Whose view will you choose: Dave's view? Or Rob's view? Which perspective will fit your character? (And by character, I mean your personality, not one of those idiots dressed in a Goofy costume). I will warn you that this may have more to do with you and your own failings, and less to do with the empirical truth about Disney.
Rob and I also nearly met up with G:TB sport's analyst extraordinaire Mark-- who is a native Floridian-- but his wife had to solve a crime. I think his perspective on the area might be more Dave than Rob, because he called Celebration (The Disney designed town and town center) "pre-planned and weird."
Diligent readers are probably aware that Rob beat me to the punch with his assessment of Disney, but here is his take in a nutshell, in case you missed it:
My family spent an absolutely fabulous five days in the Mouse's embrace last week, returning home from Disney last night exhausted but completely thrilled with the experience.
His nutshell assessment is embedded in a far more interesting post that you can read here.
My nutshell assessment of his nutshell assessment is that he is nuts. Our trips were nearly identical on the surface, and I will plagiarize Rob's words to illustrate . . .
Rob's Trip (in Rob's very own words): We visited all of the major Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios) in addition to Universal Islands of Adventure. We rode everything time permitted, my daughters reveling in the fastest coasters and most bone-rattling simulations.
Dave's Trip (lazily using many of Rob's words): We visited all of the major Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios) but didn't make it to Universal Islands of Adventure. We rode everything time permitted, my sons reveling in the fastest coasters and most bone-rattling simulations.
My wife and kids were completely thrilled with the experience. My parents, though exhausted, were thrilled that they could accompany their grand-kids to all the major Disney parks. My wife was NOT completely thrilled to spend a week with my parents (and neither was I) but that's another post.
I was not completely thrilled with Disney. This may or may not be my own fault. There's no question that I pretended to be completely thrilled-- for the sake of my parents, wife, and children-- and there were even times when I was completely thrilled, but I was completely thrilled maybe 4 percent of the time and the other 96 percent of the time I was experiencing other emotions. And since I can't talk about these other emotions with anyone else-- as my wife will hear them as complaints and my kids won't give a shit and the people at work are jealous that I took three personal days-- I'm going to explain them here at G:TB, because at Gheorghe: The Blog, we love three things: Cocaine Bear, emotions, and mustaches.
Before I begin my assessment, I want to make it known that know of what I speak. I went on all the rides. This is a big deal, as I stopped going on roller-coasters and spinny-things twenty years ago, after I had a terrible hung-over experience on The Enterprise at Great Adventure. The Enterprise, a whirling ring of terror, is long gone, but I found a picture of it. Enjoy.
Anyway, I sucked it up, chewed some gum, and rode the rides. The only time I thought I was going to lose my lunch was when the runaway train on Expedition Everest hightailed it away from the Yeti . . . backwards . . . but luckily it was nine in the morning and so I had no lunch to lose. I was also too angry to vomit because I rode the ride to see the animatronic yeti, but instead all I got to see was a yeti shadow . . . apparently the robot Bumble is broken, and so the folks at Disney thought it would suffice to project a large humanoid creature onto the cave wall. I will never forgive them (unless I am presented Walt Disney's cryogenically frozen head).
I enjoyed watching my six year old son Ian ride the rides more than I actually enjoyed riding the rides themselves. He never flinched, even as we were repeatedly dropped from the 13th story of The Tower of Terror, or confronted open-mouthed dinosaurs on the bone-rattling Dinosaur ride in The Animal Kingdom, or-- as I mentioned-- we plummeted backwards away from the cheesy yeti shadow. My wife never flinched either-- she's a roller-coaster fanatic. It's excellent to see your family members behave so bravely-- if we ever get caught on a runaway mine cart like in Temple of Doom, Catherine and Ian can steer. My older son Alex and I-- who are more rational-- will curl up and close our eyes, as we did on Space Mountain.
But still, I was not thrilled with the whole experience, and this is not necessarily a shortcoming of Disney. It is, to plagiarize more of Rob's post, because of some failings I must confront.
Failing Number 1: I am claustrophobic. Really fucking claustrophobic.
I tell this to my students on the first day of school, so they don't crowd around me at the beginning or end of class, but I never really believed that I was actually claustrophobic . . . I just like to say it, as a classroom management technique to keep teenagers in their seats until the bell rings.
Now I know it's true. I panic in small spaces crowded with people (unless I am drunk and allowed to slam into said people to the beat of rock music such as Primus or Metallica or Fishbone). The scariest attractions for me at Disney? Turtle Talk with Crush and It's Tough to Be a Bug. I nearly lost my shit moments before both of these cute, wonderful, funny, interactive, and technologically masterful shows, as both "holding pens" are tight spaces with low ceilings and lots of children. Many Disney attractions have lines with enough visual interest to make me forget about my dislike of confined spaces (Expedition Everest, Tower of Terror) but there were spots where I want to start banging people's heads together (The Maelstrom in Norway).
