Oh lordy, my last few weeks of work was the complete absence of awesome. I didn’t walk into my apartment before 12:05 at night any night this past week, Saturday and Sunday included. I was miserable and exhausted. Then I was told I would have to fly to Florida with the team to build the pitch deck for them. The meeting would be in Orlando. Now, a bunch of years back I had to fly to a conference in Orlando that I was told was on or adjacent to the Disney property and I got to see not a damn thing while I was there. I blogged about my regret. I would not allow this to occur again. So when it was brought to my attention that I had to go on this epic journey, I quietly informed my boss that I had never been to Disney World and gosh, the meeting ends at 11:00 a.m. and did I have to fly back immediately or could I maybe perhaps kinda sorta stick around all day and then fly home on the red-eye? And I made this face. My boss, who is a lovely and kind mistress, not only agreed to let me stay, she got me an additional night in the hotel so I could fly back Tuesday morning. Seriously, she’s a good woman. Then I had a meeting with my co-workers to discuss which theme park I should go to. It was agreed that I would be best-suited for Epcot (SCIENCE!), but since it was my first time there I insisted that I go to Disney’s original creation. I promptly got a ticket for one day of revelry at the Magic Kingdom ($105.00) and suddenly I wasn’t so sad about my poopy work schedule. The meeting happened, it went great, everyone else got on their planes and I went back to the room to change from tasteful meeting garb into the only white t-shirt I own and get my camera. First, let me start with the fact that we stayed in a hotel that was part of the airport. You might think that would be awful. You would be wrong. The airport/hotel was a beautiful atrium with palm trees and fountains.
Allow me to introduce you to the joy of staying in an airport hotel. When I was leaving I had a morning flight. I am not a morning person. I woke up an hour and a half before my flight was scheduled to leave, got dressed, collected my bags, went downstairs and checked into Delta because the Delta counter was across from the elevators. That’s it. There’s no “We gotta leave early because what if there’s an accident on the highway and traffic and etc.” It simplifies the whole process. I am a convert now. Back to Magic Kingdom. I changed my shirt, got my camera and happily went over to the concierge’s desk. “I want to go to the Magic Kingdom now please,” I said. “Great,” the concierge said. “Where did you park your car?” “I flew here. I don’t have a car,” I responded. “Well,” he said, “You can take mass transit which will cost about $75 each way (!) or you can rent a car for about $40.” I have never rented a car. I have stood next to Cricket while he has rented cars and ridden in said cars, but I have never done it on my own. I’m an adult, I can handle this, I thought to myself. I shall rent a car and drive to Disney World. So I did. I rented a jaunty red compact Toyota with absolutely no pick-up which made me the least-favorite driver every time I merged onto a highway. I got to Disney World and then once I was on the property I drove and drove and drove until I got to the Magic Kingdom parking lot. I was then presented with the choice of parking in Heroes or Villains. I was like are you kidding me? I’m parking in Hades or Ursula, no discussion. I got there and was directed to park in… Zurg. Who the eff is Zurg? I want to park in not-Zurg! But Jafar was full and there was no Hades or Ursula options, so Zurg it was.
I took the tram from the parking lot to what I thought was the gate. I was incorrect. I now had to take a monorail to get to the actual park. I felt like this was my Waiting for Godot. I would travel trying to get to the Magic Kingdom and never arrive. But eventually I did arrive, got off the monorail and was immediately hit in the face with the smell of jalapeños. Which seemed profoundly odd to me. That seems like a weird choice of odor to greet your visitors with. In front of me was Main Street and “When You Wish Upon A Star” was playing which caused me to feel feelings and I’m not gonna lie, I got choked up. Caught a little childhood memory in my throat there.
I’m not a big amusement park ride aficionado, so I planned to walk around the sections of the kingdom (Main Street, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Adventureland) and see the architecture and the surrounding design elements. I loved the attention to detail. Not only was the exterior of Main Street well-done, a great amount of care was put into the interior elements of all the buildings.
There was a brass band playing in the middle of the road and their jazzy rendition of “Under the Sea” is fantastic.
I realized shortly after arrival I did not have sunblock and I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but Orlando is located directly under the surface of the sun. It’s a hot swampland and I was going to roast if I didn’t do something soon. I zipped into a gift shop (one of several thousand billion I saw on the premises that day) and purchased the hat with the biggest brim. Then I wore it all day. If you happened to see me at any point, this is what I looked like.
