Time and Money Disney World is not an inexpensive way to spend time, and when you spend roughly two hours of standing in line in the sun—no, Fast Pass did not work for us--for a ride that lasts roughly 5 minute ride, I begin to question my sanity.
A Stroller is Key Once we took our two daughters—perhaps ages 4 and 6—to the Magic Kingdom. We had four adults plus a stroller. That was about the right kid to adult ratio, and the stroller was key for holding all the stuff—sweatshirts, discarded but needed later; water bottles, snacks, large stuffed animals, the obligatory mouse ears—where else beyond Disney World would one ever wear such ears? This time, I wish there for strollers for grown ups. The number of steps I walked—cause for jubilation in some circumstances—made my bad knee ache. It’s a walking destination—no question.
Stuff Envy When we toured the West Coast some years ago in an RV, I discovered an RV subculture of items that I had never even considered—cool hanging lights, a tiny fence for your seven tiny Chihuahuas to lounge outside the RV on a tiny patch of turf, various exotic grilling items. I longed for stuff I had no use for beyond the week spent in the RV. So it is with Disney World—see note above concerning ears and a weird yearning for a Mickey t-shirt. I squash the longing by buying a pair of socks—the last pair I bought is one of my favorite pairs of socks. I looked upon the new socks as a worthy investment.
Food is Love Tiny waffles shaped like Mickey adorn the over-priced breakfast buffet. They are cute. Very cute. But no breakfast buffet was ever worth $29. I resist the urge to tell my son and our exchange student to eat more, to put extra tiny chocolate croissants in their pockets to eat throughout the day.
Sociology It’s hard not to encounter WDW as a huge sociological experiment. After all, there you are, surrounded by many, many other people. The outfits, the little girls in costume, the multi-generational families—it is some kind of cross section of affluent and largely white America. And the place is clean. Very, very clean with flowerbeds meticulously maintained. It’s a gigantic stage set, but we all participate cheerfully in sustaining an illusion. We want to believe in make believe—for the children? Maybe. But I think some piece of the grown ups there crave magic, too, crave happy endings and manicured order. Disney World meets some needs or it wouldn’t have lines that curve round and round filled with cheerful people playing Head’s Up on their phones with strangers.
Hospitality People who work at Disney are well-trained in the whole customer service mentality. No one is snarky or barks at you or glares—in other expensive venues, snottiness is often de rigeur, but not at Disney World—the cashiers, the ticket takers, the waiters, the people tidying the restrooms—all are preternaturally cheerful, but it’s a nice thing. Slightly creepy, but very nice.
Culture We went to Disney World this March because we were already in Florida visiting relatives, and because we knew our son would enjoy being the expert tour guide for our exchange student. I could manage two days of extreme heat, extreme lines, and extreme expense. But here’s what I don’t get. People return to Disney over and over again. It’s as if by visiting Epcot, they feel they don’t need to go to any other real countries. This puzzles me. Epcot is lovely—beautifully designed in terms of offering mini-countries. But they are not the real countries.
Entitlement I’m back to money. Sparkly tiny purple glitter back packs cost $95. $30 gets you Minnie ears on a headband with a polka dot bow. The aforementioned breakfast buffets. The expensive hotel rooms at the Swan—this time we needed two. The last time we stayed over—one night about eight years ago—we stuffed our family of five and two friends into one bedroom, but decorum required a separate bedroom for our exchange student. I wanted the Mickey ice cream bar—it’s just a popsicle, but whenever I thought about buying it, I thought about how ridiculous it is to pay that kind of money for a popsicle and I resisted. What could I bring my students? I have twenty in my English class. What could I bring them that would not break the bank? I finally settled on tiny Japanese erasers shaped like animals—six per pack for $6.75—basically a dollar per eraser—and it felt like a bargain. People bring huge families and stay in the Disney resorts and eat there…the cost boggles me.
Comparisons to other Families You can’t help it. Sometimes, your family looks so good by comparison. Sometimes, you want a chasm to open and swallow you whole. Your parenting is on display in front of millions of strangers with their own family dramas. It’s a great “judge not lest you be judged” setting.
Pool It was lovely. I wish we had spent more time in it.
Being Present Too absorbed in sensory overload, I almost missed the best moments. At Epcot, my son and I ate dinner together the first night, traveling from one food stand to the next before they closed, sharing a dish. “We’re eating around the world,” he explained. And it was fun. We stood on a low wall and watched the fireworks. “The blue ones are the most expensive,” I told him, his eyes glowing as we gazed up at the bright dark sky. Later, walking out of the park, we admired some sparkly bits in the sidewalk. A tiny girl in a stroller next to us noticed the shining dots just as we did. “I like the sparkles,” she cooed. Me, too. “I saw fireworks tonight and they were all diamonds and I think some of them fell down from the sky and landed here.” Her mother told her how clever she was. I looked at my son, walking next to me, now taller than I. For a moment, I let my churlishness subside, my worry about money, about privilege, about long lines and heat. I looked at my son, at the little girl rolling past us in the warm dark evening. “I think you’re right,” I said out loud to her. She grinned. My son, who hates when I speak to strangers, squeezed my hand. Making memories. They know how to do it.