An ideal vacation for me contains lots of time in wide open spaces, away from people, where I am free to do what I want, when I want. I know this is my problem, but is it so much to ask for? On vacation?
Failing Number 2: I am an elitist bastard (look at the title to this post . . . anyone who makes a David Foster Wallace allusion has got to be an asshole).
Disney-- especially Epcot-- has this faux-educational feel to it, but in the end you'd have to be really stupid to learn anything from what they have to offer. Did you know that poachers are bad? Or that technology has changed over the years? Or that parrots can talk? Or that we need energy? Or that humans grow plants? These are some of the things that you'll learn in the various Disney Parks.
In a moment I am going to spoil the "plot" of Epcot's film and animatronic presentation called "Universe of Energy: Ellen's Energy Adventure," because the conclusion of this theatrical journey through primeval dioramas makes no fucking sense. Ellen DeGeneres hosts a journey on how energy is produced and the search for new energy resources. She is joined by Bill Nye (The Science Guy) and eventually she must battle "Smart Judy," her old know-it-all college room mate, in a game of Jeopardy. "Smart Judy" is played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Alex Trebek is played by Alex Trebek.
It's a big budget production, so you'd think that the script would have gotten reviewed by someone smart, but obviously that wasn't the case. After glossing over various methods of generating energy, Alex Trebek gives this clue as the Final Jeopardy answer: This is the one source of power that will never run out.
The attraction reviews fossil fuels, solar power, wind power, hydro-electric power, and nuclear power. The correct question, of course, is "What is nuclear power?" . . . which I yelled out . . . because there's always going to be atoms around to split or fuse. Nuclear power will never run out, as long as the universe exists. And the attractions sets this idea up, because the film begins with the Big Bang, the origin of all atoms and the origin of all energy.
I suppose you could make a pretty good argument for solar power as a resource that will never run out, because the sun is going to be around for a hell of a long time, but, technically, our sun will eventually burn out, become ultra-dense, and then bloat up into a red giant, which will engulf the inner planets of our solar system.
Smart Judy, who isn't smart enough to think of either the nuclear answer or the solar answer, writes down nothing . . . and then smugly tells Alex that there is no answer to the final clue. All power sources will run out. She could have argued that there is not enough dark matter to reverse the big bang, and that the universe's final destination in cold entropy, but she doesn't. Alex Trebek informs her that she is wrong.
Then Ellen reveals her question. It is, ironically, a very stupid question: "What is brainpower?" Against all odds, she is correct! She has defeated Smart Judy! The energy resource that will never run out is brainpower!
But, of course, her answer makes no sense, except in the context of Disney, where nothing is thought provoking and nothing is controversial. The Final Jeopardy clue is is a good one, but her answer is a sugar-coated ending to a real debate. It's on par with Cliff Clavin's "Who are three people who haven't been in my kitchen?" Human brainpower will run out, especially when our sun becomes a red giant and boils the oceans and turns our continents into molten lava, but there will still be atoms around, bonding and breaking, creating nuclear energy. But the folks at Disney thought this concept was too much for their audience, and so they showed them a few animatronic dinosaurs and then sent them on their way to "learn" more things in Epcot, such as Race cars go fast! and The Eiffel Tower is in France!
Call me stupid, but I think you can mix education with pleasure, and still have a good time. My kids loved Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, and they tackle some tough subjects there and don't sugar-coat anything. Disease, slavery, war, 18th century medicine, brisket . . . you get the whole story, warts and all, and it makes for a much more memorable experience.
Failing Number 3: I don't like to watch mindless crap.
The Disney experience is very similar to watching mindless crap TV, although it's less relaxing because of all the running around and claustrophobia. There's certainly a more physical aspect to Disney's crap, which is impressive, and they get all the details right, but in the end-- like an episode of Phineas & Ferb-- there's not much to remember. After each ride, we all said, "That was cool!" and then ran to the next ride.
This is exactly what my kids do when they watch Cartoon Network (which only happens on vacation, thank God, because we don't have cable at home . . . see Failing Number 2).
Even something as beautiful and aesthetically pleasing as The Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life, a fourteen story concrete tree with loads of animals carved into it, is just that. The tree could be a lesson in cladistics, or have some theme, but instead it's just cool looking. Incredible artistic effort, but still just fluff. A wasted opportunity.
Failing Number 4: I don't like schedules.