Here’s the best part: anywhere else in the world I would be mocked for sporting such an idiotic headwear, but I was by far one of the least-silly-looking people walking around. There were people wearing the pointy wizard’s hat that Mickey rocks in Fantasia, for crying out loud. I was at the mild end of the spectrum. After I examined all the buildings on Main Street I found myself in Frontierland which is a hodge-podge of the Wild West and a bit of N’Awlins and some other stuff, it’s definitely America in the 1800s, but the precise location is vague. There’s a fully functional Louisiana steam paddleboat on a river, people. But if you know anything about me you will not be surprised to find out that my favorite thing in Frontierland was… an egret trying to mooch food from visitors. This guy was fearless. I walked right up to him. He did not care.
After I sauntered through Frontierland I entered Tomorrowland. I think this is my favorite of the kingdoms because it featured several of my most cherished Disney/Pixar characters.
And all the windows were hexagons. My favorite polygon. If the future is all about hexagonal windows, I’m in.
And is that a Shakespeare pun? Delightful.
I was starving by this point so I decided to get some lunch. That was a mistake. In Tomorrowland was a hot dog stand and I got the special. It seemed harmless enough and the girl who worked behind the counter could not have been nicer (from Rochester, NY, just moved there, fresh out of college). I got a hot dog with bacon, lettuce, tomato and a splash of ranch dressing on it. For like seven bucks. And it was… not great. Not bad, but elementary-school cafeteria-level cuisine. About an hour after that I walked past a stand selling chocolate-covered frozen bananas and as an homage to the show Arrested Development I got a banana. That, too, was expensive and sucky. I spoke to people when I got back and it was the consensus that the fancy restaurants where it costs about forty dollars per person and you need a reservation to get in are good, but the street vendors leave much to be desired. I had no intention of waiting for a fancy meal, but I saw families bringing in their own food and drink and I think that was a smart way to go. If they let you bring in sandwiches and juice, you should do that. Spend your money on a handheld fan that squirts water simultaneously, or a lighty-uppy spinny pointless thing for night-time (I wanted one but I restrained myself).
Since I’m not a big fan of rides (I tend to get motion-sickness and no one enjoys that) I was told to go on “It’s A Small World” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” and to visit Belle’s castle. I walked past “Pirates” and saw this:
And proceeded to keep right on walking. Did I mention it was a 90-degree muggy sunny pit of despair that day? I was not going to stand in line for over an hour for a ride that was two minutes long. That’s the benefit of not being a fan of any of this – if there was a line for something, I just shrugged and went to something else. It’s all the same to me. Luckily it was only a 35-minute wait to get onto a boat for “Small World” and a large portion of the waiting was done in an air-conditioned area. If you were worried that “Small World” had changed in any way since the last time you rode on it, rest assured it has not.
I got my own row in the the boat and watched the animatronic ethnically-one-note children sing the song and shimmy and wiggle and while the PC part of me was like, “I’m a wee bit uncomfortable,” the theater-tech part of me was enjoying the hell out of it. If I hadn’t had to wait thirty-five minutes I would have gone on it again. Disney is known for being not particularly sensitive to the many cultures of people of this world, and the best part of the park to truly appreciate this complete disregard is in Adventureland. Or, as I liked to call it, “Ehhhh, just put all the brown people over here. African, Indigenous Australian, Native Alaskan – who cares. And throw some themes of cannibalism in there too, it’s not quite offensive enough.”
Now I’m at a bit of an disadvantage here because I grew up with an art historian mother who collects sub-Saharan African art. That means I know exactly what it looks like, which meant I knew exactly when the Disney people screwed it up. For example there was a store called “Zanzibar” (an island off of the coast of Tanzania) where they were selling items from South Africa (nope, look at a map), including ostrich eggs that had Costa-Rican frogs painted on them (really?) and what appeared to be Guatemalan bracelets (I give up). It was here in Adventureland that I figured out why every so often I would get a massive whiff of jalepeño. There are phenomenal plants and gardens all over the park:
And one of the plants decided it was mating season. In the process it got all musky and libidinous and the scent it was putting out was very green-peppery and chlorophilly. If anyone hears about a creepy woman walking completely alone through the park sniffing various plants while wearing a Goofy hat, that’s me.
Next: the rest of my day-long excursion.