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My Super IMPORTANT Guide to Surviving Disney World. No, Seriously.

Cormorants Outside Magical Kingdom

Ah. The future.

Character Breakfast at Magic Kingdom

That’s what I thought the first time I saw the monorail to Epcot at Disney World. I must have said it out loud too because my brother muttered back “Yes indeed. The future. Forty years ago.”

My brother is full of wit. What the hell? I thought. I liked the original Star Trek and this was VERY 1970-Gene Roddenberry-ish so we climbed on. It broke down. We took the bus.

About ten minutes into the Magical Kingdom of Walt Disney World I felt like a whiney, ungrateful curmudgeon-ly sort of guy.

All around me I saw overwhelmed, crying, fussy kids and angry, overwhelmed frustrated parents. My little boy was stunned by the crowds and the outrageous over stimulation. He just wanted to go back to the hotel room and play with the sack of Legos I’d brought. My girl, on the other hand, was so wound up by the mass of overweight humanity, endless music, dancing puppets and the very promise of fun that she was nearly in tears at the length of the lines and I was getting yelled at because I wasn’t moving fast enough.

“Watch it kid,” I told her. “I gave you life and I can….”

“You’re not scary papa, don’t even try.”

Oh.

Me? I was right there with my boy in spirit. I’m not one for large crowds. Too much stimulation from too many sources puts me on edge in a big way. I hate it. My survival instinct turns on and I’m looking for the door. So there I was, staring at Cinderella’s Castle at 9am and wishing I’d brought a suitcase of just beer. Nothing else. Just Beer. In a big damn suitcase. Big.

Her Taking a Picture of Me Taking a Picture of Her

I write this post three weeks after returning from Disney. As I write, I’m tucked away in a café in Vasa, Finland. The wind is whipping a late winter storm off the ice on the Gulf of Bothnia and The Beatles are crooning some softy in the background. The mid-February visit to Walt Disney World seems like a funky dream from here but I’m damn glad for the experience.

For me, Disney World represents pretty much everything that is wrong with America. Conspicuous over consumption, out of control capitalism, tremendous waste, endless lines, police-state-like management mentality, profit before people, marketing to the point of brain washing, sugar-ed up trash food and fat people. Yup,there. I said it. Sure, I’ll go to Politically Correct Hell but at least I’ll go having said my peace. I’ve never seen so many fat people in all my life. I was shocked.

I was also shocked by my boy. “Why does your butt look like that?” He asked this of far too many people. They smiled. I smiled. He smiled. He is four. But I wanted to ask the same. I really did. My question however was more along the lines of….How do you fit that thing on the freaking toilet!?

Wait. Wait. Don’t tell me.

Disney’s modus operandi seems to be to trap you on their property (we stayed in the Port Orleans Resort at Disneyworld), tie you into an amazingly complicated and over-priced Disney Dining meal plan, over-control you with this rule, that rule, regulation this, regulation that…cram as many sheeple as possible into the parks, market you to the point you might actually wonder if you’re in a Soviet Re-education center and finger your pockets at every turn – just to make sure you leave with nothing left.

Finding Nemo at Epcot

What they bank on is that 5-10 minutes you are actually on the ride. It’s great. No doubt. By the time you get through those unbelievably long lines anything would be great. They want you to leave with the memory of those few minutes. Not the hours of suffering.

And damn are they good at it.

But, what about you?

My Recommendations

So, IF you are committed to go despite my un-American rant I suggest the following:

January. We were told again and again we chose the right time to go because the crowds were less. REALLY? Because I couldn’t possibly imagine more people. If January-February is the down time then summer must be God-awful.

4am. That’s right. Wake up at 4am. Look, the only way you’re going to beat the crowds is to get there at the crack of dawn. Each day at 3pm sit down at the pool with your crew and 10-20 beers and plan your attack. Pick your theme park and be there the second it opens. Give all your key cards to one member of your group to get all the “fast passes” you want then meet back up and plan accordingly. Plan to be out of the parks by noon. Spend afternoons by the pool. Kids in bed at 7pm.

