out, nestled in my arms, sweet as pie, and I carried him back to the truck, the sun setting an Orangeade that made me miss home something awful.
We wound up eating three hours too late (I refuse to eat amusement park food at $5-10 a pop) at a seaside restaurant cousin Bev raved about (funny, she never mentioned specifics), after waiting another hour on the pier for a table opening. But at least we got to see a fisherman catch this little thrashing blue shark, and touch its furry skin.
Otherwise, between Disney and NASA, James caught a stomach bug, I caught the runs, and this nasty crab (crab my foot, it’s salmon) cake leftover is sitting in the fridge gathering dust.
Bizzarro Pizza would’ve been better.
*Me, husband Eddie and son James are in Florida, after having driven here from Washington December 26, to finish cleaning up Eddie’s late parents’ things, including selling their house. We’ll soon be headed back out, back to California to board a cruise ship so Eddie can finish his three-hour gig in one week, while catching sights in Mexico and enjoying the ship’s amenities, without catching any stomach bugs. We should be back home, God willing, by February 22.
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