I am a teacher and a coach. My whole life is scheduled by bells and periods and games and tests and practices. Vacation should not be like this. Vacation should be flexible, but a Disney vacation is NOT. If you try to be flexible and relaxed on a Disney vacation, you'll wait in line forever. You have to plan your campaign like Napoleon. So that's what we did: we followed the instructions and algorithms in The Unofficial Guide, got to the parks early, strategically used the Fast Passes, avoided long lines, saw all the shows, and made the most of our time, but this made the trip seem very similar to my job. Not that I don't have brief moments at my job where I am completely thrilled to be a teacher, but again, 96% of the job is planning, grading, and scheduling.
I think vacation should be 10% planning, 20% relaxing, 30% exercising, 10% playing with my kids, 10% spacing out, and 20% drinking. Relaxing drinking. Disney drinking isn't relaxing drinking. It's medicating yourself. Or that's how it was for me. But, of course, I'm insane.
Failing Number 5: I don't like musicals.
Yes the shark puppets and the jellyfish kites are mesmerizing in Finding Nemo: The Musical at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Yes, my kids and my wife and my mother loved it. Yes, my dad was able to take a nap. But all I could think was: This music is horrible . . . they're ruining a great movie!
What's the best thing about Pixar movies? No singing!
Failing Number 6: I like zoos.
Zoos allow you to move forward and backwards, to sit and watch the animals or move around and see what's going on. There's a generally loose feeling to how you need to proceed and so whatever your kids say, you can agree to: "Let's go see some lizards!"
Disney's Animal Kingdom is NOT a zoo. Parts of it seem like a zoo, and I almost had a zoo-like experience on the Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia, which is an amazingly detailed trail that winds through ruins of of an ancient palace. We did see some very cool creatures: tigers and Komodo dragons and giant flying foxes (which are reminiscent of the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz) but there was still this feeling of being swept along by the crowd; there was no chilling out on a bench and watching the animals . . . it was all move, move, move.
Failing Number 7: I don't like to be herded around like a cow in a slaughter-house.
If I could give you a visual of what it's like to be at Disney, it would be something like this:
Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. Dodge a stroller. Shuffle. Shuffle. Grab my son's hand. Shuffle Shuffle. Shuffle. Stop. Shuffle. Stop. Shuffle. Stop.
Sit. Say, "That was awesome!"
Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. Dodge a stroller. Shuffle. Shuffle. Grab my son's hand. Shuffle Shuffle. Shuffle. Stop. Shuffle. Stop. Shuffle. Stop.
There is no place less spontaneous than Disney. Eventually, you give up and just go with the flow, and start shuffling around like all the other fat zombies. The one thing I like about Disney, is that anyone who wants to experience the magic has no choice but to visit Orlando. It doesn't matter if you're Brad Pitt or Bill Gates, there's no upscale Disney. You have to join the masses and shuffle around like a brain-dead cow.
Failing Number 8: I actually like to play with my kids.
Not sit and watch things with my kids. or sit and ride on things with my kids. I like to play soccer and chess and pool sports with my kids, but a day at Disney can really sap this feeling (except for the wonderful Toy Story Mania! ride at Disney Studios . . . but because this ride is actually interactive, encourages competition, and keeps score, we were only able to ride it once-- the lines were insanely long).
Failing Number 9: I always like to be improving my skills. Or improving my kids' skills.
For me, vacation is a time to get better at something you can't concentrate on during your regular life. A time to learn a new song on the guitar. Or write a long blog post. Or get better at snowboarding or paddle-boarding or skim-boarding. Or improve your jump shot or your tolerance for cheap gin. But at Disney you don't get better at anything except looking at stuff that Disney made. And learning to deal with large crowds.
Failing Number 10: I am not fat and brain dead, I don't like crappy food, I like being creative, I'm introspective, I like to noodle around with my guitar, I don't like to be around people for long periods of time without breaks, I don't like to do the same thing everyone else is doing, and I know I'm a grouch and there's something wrong with me, but I can't seem to change.
Still, I'm glad I did it. My kids absolutely loved it, and I'm proud that I could make them so happy. I'm also proud of my acting skills.
Someday I hope my kids read this, and appreciate what I did for them. Or perhaps they'll just consider me a giant hypocrite. Either way is fine. As long as they learn something more than: Hang-gliding is a smooth and exhilarating way to see the land!
As for the other supposedly fun thing I'll never do again, some English teachers have just started reading Infinite Jest, and they've convinced me to give it another go . . . maybe I'll finish this time. And maybe I'll end up back at Disney again some day. It's like Sartre's play No Exit. There's no escape. Hell is other people.