April 04, 2005

Fear And Loathing In Disney World, Part IV - You Kid I Not

(Part I is nyah, Part II is nyah and Part III is over nyah.)

"Well, the kids had fun."

That is the standard justification for a trip to Disney World, given by practically every parent I've talked to both before and after my own visit to the Murine Gulag. Like all such polite pleasantries, it covers an awful lot of territory, from my own sheepish attempts to rationalize having allowed myself to get dragooned into the business, to the Hillary Clinton-like "For the Children" huckstering of people too ashamed to admit that they actually enjoy the place themselves.

As it happens, the Llama-ettes did have fun. And considering all the provocations facing them - the long drive down and back, the beastly weather our first day, the long lines and crowds and the Oz-like lightning, smoke and thunder that is endemic to places that hope to distract you from the humbug behind the curtain - they behaved pretty well, too. In this, at least, I was fortunate. And they were lucky. On top of everything else that I had to swallow, if I had been forced to deal with outbursts of ingratitude, brattiness or hooliganism on their part, I would not have hesitated to feed them to the alligators.

As I mentioned in my last installment, the weather on our first day in the Magic Kingdom was horrid, starting off cold and misty and winding up cold and rainy. Nonetheless, we were determined to experience the Magic even if it killed us, so after our "royal" breakfast with Cinderella and her friends, we set out to "do" the park.

Our first stop was the Dumbo flying merry-go-round. This ride is shaped like a giant mutant fifty-legged spider flipped over on its back. As you go round and round on the thing, you can raise or lower your car via a little joystick. The maximum elevation can't be more than 30 feet but, especially in an open cockpit, that's plenty high for me, thank you very much. I figured that even if I did have to go that high, I could gradually work my way up and the five year old, with whom I was paired, wouldn't notice the difference. In this, I failed to reckon with my co-pilot. As soon as we began to move, she seized the stick and hauled back on it like a seasoned fighter pilot, causing us to SWOOOP up to our operational ceiling and stick there. Geh. I tried several diplomatic approaches to getting her to ease off a bit, all to no avail. "Say, sweetie, it's fun going low, too!.......Sweetie, are you sure you're okay up here?......No, Daddy's fine -my knuckles are just white from the cold..." Fortunately, the ride did not last very long and I was able to preserve my Dad Dignity relatively intact.

Let me just say a few words about this ride length business. [Hit "rant on" key.] None of the rides we went on lasted very long - two or three minutes tops. This, to me, is one of the nastier aspects of Disney, even worse than the revolting aesthetics and false cheeriness of the place. The only thing that matters to Disney is numbers, specifically the maximum number of people it can push through its gates and the maximum amount of money it can fleece from them. It is patently obvious after the very first ride that the Dark Lord Mickey has calculated within a microsecond the absolute minimum amount of time people can be limited to on a given ride before they openly revolt. This isn't "making magical memories" or even basic concern for customer satisfaction. It's industrial sheep-herding, plain and simple. And Disney can get away with it because, equally horribly, people don't revolt. After driving or flying hundreds, even thousands of miles; enduring all the inconveniences of getting themselves to the park; waiting to get in, pushing through the crowds and then waiting in line again for, on a busy day, an hour or more for each ride; after all that and paying through the nose for it, I say, they take their two minutes of actual fun and, succumbing to Uncle Walt's Cultural Reeducation training, convince themselves that it was worth it! This says something pretty awful to me about how such people must believe they deserve to be treated. And I saw all of this when the crowds were relatively small. What it must be like when the season is in full swing is too painful to think about. [Hit "rant off" key.]

Where was I? Ah, yes. Our next stop was the indoor Winnie-the-Pooh ride, one of several 'storybook' kiddy rides in which you travel through a succession of scenes from favorite children's stories - in this case, Pooh and the Blustery Day. Eh. The animatronic figures were lame and clunky and you couldn't even hear three quarters of what was said or sung. The only interesting part was the Woozles and Heffalumps section, which was all done up in crazy-assed colors and black light (which makes bleached teeth, synthetic fabric and certain kinds of hair coloring glow, by the way). I've never done an acid trip but I'm guessing this was pretty similar to the sort of thing that Nancy Reagan used to warn us about all the time.

