For the Disney haters

October 18th, 2007

This is for all the Disney haters out there, the moms and dads of
young ones who claim they’ll “never go to Disney.” My wife and I were
more or less in the same Disney-hating boat. Sure both of us had
semi-fond memories of visiting one of the Disney’s in our youths, it
was great, back then. I remember my mom tearing up at the site of
Mickey in the parade, and all the other feel-good vibes that magical
kingdom emits in heaps (the monorail!). But now that we are parents
our thoughts for vacationing are along the lines of anything but an
amusement resort, especially one in tacky Florida and the epicenter of
all things overly commercial, crowded, bad food-laden and just
unpleasant for people like us: Disney World, or Land. No way. And
certainly not during spring break with the masses. When could there
be a worse time to go to Disney, if you have to go at all, than spring
break? Not to mention it is not cheap, not by a long shot, any way
you slice it: airfare, hotel, food, tickets… So when our six year
old son’s grandfather said he wanted to meet us in Orlando when he’d
be there for a conference, incredibly timed during the week of
kindergarten’s spring break, we were less than enthusiastic. In fact
I emailed him that we were thinking it wasn’t going to happen and I
mentioned the crowds that would be polluting the place, and the costs.
His response was to sweeten the offer with some funds and to clarify
that this trip was not for us, but for his grandson.
We spoke to some friends who had visited DW recently, with their kids,
during spring break, like-minded Whole Foods shoppers-types, who
reported that it was great and that we had to go, period. We wouldn’t
regret it and our son would have a great time.

So, we booked our five day, three days in the park, trip and started
reading up. There are volumes on “doing Disney.” Tons of info out there, special websites
devoted exclusively to getting the best deals, with secret codes for
half price hotels, free meals, tickets, and etc. If you look hard enough you
can find a review of each and every room in all 300 or whatever it is
of Disney’s resorts, no joke. The Unofficial Guide to Disney World
was the book I chose and after thumbing through it, it’s huge, I
quickly became overwhelmed, and freaked out. They review every snack
stand, ride, hotel, restaurant, nook and cranny of every inch of the
Magic Kingdom, complete with step-by-step, minute-by-minute
itineraries for what to see and when, and how, and where to stand for
“rope drop” (the opening of the parks), etc. etc. I put the book down
for a couple weeks and said that we’d just wing it, wherever our boy
wanted to go, we’d go, no planning! Part of the psych-out was advice
from our friends who said the best way to enjoy it is to get there
(the Magic Kingdom, not to be confused with the other parks, Animal
Kingdom, Epcot and so forth), early, real early, and be first in line
for rope drop (I must say I do love that expression). Hmm, going on
vacation to get up early, like a school day, with no breakfast or
leisure time, to stand in line at Disney to wait in line for rides.
It did not sound good, or doable, to me or my wife, no way. But for a
minute I thought yeah, we’ll get the most out of our trip if we are up
at dawn and right there for rope drop. I actually conveyed to Grandpa
what our plan was, to do it the early way, for rope drop, and as I was
saying it I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Back to the let’s not
plan it and just see what happens mode. And everyone else I spoke
with had their own perfectly legitimate opinions of how to “do
Disney.” We’ll put our fate in Mickey’s hands and see what happens.

Good omen: no glitches with the flights and a smooth ride on the
Magical Express (Disney bus) to our hotel/resort. We, well, I,
semi-randomly chose the place we stayed at, the Coronado Springs, a
huge place with a lake in the middle, and a large pool complete with a
water slide, and a massive Aztec-like pyramid. Not sure why I chose
that one, possibly because of availability; we were only booking a
month or so ahead and of course the Disney aficionados book the good
stuff as far in advance as they can, more on that later. And
according to the map it looked to be situated right across the street
from where Grandpa, and now Auntie (who can resist Disney?!) were
staying. And it had that pool with the waterslide and pyramid thing,
it looked like fun in the web shots. The charts in the Unofficial Guide
stated that it is a six minute bus ride to the Magic Kingdom, on
average, and heck, that didn’t seem too bad. I had convinced myself,
no thanks to the multiple pros and cons from the guide books, that we
did not need a rental car, what with all the parking hassles and
expensive gas. Turns out their hotel “across the street” was a ten
dollar cab ride and just about impossible to walk to.

The Not-Early Plan: the first morning dawned and we barely made it
across the expanse of the Coronado Springs to one of their breakfast
places by 9:30, maybe 10, much less rope drop at 8am. It was
literally a ten minute walk from our room to the main area of the
hotel. Food snobs, we were expecting the worst but were pleasantly
surprised to find plenty of good things to eat, all of them huge, some
of them healthy. Not including the “raspberry latte” someone in front of me ordered
at the coffee bar.

And then it was on to the main event: The Magic Kingdom. We jumped on
the bus and in a few minutes were within site of the iconic Disney
castle. After some minutes of driving past the very large parking
lot (our driver proudly informed us that all of Anaheim’s Disneyland
fits within the DW parking lot), we were dropped off at the gate and
sped through the turnstiles.
Beautiful sunny Florida morning, crystal clear, and lots of people.
We’d read enough about FastPasses to know we’d want to get some
for the rides we knew we were too late to get on without waiting an
hour, since we weren’t there at rope drop, not even close! Turns out
on busy days even FastPasses can be hard to come by. Well, it was fun
just being there, we rode some rides, walked around and enjoyed it.
Grandpa and Auntie were not arriving until the next day so this was a
chance to figure out what we wanted to do. Like where to have lunch.
According to the books, one must reserve their meals months in advance
when choosing the park’s popular restaurants. Indeed.
We tried the Crystal Palace and although it was 1pm, peak lunchtime and
we were reservationless, we were seated within minutes and informed
that none other than Winnie the Pooh and his mates would be out soon
to greet the guests. If our son hadn’t expressed extreme kid glee up
to that point just being at Disney, W the P did it. Never had we seen
him smile like that, hugging Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and Pooh. It was
wonderful, and so was the food. Really, very good for a resort buffet
with excellent vegetarian options, fish dishes and etc., and oh yes,
it was all you can eat.

So the next day we did get there earlier, alas, not at rope drop, but
close enough to 9am to waltz on over to TomorrowLand and walk right on
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ride, and then the Lilo and Stich attraction,
both of which were top notch Disney entertainment, our boy loved them.
And met Grandpa and Auntie after their leisurely arrival sometime after noon
when we strolled about and soaked it in. When the lines were too
long, we’d just head someplace else and found it easy enough to find
an attraction with a mangageable line. At snacktime, we passed up the Fred
Flinstone-esque smoked turkey legs and grabbed a bite at one of the
cafes, no problem.

We ended up enjoying the trip to DW and were not put off by the huge
numbers of people, mostly fellow Americans sporting their local team’s
colors, lots of grown men with NFL and MLB garb, why?, nor were we put
off by the scale of Disney. They pull it off somehow and all seem to
get along and make it work. Would we have had more fun if we’d
planned it better? I doubt it, but when we go back, we’ll be that
much Disney-savvier. And who knows, we might even make it to rope
drop one sunny day.

Hello world

May 21st, 2007

Yes, hello.  Stand by.