Handitizer. That’s what we call Hand Sanitizer. Bring it and use it. Alot. By day two, I had a bad case of pink eye. It took forever to find a doc. The girl waiting next to me at the nursing station was rather cute – except for her red, swollen, pussing eye. She was also staying at Walt Disney World Orlando. “They’ve got a problem with Conjunctivitis over there,” said the doctor.  “How could they not with all those people?”

(edit: since posting this several months ago I have gotten over 50 search engine hits on this post based on “pink eye Disney” or “conjunctivitis Disneyworld” or some similar iteration.  I find that darn funny)

Take a suitcase full of food. Look, the food was actually very good quality. Be aware however that the Disney meal plan

Simple Fun at Downtown Disney

is so complicated and over-priced – especially if you have kids (insert obvious thought bubble here) that it is very difficult to actually enjoy that food.

(if anyone from Disney ever reads this, I’ll make you an offer.  For $1000.00 I’ll fix up your entire meal system to make it kid/parent friendly because you obviously never included a parent on your planning team – and no I don’t want any free tickets)
Beer.  A case of beer at the Disney store ran $40. The same case was $13 at the Walgreens where I got the anti-biotic for my pink eye. I bought two.

Plan food for the kids. While the food for adults is quite decent, the children food is horrific. It’s all sugar and carbs. Two days into the week my kids couldn’t take it anymore and I had to run them adult meals to get them to eat.

Switch desert for salad. At the restaurants you have to pay extra for the salad but the pile of sugar that comes at the end of the meal is included. By the end of the week we were hip and asked every waiter to switch salad for desert. They all panicked and had to ask the manager. They all told us it couldn’t be done. Then they did it and told us that it was a one-time courtesy. But they always did it.

Dinner times. A dinner reservation at 6pm means that you start waiting for a
Table at 6pm not that you are seated at 6pm. Plan accordingly.

In the end I left with the thought that, if concentration camps ever came to America, this is how they’d do it. Sugar, visual and auditory over- stimulation, giant theme park, semi-decent hotel and endless marketing. Pack them sheeple in some roller coaster at the “Expedition Treblinka-Thrills” theme park and who would know if they never came back!

(Ok. I know that was bad. Way bad. Another trip to PC Hell is in order.)

An intelligent society wouldn’t allow this to happen. But then again, we are not a thoughtful society – which is why we do many audacious, outlandish things – both really good and really awful.

The audacious nature of what Walt Disney did here is both impressive and horrifying.

My son never got into it. He would much rather use his own brain and make up his own stories with blocks of wood and pieces of cardboard. I was thankful to head back to the hotel by 10am with him each day.

Disney World wasn’t all bad. The people working there were very nice, if seemingly worn out and overworked. I enjoyed the birds in Animal Kingdom, I also like the Finding Nemo thing at Epcot and the care given to motor-boat mangled manatees (I do not like seeing dolphins in aquariums however so I’m hoping they were likewise being treated for injury or disease). My boy had crazy fun with a water fountain sidewalk at Downtown Disney, he loved just watching the monorail and it was nice to be with my family. My girl loved the whole thing. She got to be a big kid off with the boy cousins and an uncle and aunt she loves.  The little things were nice.  The hoola-hoops, swimming, a small playground, a peaceful boat-ride down the river, getting caught in a rainstorm, letting your kid smear ice-cream on your face……blowing bubbles.

You know, the things you could do anywhere. For free.

I also left totally touched – almost to tears – that my father and step-mom gave my kids that opportunity. Especially my girl. She will never forget it.

Next time I go to Florida, however, I pray to god it’s on a fly-fishing trip to the Keys. That and that the cheapest, most nasty beer (you know, the kind that is only good when REALLY cold) costs less than $5/can.

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