At one point we stopped in to watch a 3-D movie, a ten minute story in which Donald Duck steals Mickey's "Sorcerer's Apprentice" hat and thereby accidentally causes much mayhem. I must say in all honesty that the visual effects were really quite remarkable. One scene featured some dancing jewels (don't ask) that seemed to float right above the audience's heads. I could see all sorts of little hands reaching up to grab them out of the corners of my eyes.

I finished up the morning with my seven year old on a slot-car speedway where you drove mock-up Formula 1 racers with golf-cart engines. I figured that the tracks meant the cars steered themselves and therefore that it was fine to let the gel loose behind the wheel. However, such was not the case: the guiders limited steering but did not prevent it. Instead, as the Llama-ette quickly discovered, they allowed about a foot of lateral play on each side and if you cranked the wheel, you could slam against their edges with gratifying results. "Okay, Sweetie, (BASH!) let's try and keep it straight here (BASH!)...Right, now watch (BASH!) that (BASH!) turn...(BASH! BASH!)" The gel laughed like a maniac throughout and finished by rear-ending the car in front of us - right in front of the sign that said "Do NOT Bump Cars".

After lunch, we ambled over to Frontier Land. It was while standing in line waiting to ride the Thunder Mountain roller coaster that I suddenly realized I had no wish whatsoever to get on it, but that to back out would mean a) that I was a complete coward and b) that I would leave the Missus and her mother to deal single-handedly with all three Llama-ettes on the first "adult" ride we had tried all day. Well, as was the case with W.S. Gilbert's Frederick the Pirate, my sense of duty won out. I found myself sitting in the very first car with the five and seven year olds on either side of me. The three year old was in the car behind, wedged between the Missus and the Mother-in-Law.

I wasn't sure how the gels were going to react to the height, speed and corkscrew turns, so I held their hands as we started off. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. They shrieked with delight the whole time. In fact, the only jarring note was when the oldest said, "Daaa-ad! Could you stop squeezing my hand? That hurts!"

I drew the line, however, at the log ride next door featuring a serious drop down a very steep waterfall. As we decided the three year old was too small for it as well, I took her around to the bridge in front to watch the rest of the crew come down. By this time it was raining pretty steadily and I was getting soaked. I was also tired, cold and hungry but resigned to having to tough things out for a while longer. In a way this was a blessing, because when at about this point Fate tried to aim a bean-ball at my head, my circumstances caused her shot to go wide.

The pitch Fate chose to use was the three year old, who has developed the bad habit lately of not realizing she has to go potty until she actually starts. As we waited, I had been entertaining her by giving her a ride on my shoulders. I had just heaved her off and was carrying her on my side when she struck, soaking her undies and nailing my sweater good and proper. Well friends, I put it to you: I was wet already. She was wet already. And there was nothing I could have done about it anyway. Where normally I would have gone into a Niles Crane-like dance of frustration, here I simply ignored it, putting her on the ground and saying in my best Marty Feldman voice, "Act casual, say nothing."

(The other two, by the way, enjoyed the log ride even more than the roller coaster.)

The next day we were back for Round Two. This time we started out in Adventure Land. Our first ride was similar to the Flying Dumbo of the day before, except with an Aladdin theme - the cars were shaped like magic carpets. For what it's worth, I happened to recognize the music that was being pumped out of the "Sultan's Palace". It was Moorish, not Arabian. But never mind. Muslims - what's the difference?

