Secular Mecca


Well, we did it: we paid homage to The Mouse. It wasn't so bad, either, though it is now safe to admit I was not looking forward to the trip (and am not sorry I lobbied heavily for the shorter of the two packages Mr. W. was considering. No one needs that many consecutive days at an amusement park, no matter how good).

There remain aspects of "the Disney experience" I don't understand. Like why any adult who wasn't entertaining kids would go there. Or how people manage to live in Florida in summer (it was hot. And humid. Not DC on the 4th of July hot and humid. Worse. And the pool water feels like you've jumped into a bucket of someone's perspiration).

Or Epcot. Epcot has always sounded like a giant trade show to me, and behold, I was right.

Or souvenir shops connected with every major attraction. I guess some people buy t-shirts for every ride. Why, I can't imagine.

But coming off my snooty suspicious-of-Disney-because-of-stuff-it-did-in-the-Eisner-years high horse, I have to admit the Magic Kingdom was fun to re-visit (we went as little kids to DisneyLand) with my own kids, and the Haunted Mansion absolutely holds as much wonder, humor and charm as ever. And apart from Epcot, which didn't really enchant any of us, the other companion parks on the "four parks,one world" tour were also pleasing.
There's a wonderful featurette on Walt Disney's career at one of the parks in which, during an interview, Disney describes how he hit on the idea for the original "Magic Kingdom." He'd take his two daughters out for some fun --but for him their outings consisted mostly of him watching them on the jungle gym, him watching them at the carousel. He thought there should be some place where parents and kids could have fun together. And the place really is that.

There's none of the seediness of so many amusement parks, they work to keep the places meticulously clean, the staff is unflaggingly courteous and not only courteous, but helpful -- they notice if you're bewildered and actively help you out. Magic Kingdom (the original park) is proudly and un-ironically patriotic --it really is an homage of sorts to America. This was surprising to me --and refreshing. "Wholesome" isn't a word I've associated with Disney since I was a kid, but it came back last week.

Additionally, there's real craftsmanship in creating the atmosphere and scenery of the rides, and not only the rides, but the entire waiting area leading up to them. On "Expedition Everest," for example, as you progress through the line you go through painstakingly re-created Himalayan passport checkpoints, then a little museum with artifacts from peoples in the Himalayas, and finally a museum dedicated (w/ delightful wit) to artifacts of the Yeti (who is going to attack you on the ride). Nothing feels like it was just plopped out to make a few bucks; you can imagine people having fun coming up with all the little details and taking pride in what they were creating.

They're just amusement parks, but they are very nice ones, and I relent my disdain.

We chose now to go because....well, partly because we expect to be in economic ruin for the rest of our lives. (Even if the economy doesn't further collapse, we still have high school and college tuitions upon us.) But also because we figure we have a unique window where Eldest Weed isn't too jaded to hate it and Youngest Weed isn't too small to be able to ride anything.

All the Weedlets had a ball. Rides are fun, and the kids' unique personalities come through in their reactions. 
  • Eldest Weed enjoyed critiquing (not criticizing, mind you, but exercising his faculties) the technical aspects of everything and trying to figure out how certain effects were achieved. 
  • Girl Weed turns out to be the household dare-devil. She has an insatiable appetite for only the fastest and most intense coasters. No one else in the family does, so I rode with her in spite of a tendency to motion sickness. If riding Expedition Everest doesn't prove my love, nothing will.
  • Littlest Weed is plucky. Two rides brought him to tears because they were too scary: Space Mountain & Expedition Everest. By the end of those two he was just about crying and shouting that he'd "never do this again." Never did a frightening ride prevent him from riding coasters, however. And after each of these, as soon as they stopped he'd announce, "I guess I just have to get used to it. Now I love it!" You cannot now persuade him that Space Mountain was not his favorite ride, though he spent the entire three minutes screaming for it to stop.
  • I think ten is the ideal age for Disney, however. Middle Weed was an absolute delight to observe because he is at the precise right age to be taken in by the "magic." Youngest Weed doesn't really notice all the details of scenery and such, I don't think. The older kids understand that everything is pretend. But Middle Weed enters the fantasy, at least partly. For example, during the safari ride at Animal Kingdom, part of the adventure is saving a baby elephant from poachers. He leaned over to me and said, "Mom, do you think we caught poachers for real?"  I could have hugged him. (Actually, I did). 
As a bonus, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that my two littlest boys usually wanted to ride with me and came up and held my hands voluntarily as we strolled around. I know those days are almost gone, so I am thankful to Disney for several full days of family togetherness and maternal popularity.