We also tried the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride. This was easily the biggest rip-off of the entire stay. The thing is housed inside a mock Spanish colonial fort. Once you get through the seemingly endless passages and rope lines, you get on a barge that does nothing but slowly float through a maze of rooms filled with extremely noisy animatronic pirates, all of which sing blackboard-scraping sea-shanties. That's it. Nothing else. We kept expecting something, anything to happen. But all we got were the beery pirates. I should have mentioned earlier that with many of the rides, the only way to exit is through the ride's gift shop. Here, I thought this arrangement particularly offensive - that Disney would expect people to shell out for arm-loads of assorted buccaneer junk on the strength of such a lame ride speaks volumes of what the Mouse thinks of its guests' intelligence.

The day being a pleasant one, we only managed to get through these two rides before the park started seriously jamming up with people. The rest of the morning and after lunch I don't recall doing much more than wandering about trying to calculate which 45 minute line might be worth the wait. Eventually, the Missus and the elder gels tried one more roller coaster - Goofy's Barnstormer, located in Toonville. While the gels thought it was fun, even the five year old said it was too short. (There's hope for my children yet.)

Finally, we decided to give up and break camp, as we still had a two hour drive back to the In-Laws' house. The march from Cinderella's Castle down Main Street U.S.A. to the front gate in the cold and rain on the previous day had been much like a walk in East Berlin, all dank and film noir-ish, with relatively few huddled people scurrying about. In the warm sunshine, it was much more like being caught in a 5000-man rugby scrum. How we got to the gate without the aid of machetes, I still haven't figured out, but eventually we did it. Unfortunately, owing to our distraction, we didn't notice that Fate was aiming another pitch at us and that this time she had got the range.

From the Magic Kingdom, we had a ten minute bus ride back to the Animal Kingdom to pick up our car and luggage. I was sitting with the older gels in one part of the bus and the Missus had the three year old in another part. Suddenly, I noticed the three year old doing what we call "the Potty Dance", which is her way of indicating that the deluge was on its way and nothing was going to hold it back. Having absolutely no other alternative, the Missus whipped off the gel's undies, fished out a plastic bag and positioned it to catch at least some of the flow. As you might imagine, it was a thoroughly messy and extremely embarrassing episode. Fortunately, there was a sympathetic couple with two kids sitting opposite the Missus who were able to dig up some handi-wipes from their bag. In the middle of the thing, the Missus suddenly shot a look in my direction and said through clenched teeth, "You could help, you know, Dear!" The other couple looked over at me. I shrugged and said, "I've never seen that woman before in my life." The looks on their faces almost made the entire trip worth it.

Thus, an ignoble end to our trip to Disney World. But one with a silver lining - Owing to this hideous episode, we can never show our faces in the place again.

Next Time: Fear And Loathing In Disney World, Part V - Final Thoughts.

Posted by Robert at April 4, 2005 10:20 AM

I disagree with you re: the Pirates. The ride was made in the very early 1970s, so its effects are somewhat understated compared to the whiplash-inducing, video-screen embracing, ADD-addled madness of a modern ride.

The beauty of the ride is in its subject matter -- consider, drunken pirates burning down a town while conducting an auction of the town's better-looking women. It is not the quality of the ride that makes it a classic. It is the whole gunplay-and-drunkenness Weltanschauung it embraces. My friend, you must look at the ride's subtext to truly deconstruct its irrational beauty.

Consider -- could you even make such a ride today? The PC Police would be on you like ugly on Ward Churchill.

Posted by: The Colossus at April 4, 2005 01:28 PM

OH! I think I'm going to wet My pants, your whole story has been so funny. I think the best part is thinking of you sitting in a flying elephant trying to convince a 5 yo that going low would be fun too.
Seriously though, I've been to Disneyland several times because we had not yet figured out what caused babies so had to go back a couple of times to let the new ones experience the magic.
The 3rd time was the charm. We spent much money staying at the main hotel but the benefit was the monorail which ran all day and long into the night. We hopped on it at the hotel and bingo we were in the middle of the park. We could go back the same way and anytime we wanted. Mid afternoon we spent back at the hotel and then we were back in the park for the parade and more rides. All 7 of us actually had a little fun (the drinks at the bar in the hotel were the icing on the cake).
The next time you decide to take a long drive might I suggest NM, AZ and the relatively free charm of the Grand Canyon and similar places. Nothing like a long camping trip to give everyone a rest! Heh, heh!!! Kitty

Posted by: K. Mason at April 4, 2005 01:41 PM

Kitty - Thanks muchly for your kind comments! But ix-nay on the uggestions-say: The Missus has been talking about a road trip to the Grand Canyon, taking in a tour of various Laura Ingalls Wilder spots on the way, for some time now. Shhhhh.....

Colossus - You may have a point, but to get to that level of enjoyment, I would have had to deconstruct a whooole lotta Bloody Marys first.

Posted by: Robert the LB at April 4, 2005 02:24 PM

LMAO- this may be the best installement yet.

Speaking of "well, the kids enjoyed it" I'd like to relate my experience. As you may (or may not) have read in an earlier comment- I was "privileged" to spend 10 days in DisneyHell when my daughter was seven. She appeared to have enjoyed it- which, to my wife, justified spending roughly 1/4 of the purchase price of our house.

Later that same summer- after paying off the credit card balance (22% interest) my wife acquired tickets to Seaworld in Aurora, OH (at the time owned by Annheuser-Busch).

We left home on a Friday after work and after a relaxing 3 hour drive on I-77 checked into our hotel in Kent OH. This could not have been in greater contrast to Disney's "Resort"., The staff was friendly, the cost was moderate, and best of all the food was excellent and reasonably priced.

We left early and got to the park in time to be first in line when the gates opened. Once again- the park was much more relaxing than Disney. While there were lots of people there, the lines moved quickly, and the attractions were much more interesting. The food was reasonably priced and actually GOOD. And BEER was available (thank God)- which made the afternoon much more tolerable. Anyhow, to make a long story somewhat shorter, we stayed til the very end of the fireworks show and were one of the last groups herded out the gates.

On the way to the car- my daughter looks up at me and says (as GOD is my judge): "Daddy- I had a lot more fun here than at Disney World". Even a little kid knows a rip-off when they see one, sometimes.

Posted by: Harry at April 4, 2005 04:04 PM

I have been given a lifetime dispensation from going to the theme parks. My bride, prior to college graduation, had served several tours in Paramount's King's Dominion, specifically in the custodial arts division, and had seen the darker side of theme parks. She'll never go back...

Posted by: KMR at April 4, 2005 08:55 PM

As someone (I forget just who)said to Whittaker Chambers, "You have not come back from hell with empty hands".

Posted by: D. Carter at April 4, 2005 11:05 PM

Being a Missus myself, I know how these things work. I have also done the L.I.W. spots tour. So, when you get ready to go on your road trip and head out my way, give me a shout and I'll hook you up with some great places that are a little out of the way, fairly inexpensive and lot's of fun. For example, have you ever been up in a Hot Air Balloon? No ride at any theme park could compare with the serene feeling of floating in the air over the Red Rock Mesas with virtually no sound but that of the wind (and an occasional blast of fire to keep the balloon from falling out of the sky). How about horse back riding thru canyons? Or maybe a nice hike to see the ruins of the Anasazi Indians? A ride on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Train is lots of fun. Perhaps your kiddo's would enjoy seeing this little lizard? http://www.robbroek.nl/amerika/pages/046.htm
So, with the saying of "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" in your mind, enjoy your peace while you can! ;O)
Okay, I know, ix-nay on the uggestions-say! I'll be quiet now, but when the time comes, I'll be ready. Kitty

Posted by: K. Mason at April 5, 2005 01:25 AM

we took our boys to "see the mouse" but we also visited Islands of adventure (at universal studios) WAY better rides. also if you can ever get there in february the place is EMPTY.
thanks for the "tale" its priceless!

Posted by: cheri at April 6, 2005 12:45 AM

I was just wondering, that comment at the end about your wife (never seen her before...), did she threaten divorce, making you a gator snack, or just disembowelment/testiculectomy?
heh, morbidly curious ;)

Posted by: cheri at April 6, 2005 12:50 AM
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